Archive for the ‘Rye whiskey’ Category

Top ten rated whiskies in the Winter 2011 issue of Whisky Advocate

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The new issue of Whisky Advocate mails this week. Here’s a sneak preview of the top ten rated whiskies from the Buying Guide. (All prices listed in dollars are, or will soon be, available in the U.S.) The number of American whiskeys on this list is a testiment to the overall quality of American whiskeys on the market right now (and the impressiveness of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection).

Elijah Craig Barrel No. 3,735 20 year old, 45%, $150

From one barrel, and only sold in one location, but well worth the effort to procure a bottle. Nutty toffee, pecan pie, apricot, berried jam, and nougat, peppered with cinnamon, mint, cocoa, and tobacco. Warming, with polished leather and dried spice on the finish.  Seamless, richly textured, and impeccably balanced. (Exclusive to the Bourbon Heritage Center at the Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, KY.) —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

 

Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength, 57.7%, €75

Irish Distillers has already released two 90+ pot still whiskeys this year, but this is the knockout blow, an immense take on the wonderful Redbreast. The nose gives little away, all damp autumn leaves and fermenting forest fruit, but on the palate it’s a fireworks display, a colorful mix of apple and pear, berries, vine fruits, chocolate liqueur, and oily pureed fruit. It’s coming to the States soon, and rumor has it there’s more to follow. But this will do. I can’t think if I’ve ever tasted a better Irish whiskey.  —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $70

Very similar to last year’s release. Well rounded, with a gently sweet foundation (toffee, vanilla taffy), pleasant spice (cinnamon, mocha, soft evergreen), date, glazed citrus, bramble, and a gentle finish for a rye. A classic ultra-aged rye whiskey. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

William Larue Weller, 66.75%, $70

No age statement, but distilled in 1998. The only wheated recipe bourbon in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, and a very good one at that. Higher in strength than last year’s offering (which was 63.3%), but very similar (and equally as impressive). The most elegant and smoothest of this collection, with layered sweetness (honey, caramel, marzipan, maple syrup), fig, blackberry preserve, hint of green tea, and just the right amount of spice for balance (nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa). —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

George T. Stagg, 71.3%, $70

At this strength, it’s almost like getting two whiskeys for the price of one. A great value, considering its age. (It’s not identified on the label, but was distilled in 1993.) Try to find a great 18 year old, cask-strength single malt scotch for this price. Very mature — with a good dose of oak — but not excessively so. Notes of toffee, tobacco, dark molasses, roasted nuts, dried vanilla, leather, and a hint of dusty corn. Dry on the finish, with lingering leather and tobacco. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

Aberfeldy 14 year old Single Cask, 58.1%, £115

Single cask Aberfeldy bottlings are very few and far between, and this is a stunner! After hogshead maturation the whisky ultimately underwent a period of finishing in an ex-sherry cask prior to bottling. The nose offers sultanas, raisins, and hot chocolate. Developing vanilla and a hint of over-ripe bananas. Finally, burnt sugar and caramel. Insinuating and syrupy on the palate, with apricots, dried fruits, honey, and sherry. Gently spicy and warming, with licorice in the notably long finish. —Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

The Dalmore 1978, 46%, $750

This 1978 vintage release from The Dalmore has been ‘finished’ for two years in Matusalem sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass, following 29 years in American white oak. Just 477 bottles are available. Freshly-ground coffee, marzipan, dark berries, and rich sherry on the smooth nose, with milk chocolate and Jaffa oranges. Smokier with water. Citrus fruits and more milk chocolate on the rich, full palate, plus roasted almonds. Long and juicy in the finish, with aniseed and fruit pastilles. —Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, 64.3%, $70

The youngster in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. One taste and its relative youth is confirmed. (But no worries; it’s mature enough to enjoy neat or with some water (and would be killer in cocktails). This is rye whiskey in its most vibrant, masculine, and purest form. Bold spice (fresh evergreen, warming cinnamon), honey-coated orchard fruit, golden raisin, caramel, and brandy with a crisp, clean finish. The American equivalent to a young, cask-strength, smoky Islay whisky. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Eagle Rare 17 year old, 45%, $70

