Posts tagged ‘Single Malt’

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.

Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Review

While I’m on the subject of peat, I’m going to give my thoughts on one of my new favorite winter drams – Bowmore Small Batch Bourbon Cask Matured.  I haven’t written much on the blog about Bowmore, the oldest distillery on Islay, and that is mostly because I have never been a Bowmore lover.  That is not to say there aren’t Bowmore whiskies I like, but it’s hardly my favorite Islay distillery.  I enjoy Bowmore 18 year, I have tried some very good independently bottled Bowmore juice, and The Devil’s Casks releases have been some home run hitters.  However, all of the aforementioned whiskies are expensive and not always easy to come by.  Thus, I have not discussed Bowmore a lot.  Hopefully today’s review makes moves in an upward trend.

Bowmore’s new small batch bourbon cask release replaced their Legend bottling here in the United States.  Like the Legend, this is readily available and moderately priced.  However, although neither has an age statement, I suspect the new Small Batch release has a higher percentage of some older whisky in it, as well as a higher percentage of whisky from first-fill bourbon casks.  I have no facts on that, just a hunch.  Bowmore Small Batch is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The color is darker than I would expect from exclusively bourbon cask maturation leading me to believe that there is some caramel coloring in this bottle.  The nose here is not what I was expecting, it lacks the burning plastic note I get out of some young Bowmores.  Here, there is lime, honeysuckle, brine, sea spray, and damp earth.  It is really a delightful nose, although a bit thin.  The palate is light to medium in its body.  It enters with a big citrus note, salted oranges and lime zest.  It rolls into vanilla, lightly smoked earth, and salted caramel.  The finish is medium in length, with some barbeque, lime zest, and soft peat smoke.

Overall, this is a light whisky, but the flavors are in good balance, although they are not all that intense.  I probably would not pick this out as Bowmore juice were I to have tasted it blind; it lacked some typical Bowmore markers for me, which is a good thing for me because I have not always enjoyed Bowmore juice when I have tried it in the past.  This is a fine whisky, and I highly recommend it if you are someone looking for a lighter introduction into the magical island of Islay.  My grade: B-/B.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  Definitely a step-up for Bowmore’s base malt range, and a great value buy.

Lagavulin 16 year-old Scotch Review

Ever have one of those moments where you awake at night and realize you forgot something at work?  Such was this moment for me when I realized that I had never reviewed Lagavulin on my blog.  The truth is that Lagavulin needs no introduction, what with Diageo having Ron Swanson as a spokesperson and all,  but it is one of those whiskeys that it is crucial to have listed somewhere on your whiskey blog.  The reason for this is credibility – folks tend to take your opinions more seriously when they know your thoughts on Lagavulin.  Thus, without further ado, my thoughts on Lagavulin 16 year-old (bottled at 86 proof/43% abv.).

The nose is traditional Islay, peaty, with some iodine and salt mixed in, taking you right to the seashores of Scotland.  The palate opens up the full complexity of this whisky.  The peat is still there in full force, but it is backed by oak, barrel char, toffee, and some nuttiness.  The finish is rich and well-peated, but it is also smooth and complex, with undertones of vanilla and roasted nuts.

There is a reason that for many whisky-drinkers, this is the benchmark by which all other Islay base-malts are judged – it is a consistently excellent beacon in whiskymaking.  There is great balance in the smokiness and barrel flavors, and the whisky opens up to complex flavors as water is added.  My grade: A-.  Price: $60-70/750ml.  If you claim to know the truth of Islay and have not embarked upon Lagavulin’s journey, its high time.

Comparison Review: Teeling Single Malt vs. Teeling Single Grain

Saint PatrickLast St. Patrick’s Day, I reviewed a relatively new Irish whiskey, Teeling Small Batch.  This year, I am stepping it up with two new Teelings, the Single Grain and Single Malt expressions.  Before I go any further, it is important to mention the definition of a single grain whiskey, as it is rarely seen.  A single grain whiskey is a whiskey made at a single distillery from any cereal grain that may include, corn, rye, wheat, barley, or others.  A single malt must also come from a single distillery, but it must be comprised of solely malted barley.  But, that is not all that separates these whiskeys.  (I believe both of these expressions were distilled at Cooley in Louth, but I do not have confirmation on that hunch as of yet.)

The Teeling Single Malt is comprised of whiskeys finished in 5 different types of wood (Sherry, Port, Madeira, White Burgundy, and Cabernet Sauvignon).  There is no age statement on this whiskey, but according to Teeling, there is some whiskey as old as 23 years in it.  Like all Teeling whiskeys, their Single Malt is non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof (46% abv).

The color is pale orange.  The nose is full of white grape juice, backed by Concord grape jelly, corn flakes, and sweet bread.  The palate is full-bodied with red berries (rasp and straw varietals), red licorice candy, watermelon, red apples, and pumpernickel bread.  The finish is dry and long, featuring a revival of the red berries and white grape juice notes.  There is the slightest hint of white pepper and spiced pecans, adding a bit of spiciness.

The Single Malt expression is dripping with class and elegance, tame and univocal in its direction.  I could see detractors arguing that it is too singular and one-tricked, and it is until the finish, but there is a spiced character that underlines the sweet fruit and wine characters that dominate the whiskey.  If you find this one, you won’t be disappointed if you give it a try.  My grade: B+/A-.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  It flexes muscles well outside the category of Irish Single Malt whiskies.

