Let me preface the following reviews by saying that I truly love all whiskies, from the roughest Tennessee sourmash to the smoothest single highland malt scotch. Each whiskey combines the malts, grains and water it was distilled from with the often historic barrels it was aged in to tell a unique story full of layers and complexity t o anyone with the patience to listen. Thus I am a purist in my approach; the reviews below were all sampled neat: at room temperature, with no ice, water, or other additives which so frequently muddy the waters and mask the distinct characteristics which make each bottle so unique and precious. The greatest modification I will allow for is the addition of a few drops of distilled or spring water, which can sometimes have profound impact on the character of the whiskey. I have labeled these changes as "activation" in my notes below, and in most cases have said whether or not I would recommend such an action in the future. I hope you enjoy my thoughts and remember: no matter what your preferences are, there is a great whiskey out there waiting for you. Happy tasting.
Distiller: A. Hardy U.S.A.
Bottle: Anthony Hardy
Nose: Tart citrus with subtle herbal tones
Body: More soft limes with a vague saltiness.
Finish: Some oak with hints of peat. Mild, but lingering.
Activation: Adds some vanilla sugar to the body and a hint of caramel to the finish. Not bad.
Notes: Anthony Hardy is simple and easy to drink. Like most of our 'budget whiskey' segment it suffers a bit from catering to the lowest common denominator, but I've certainly had worse.
Nose: Strong woody notes, with a hint of sweetness. More like fir than oak.
Body: Somewhat thin. Honey and nuts give way into a strong earthy peat.
Finish: More nuts coated with thick cloves and spices. Peat lingers on.
Activation: Gives a smoother, rounder body. Reveals some hints of berries and apples. Would recommend.
Notes: This is the first Indian malt I have reviewed, and it is definitely unique. Amrut claims that this is a mixture of some Scottish malts and some locally grown Indian ones. However, the label is a throwback to graphic design of the 1980s and the tasting notes are quite absurdly written, leaving no doubt as to the origin of this bottle. Unfortunately, the largest downfall of this bottle is the hefty price point, which I feel is overvalued. It will be worthwhile to keep an eye out for later, more refined editions however.
Aged: 10 year
Nose: Spiced and meaty with a moderate smoke
Body: Soft sweet peat flavor gradually grows stronger, spicier
Finish: Lingering black pepper and spice
Activation: Completely changes character, pepper is replaced by cinnamon and marshmallows. Both are good, the decision is situational.
Notes: This is an intriguing malt, high proof and harsh in its spiciness. I fondly refer to it as "the bacon Scotch" because it has the strange property of making you hungry, especially for bacon or perhaps a well-seasoned steak. It is certainly the kind of scotch to drink with dinner, not before or after. If you a looking for a more of a digestif, activating with spring water changes the character of this scotch dramatically, although it does lose some of its profound uniqueness.
Bottle: Traditional Cask
Aged: Finished in quarter casks
Nose: Strong, smoky peat
Body: Full bodied liquid smoke over rich salted caramel. Hints of toffee.
Finish: Lingering earthy peat
Activation: Cuts the harshness a bit, more of a brown sugar taste
Notes: This is a thick, chewy malt. Loads of smoke and peat without much of the bitterness that can come from this style of dram. Something of a throwback to an older style, this one is quite satisfying.
Distiller: Arran Malt
Bottle: Amarone Cask Finish
Aged: Amarone Wine Casks
Nose: Full and spicy. Cinnamon and cloves.
Body: More hearty spices. Subtle undertones of dark cherry.
Finish: Sweet and sugary yellow cake.
Activation: Brings out more fruit tones and cuts back on some of the spices. Recommend.
Notes: The amarone finish was said to be similar to the sassicaia wine, so comparisons to my beloved Artein are somewhat inevitable. In that respect, the amarone comes up a bit short as it is not as complex or layered. However, this is a fantastic dram in its own right. The fruit flavors here are subtle and deep, and do not take away at all from the spicy palate of the whiskey. I highly recommend giving this one a chance.
Bottle: Caribbean Cask
Aged: 14 years finished in Caribbean Rum Casks
Nose: White oak and apple ginger
Body: Light toffee, vanilla and candied apples
Finish: Sugar plums with a hint more oak
Activation: Adds a rich caramel texture. Not bad.
Notes: I was quite excited to try a rum finished whiskey. I expected loads of brown sugar and dark earthy spices. However, the Caribbean Cask was not as severe as I imagined. Instead I found a well polished single malt with a subtly inviting character. Relax and take this one slowly.
Aged: 12 years oak with sherry finish
Nose: Strong oak with hints of red fruits
Body: Sweet and soft. Ripe cherries and blackberries dripping with thick honey.
Finish: Spicier, cinnamon and apples with just a touch of earthy peat.
