Suntory Ao, Powers Irish Rye, & More [New Releases]
February 17, 2023 –––––– Jonny McCormick
Japanese whisky lovers have cause for celebration, as Suntory announced last week that it will be investing $77 million into its whisky distilleries over the next two years. The Yamazaki and Hakushu Distilleries will each receive a new malting floor as well as updated visitor experiences as part of the expansion.
Coinciding with that announcement is news that Suntory plans to bring its Ao world blend to the States for the first time. Other new releases from this week include an Irish rye from Powers, Batch 34 of Barrell Bourbon, and a sauternes cask-finished American single malt that will be a part of Westward's Whiskey Club. Read on for full details.
Suntory AoStyle: BlendOrigin: World (Japan, Scotland, Ireland, U.S., and Canada)Age: Not statedABV: 43%Price: $55Release: February 2023Availability: Widely available
Need to know:This blend is created using Beam Suntory whiskies distilled in five different countries. Originally released in Japan and Travel Retail in 2019, it is now being made available on a wider scale. Ao is the Japanese word for blue, and it was chosen to symbolize the oceans that connect the whisky-producing nations, while the unusual pentagonal prism shape of the bottle represents the five origin countries of the component whiskies—a simplified version of the 24-faceted Hibiki whisky bottle.
Whisky Advocate says:Ao is made up of whiskies from Ardmore and Glen Garioch from Scotland, Cooley from Ireland, Alberta from Canada, Jim Beam from the U.S., and Yamazaki and Hakushu from Japan–all blended together by Suntory chief blender Shinji Fukuyo.
Powers Irish RyeStyle: RyeOrigin: IrelandAge: Not statedABV: 43.2%Price: $32Release: February 2023Availability: Widely available
Need to know:Irish Distillers has released the first 100% Irish rye whiskey, matured in a mix of new American oak, first-fill, and refill bourbon casks. The rye for this release was grown in Co. Wexford, Ireland on a farm close to the ancestral home of the Powers family. Powers Irish Rye is triple distilled at Midleton Distillery using a beer column system rather than copper pot stills.
Whisky Advocate says:Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye had a 30% rye mashbill and became the first modern Irish rye whiskey when it was released in 2018, even though it did not qualify as a rye by U.S. standards. Since then, distillers at Teeling, Rademon Estate, Boann, and many other Irish distilleries have been experimenting with rye and other grains. Existing commercial agriculture in Ireland couldn’t meet the requirements for rye demanded by Irish Distillers so they had to commission it—the rye for the Kilbeggan whiskey had to be sourced from England, for example.
But Irish Distillers was inspired to create this whiskey after the company archivist found historical evidence that John Power & Son experimented with rye in its old mashbills. Rye and corn were often used in grain whiskey production in patent stills in Ireland during the 19th century, especially when they became cheaper to use after the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. Irish Distillers previously released an experimental double-distilled Irish whiskey called Method and Madness Rye & Malt (not available in the U.S.), which was distilled at the Midleton Micro Distillery using 60% rye and 40% malted barley.
Barrell Bourbon Batch 34Style: Blend of straight bourbonsOrigin: Multiple (IN, KY, TN)Age: 6 year oldABV: 57.31%Price: $90Release: February 2023Availability: Limited
Need to know: The latest batch of Barrell bourbon is a blend of 6, 8, 10, and 15 year old whiskeys. They were distilled and aged in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee before being bottled at cask strength at Barrell’s facility in Louisville, Kentucky.
Whisky Advocate says:In building this bourbon, the Barrell team first took barrels of 8 year old bourbon with strong hazelnut and dark cherry notes and joined them with high-corn barrels. These were then vatted with cinnamon-forward high-rye bourbons, before finally being blended together with barrels of 10 and 15 year olds, which added earthiness and light tannin. Increased demand for Barrell’s whiskeys led the company to purchase a rickhouse in Shively, Kentucky last month. In April, the company will move into an expanded new headquarters in Jeffersonville.
Westward Sauternes CaskStyle: American single maltOrigin: OregonAge: Not statedABV: 45%Price: $100Release: February 2023Availability: Westward Whiskey Club exclusive
Need to know:Westward Whiskey’s first club release of 2023 is a single malt that’s been finished for 14 months in Grand Cru Classé sauternes casks. Sauternes is a late-harvest dessert wine from France’s Bordeaux region. The Westward Whiskey Club is a direct-to-consumer program that can ship to 36 states. New members who join before February 20 will be eligible to receive this limited-edition whiskey as part of their subscription. Westward releases four club exclusives per year.
Whisky Advocate says:Westward is no stranger to cask finishes, with pinot noir and stout finished American single malts in its core rage. We’re fans of the unfinished products as well, with their Cask Strength bottling earning the No. 5 spot on the 2022 Top 20 list. The Westward Whiskey Club launched in 2019 as an Oregon-exclusive program, but has broadened its reach considerably in the years since. Members have access to exclusive releases and events, with two tiers available: Expedition Club, which yields one bottle per quarter at a cost of $100 per quarter, and Founder’s Club, which yields three bottles per quarter at a cost of $300 per quarter.
