When it comes to single malt scotch, Highland Park 12 Year is a liquor store staple. I can’t recall ever being in a liquor store that carried any single malt scotch without HP12 being on the shelf. It’s a bit unusual region-wise as it’s from Orkney –and the northernmost distillery in Scotland. This one is an easy find at a reasonable price. But is it worth your time?
Medium gold color with good clarity. A turn gives light glass coating with widely-spaced legs. There’s not a lot to talk about here. It looks like a 12 year old scotch.
Immediate lemon-lime citrus with light caramel. The aroma is bright but not aggressive. You can really get your nose into it. There’s also slight iodine and peat that nearly crosses into medicinal smoke. There are also hints of something vinous –almost white wine-like.
Caramel sweetness up front transforms into soft leathery smoke with the same hints of iodine I found in the aroma. There’s a distinct funk here that might remind bourbon fans of Jim Beam. Also a hint of pinot grigio. Some nice black pepper features toward the end of the sip. Finishes with green oak and a touch of white truffle oil.
Moderate body. Just a bit oily. There’s no alcohol warmth –not unusual for an 86 proof whisky. The finish is moderate at best with not much lingering. Overall, the mouthfeel is really sort of uninteresting.
When it comes to lightly peated scotches, HP12 is a go-to for me. You get bits of the iodine and and smoke you’d expect from an Islay but none of the salt (If you actually like the salt but the hate the peat, Bunnahabhain 12 is the one to try). Further, it’s a plenty complex dram even ignoring the peat characteristics. And being a Jim Beam fan, the funkiness makes it feel familiar and welcoming.
As I mentioned in my Bowmore 16 review, I had dinner at Jeff’s a while back and we spent a while sampling his expansive whiskey collection. One of the more unusual bottles we tasted was Dry Fly Distilling’s Straight Triticale Whiskey. Jeff was nice enough to let me take the bottle for a review. I’ve held it captive ever since. So I guess it’s time to write a review and get it back to him. Maybe.
It’s worth noting that this is a “select” bottling for Holmes Liquor in Dalton, Georgia. This bottling was finished in a Pedro Ximénez sherry cask and comes in at 117.5 proof. The sa
Triticale is a late 19th century Scottish/German hybrid of rye and wheat. Typically, the “flavoring grain” in bourbon is either rye or wheat. These grains are found in varying percentages of the mash bill. Rye flavor contributions are generally spicy (cinnamon, clove, baking spices) while wheat is a much milder, softer grain that yields a sweeter impression. Wild Turkey is perhaps most famous for its high-rye bourbons while Maker’s Mark is the most recognizable “wheater.” Dry Fly Distillery bills this whiskey as a “Rye Wheat Hybrid” right on the label. That should set the expectation for the experience, right?
Copper gold color with brilliant clarity. A turn coats the glass leaving long, ropey legs.
Burnt sugar and baking spices dominate at the initial sniff. Those aggressive aromas soften into cinnamon and fresh-cut grass. The lasting aroma reminds me of an orange pomander ball –you know, when you stick cloves in an orange for Christmas decorations.
My immediate impression is of preserved lemons. There’s a fantastic brightness here that gets close to tart but not puckering. Cinnamon and clove follow in the middle. The hints of brown sugar in the finish play well with some green oak and a hint of agave. Subsequent sips yield candy apple and pistachio.
A zesty burn quickly yields to a light mouthfeel where the liquor never really seems to sit on the tongue but rather floats on top of it. Still it somehow still manages to stick around for a lasting finish. Most young whiskeys at this proof would be brash enough to seem almost astringent but not this one.
This is an interesting whiskey that tells mostly the same story in the nose that it does in the flavor. The flavors here are unusual enough that I really had to spend some time with this dram and dig into my memory to find the right descriptors. Even though triticale is billed as a wheat/rye hybrid, in this case it yields a whiskey that isn’t really half and half of either. Instead, it’s an uncommon whiskey on its own, deserving of its own classification.
You may have a difficult time finding this same bottling. I’d suggest looking for a cask strength, sherry finish bottling in your nearest upscale bottle shop. Otherwise, even though I haven’t tasted it, I think the standard bottling of this is worth a try. Master of Malt will even sell you a dram!
Flash reviews are written when I just want to enjoy a whiskey. These are quick nosing and tasting notes, not a full review. As such, flash reviews will never be scored. Use them only to get a quick idea whether or not this whiskey has characteristics that interest you.
