Archive for August, 2011

Review: Powers John’s Lane and Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Here’s our review of the two new single pot still Irish whiskeys from Midleton

Powers John’s Lane, 46%, 55

Wow! Could this be the greatest comeback since Rocky climbed back in the ring and showed the young upstarts who was the boss? It’s taken Irish Distillers a long time to respond to the pounding it’s taken from Cooley but it’s back in the ring with two wonderful pot still whiskeys. This is the better of the two, a whopping oily, woody package of classic pot still Irishness. The green fruits tumble over tannin and spice like frisky puppies. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 94

Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy, 46%, 160

Like the man himself, this is altogether more considered and elegant, mixing whiskeys up to 25 years old for a complex and less bruising experience than the Powers. Instead, lemon and lime zest, kumquat, and blood orange entwine themselves around vanilla, nutmeg, and soft, drying tannins. No big knockout punches, but it goes the distance and wins unanimously and easily on points. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 92

Review: Redemption “High Rye” Bourbon

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Redemption “High Rye” Bourbon (Batch #1), 46%, $25

Aged “over 2 years” and with over 38% rye in the mashbill (high for bourbon). It’s fresh, youthful, and brisk, with sweet corn, bright fruit, brittle mint, cinnamon, and a dusting of cocoa, leading to a slightly aggressive finish. A bit too youthful, actually, for sipping—it would benefit from a few more years aging. Save this one for your next manhattan. Its sibling, Redemption Rye (of similar age) fares better. (I rated it an 84.) — John Hansell

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 78

Review: White Whiskeys

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

White Whiskeys — unaged, or briefly aged, grain distillates — are the focus in this review post. Lew Bryson, managing editor and reviewer for Malt Advocate magazine, takes a look at a few here.

Low Gap Whiskey (American Craft Whiskey Distillers), 42.7%, $40

Distilled from “malted Bavarian hard wheat” on the still formerly used at Germain-Robin. Good pedigree; does it deliver? Bread/flour in the aroma, like a fresh bag of flour, with a fruity alcohol edge to it, the wheat tang I know from beer. In the mouth, it comes through as bread and crackers. It’s somewhat hot, but it’s a brandy/aromatic heat: vapor-producing. The finish pulls more grain in, finally. They’re aging some of this; should be a great whiskey.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 80

Marko K. Spirits Doubled & Twisted, 49.5%, $60 (1 liter)

Distilled from “bottle-ready IPA.” Sure is; the hops leap out of the glass, piney and pithy, a real west coast beer and whiskey experience in a glass. Quite a fat mouthfeel for 99 proof, a big oily thing that rolls around the tongue, making itself at home with flaring hop flavor — not really bitter — and an underlying sweetness. Bittering kicks in on the finish. An astonishing experience that really grows on you…but ultimately there’s a lack of depth.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 80

Heaven Hill Trybox Series Corn, 62.5%, $25

New make from the same mashbill as Evan Williams, bottled “straight from the still.” Much higher proof than the others, but not noticeably hotter in the nose; that’s light corn and grass, with a bit of minty spice. Hotter in the mouth, but quite pleasant and evolving: fresh mint gives way to light corn, then a slightly oily slip to brisk sweetness…and you realize you didn’t notice the serious overproof. A well-behaved white dog.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 79

Finger Lakes Glen Thunder Corn Whiskey, 45%, $22

Crisps the nose hairs a bit, but it’s pure corn, even a bit of cornbread. Tip a sip in, and it’s nothing but more green corn, sweet, fresh — hot, for sure, but not overwhelming — and pretty tasty for what it is. With white whiskey, we’re walking the fine line between flavor and raw wound at all times, and this one finds the line.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 77

Koval Rye Chicago, 40%, $40

Smelling the rye from a foot away after pouring. Exceptionally clean aroma of grain; the oily/spicy rye notes come through clearly. Quite smooth. Not a lot of flavors: very focused on the rye itself, with grain and just a touch of mint. A long finish with sweet grain that slowly turns to mint in the end.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 77
Heaven Hill Trybox Series Rye, 62.5%, $25

This is new make from the Rittenhouse Rye mashbill, unaged, right off the still. Yeasty mash notes come through strongly, with a big nose of rye and corn underneath. It smells fresh, and alive. Wow, that’s powerful stuff. Much hotter than the Trybox Corn, this one is on fire with rye spice; it’s got me breaking a sweat! A bit of water brings out more grain notes, and some tempering sweetness, but it’s still no pussycat. Cleanly powerful.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 75

Koval Levant Spelt, 40%, $40  

Provocative: spelt’s an interesting aroma. Grainy and a bit earthy, with hints of golden delicious apple all combining in the nose. There’s a fast, high flow of creaminess that spreads quickly and disappears, leaving a slightly fruity, grainy aftertaste. Interesting sensations, and again, quite clean.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 75

Stillhouse The Original Moonshine, 40%, $40

Aromas are soft and creamy, with a waft of sweet corn — underlain with a fairly blunt alcohol burn that comes through more as you smell it. Quite sweet on the palate, a wash of green corn, but the flavor isn’t enough to tangle successfully with the fuel, which leads to a tongue-curlingly hot finish. Some definite potential, but it really needs time in a big oak barrel (or some ice and a bottle of Dr. Pepper).