Milam & Greene Wildlife Collection: Scorpion Single BarrelStyle: Straight bourbonOrigin: TennesseeAge: Not statedABV: 61.65%Price: $100Release: February 22, 2023Availability: 204 bottles available at the Milam & Greene website and in the distillery tasting room
Need to know:Milam & Greene is introducing a new line of single barrel whiskeys that pay homage to Texas’s extreme weather conditions and its wildlife. The Wildlife Collection will feature whiskeys distilled in either Kentucky or Tennessee that are then moved to Milam & Greene’s Blanco, Texas rickhouse, where they will continue to age within the state’s climate conditions. The first release in the series, Scorpion Single Barrel, was distilled in Tennessee, where it aged for 50 months before being moved to Blanco, where it sat for an additional 8 months on the north side of the rickhouse. The whiskeys in this collection will be bottled at cask strength, aged for at least four years in new American oak char No.-4 barrels, and have a mashbill of 80% corn, 10% rye, and 10% malted barley. Milam & Greene will release more Wildlife Collection single barrels this year, with a portion of the proceeds from each sale benefiting the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. Scorpion Single Barrel will be available for purchase in the distillery tasting room starting Wednesday, February 22 at 3:00 p.m. CST.
Whisky Advocate says:With this series, Milam & Greene is attempting to showcase how weather affects aging whiskey, and in a state like Texas, there’s a lot to consider. The brand points to the extreme conditions experienced this past year, including, high heat, ice storms, wild temperature swings, drought, and low humidity contributing to the whiskey’s final flavor. In the past, we have examined the influence of warm climates, including Texas, on single malt, and while this is a straight bourbon, many of the same principles apply. Milam & Greene’s rickhouse isn’t climate controlled and barrels aren’t rotated, so the impact the climate plays on these barrels can be more fully appreciated. You can learn more about the people and places shaping Texas whiskey in this feature.
Husker Bottled in BondStyle: Straight bourbonOrigin: MarylandAge: 4 year oldABV: 50%Price: $89Release: March 4, 2023Availability: Limited
Need to know:McClintock Distilling is located in Frederick, Maryland, about 45 miles west of Baltimore. This bottled in bond bourbon has a mashbill of 51% yellow king corn, a local heirloom varietal, 40% red fife wheat, and 9% cacao nibbed-smoked malted barley and rye. The whiskey’s name is a tribute to the local corn used as well as to the distillery’s namesake, McClintock Young, who had hundreds of inventions, among them, the automatic cornhusker. will be released to the public on Saturday, March 4th at noon, with the distillery calling it Maryland’s “first known” bottled in bond bourbon since Prohibition.
Whisky Advocate says:Maryland is known for its rye history, and specifically for its Maryland-style rye that uses a greater percentage of corn in its mashbill than other iterations. Sagamore Spirit, for example, has released bottled in bond rye, but this is the first bottled in bond bourbon from the state in over a century. McClintock also sells Bootjack rye, Matchstick bourbon, and a white whiskey, in addition to vodka, cordials, and a line of gins.
Bluebird Days StraightStyle: AmericanOrigin: PennsylvaniaAge: Not statedABV: 43%Price: $50Release: February 17, 2023Availability: Limited but nationwide
Need to know:Pennsylvania's Bluebird Distilling has teamed up with country musician Jordan Davis for a new American whiskey that is being released in conjunction with Davis’s new album, “Bluebird Days”, out today. The limited release is a blend of two whiskeys: 90% 6 year old Bluebird bourbon (75% corn, 15% heirloom rye, 10% barley) and 10% 7 year old Bluebird Red Winter Wheat whiskey (100% whole grain Pennsylvania red winter wheat). Davis partenered with Bluebird master distiller Jared Adkins on the release, the two bonding over a love of the outdoors, whiskey, and music. Adkins shared some of the distillery’s oldest barrels with Davis in creating this blend.
Whisky Advocate says:Country music and American whiskey go hand-in-hand, and this release is the latest in a long line of collaborations between distillers and country musicians. Brad Paisley worked with Bardstown Bourbon Company to create his American Highway Reserve, released in early 2022, while Lee Greenwood worked with Nebraska's Soldier Valley Spirits to create his own signature bourbon. More recently, music duo Brothers Osborne released a single barrel of WhistlePig Piggyback rye.
GrandTen Whiskey Chapter 1: A Long Time ComingStyle: Single maltOrigin: CaliforniaAge: 6 year oldABV: 45%Price: $69Release: February 2023Availability: Limited; Massachusetts and at the distillery
Need to know: This single malt was distilled in California by an undisclosed distilling partner, but bottled at GrandTen Distilling in South Boston, Massachusetts. This is the distillery’s first American whiskey, and marks the launch of a new line of limited-edition American whiskeys to come. The single malt was finished in port barrels on its way to Boston.
Whisky Advocate says:GrandTen Distilling got its start in 2012, when Matthew Nuernberger and Spencer McMinn—neither of whom had experience in distilling—took their passion for spirits and decided to break into the business. The distillery is located in the Alger’s Iron Foundry, a historic building in South Boston that served as the production site for U.S. government munitions and weaponry in the mid-1800s. As with its other offerings, this one is available for purchase at GrandTen, as well as at Massachusetts liquor stores.