Activation: Unveils some earthier tones of cloves and spices. Recommend for those who find the original taste too sweet.
Notes: This sherry finished malt is cleaner and fuller bodied than most whiskies that come out of Speyside. It is a solid if somewhat unremarkable midrange bottle.
Aged: Oak, acacia, beech, and cherry
Nose: Strong aromas of white grapes and other sour fruits.
Body: Soft, rounded body. More grape flavors lightly infused with warm vanilla and raisins. Reminiscent of a chardonnay.
Finish: More of the same, but somewhat muted.
Notes: Our first French whiskey has joined the list and it is unlike any I have had before. This bottle is soft, smooth, and so full of grape flavor I wonder that I have not picked up a white wine by mistake. No peat, malt, or earthy flavors can be found. I also find it somewhat hard to believe it is a full 80 proof, so gentle is it on the palate.
Distiller: Benjamin Prichard
Bottle: Double Chocolate
Nose: Incredibly thick, bitter cocoa and coffee beans.
Body: More heavy cocoa and espresso. Undertones of a white oak bourbon, but somewhat masked under the cakey texture.
Finish: Still more cocoa, with a surprising twist of wood smoke.
Activation: Mellows out somewhat while keeping the original themes intact. Recommend.
Notes: While I agree that bourbon and chocolate are complimentary flavors, for the most part I would still prefer that they were kept separate. Double chocolate is not a sweet whiskey, but it is very thick and almost syrupy at times. People that enjoy these hybrid liqueur-like whiskies will like this bottle, but I confess that it isn't really my speed.
Distiller: Black Powder
Nose: Harsh and sour.
Body: Lots of corn, a little bit of barley. Moderate earthy taste.
Finish: Dirty smoke, like gunpowder. Appropriate.
Activation: More malt and some wheat and grains. Good idea.
Notes: Black powder is closer to a sour mash than a true Kentucky bourbon. It is similar than Jack Daniels but with more grains and less smoke. It's a fair choice given the low price point, but not something you'll want every day.
Distiller: Bowman Brothers
Bottle: Small Batch
Nose: Surprisingly light and clear, with floral themes
Body: Soft and sweet. More complex floral and herbal notes
Finish: Slowly lingering sea salted caramel with just a hint of vanilla and candied nuts
Activation: Largely unchanged, but slightly diluted flavors. Completely uncalled for.
Notes: This remarkable bourbon hails from Virginia. It skips on some of the more traditional bourbon flavors, going instead for a lighter and more complex taste. It is reminiscent of Hibiki. There is just enough bite left to remind you it is in fact a bourbon, albeit one of the smoothest and easiest to drink I have tasted.
Aged: 15 year
Nose: Rich and heavily spiced, cloves and cinnamon
Body: Imposing and heavy with cloves, nutmeg and paprika
Finish: Softens into a crackling dark raw cane sugar
Activation: Lighter, thinner, and spicier; finish ends smoother and sweeter
Notes: From a few samples, the distillers at Bowmore have certainly found a unique and easily identifiable style. The 15 year Darkest is the strongest expression of those characteristics I have yet found and other iterations have simply left me wanting this one instead. It is a unique malt, harsh but not unpleasant and positively gorgeous in color. I will admit it took a few samplings to truly appreciate, but it certainly does grow on me over time.
Bottle: Estate Cask
Aged: White oak with a cognac finish
Nose: Tart green apples and butter
Body: More sour apples over crème brulee. Hints of pear and cinnamon.
Finish: Warm roasted marshmallows with vanilla and caramel
Activation: Cuts some of the citrus for a rounder, buttery feel. I generally wouldn't advise it.
Notes: The first French whiskey on our list unsurprisingly takes a lot of character from the cognac which finished it. The strength of the fruit in the body is disconcertingly un-whiskey-like, but this malt shines in the finish. It's not for every situation but Brenne has made an altogether pleasant dram.
Distiller: Broken Bell
Bottle: Small Batch
Nose: Sweet honeyed oats with light oak
Body: Full bodied and smooth. Lemon zest and more honey.
Finish: Gently lingering. A faint whiff of hickory among the citrus.
Activation: Adds more of a sweet caramel flavor. Recommend.
Notes: A good clean bourbon, neither overly complex nor unnecessarily harsh. An all around solid choice if you aren't sure what you are in the mood for. Goody Goody recently ran this bottle at a remarkable 50% off, and I made sure to stock up with several.
Distiller: Buffalo Trace
Bottle: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Nose: Strong alcohol. White oak and dirt.
Body: Smooth and slightly sour. More oak with a hint of lime and green grapes.
Finish: Lingering and full of bitter tannins.
Activation: Not really a noticeable difference.
Notes: Buffalo Trace is a solid if somewhat unremarkable Kentucky bourbon. It's a nice change of pace to the woodier Four Roses or the sharper Eagle Rare.