Barrel 3221, bottled 9-14-16
Nose: caramel-coated peanut, like your favorite part of Cracker Jack, cinnamony rye
Flavor: nutmeg-forward yielding to caramel but with a nice cinnamon balance. Hints of orange peel. Short, crisp finish with a whisp of oak.
Impression: just plain tasty and dangerously quaffable. And at less than $30 per bottle, it’s hard to pass up the last age statement, bonded bourbon.
Rani Ghanem got one heck of a surprise a couple days ago while working at his uncle’s liquor store. A customer asked him about chicken being in the store. Only then did Rani realize a peahen (not a peacock as reported), had wandered into the store. Rani called animal control, and it became painfully clear that this bird was not going to go quietly.
Ghanem reported that the damages were likely in excess of $500. A loss to be sure, but maybe he’s lucky this lady didn’t make her way to the top whiskey shelves!
My friend Jeff invited my family over for dinner a couple weeks ago. Jeff actually helped me find my way into single malt scotch late last year when I still thought Cutty Sark was amazing. For me, it was a quick trip from budget blends to single malts, especially Islays. They’re still my favorite, occupying about 80% of my scotch collection.
Jeff shared several bourbons with me that evening (reviews forthcoming). And it just happened to be my luck that he’s no longer interested in scotch. He brought out a box labeled Limited Edition Bowmore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 16 Years Natural Cask Strength. He picked this bottle up in a duty free shop on the way from Hong Kong years ago. There were about 5 ounces left, and they now belong to me. Thanks, Jeff!
This review is mostly for posterity. You almost certainly won’t find this one in a bottle shop. A quick search of the secondary market turns up one bottle in Italy for $213.13. Still, Bowmore 16 is worth talking about, so read on.
Pours a pale straw color that belies its 16 year age. Some floaties but otherwise brilliant clarity. A turn reveals long, distant, syrupy legs and glinting yellow highlights.
Bright lemon surrounded with earthy peat and whiffs of smoke. There is zero alcohol burn in the aroma. You can really get a huge nose full of this despite its high proof. Soft sugared vanilla is pleasantly balanced with herbal notes.
The first sip brings immediate earthy peat with candied lemon zest, quickly yielding to light caramel sugar. A breath blown through a closed mouth brings the unmistakable impression of bergamot. My mind travels to sitting in a big leather chair in a cigar room, sipping Earl Grey tea. The finish, unfortunately, is quite brief but nicely smoky with none of the ash that plagues recent Bowmore 12 bottlings.
Velvety and just a little slick with a restrained alcohol zing –more than found in the nose. This spirit doesn’t stick to the tongue at all, explaining the short finish. Enjoyable, but not quite a long enough lasting experience for its proof and vintage.
I wrote this review the second time I tried this bottle. The first time, it took me about 15 minutes to call up a memory tied to the dominant flavor. But once I picked out bergamot, it was impossible to ignore. This is the scotch drinker’s Earl Grey and despite the brief finish, it’s a shame this cask is long gone (as this bottle will soon be as well). As Islays go, this bottling is unusual in that peat is not the feature. But that’s a good thing as the peat supports the bergamot tea impressions so well.
The unfortunate thing about this bottling is that you’re either not going to find it or you’re going to have to shell out at least $200 to get it second-hand. If you’re an Earl Grey fanatic, plunk down the money –you won’t be disappointed. Otherwise, find a friend a like Jeff!
When I started Cask Malt, I envisioned a review site mostly about whiskey and occasionally about related topics. History, science, barware, the really important stuff. Books never crossed my mind. But while on vacation last week, I grabbed Bourbon Curious for my Kindle for some poolside reading. About halfway through the book, I thought, “Hey, this is pretty good. I should review this.” So here you have it, my first book review. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see more book reviews. I’m reading Mitenbuler’s Bourbon Empire right now. Expect a review soon.
Fred Minnick is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author, contributor, and whiskey judge. To date, he’s written six books, including the acclaimed Whiskey Women. He serves as a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the World Whiskey Awards. So, it’s safe to say he knows what he’s talking about.
Bourbon Curious is a little bit history, a little bit ingredient description, and a lotta tasting notes.
In Part One, Minnick introduces bourbon as both a spirit and a culture. Mythology and mystery are explained and history is explored. A full chapter is devoted to Bourbon Politics –a chapter that might be more aptly titled “Bourbon Marketing.”