The most underrated of the five in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, but this year’s release (like last year’s) is very lovely bourbon. Perhaps just a bit softer than last year, but with a similar profile: very even keeled and nicely balanced, with sweet notes (vanilla, toffee, añejo rum) peppered with soft orchard fruit and spice (cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, hint of mint), polished oak, and subtle tobacco. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Adelphi (distilled at Linkwood) 1984 26 year old, 57.6%, £94

There are light oaked notes to start, along with Oolong tea and very subtle smoke. These then shift into a mix of cedar and scented blossom. Classic, layered elegance with the cask offering support, not dominance. The fruits have that slightly eerie quality of decay, while the palate is deep and juicy. This is an exemplary, subtle, old whisky with delicate rancio (it’s a little cognac-like), which is given a boost of extra life with a small drop of water.— Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

Review: Masterson’s Straight Rye Whiskey Batch #3

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Masterson’s Straight Rye Whiskey Batch #3 10 year old, 45%, $80

The third recently released 100% rye whiskey sourced from Canada, with the others being WhistlePig (50%, $70) and Jefferson’s (47%, $40). (The one you purchase might depend on which one you can find, as they are all quite limited.)  This one sells at a premium to the other two, but shows polish and is nicely rounded. Layers of sweetness (honeyed fruit, caramel, nutty toffee, maple syrup), toasted oak, cinnamon, evergreen, nutmeg, and a dusting of cocoa. Very distinctive!

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 88

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2011 Edition

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

We still have no power at the Whisky Advocate offices in PA, thanks to the record-breaking snow storm. But, since tonight is WhiskyFest New York, we are in New York where there is power, Internet access, and WHISKEY! So, I am finally able to post a review.

The eagerly awaited annual release from Buffalo Trace distillery is out. Last year’s release was one of their best. This year is a repeat performance. Well done!

Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $70

Very similar to last year’s release. Well rounded, with a gently sweet foundation (toffee, vanilla taffy), pleasant spice (cinnamon, mocha, soft evergreen), date, glazed citrus, bramble, and a gentle finish for a rye. A classic ultra-aged rye whiskey.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

William Larue Weller, 66.75%, $70

No age statement, but distilled in 1998. The only wheated recipe bourbon in the bunch, and a very good one at that. Higher in strength than last year’s offering (which was 63.3%), but very similar (and equally as impressive). The most elegant and smoothest of this collection, with layered sweetness (honey, caramel, marzipan, maple syrup), fig, blackberry preserve, hint of green tea, and just the right amount of spice for balance (nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa).

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

George T. Stagg, 71.3%, $70

At this strength, it’s almost like getting two whiskeys for the price of one. A great value, considering its age. (It’s not identified on the label, but was distilled in 1993.) Try to find a great 18 year old, cask-strength single malt scotch for this price. Very mature — with a good dose of oak — but not excessively so. Notes of toffee, tobacco, dark molasses, roasted nuts, dried vanilla, leather, and a hint of dusty corn. Dry on the finish, with lingering leather and tobacco.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, 64.3%, $70

The youngster in the family. One taste and its relative youth is confirmed. (But no worries; it’s mature enough to enjoy neat or with some water (and would be a killer in cocktails). This is rye whiskey in its most vibrant, masculine, and purest form. Bold spice (fresh evergreen, warming cinnamon), honey-coated orchard fruit, golden raisin, caramel, and brandy with a crisp, clean finish. The American equivalent to a young, cask-strength, smoky Islay whisky.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Eagle Rare 17 year old, 45%, $70

The most underrated of the five in the collection, but this year’s release (like last year’s) is very lovely bourbon. Perhaps just a bit softer than last year, but with a similar profile: very even keeled and nicely balanced, with sweet notes (vanilla, toffee, añejo rum) peppered with soft orchard fruit and spice (cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, hint of mint), polished oak, and subtle tobacco.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

More new releases, and my general thoughts on them

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Again, this is from a U.S. perspective…

Starting with Ireland, it looks like Jameson is introducing a new whiskey in their “Reserve” line. I received an invitation to attend an event in New York this Sunday where they will be uncorking the first bottle of Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel. Black must be the new cool these days, because we’ve recently seen the introduction of Crown Royal Black, Johnnie Walker Double Black, Canadian Mist Black Diamond, Bruichladdich Black Art, and now this whiskey. I guess Black Bush  and Black Bottle were way ahead of their time…

Also, from Ireland, I got my hands on a review sample of the new Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength, which is supposed to arrive here in the U.S. sometime early next year. Amazing stuff!