Distiller: Compass Box
Bottle: Flaming Heart
Aged: French Oak and Sherry
Nose: Smokey and faintly spiced.
Body: Full bodied and heavily peated. Undertone of a dark, pure vanilla.
Finish: Clean and unimposing.
Activation: Enhances vanilla but removes characteristic smoke, do not recommend.
Notes: This edition is less earthy than expected, with a cleaner finish. It brings in a solid peat flavor, without the harshness of some similar blends, notably the "Peat Monster". As such, it is certainly easier to drink, but it does sacrifice some of the complexity and character of other bottles. I would recommend it as a good introduction to the heavier and peatier malts, but for more serious applications I would tend to gravitate towards other options.
Distiller: Compass Box
Aged: First-fill American oak casks
Nose: Vanilla, caramel, and coconut
Body: Toasted marshmallows on graham crackers. Butter, cream, and more coconut.
Finish: Chewy English toffee
Activation: It's soft as goose down already. Don't over do it.
Notes: I'm not sure that Compass Box has ever made a bad whiskey, and Hedonism is no exception. It is subtle, smooth, and distinctly well balanced. It's very similar to TX Blended, which is by no means a bad thing. The only real downside is the price point: in this elite class of scotch, the competition is stiff and you would be hard pressed to justify taking this over a Dalmore Cigar Malt for example.
Distiller: Compass Box
Nose: Sweet, with intense citrus
Body: Soft and subtle, citrus throughout and faint spice
Finish: Moderate linger, begins as harsh citrus but mellows
Activation: Not Done
Notes: This interesting whiskey is perfect for what it is, but very niche in its application. It is not suitable for most situations, but positively shines when paired with dark chocolate and rich desserts. The flavor is positively decadent and it continues the Compass Box tradition of easily accessible scotches. Due to its situational nature, I try to always have a bottle on hand for when that perfect moment arises.
Distiller: Conecuh Ridge
Bottle: Clyde May's
Nose: Pine trees and green apples
Body: Quite sour granny smith apples over pine nuts.
Finish: More apple, faint cinnamon
Activation: Much sweeter. The apples turn yellow and sweet, with a twist of peach
Notes: Clyde May's is quite a surprise. The bottle expounds upon the wind whistling through the Alabama pines, which I naturally thought was a load of nonsense until I actually cracked the bottle open. Lo and behold, it does smell quite strongly of pine trees. The flavor is much heavier on the green apple side, which is a strange but refreshingly different whiskey. I quite recommend it.
Distiller: Cutty Sark
Bottle: Prohibition Edition
Aged: 6 years
Nose: Pepper and freshly grilled steak
Body: Smooth, salt and pepper. Just a touch of vanilla. Peaty undertones.
Finish: Spicy and lingering, more dry rub steak
Activation: Sweetens and adds more of a caramel flavor. I prefer the original.
Notes: Cutty Sark is sharper than most blended scotches, steering away from more traditional fruit flavors and diving headlong into the spicy instead. If you enjoyed the Ardbeg 10, then this will be right up your alley. The classy labeling and fun backstory are bonus points.
Bottle: 12 Year
Aged: 9 years bourbon, 3 years oloroso sherry
Nose: Warm dark hot chocolate with nutmeg and orange
Body: Lots of citrus, more chocolate. White cake and espresso.
Finish: More coffee, with brown sugar and plums
Activation: Brings out some cinnamon and vanilla at the expense of the coffee and chocolate. I prefer without but both are good.
Notes: The Dalmore 12 is a classic scotch and a good benchmark for what a highland single malt should be. It is a little less complex than some of it's rarer brethren, but the trademarks of Dalmore are all there… oranges, plums, and dark chocolate flavors. The scotch for when you know what you want and nothing else will do- I'd buy it by the case if I could afford it.
Bottle: Castle Leod
Aged: 14 Years in American white oak, then 18 months in Bordeaux chateau
Nose: Powerful aromas of grapes, raisins and pears.
Body: Ripe fleshy plums and fainter pears slowly give way to honey and caramel.
Finish: Resurgence of plum and dark berries, with just a hint of licorice
Activation: Adds a lighter note, including more citrus flavors. Both are good.
Notes: The Castle Leod, second in the series, is probably the most accessible of the bottles. Another smooth and well rounded bottle, it has an elegant simplicity that belies the actual age of this whiskey. It isn't as stunning as the Mackenzie, but it is a good, light hearted malt that will not disappoint.
Bottle: Cigar Malt Reserve (2012 edition)
Aged: White oak, Oloroso sherry and Cabernet Sauvignon
Nose: Sweet and dark, cherries
Body: Rich creamy vanilla with overtones of pear and plum
Finish: Sweet yields into tarter citrus, ending in sugar and light cinnamon
Activation: Intensifies citrus flavor, lessens cream but unearths some new spiciness. Generally would recommend.