On the other hand, the Teeling Single Grain expression is matured exclusively in Cabernet Sauvignon casks from Sonoma County, California.  The result is a darker color in the resulting whiskey.  There is no age statement on this whiskey, nor is there a description of what grains have gone into the mash-bill (I suspect it is primarily a mix of corn and barley).  But, a little mystery never hurt anybody, and this whiskey certainly stands on its own without a detailed backstory.  Like the Single Malt, it is bottled without chill filtration at 92 proof (46% abv).

The nose is slightly alcoholic and boozy, with cinnamon, hard cider, fresh bread, and cloves.  The palate is silky delicious with cloves, cinnamon, red apples, and red grapes.  The finish is long and dry with cinnamon, allspice, and cloves coming through a drying oak note.

Overall, the Single Grain expression brings a lot of potential and flavor, but it is a little more unpolished and rough around the edges.  Nevertheless, the flavor is complex, with all sorts of spice and sweetness to kick around in your mouth even if the alcoholic content comes through a little more.  My grade: B+/A-.  Price: $40-45/750ml.  Like the Single Malt, this transcends the category of Irish whiskey into something wholly unique.

To conclude, both of these whiskeys are among my favorite Irish whiskeys.  Both are worth seeking out and worth trying if you see them while you’re on  the town in your favorite whiskey bar.  If I had to choose, I enjoy the mouthfeel of the Single Malt better, but I like the flavor and price point of the Single Grain a little better.  Too close to declare a winner, but it is safe to say the winner is the consumer if Teeling stays on this pace.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day, y’all!  Be safe and let it ride!

The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso Matured Single Malt Scotch Review

2016 Gary Anderson WDC

Congratulations to Scotsman Gary Anderson on defending his World Darts Championship Title to kick off 2016! Have a glass, Gary!

Happy New Year, everybody!  My first review of 2016 is a bit of a follow up to my final review of 2015.  In my last review, I mentioned that I have not yet found a better Aberlour than the A’Bunadh, but it is a bit out of my price range and hard to find here in Pennsylvania.  But, what if I found a cask strength, Oloroso-matured single malt that could operate as a substitute?  So, without further ado, here is my review of some Oloroso-matured whisky from The Glenlivet.

Traditionally, the Nàdurra lineup has been comprised of cask strength whiskies matured in (often first-fill, but occasionally refill) bourbon casks.  However, The Glenlivet has recently different takes on their Nàdurra lineup over the last few years, and I am reviewing one such batch today.  This review is of batch OL0614 (the final four digits are the bottling month/year), which is aged entirely in Oloroso casks and bottled without chill filtration.  There is no age statement on this whisky, and comes in at a lovely 121.4 proof (60.7% abv).

This is a rich, amber mahogany.  The nose smells of Oloroso sherry, with macerated grapes, blackberry jam, and a slight hint of ginger and allspice.  On the whole, it is a sweet, pleasing nose.  The palate is medium-bodied, perhaps a little lighter on the entry than I was expecting.  There are notes of sweet sherry, gingerbread, and drying oak present.  It is a pleasing palate, although not an especially complex one.  The finish is long and warming, with a wonderful puff of spiced pecans, along with sherry, mahogany, and gingerbread cookies.  Water brings out a more intense sherried nose, and a more jammy, sticky palate.  The finish doesn’t quite have the potency it does at cask strength, though.

Overall, this is a nice, simple sherried single malt. It doesn’t have the depth, complexity, or intensity of some other sherried whiskies, but it is a great inculcation of the style.  To be honest, there is just something missing here; I can’t put my finger on it, but this whisky just does not whisk me away to a magical land.  It is good, for sure, but it does not live up to the Aberlour A’Bunadh for me.  That said, if you’re looking for an introduction to a cask strength, sherried whisky, this is a very good start.  My grade: B+/B.  Price: $60-70/750ml.  For a whisky at this strength, this is a good value buy to keep around your cabinet this winter.

Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Scotch Review

Happy ThanksgivingWell, here in the United States, we have the very strange holiday of Thanksgiving upon us, which means all sorts of delightful interactions with delightful relatives and in-laws.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a nice, easy-sipping single malt Scotch for such an occasion?  Don’t worry, I have a pretty good idea.

A little while back, Auchentoshan replaced their “Classic” label with a new expression, “American Oak.”  Like the old “Classic,” there is no age statement on the bottle of Auchentoshan American Oak.  However, the we are told that the whisky has been aged entirely in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, and like all Auchentoshan whisky, this one is triple-distilled.  It is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The nose is rich and silky with vanilla, potpourri, orange peel, peaches, and lilac.  The palate is creamy with some oak, coconut, and sautéed peaches.  The finish is warming and medium-length with oak and toasted coconut.

Overall, this is a very pleasant drinking experience from start to finish.  It is hardly the most complex whisky on the planet – it does not take a lot of work or patience to see the virtues of this malt.  Thus, it is a fantastic dram to have around for the holiday season, especially Thanksgiving.  As you are preparing a big meal or preparing to eat a big meal, pour yourself a glass of Auchentoshan American Oak, and let the sweet, oaky, fruity, and floral flavors prepare your palate for a feast.  My grade: B-.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  At the price point, this is an enjoyable single malt that provides great value all around.

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.