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 75

Hudson New York Corn Whiskey, 46%, $35 (375 ml)

Nose is sweet corn, with some mintiness to it, and some herbal notes; hot, but not off-putting. Tastes are not as sweet as expected. A bit flat, though the sweet corn does come through toward the end. Again, though, this one is quite hot, which is not surprising; the Hudson Baby Bourbons — which this is the foundation for — have struck me as hot also.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 74

Koval Raksi Millet, 40%, $40

A lively light fruitiness (white grapes, green plum) in the nose. Quite grainy, but with an interesting hint of vanilla and a slight saltiness. Finish is a bit astringent, unlike the other Koval spirits. I’m finding these an interesting exercise in distillation, and educational.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 74

Koval Midwest Wheat, 40%, $40

So that’s what wheat smells like: not much. The aromas here seem to be mostly yeast-derived, with a faint ripe fruitiness (undefined: peach, apple?) and alcohol heat, and a touch of wheat-origin sweet grass. Wheat’s in the mouth, like chewing fresh grain with some water and alcohol. It’s all there, and the finish is sweet, and it’s clean, but…that’s about all. White bread whiskey.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 74

Catoctin Creek Mosby’s Spirit, 40%, $39

Made from 100% rye, and USDA certified organic. Very hot for 40%; herbal nose, very green with rye. Much smoother on the palate, and very quick. There’s a fast shot of rye mint up front, some grassiness, and a sharp flick of heat…and then it vanishes, leaving only a fading flinty-sweet afternote. Clean, but not a lot of substance.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 73

Koval American Oat, 40%, $40

Very similar to the Midwest Wheat in aroma, with a slight additional tanginess…but that could be from sensory deprivation. Drier in the mouth, with a slight medicinal character to it that increases as the finish goes on; like a high school chemistry lab storeroom, or a bottle of fresh aspirin.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 73

Review: Jefferson’s ‘Very Small Batch’ Bourbon

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Jefferson’s ‘Very Small Batch’ Bourbon, 41.15%, $30

The whiskey’s formula has been improved, now consisting of a higher percentage of older whiskies (into the high teens), compared to the original release (which I rated 81). Nicely balanced, with candied fruit, blackberry jam, soft vanilla, kettle corn, and a kiss of mint. Pleasant, unpretentious, and uncomplicated. — John Hansell

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 85

Reviews, R & R

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Beginning tomorrow, I will be vacationing until Monday, August 22nd. Not to worry, though. I have schedule a bunch of reviews to be posted while I am gone. That should keep you entertained until I return. Cheers!

Is there a Robert Parker of the whisky world?

Monday, August 8th, 2011

I don’t think so. (Although, there might someone out there who thinks he is.)

I feel that Michael Jackson was the person who came the closest. He was one of the the first to write prolifically about the subject, and he was very good at it. (Perhaps if he devoted more of his time to whisky rather than beer, and if only he stayed with us another decade or two?)

Right now, it seems like there are at least several individuals who are really doing great work covering whisky in their own way. There might be one or two people leading the field, but I don’t think anyone is so far ahead of the pack to have the power and influence of a Robert Parker.

What do you think? Do we have the equivalent of a Robert Parker in the whisky world? If so, who? And if not, why do you think there isn’t one?

Review: Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey, 10 year old, 47%, $40

A 100% straight rye from Canada. This is curiously similar to WhistlePig Rye, which is also a 100% Rye, 10 year old Canadian whisky, but at the slightly higher 50% ABV. (Neither whiskey identifies its origin.) It oozes spice (mint, cinnamon, hint of nutmeg) balanced by layers of sweetness (honeyed vanilla, caramel), with nutty toffee emerging on the finish. An affordable alternative to WhistlePig. — John Hansell

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 85

Are craft distillers creating a whiskey crisis?

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

An article in The Atlantic last week suggests that a “whiskey crisis is looming” because craft distillers are aging their whiskey in small barrels in a (failed) attempt to accelerate the aging process, and then they are putting the whiskey on the market at a young age and calling it “bourbon.” (The issue here is that these bourbons aren’t as mature and complex as the straight bourbons being put out by the larger distillers and it’s going to drag down the reputation of bourbon.)

The author says they are cutting corners to save time and suggests that it could lead to a decline in the entire industry.

Read it here.

What do you think?