You recently saw my review of the new Bruichladdich 10 year old. Well, I also received a review sample of the new Kilchoman 100% Islay release. It’s bottled at 50% ABV (slightly higher than the standard releases), and priced higher too at $100. It’s called 100% Islay because, according to my press release, it’s produced from barley grown, malted, distilled matured, and bottled at the distillery. Only 780 bottle are coming to the U.S.

I’ve tried it and must admit that–as cool as this bottling is with the “all Islay” theme–it’s my least favorite of the Kilchoman releases here in the U.S. It just taste too young and immature to me, which is atypical for Kilchoman. Their 3-4 year old whiskies usually tastes a few years older than they really are. My advice: go and get a bottle of the Spring 2011 bottling if you can find one. That’s my favorite of the releases so far.

Turning to the U.S., Buffalo Trace just announced the third release of their Single Oak project. I’ve tasted all the whiskeys from the first two releases. I must say that, as a whole, I liked the second release more than the first release, which had a lot of whiskeys in the 12 bottle lot with an aggressive amount of oak influence. Round two was tamer and more to my liking. (In fact, I actually thought a couple from the second round to be too tame…!)

The news on the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection release for 2011 is out. This time it’s actually two releases: both 100% rye whiskeys. One is aged in new charred oak barrels, while the other is aged in first fill Woodford barrels. Details to follow.

The 2011 allocation of Van Winkle whiskeys are coming out. Again, they will be in very limited supply. The collection consists of Old Rip Van Winkle 10 years, available in 90 proof and 107 proof; Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon, aged 12 years; Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbons, aged 15 years, 20 years and 23 years; and Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye Whiskey, aged 13 years.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed and not sure which one to buy? I tasted my way through the 10, 15, 20, and 23 year olds recently at WhiskyFest San Francisco. My favorite was the 15 year old. That’s the sweet spot in the range. Save yourself some money and get this one instead of the 20 or 23 year old.

Finally, I wanted to mention again that Suntory’s Hakushu whisky is finally being distributed here in the U.S. Unlike Suntory’s Yamazaki whisky, which has been available for quite some time here, the Hakushu is slightly smoky. (If you like whiskies like Ardmore or Oban, then you might want to give this one a try.)  I really enjoy the entire line of whiskies from Hakushu and have been asking Suntory to bring this whisky to the U.S. ever since I toured the distillery several years ago. For now, we’re only getting the 12 year old (43%, $60). Hopefully, the 18 year old will follow shortly.

Some new whiskies I’ve been enjoying

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

I was in San Francisco most of last week hosting WhiskyFest (More on that in a bit). We’re gearing up for our New York WhiskyFest which is only a couple weeks away. In the interim, we’ve got to put together the Winter issue of Whisky Advocate. So, if you’re wondering where I’ve been lately, now you know. This is the busiest time of the year for me. The moment I get some free time, I will post something up here.

I’ve been tasting a lot of whiskies lately. Formal reviews will follow for most of them. But, in the interim, so you can get a jump on your autumn whisky-buying, I’ll let you know my informal thoughts now.

I was able to taste the new Bruichladdich 10 year old at WhiskyFest. (It’s not in the U.S. yet, but the importer brought me a sample.) As you may know, this is the first 10 year old whisky being sold that was produced by the current owners. It’s a new dawn for Bruichladdich, and I am happy to say that this whisky is very good. Most of it is from bourbon barrels, but there’s some sherry casks thrown in too. I just hope they can keep this profile consistant going forward. If they do, it could become the go-to entry level non-smoky Island whisky (competing with Highland Park 12 year old and Bunnahabhain 12 year old  for that honor). To me, it tastes like a 12 year old whisky.

Another whisky that surprised me was the Kilkerran WIP (Work In Progress) 3rd release. If memory serves me correctly, it’s 7 years old and tasted surprisingly fresh and also nicely mature for its age.

