Posts from the ‘Craft Whiskey Reviews’ Category

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.

Breckenridge Bourbon Review

Well, I just finished a huge term paper, so I am rewarding myself with a post that I have wanted to get up for some time.  I am continuing to review some good micro-distilleries with today’s review of Breckenridge bourbon.  Breckenridge Distillery is a small distillery in Breckenridge, Colorado that has already garnered some international attention for their spirits.  Their bourbon won a gold medal at the 2011 International Wine and Spirits Competition, which is pretty impressive considering it is only a 3 year old bourbon.

The story of Breckenridge bourbon is that it was originally a sourced whiskey from an unnamed distillery in Kentucky, but the distillery has been churning out its own bourbon since 2009.  Nowadays, the bourbon is mostly Breckenridge stock, with the occasional batching with older, contracted stock to ensure a consistent product.

I first discovered Breckenridge bourbon at WhiskyLive 2012 here in Boston.  I was surprised when the woman pouring my sample of Breckenridge told me that Breckenridge was a 3 year old bourbon that had won one of three gold medals at the IWSC the previous year.  However, once I spent a few seconds with this bourbon, I was hooked.  It took me a while to find a bottle in Boston, but I eventually got lucky.  So, without further ado, here is my review of Breckenridge bourbon (bottled at 86 proof).

In the glass, this bourbon is a rosy red amber, not as dark as some older bourbons.  One of the interesting facts about Breckenridge bourbon is that the distillery uses snowmelt for their bourbon, as opposed to the mineral rich water used in Kentucky.  I think that lends itself to Breckenridge’s lighter character, but that could also be its youth.  On the nose, this whiskey is sweet and citrusy.  There are big notes of sweet toffee and butterscotch, with some orange peel notes sneaking through.  The palate is medium-bodied and simple, but it tastes so good.  Vanilla, caramel, and brown sugar come flooding across my tongue and don’t let up.  The finish is longer than I would have expected, and it keeps the sweetness of the palate all the way through.  There are notes of oranges, caramel, vanilla, and brown sugar cinnamon.  Water doesn’t do much good; this one stands best on its own.

Overall, this is a delightful bourbon.  It is not too heavy, but the sweetness that makes bourbon so delicious is all over the tasting experience.  It goes to show (along with my review of Bully Boy last week) that you don’t have to have old whiskey to have good whiskey.  My Grade: B+.  Price: $40-45/750ml.  This one is a tasty bourbon, and it has enough complexity to make it an intriguing  pour.  With a little more body or complexity, this one could easily be in the A range.  There are better value buys on the market, but it is always fun to give a shout out to micro-distillery.   I can’t wait to see what happens if Breckenridge releases some older stocks or some barrel-strength batches in the future.  In the meantime, let it ride!

p.s. A special shout out is deserved by Bryan Nolt (El Jefe at Breckenridge).  I sent him an email inquiring about the source of his bourbon, and I got a detailed explanation within 45 minutes.  That is customer service and actually investing time in the consumer.  Breckenridge is well deserving of their craft distillery label.  Keep letting it ride out there in Colorado.

Bully Boy American Straight Whiskey Review

New England is more known for its craft breweries than its craft distilleries, but all that might be changing.  I have already reviewed Berkshire Bourbon, and today I am reviewing Bully Boy’s American Straight Whiskey.  Bully Boy Distillers is a micro-distillery in Boston that was founded in 2010 by Will and Dave Willis.  It is the first craft distillery in Boston, and Bully Boy spirits are just starting to become readily available around Boston.  They have already won awards at International Spirits Competitions for their White Rum, their White Whiskey, and their Vodka.  I’m letting the cat out of the bag a little bit, but I think they are going to win more awards in the future.