Notes: This is the 2012 reintroduction of the Cigar Malt Reserve which was discontinued in 2008. It is easily identifiable by the bright red box and label as opposed to the dark maroon coloring of the older version. In general, this iteration has added more fruits by the virtue of increased duration in the sherry and cabernet sauvignon casks and less in the white oak. However, it has lost much of the earthy complexity of the earlier bottling. A decent malt in its own right, it is nonetheless still something of a disappointment. If you have the opportunity to find a pre-2008 dark maroon version of this malt, do not pass it up. I am currently saving one such bottle for a special occasion; perhaps when I finally crack it open I will do a review of it in its own right.
Aged: 14 Years in American white oak, then 18 months in Oloroso sherry
Nose: Dark chocolate with faint layers of citrus and berries
Body: Sweet and spicy. More orange-infused chocolate, coupled with cinnamon and a hint of cloves
Finish: Dark Columbian coffee and mocha fade away into citrus and grapes
Activation: Lightens the character. The dark velvety notes are replaced by sharper lemons and grapes. Would recommend.
Notes: The third and final expression of the series is something of a tough nut to crack. At first tasting, the flavors feel somewhat muddled and lacking in direction. Subsequent trials, however, yield more clarity and complexity, especially with the addition of spring water. In short, it is not a dram to be hurried or taken lightly.
Aged: 11 Years in American white oak, then 6 in Oporto port wine
Nose: Warm and complex. Tones of ripe citrus and plums.
Body: Rich and supple. More plum, followed closely by mango. Undertones of ginger throughout.
Finish: Fleeting taste of almonds gives way into very bitter chocolate.
Activation: Dulls some of the sweetness, lending a saltier character instead. More nuts and less fruits. Would generally avoid.
Notes: The Mackenzie is the first bottle in this historic series, and at only 3,000 total bottles, the rarest as well. As you might expect from a whiskey with an incredible six years finishing in wine casks, this malt is rich and luxurious, with no harsh peats or rough edges at all. It relies quite heavily on warm and fruity flavors, but never feels washed out or overpowered by them. A truly remarkable whiskey with more to offer on each subsequent tasting. Save this one for special occasions.
Bottle: White Label
Nose: Fruit overripe to the point of being mildy sour. Moderate wood tones underneath.
Body: Thin and watery. Traditional vanilla and faint cinnamon.
Finish: Initial burst of spices fades slowly into earthy peat
Activation: Remains largely unchanged.
Notes: When considering Dewar's white label, it is important to keep in mind that this bottle comes in at a significantly cheaper price point than most that I have reviewed. However, that being said, there are other simple 'daily drinkers' that I prefer to this one. The flavors simple feel underdeveloped, as if they could have used another few years in the barrel to help bring them out more.
Distiller: Eagle Rare
Bottle: Kentucky Straight
Aged: 10 Year
Nose: Faintly sweet and oaky.
Body: Full bodied and surprisingly complex. Undertones of sweet red fruits and salty English toffee.
Finish: Sudden and harsh, with a definitive kick.
Activation: Ripens fruit, tasting more of oranges instead. Oakier finish is somewhat less intense.
Notes: Eagle Rare is one of the best kept secrets in the world of affordable, daily drinker bourbons. It has the complex nose and body that would think you were drinking a blended highland malt, before the finish kicks your teeth in and reminds you this is Kentucky bourbon after all. A rare whiskey that can be shot or sipped with equal satisfaction.
Distiller: Ethan Koll
Bottle: Rare 8 Year
Aged: 8 years
Nose: Very soft vanilla
Body: Brown sugar and some cinnamon. Rather thin.
Finish: Faint earthy tones.
Activation: Slightly spicier but generally would not recommend.
Notes: Had the distillers taken their time a little more, this bottle has potential to be a great whiskey, similar to something out of Bowmore. Alas, eight years just isn't long enough and thus Ethan Koll is only ok. It's better than some but something less than remarkable.
Distiller: Ezra B
Bottle: Single Barrel
Aged: 12 years white oak
Nose: Some smoke, wheat and sour mash
Body: Full bodied salty caramel interspersed with oak and faint hints of rye
Finish: Crisp, clean fresh bread
Activation: Reveals some light cherries and fruit textures. Recommend.
Notes: This is a high proof frontier bourbon you won't want to shoot. Add some spring water, sip and enjoy.
Distiller: Firestone and Robertson
Bottle: TX Blended
Nose: Strong pure vanilla
Body: Surprising sweet. More vanilla, this time ligthly infused with caramel.
Finish: Warm roasted marshmallows
Activation: Muddles flavors while exposing little. Do not recommend.