Part Two offers a primer on the ingredients, equipment, and processes that make up bourbon: corn, rye/wheat, malted barley, water, yeast/fermentation, stills/distillation and wood/maturing. For a new bourbon appreciator, this is perhaps the most important material in the book. This part takes the reader from grain to glass. It explains how every facet of mashbill, fermentation, distillation, and maturing create the experience of bourbons. Minnick spends a bit too long discussing the GMO corn debate. However, this is certainly one of the loudest topics in food sourcing right now. So, its impact on spirits deserves consideration.
Part Three is a new bourbon drinker’s best resource in this book. In these pages, Minnick first offers a introduction to tasting and evaluating bourbon including an A to Z list of characteristics. The following chapters break bourbons up into Grain-Forward, Nutmeg-Forward, Caramel-Forward, and Cinnamon-Forward categories. There’s also a chapter on Select Limited Editions and Special Releases. Individual bourbons and bottlings are reviewed in a standardized format that includes both review notes and production details. The majority of the reviews are for bottles that most readers will be able to find at their best local liquor store or bottle shop. This is a fantastic resource for anyone still trying to expand their new collection. Find a bottling you know and like, and compare Minnick’s notes in the same category to find your next bottle.
Finally, there’s an appendix with an exhaustive brand history. While you won’t find any tasting notes here, it is interesting to learn how some of our favorite brands really started (myths and marketing aside) and who holds the keys to the kingdom now.
This is a book for the new(er) bourbon enthusiast. The veteran aficionado with broad experience of the major distillers won’t find much new information here. But those who are still in search of a better understanding of bourbon, its production, and best examples, will find a lot to love here. Fred Minnick has given us a useful, down-to-earth reference in Bourbon Curious.
Well, this one is pretty easy. If you ask 20 people their Top 5 (non-rare) bourbons, you’re probably going to hear Four Roses Single Barrel on almost every list. Four Roses knows this and liquor stores know this. I’ve seen Four Roses Single Barrel in stores that have the most miserable whiskey selections I’ve ever seen. So, check your most convenient liquor store. If they don’t have it, they’re probably just sold out for the moment. I’ve seen this expression as low as $35 so there’s not much at stake.
I was turned onto Four Roses Single Barrel by a good friend and CrossFit coach (Thanks, Jeff!). I’d been into single malt scotches for a while and I was ready to branch out to bourbon. Four Roses Single Barrel was the first must-have item he mentioned. I’m pretty sure I bought this bottle the next day.
Of note, this is the “standard” single barrel. In higher end liquor stores, you may find select single barrels that the store, a distributor, or another buyer has selected and purchased for bottling. These select bottlings are usually cask strength and can be any one of Four Roses’ 10 recipes. This review is the OBSV recipe: B mashbill – 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley, V yeast strain – delicate fruit.
Dark gold to light brown color. A couple of “floaties” but otherwise, nice clarity. A turn thinly coats glass but there are no big ropy legs here. The liquid swirls nicely in the glass.
Sugary oak and oranges are big in the front. Lots of burnt sugar and toffee last through. Continued draws yield cinnamon-glazed almonds and sweet corn.
Lots of oak and sweet caramel right away. Spicy cinnamon is no doubt contributed by the rye. Loads of sweet corn are backed up by a handful of salted peanuts. Everything is pleasantly in balance. Brown sugar lasts on the palate into a long finish. Continued sips yield more cinnamon with a touch of marzipan dipped in maraschino cherry juice.
Velvety and mouth-coating with a pleasant alcohol tingle, likely supported by the rye spiciness. It’s warm enough to be sinus-feeling with a breath blown through a closed mouth. Overall, it’s quite warm and true to its proof.
Four Roses Single Barrel is just plain delicious and artfully balanced. It has all the characteristics that make a bourbon. While it’s true that nothing in particular stands out, that also means that nothing beats the drinker over the head. The danger here is that this bourbon is so habit-forming, comforting, available, and affordable, you could put many bottles of it away before you realize it. And at the $35 price point, maybe that’s not such a bad thing!
I don’t have my usual story around finding this particular bottling. I was at a liquor store, wanted to pick up something I hadn’t tasted, and I hadn’t seen any Bowmore single malts anywhere else in Chattanooga. I knew the Bowmore 12 was the distillery’s flagship age statement product, so it seemed like a safe buy. In general, I’m an Islay guy. Peat is definitely my thing.
Pours a beautiful 24 karat gold color that moves lightly in the glass. A turn shows brilliant clarity with bright yellow highlights.There are some faint legs left on the glass after turning. A pretty whisky.