Dr. Bill Lumsden, after his Ardbeg seminar, let me sample a 1975 Ardbeg from a sample bottle (Cask #4714) from a refill sherry cask which I thought was outstanding! My favorite whisky of the night. He said they’ve been using so much from this cask at whisky shows, they won’t have much left when it is bottled. But let me put it this way: when it’s bottled, I am buying a bottle (if it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg).

I tried some of the Samaroli releases. This independent bottler is new to the U.S. I tasted a 1967 Tomintoul and a 34 year old Glenlivet which were delicious. (The Glenlivet was not identified as such–it had a false name which I didn’t write down. I’ll try to dig that one up and let you know what it was called.). I’m not sure what the prices and availability of these whiskies will be at this time. Details to follow.

I have a bottle of the Shackleton whisky, which I have really been enjoying over the past couple of weeks. Very distinctive for a blend, and with plenty of character. Dominic Roskrow rated it in the lown 90s for us, and I would probably have given it at least a 90 myself if I formally reviewed it.

Another new blended scotch I really like for its drinkability and versatility is Compass Box’s Great King Street. It’s not going to set your world on fire, but it was never intended to do so. That’s what whiskies like Peat Monster are for. Whiskymaker John Glaser continues to impress me.

For the bourbon enthusiasts out there, I’ve been through the new Buffalo Trace Antique Collection a few times already. It’s just hitting the shelves now. The entire line is stellar–as it was last year, and they taste very similar to last year’s release. So, if you liked last year’s offering, you can be confident that you will like this year’s releases if you have a chance to buy them. (They are always hard to come by.)

Heaven Hill has two really nice whiskeys that just came out. This year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection is a 10 year old, 100 proof bourbon finished in Cognac barrels (similar to the old Beam Distillers’ Masterpiece bottling). The cognac doesn’t dominate, adds intrigue, and this whisky is dangerously drinkable for 100 proof. But, if you are a purist (dare I say stubborn?), and don’t want people meddling with your bourbon, you might think differently about this offering.

The second whiskey from Heaven Hill is a Elijah Craig 20 year old single cask bottling (Cask #3735). The good news: I love this whiskey, and will be rating it in the mid 90s. The bad news: it’s only available at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, KY, and it will set you back $150.

Finally, for those of you who are budget-minded, I tasted my way through the Pappy Van Winkle line of bourbons (12, 15, 20 and 23 year old). My favorite? The 15 year old. Save your money and get this one!

More whiskies (and whiskeys) heading our way

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

The new and seasonal releases are still picking up with autumn just around the bend. (This post is from a U.S. perspective.)

There’s yet another 10 year old, 100% rye whiskey from an undisclosed Canadian source coming out called Masterson’s. I have a bottle and tried it last night. It definitely displays the same flavor profile as WhistlePig and Jefferson’s Rye whiskeys. So, if you missed out on your chance to get those, you have another opportunity with Masterson’s. It’s 90 proof and will be priced at around $80.

I also have a review sample of the 2011 Limited Edition release from the Four Roses distillery. This one combines four different recipes, aged between 11 and 13 years. It’s being released in September.

Buffalo Trace announced the impending release of this year’s Antique Collection. No change in the whiskey line. Just tweaks. I’m looking forward to trying them.

Laphroaig Triple Wood is finally hitting the U.S. shores. Look out for that one.

Finally, Drambuie introduced “Drambuie 15” in the U.S. It’s a more premium version of the liqueur, supposedly made with Speyside malts (pictured). It’s bottled at 43% and will be around $56.

I’ll try to get some formal reviews done on the American whiskeys and post them up here soon. (You can find my Laphroaig Triple Wood review here. )

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

Buffalo Trace’s new “Single Oak” project: Part 1

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Buffalo Trace newest (and biggest) project was announced a couple weeks back. For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet (which is understandable given that the whiskeys are only now getting into circulation), here’s an excerpt from the press release:

Beginning in 1999, then Warehouse Manager Ronnie Eddins traveled to the Missouri Ozarks to hand pick 96 trees, consisting of fine grain, medium grain and coarse grain wood, based on the tree’s growth rings. Each type of grain indicates a different growth rate and will yield a different flavor profile.  From there, each tree was cut into a top and a bottom piece, yielding 192 unique sections. Next stop was the lumber yard, where staves were created from each section and were tagged and tracked. The staves were divided into two groups and given different air dried seasonings, 6 months and 12 months.  The air drying allows Mother Nature to break down some of the more harsh flavored characteristics commonly found in wood.  