Notes: This is the first American whiskey I have formally reviewed, hailing from none other than Fort Worth, Texas. It is crisp and clean like a highland malt might be, but as you might expect, more forward and straight-laced in its flavoring. TX Blended is easy to drink, and a solid opening move for American whiskies.
Distiller: Four Roses
Bottle: Small Batch
Nose: White oak with subtle warm fruit undertones
Body: Round and full, surprisingly light on the wood flavors. Very accessible.
Finish: Spicy and lingering
Notes: This is one of my favorite 'daily drinking' bourbons. Having tried all three derivatives, the 'Small Batch' version is definitely the sweet spot of the series. Their generic bottling is not nearly as smooth, whereas the 'Single Barrel' carries a hefty price premium for a bourbon of very comparable quality. This bottle disproves the common misconception that bourbon is synonymous with a kick in the face.
Distiller: Georgetown Trading Co
Bottle: Pow-wow Botanical Rye
Nose: Honey and wildflowers. Very strong and rather surprising.
Body: Saffron, citrus, and more honey. A bit of ginger and brown sugar underneath.
Finish: More orange and ginger. A bit like a nice Belgian style beer.
Activation: Brings out some more subtle fruit and herbal flavors by killing off a bit of the ginger. Not bad.
Notes: If you're looking for rye whiskey, keep on moving. Pow-wow Botanical Rye doesn't have any of the traditional or conventional flavors. If however, you're up for an experience quite unlike any other, give this one a shot. It's a memorable dram that will turn heads in any company.
Bottle: Malt Master's Edition
Aged: Oak and Sherry
Nose: Strong and rounded, hints of fruit
Body: Thin and sweet, definitive sherry flavoring
Finish: Lingering, beings sweet and picks up more earthy tones
Activation: Heightens sweetness, revealing less of the fruit flavor and more of a sugary vanilla in the body. Finish is softer but even more lingering. Recommend.
Notes: As with other Glenfiddich malts, this scotch is less full bodied but compensates with a lingering finish where more complexity can be seen. Indeed, I am usually left feeling disappointed with a Glenfiddich right up until the final crescendo comes crashing in without warning. Not to be confused with the Glenfiddich Distiller's edition high proof malt, which I do prefer but sadly is no longer available.
Bottle: Signature 12
Aged: 12 years bourbon and oloroso sherry
Nose: Sweet pears, grapes, and just a touch of green apples
Body: Pears and salty crackers, a slight oak undercurrent that builds overtime.
Finish: Caramel and toffee fades into earthy oak tones
Activation: Cuts some of the sweetness, bringing in some bitter prunes and a touch of ash
Notes: Glenfiddich is always an interesting dram which takes some time to appreciate, and their signature 12 year old bottle displays the characteristics nicely. At first glance, it's just another young malt which has been sweetened by the sherry finish, but after a few seconds you begin to taste some of the oak and earth and deeper flavors lingering just underneath the surface. My recommendation is to take your time and activate this one with the tiniest amount of water possible: if you don't have an eyedropper then go for it straight.
Bottle: Solera Reserve
Aged: 15 years
Nose: Warm cream. A hint of cinnamon baked apples.
Body: Grapes and plums at first, then turns to honey over salted nuts.
Finish: More nuts and lingering winter spices.
Activation: A thinner flavor, more oak and some wheat flavors.
Notes: Glenfiddich says the Solera Reserve is the product of mixing several varieties of whiskey, including those aged in oak, bourbon and sherry. They then make sure the cask is never less than half full, so the blend matures and ages over time. The method seems a little contrived to me, but I can't argue with the results: the Solera Reserve is a warm, nutty dram that feels just perfect for a cold winter's evening.
Bottle: 12 year
Aged: 12 years
Nose: Sugary sweet, hints of purple grapes and blackberries
Body: Smooth and somewhat thin, surprisingly unpeated. More dark berries throughout.
Finish: Earthy and lingering. Warm and tart, like fresh jellied pastries.
Activation: Becomes nuttier and spicier, less fruit tones. Both are good, choice is situational.
Notes: Speyside malts have a tendency to be a somewhat overwhelming in their peat flavors, but not so with the Glenlivet. Therefore while it is not very characteristic of its region, this bottle is fairly accessible and makes a solid if unremarkable offering.
Aged: White oak and Sassicaia
Nose: Subtle and sweet, with grape and floral overtones
Body: Complex and full bodied. Rich, sweet notes of plums and berries. A warm feeling of vanilla toffee and caramel lies just under the surface, becoming more pronounced as the flavor lingers.
Finish: Dark red cherries slowly fade into mint leaves
Activation: Adds a tartness to the berries and a spiciness to the finish. Overall effect is subdued, but tends to blur some of the complexity. I would not recommend.