It’s immediately clear this is an Islay whisky. Peat smoke and salty brine dominate, rounded out by some lemony citrus. Whiffs of cigar smoke open up into light toffee on top of well-worn leather. Alcohol is notably restrained, probably owing to the standard 80 proof. It’s easy to get a big nose full of this without burning up your sinuses. Overall, this is a complex and interesting aroma.
Earth, leather, and smoky peat are loud at the beginning. There’s a notable funk that’s almost a bit musty. But it’s interesting rather than off-putting. The lemon that I picked up in the nose eventually comes through. Leather, earth, and funk carry through the finish. Tobacco smoke with some ash stays on the palate. There’s good complexity overall even if the earthiness is a touch heavy. As the dram sits, woody cedar comes through. Unfortunately, it’s ash that lasts into the aftertaste, which I find unpleasant.
Light and a bit oily. Alcohol tingle is present but low overall. There is some astringency which likely contributes to the impression of ash. Altogether, the mouthfeel isn’t very interesting, lively, or rich.
For a 12 year old single malt, Bowmore has moderate complexity. While I love peat smoke a little funk (a la Highland Park 12), this scotch gets a little too ashy and tobacco-y. Further, the mouthfeel is pretty boring and just doesn’t contribute to the experience. I could really take or leave this scotch. If it was the only Islay available at a bar, I might choose it. But ultimately, it just doesn’t rise to the competition.
When you’re starting to get serious about bourbon, Eagle Rare seems to be one of the first ones that’s recommended. It’s the first suggestion in Reddit’s Bourbon Gift Guide. Jordan at Breaking Bourbon asserts that Eagle Rare “is definitely a bottle I’d recommend any bourbon lover keep in their home bar.” And with a price that’s usually a bit less than $40, there’s not a lot to lose.
Eagle Rare is a Buffalo Trace bottling of their popular low rye mash bill. This is the same liquor that ends up in Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon but aged at least 10 years. It might also be single barrel(ish). Or it might not. We don’t really know anymore.
Eagle Rare went through a somewhat confusing label change around early 2015. They moved the age statement from the front of the bottle to the back. This is definitely still a 10 year bourbon. What is less clear now is whether or not it’s a single barrel. When the distillery changed from hand bottling to an automated bottling line, they dropped the single barrel nomenclature because it was possible a bottle could get spirits from 2 barrels when the line switched over. However, there’s no verbiage on Buffalo Trace’s site about this. It really doesn’t matter to me. But purists may have a preference.
Buffalo Trace has been awfully hard to find in Chattanooga lately –much less one of their smaller-volume bottlings, a good friend found this one for me and picked it up. There are a few things to learn from this: A good friend encourages your best habits. A friend with whiskey is a good friend. Always tell your friends which whiskeys you’re looking for. Thanks, Luke!
Burnished gold/bronze color with brilliant clarity and bright gold highlights. Turning the whiskey leaves a glass-coating syrupy texture with ropy legs.
There’s no other word for it –this bourbon is pretty. Damn pretty. I could just sit and look at it. This makes me question why they chose the black sticker label for the back of the bottle. The rest of the bottle is painted with sharp branding that screams premium booze. But the solid black label on the back really hides the beautiful appearance. To some, it might seem inconsequential. But we drink with our eyes first. Changing to an all-painted bottle seems like an obvious upgrade.
I get an immediate impression of kettle corn at The Chattanooga Market. You can smell it from blocks away and the aroma permeates the entire pavilion. It’s appetizing and distinct. A restrained vinous winey impression drifts in and quickly transitions to orange peel. Lots of caramelized sugar and hints of cinnamon continue. As the dram opens up, I get another heavy dose of nostalgia: Bit-O-Honey candy… my childhood favorite.
There’s a lot more orange in the front of the taste than what appears in the nose. The corn comes through nicely right after. Then comes charred wood, though not distinctly oak. Caramel and toffee feature in the finish. Follow-up sips reveal popcorn –even toasted kernels. This bourbon really has kettle corn written all over it. Oak eventually comes through with some restrained black cherry and dark vanilla. There’s a nice sweetness in the middle that dries out quickly after the swallow. This leaves a finish that I find much too short. Sure, it makes you want to take the next sip but it’s an abrupt stop to the enjoyment of the flavor.
Pillowy and silky. It floats in the mouth rather than coating it. There’s a nice alcohol tingle but nothing aggressive. Finishes quickly with nothing left on the palate but a slight tingly astringency.
This is an interesting bourbon as it’s unusual for me to immediately get an impression of a distinct aroma. Kettle corn at the market and Bit-O-Honey make this bourbon smell like home –even if it was distilled and aged four hours away. There’s plenty of complexity in Eagle Rare. The only shortcoming is in the short finish. But overall, this is a new favorite that I can’t recommend enough at the $40 price point.