Today, I am reviewing Batch 4 of Bully Boy’s American Straight Whiskey.  This whiskey is neither a bourbon, nor is it a rye; it does not contain at least 51% corn or 51% rye in the mash-bill.  The boys at Bully Boy were kind enough to clear that up for me when I sent them a puzzled email.  This whiskey is also a true craft presentation.  It is done in small batches, and non-chill filtered.  There is no age statement on this batch, but I suspect it is fairly young based on its taste and the age of the distillery.  It is bottled at 84 proof (42% abv).

On the nose, this whiskey demonstrates its rye content up front.  There are notes of lemongrass, fresh cut grass, chili powder, white pepper, pine needles, lemon furniture polish (in a good way), a bit of licorice, and fresh ginger.  It is really a unique nose for an American whiskey, and it takes your nose all over the place.  It is definitely more reminiscent of a rye than a bourbon on the nose.  The palate is light-bodied, and it is a bit sweeter, with a lot of spiced nuts and some salt water taffy.  There is even a beautiful lemon-lime current that runs through the palate.  The finish is medium-length and spicy.  There is some good cinnamon, some vanilla, and a resurfacing of the lemon and grassy notes from the nose.

Overall, this whiskey drinks like a good, young rye with a twist.  This whiskey is very intriguing, and very complex, but it does lack a little depth and body.  The flavors are varied, but they don’t evolve as neatly or strike as powerfully as some older whiskeys.  I think that means that I cannot wait to see where this whiskey goes with a few more years in the oak, and I definitely commend Bully Boy on their craft presentation of this whiskey.  My Grade: B/B+.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  This one is almost a B+, but it doesn’t quite have the sweetness yet to fully balance out those wild rye notes.  This is a great (and fun) everyday pour at a good value.  I can’t wait to see where the boys at Bully Boy go with this.

Berkshire Bourbon Review (and some End-of-2012 Thoughts)

For my last bourbon review of 2012, I am reviewing Berkshire Bourbon, a local Massachusetts bourbon from Berkshire Mountain Distillers.  Berkshire Mountain Distillers currently make six different products, two gins, a vodka, a rum, a bourbon, and a straight corn whiskey.  The bourbon is bottled at 86 proof; there is no age statement given, but I do not think this is much older than 5 years.  It is readily available in Massachusetts, but its availability decreases the further one ventures from the snowy New England landscape.   Berkshire Bourbon

The nose is the highlight of this whiskey for me.  It is quite hearty and dense, with notes of sweet corn, dessert cheese, candied walnuts, and dense caramel.  However, the whiskey goes downhill from there.  The palate is light-bodied, with dense corn providing the backbone.  There is a little orange peel and vanilla, but it does not present a lot of complexity.  The finish is short, with some lingering caramel and sweet corn.

Overall, this might be a nice whiskey for mixing, but I am not a fan of this whiskey on its own.  I am inclined to agree with Ralfy’s end of the year comments on the whisk(e)y world in 2012 when it comes to micro/craft distilleries.  It is important to release a good product on the first go round, because you only get one chance to make a good impression.  Too often, micro-distilleries are too anxious to put a product on the shelves that they whiskey gets bottled before it is ready.  It might be better to follow the High West or Willett model and source whiskey until you have a homemade product that you can confidently stamp your name on.

Berkshire Bourbon did not impress me, and it will take something special for me to return to this bourbon any time soon.  Honestly, if you like a simple, sweet bourbon, save the money and pick up some Evan Williams Black Label.  However, that is not to say that all craft/micro distilleries are bottling sub-par whiskey.  I hope to have a few reviews in the coming months that demonstrate that you don’t have to be a big Kentucky Distillery to make great whiskey.  My grade for Berkshire Bourbon: C.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  Not terrible, but certainly not worth the money.

That concludes my final bourbon review of 2012, but the New Year will bring some new reviews, and some new posts.  In the meantime, I will again turn to Ralfy for my parting thoughts.  Enjoy the mystery of whisk(e)y, and seek that same mystery of sensory adventure in all other areas of life, whether it be food, drink, flowers, or everyday life.  If you concentrate on the senses around you, it is hard to slip into monotony.  Happy New Year and let it ride!