Notes: This third edition of Glenmorangie's Private Edition collection is my favorite scotch, bar none. As with all Glenmorangie malts, it is sweet, full bodied, and easy to drink. Where this bottle truly shines however is in the complexity. There are a multitude of flavors shifting, changing and developing the longer you savor it. The idea of finishing a whiskey in wine casks for the final few years is nothing new, however; the rare "Super Tuscan" Sassicaia grapes react perfectly to the highland malt. Indeed, the word "Artein" is Gaelic for "stone" and refers to the marriage of spring water from rocky Scottish highlands to the hearty grapes only found in the mountain foothills of Tuscany. While I cannot comment as to the alleged mystical properties of stone and Mother Earth, I can assure you that this scotch is truly a marvel to behold and a testament to the industry at large.
Nose: Sweet warm creamy custard.
Body: Cinnamon, spice and vanilla. Warm, doughy cookies.
Finish: More of the same, warm and lingering.
Activation: Cuts some of the harshness. Even more cinnamon and brown sugar, with just a hint of oaky earth at the finish. Highly recommend.
Notes: As usual, Glenmorangie does not disappoint. The Astar is a bright, fun bottle, somewhat lacking in depth and complexity but compensating with loads of character. It reminds me quite strongly of snickerdoodle cookies; this is most certainly a dessert dram. The high proof (a whopping 114.2) is somewhat off-putting at first, so be sure to remember the spring water and have a little fun with this one.
Aged: White oak, finished in Clos de Tart and Côtes du Rhône wine casks
Nose: Rich citrus, strong tart notes of blood orange
Body: Velvety and cold, with very dark cherries and plums. Light sugarcane lightly dances on top.
Finish: Warm and sweet. Lingering almonds and very faint toffee for texture.
Activation: Cuts some of the fruit tones, revealing a surprising layer of spice and cinnamon I did not notice beforehand. Highly recommend.
Notes: This is the fifth release of Glenmorangie's Private Editions, and comparisons to my beloved Artein are inescapable. Both are deep rich, malts finished in rare and hard to come by red wines (the Companta's grapes are French to the Artein's Italian). The Companta has a definitively thicker feel to it however, a sort of luxuriousness that you fall into like an overstuffed armchair. These decadent fruit flavors are markedly less complex than the Artein, but this is nonetheless a very good bottling and a worthy little sister in the family. Enjoy it as a relaxing escape after a hard day.
Aged: Bourbon cask, finish in re-fired Portuguese wine casks
Nose: Sweet candied fruits, apples and apricots with a hint of ginger
Body: Palpably sugary. The plums and oranges you expect, plus some sharpness from more ginger and a pinch of cinnamon.
Finish: Where this one comes alive. Warm roasted marshmallow over earthy oak. Brown sugar and ginger linger.
Activation: Warm caramel and chocolate fudge explode onto the scene. Plums and oranges take a back seat to more oak and some nutmeg and allspice. A complete surprise and well worth it.
Notes: The latest Glenmorangie Private Selection is here, which always makes for an exciting day! The Milsean may sport gaudy candy-stripe packaging, but don't be fooled - there's nothing shallow or serious about this whiskey. The flavors are rich, sweet, and complex, especially after a few splashes of water. And don't be alarmed if you're not into the super sweet thing either - the strong ginger undercurrent adds a tartness which keeps this dram in a beautiful balance. After something of a flop with the Tùsail, I am glad to say that Glenmorangie is back in force for 2016.
Aged: 10 years
Nose: Very soft, with vanilla and pear
Body: More vanilla, surrounded by almonds and toffee. Faint white grapes in the background.
Finish: Rounded but understated. Creamy gelato and caramel.
Activation: Brings out a sweeter, more citrusy side. Generally unnecessary.
Notes: The Glenmorangie Original is, in my humble opinion, the quintessential highland malt. If you are new to the genre and don't know where to begin, look no further than this. It is complex without being inaccessible, and quality without being unduly expensive.
Nose: Sugar, citrus, and banana
Body: More banana. Ginger, vanilla, and toffee.
Finish: Cream pies over faintly lingering roasted nuts.
Activation: Strengthens the vanilla and adds some cinnamon while cutting back the banana flavor.
Notes: The selling point of Tùsail is that it is made from a very old strand of barley known as Maris Otter. This variety nearly went extinct, but was slowly brought back in small quantities. An interesting story then, but the execution does not compare well to other editions of the Glenmorangie Private range. I find the banana flavor to be somewhat overpowering, although it can be tempered by activation.
Nose: Sweet fruits and freshly crushed herbs
Body: Warm honey and ginger. Sweet grapes and green leaves.
Finish: Subtle, soft, and fleeting. More ginger and herbs rapidly fade away into a mist.