I had never heard of Jefferson’s Ocean when I saw the LIMIT 1 tag on the shelf beneath it at Riverside Wine, Beer, and Spirits Friday afternoon. I was looking for a new bourbon –nothing particularly expensive. But everything on the shelves seemed pedestrian. I spotted this bottle and did a quick Google search.
From Jefferson’s Bourbon’s own description, this whiskey was “a curious effort to discover what would happen if bourbon was left to weather the extreme elements: temperature fluctuations, salt air and the gentle rocking of [a] ship…Each voyage of Jefferson’s Ocean typically crosses the equator four times, visits five continents and over 30 ports on an average sailing” (Jefferson’s Bourbon – Jefferson’s Ocean).
Bourbon from each voyage is said to have different characteristics. While I couldn’t find any information specifically about Voyage 11, there was a smattering of both thoughtful reviews and forum chatter about prior voyages. Nick at Breaking Bourbon said, “With Ocean II, I was expecting to be disappointed but instead I was wowed. With this release, I was expecting to be wowed but instead I was disappointed.” In his Voyage 4 review, he concluded, “A better end result than Ocean 3, but still a premium price to sample the results of this ocean-aging experiment.” Commentary from various whiskey forums and merchants was Yelp-like: either 1 star or 5 star –no grey area.
It sounded interesting enough. Each Voyage was different. And apparently I have a knack for picking polarizing whiskies. It was clear that I was going to have to pay the $85 to find out what was what.
Pours a dark gold, almost copper. Jostling spirits around in a barrel puts lots of proteins and fatty acids in suspension. So, this whiskey must be chill filtered. Otherwise, I’d expect it to be quite hazy. Instead, it’s brilliantly clear with pleasing highlights. The dram is just thick enough to leave thin, glass-coating legs.
Right away, I smell sweet cherries and oak with a hint of lemony citrus. This is quickly enveloped by salty brine opening up into a distinct orange bitters impression. As the pour sits and warms, biscuit and bread notes become the feature, overlaid with a light honey sweetness.
The salty brine starts the first sip. It really tastes like the ocean as soon as it passes the lips. Then oakiness begins to sneak in. There are toffee overtones here but the sweetness is minimal. As it sits in the mouth, some restrained bitterness comes out. Immediately after the first swallow, the biscuit notes I picked up in the aroma pop out. And just as quickly, the entire experience is gone, leaving nothing of mention in the finish. Once my palate is accustomed to the brininess, additional tastes reveal a distinct rye spiciness. This likely contributes to the initial salty impression and also explains the bitterness in the middle. As the whiskey opens up, the rye impression is much more prominent.
As I sip to enjoy, and stop thinking about the review, a memory pops into my head: horehound candy. This whiskey tastes quite like the Cracker Barrel candy I used to grab on occasion when I was little.
Light and a bit velvety. There is some slight tingle here but it’s restrained. Minimal astringency leaves the palate quickly –too quickly. It’s a pleasant, some might say smooth mouthfeel. But a bit uninteresting.
Jefferson’s CEO Trey Zoeller says in this video that the Ocean series is “like three spirits in one. It’s like an Islay malt, it’s like a dark rum, and it’s a bourbon at heart.” I’m an Islay malt fan above all else and while this whiskey has the salty brine of Islays in spades, that’s all it has. Fans of unpeated Bunnahabhain might well find interest here. But those expecting complex earthiness or any smoke at all would best look elsewhere. I’m also not getting anything that is distinctly “dark rum” here. Sure, there are some peppery notes and a bit of toffee but those characteristics are also expected from a good rye. Further, the bourbon figurehead of this proclaimed trinity is lacking the complexity and lasting enjoyment of some of the staple examples.
But here’s the thing: this isn’t just a gimmick. There’s definitely something to the ocean aging of this whiskey. The salt and brine are undeniable. And ultimately, it makes for a unique experience for a bourbon –or even an Islay fan. There are interesting characteristics of each in this bottle.
I think what this whiskey really needs is some re-branding and price adjustment. Rather than saying Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea is three things (only two of which it does –middling), talk about the one thing it is: a briney easy-drinking bourbon. Further, the price point really does have to come down. For this price, I can buy a bottle of Bunnahabhain and a bottle of Jefferson’s Reserve and get more complexity and enjoyment out of each than from the sum of Ocean’s parts. I could see this being a buy at $50, maybe $60. But $80 is a stretch.