After all the staves were air dried, a single barrel was then created from each tree section, resulting in 192 total barrels.

The next step in the process was to experiment with different char levels of the barrels. Two different char levels were used, a number three and a number four char. (The standard char level for all Buffalo Trace products is a number four char, which is a 55 second burn.

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

And then, the waiting began.  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 is part of a much larger, and noble, effort: to create the perfect bourbon. How? By asking consumers to rate the whiskey they taste and then provide this feedback to Buffalo Trace via this new website that has been established for the Single Oak project.  As the press release puts it:

On the website, consumers create a profile and after rating each bottle, will then see the aging details and provenance of each barrel. They can interact with others who have also reviewed the barrel, compare their reviews on the same barrel, and even use it as a learning process for themselves by discovering which characteristics they like in a bourbon to help them select future favorites.  

Participants online will earn points after reach review and most importantly, help Buffalo Trace Distillery create the perfect bourbon!

According to Mark, at the conclusion of the project, they plan to take the top rated barrel, make more of that product and launch it under the Single Oak Project nameplate. So, ultimately, the 192 unique barrels with 1,396 tasting combinations will lead to one style of bourbon. One damned good bourbon!

I say this is only part of a much larger effort to create the perfect bourbon because over the years, Mark Brown, President and CEO of Buffalo Trace, has told me of some of his other projects to achieve this goal. One of them is to critically deconstruct the tasting notes and ratings of key whiskey writers (including yours truly). Incidentally, he told me just last week that, even though each of us may differ the way we describe our whiskeys, there is common ground in our reviews too. (He didn’t go into detail, so I suppose we’ll save that for a later time.)

Will the lucky ones who actually happen to get their hands on a bottle of Single Oak Project whiskey take the time to rate it and record it on the Single Oak Project website? Only time will tell, but I hope so.

Here’s another snippet from the press release, describing the logistics of the first release (and future releases):

The first release of the Single Oak Project Bourbon is expected to hit stores nationwide in very limited quantities around the end of May. Each release will consist of 12 unique single barrel bourbons.

Every case will contain 12 bottles, each from a different barrel. The first release is made up of barrel numbers 3, 4, 35, 36, 67, 68, 99, 100, 131, 132, 163 and 164. Each of these barrels had the same entry proof, seasoning, char level and warehouse aging location. However, the  hope is to identify the differences in taste based on recipe, wood grain size and tree cut as these characteristics varied amongst this group of barrels.

There will be a series of releases over the next four years until all of the 192 barrels have been released.  All releases will be packaged in a 375ml bottle. Suggested retail pricing is $46.35. 

In Part 2 of my post on this project (which will probably be later in the week), I will get out my secret decoder ring and tell you about the first 12 releases and how each barrel of bourbon differs. Additionally, I’ve tasted all of them and, while I don’t plan on rating them formally, I will give you my general thoughts on them (including which ones I liked, the ones I would take a pass on, and why).

Stay tuned!

Review: Bulleit Rye Whiskey

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Bulleit Rye Whiskey, 45%, $28

No age statement, but it includes 4 to 7 year old whiskeys. The mashbill is 95% rye — much higher than most standard rye whiskeys out there. It’s brisk, vibrant, and loaded with spice (crisp mint, warming cinnamon, cocoa, hint of anise). Fruit — ripe nectarine, apricot, golden raisin — drizzled with maple syrup. Dry oak rounds out the finish. Bold enough for cocktails. Mature enough to drink neat (or on the rocks).

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 85

Coming in May: daily whisky reviews

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

The Summer issue of Malt Advocate will be out June 1st. (It will be our 20th Anniversary issue!) In it, we have a record number of whisky reviews too: almost 90! Nearly all are new releases.

I’m going to share with you a sampling of these reviews before they are published in Malt Advocate. (It’s my way of saying “thank you” for taking time out of your busy schedule to check in here.) I’ll post up at least one new review every day for the entire month (including weekends).

Stay tuned…