Activation: Enhances fruity sweetness. More grape in the nose, and reveals a sweet red cherry undertone to the body.
Notes: Hibiki is a long time favorite of ours, and this review is overdue. It is simple and understated, but altogether a very pleasant whiskey to consume. A perfect refreshment on quiet afternoons, our collection never feels complete without a bottle of Hibiki. It has become quite popular in recent years, so if you can find some in stock locally, do not miss out on the opportunity to sample this remarkable bottle.
Distiller: Highland Queen
Bottle: HM The King
Nose: Rubber and leather, like an athletic shoe store.
Body: More thick heavy leather. Just a bit of peat.
Finish: Some citrus, oak and a lingering earthy texture
Activation: A bit more spice but not enough… try it on the rocks instead.
Notes: It's hard to say what they were thinking when they released HM the King. To begin with, it is pretentious name on a cheap scotch. On top of that, try as I might I cannot get over how the odor is disturbingly reminiscent of sneakers and astroturf. This is the first whiskey that I will actively recommend you serve on the rocks as it does help cut out the rubber feel. In general though I would stay far away.
Distiller: Hood River
Aged: 12 years
Nose: Sweet oak and honey, light smoke
Body: Strong, smooth butterscotch candies. Surprisingly only the faintest of rye spiciness.
Finish: More butterscotch and some caramel
Activation: Flavor becomes thicker and almost syrupy. Would avoid.
Notes: Our first reviewed Canadian rye is not at all what I was expecting. It is very sweet; not at all crisp or spicy. This one will most likely be regulated to whiskey sours and steak seasoning; the candied taste is just a bit too much for me.
Bottle: Four Grain
Nose: Strong alcohol, obviously a high proof bottle. Light wood notes of the oak are present.
Body: Initially bitter. Body of fresh baked rye bread. Wheat and oat complement to give it a hearty but easy to drink character
Finish: Earthy textures quickly fade into vanilla
Activation: Helps to clarify some of the flavors without changing the overall composition. Would recommend.
Notes: This is my first experience with rye whiskey, and even though it only makes up a fourth of this bottles blend, I must say it is a stronger flavor than I had originally expected. This bourbon has not been aged for very long, and it shows in a sort of rough and unrefined way. However, in a bourbon, sometimes this kind of simple charm can be desirable.
Bottle: Single Malt
Nose: Strong, sweet wood tones
Body: Heavily spiced. Dark brown sugar. Still some notes of rye and barley.
Finish: Warm and earthy. Lingering cloves.
Activation: Softens the bite somewhat, overall character remains unchanged. Would recommend.
Notes: This second offering from Hudson is in some ways it is reminiscent of the Bowmore Darkest, albeit in a crude and unrefined way. It will warm you up, but its still more of a shoot than a savor.
Distiller: Hunter Rye
Nose: Not much more than the ethanol
Body: Surprisingly smooth for a rye, more like a bourbon. Some corn and grain flavors, a bit lacking in spice.
Finish: A bit sour, like a mash.
Activation: Adds some coffee flavors and a bit of caramel.
Notes: Despite the strong proof, hunter rye comes across as a little overly gentle. I prefer my rye to have a sharper, peppery bite to them. This ones mellow bourbon character does mean it will make a good mixer though.
Distiller: Indio Spirits
Bottle: James Oliver
Aged: 9 years bourbon, 3 years oloroso sherry
Nose: Alcohol and rye. No surprises there.
Body: Rye, wheat and other grains. A hint of lime underneath.
Finish: More bread, with a little salted caramel
Activation: Mellows it out considerably. Less alcohol, more caramel and a even a bit of sweet butterscotch pudding.
Notes: James Oliver checks all the boxes. It's high proof, full bodied, and reassuringly uncomplicated. You can shoot it straight or add a splash of water to make it more of a sipper. It's very solid overall.
Distiller: James Alexander
Bottle: 12 Year
Aged: 12 Years
Nose: Oak and caramel
Body: Smooth but somewhat bland. Faint oak and citrus notes.
Finish: Lingering sea salt caramel
Activation: Some spicier notes but more or less unchanged.
Notes: The James Alexander 12 is quite different from the original. As you might expect, there is more oak, but the overall texture is less sweet and creamy. It’s a solid dram, but I think I would stick with the original as it is more distinctive.
Distiller: James Alexander
Nose: Soft cream and warm pine nuts
Body: Warm and mellow. Toasted marshmallows and whipped cream.
Finish: Surprisingly sweet vanilla and sugar
Activation: A bit crisper and nuttier. More or less a wash.
Notes: I cant help but to compare this bottle to one of my favorite budget scotches, Teacher's Highland Cream. The flavor profiles are very similar, with James Alexander being a bit sweeter and with less dairy. It's not earth-shattering, then, but it certainly gets the job done for a very reasonable price.