P.S.  I think this article is significant because it shows that the issue is now being picked up by mainstream press, not just bantered about by us geeky whisky bloggers.

Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project: Round Two

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

The next round is being released this week. The variables focus on recipe, grain size, and char level. Details below in the press release. You can find my thoughts on the first release here. (Photo below is of Round One.)


Buffalo Trace Distillery Releases Second Round of

Single Oak Project Bourbon

 Quest for the World’s Perfect Bourbon Continues   


FRANKFORT, Franklin County, Ky (August 2, 2011) – Round two of the critically acclaimed Single Oak Project is being released from Buffalo Trace Distillery this week, part of the Distillery’s “Holy Grail” project.

                This release will explore three important variables that affect the taste of bourbon, recipe, grain size, and char level.  Some of the bottles contain bourbon made with rye and others with wheat. The barrels themselves were made from different trees, each with varying degrees of thickness to their wood grain, from fine to very coarse. These barrels were charred at either a number three or number four char level to determine how the burn will alter the taste.  All other variables in the experimental project, such as the entry proof, stave seasoning, tree cut, and warehouse location remain constant.

                As with the first release, Buffalo Trace hopes consumers can rate each whiskey they taste online at This feedback will help determine which type of bourbon connoisseurs prefer most. After reviewing a bottle online, consumers will be availed of all the aging details and provenance of the barrel. They can interact with others who’ve also reviewed the barrel, compare their reviews, and even learn for themselves which characteristics they enjoy most, in order to help them select future favorites.  Participants online will earn points after each review and most importantly, help Buffalo Trace Distillery create the perfect bourbon!

                The Single Oak Project is part of an intensive research project Buffalo Trace Distillery started conducting in 1999 by hand picking 96 trees with different wood grains and then dividing them into a top and bottom piece, yielding 192 unique sections. From there, staves were created from each section and were air dried for either 6 months or 12 months. After all the staves were air dried, a single barrel was created from each tree section, resulting in 192 total barrels. These barrels were given either a number three or a number four char and then filled with either wheat or rye recipe bourbon.

                To further the variety of experiments, the barrels were filled at two different proofs, 105 and 125 proof.  And if this wasn’t enough, two completely different warehouses were used, one with wooden ricks and one with concrete floors.  In total, seven different variables were employed in Buffalo Trace’s ultimate experiment.

                For eight years the Distillery continued with its tracking process, creating intricate databases and coming up with a potential of 1,396 tasting combinations from these 192 barrels!

                The Single Oak Project Bourbon will be released in a series every three months over the next four years until all of the 192 barrels have been released. The first release hit select stores at the end of May. This second release should show up in stores towards the end of August. Like the first release, the quantity is very limited. Every case will contain 12 bottles, each from a different barrel. The second release is made up of barrel numbers 29, 31, 61, 63, 93, 95, 125, 127, 157, 159, 189, 191. All releases will be packaged in a 375ml bottle. Suggested retail pricing per bottle is $46.35.   

                At the conclusion of the Single Oak Project, the Distillery plans to take the top rated barrel based on online consumer feedback, make more of that product and launch it under the Single Oak Project nameplate.

Review: four Springbank single casks for the U.S. market

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Here’s a round of single cask Springers matured completely (not finished) in various wine casks for the U.S. market. All four are solid efforts—it’s really a matter of personal preference. (Try to taste them before you buy.) A general comment: most of the single cask releases are matured in some sort of wine or rum cask. While this is nice, I would love to see several single cask, cask strength, and fully-matured ex-bourbon barrel bottlings offered for a change. — John Hansell

Springbank, 14 year old, Fino Cask (#265), 55.3%, $100

The freshest of the bunch, chock full of Springbank character. Light and lively. Floral, with plenty of fruit (green grapes, kiwi, apple tart) on a bed of honeyed malt. Nuttiness and brine emerge towards the finish and linger.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 88

Springbank, 14 year old, Amontillado Cask (#305), 55.4%, $100

Citrus, exotic wood and botanicals on the nose and palate. Indeed, there’s a bit of intrigue here. Nice balance, with roasted nuts, pecan pie, and more exotic wood on the finish.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 87

Springbank, 14 year old, Manzanilla Cask (#259), 54.8%, $100

Complex citrus (orange, tangerine, lime, and a hint of lemon), honeyed malt kissed by maple syrup, caramelized pineapple, cinnamon, and a dusting of nutmeg. Nutty toffee on the finish.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 86

Springbank, 14 year old, Oloroso Cask (#268), 56.2%, $100

What you might expect a traditional 100% Oloroso sherry cask-aged Springbank to taste like, with probably the most familiar flavor profile of the four: rich, with nuts and dried fruit, chocolate-coated brittle toffee, plenty of spice (cinnamon, ginger), polished oak, hint of tobacco and smoke.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 86