Distiller: Limestone Branch
Bottle: Yellowstone Select
Nose: Shoe leather and oak.
Body: Honeyed rye bread with dark cherries. Just a hint of lime.
Finish: Brown sugar and caramel
Activation: Really brings out the cherry at the expense of the darker rye notes.
Notes: Yellowstone Select is a bourbon we bought mainly to be a souvenir, but the whiskey inside is actually quite good. This is a true Kentucky bourbon, and thus has little to nothing to do with the national park - but the cherry flavor is quite distinctive and quite good. If you ever have a chance to get your hands on one of these, do so.
Bottle: Whisky Maker's Edition
Aged: 12+ years European Oak and Sherry
Nose: Oranges and ginger over roasted nuts
Body: Complex spices of brown sugar and nutmeg fade into black pepper and charred steak. Just a hint of citrus at the end.
Finish: Long smoky oak
Activation: Less spice, more mandarin orange. Definitely a good idea.
Notes: According to the label, this dram was crafted by Macallan's Master Distiller Bob Dalgarno's personal enjoyment. He was trying to create a more traditional malt, using some older techniques and styles. The end result is quite good indeed, full of layers and complexities just waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, this bottle has been made exclusively for duty free stores, we will probably never see another one. I intend to make this one count!
Distiller: Maker's Mark
Aged: 6-7.5 years, to taste
Nose: Mostly just ethanol.
Body: Smooth but sharp. Some sour grapes, a bit of oak, a hint of caramel, maybe a little bit of oat underneath.
Finish: Caramel kettle corn from the fair. Fades quickly.
Activation: Cuts down the bite significantly. More corn flavors, and some Brussel sprouts mixed in.
Notes: Maker's Mark has the dubious distinction of being a solid bourbon that is readily available at whatever your local bar or restaurant is. It is always a safe quality bet over whatever the unnamed 'house bourbon' is. At 90 proof it will certainly get the job done, but its somewhat unremarkable flavor makes it ideal for mixing in your old fashioned or whiskey sour.
Distiller: North Texas Distillers
Bottle: Prohibition Whiskey - Hidden Stock 1920
Nose: Lots of grain and some candied sugar plums
Body: More candied fruits: some plums, apples, pears. A bit of saltwater.
Finish: Some grapes and a little white oak. Very mild.
Activation: Strangely, a little less fruit and a little more oak. Not a significant difference.
Notes: I was expecting Prohibition-style whiskey to be harsh and full of rye and spice. This, however, makes a nice dessert whiskey. Lots of fruit and sugar with a nice oak twist. This is one local whiskey which makes the "buy again" cut.
Distiller: Paddleford Creek
Bottle: Small Batch
Nose: Creamed corn and rye bread
Body: Very smooth. Some more corn, with faint oak notes. A bit of spice near the end.
Finish: Almost none, vanishes quickly
Activation: Not a whole lot going on here either.
Notes: Paddleford Creek is a cheap bourbon that tastes like, well, cheap bourbon. It's entirely unremarkable in any way. Put some in your whiskey cocktails and don't think too hard about it.
Distiller: Pearse Lyons
Nose: Pears, apples, and just a hint of fresh hay
Body: Honey poured over fresh pears. Smooth and crisp but rather thin
Finish: Faint salt and toffee
Activation: Brings in some grape and licorice, a bit abrupt for me
Notes: Pearse Lyons Reserve feels like it is a solid base that just needed a bit more time to mature. It could use some additional depth of earthy or woody tones. As is, this is a decent but rather forgettable dram.
Aged: Bourbon and Madeira wine casks
Nose: Crisp, clean white grapes
Body: Spicy cinnamon and buttered toast over soft sweet pears
Finish: Lingering bleached white sugar, more faint fruit
Activation: Gives a richer, more buttery flavor at the expense of masking some of the more subtle fruit notes.
Notes: Penderyn is an old favorite of mine that I have somehow missed writing an official review for. It is a fantastic after dinner dram, with light and sweet flavors to complement your dessert. The bottle claims that it is 'Aur Cymru' (translated: Welsh gold), and I am inclined to agree. Definitely worth a small price premium over similar expressions.
Distiller: Rebecca Creek
Aged: 5-7 years in white oak
Nose: Sweet honey with hints of wheat and grains
Body: Thick, syrupy honey slowly gives way into crisp green apples, pears, and grapes.
Finish: Warm vanilla and roasted nuts
Notes: The Texas Hill Country brings us this remarkable craft whiskey. It has a richness and complexity suggestive of longer aging than what it has. It is a good find at a reasonable price, I highly recommend it.
Distiller: Rebel Yell
Bottle: Small batch rye
Nose: Red chili with tomato, chili powder and black pepper
Body: Very spicy, a bouquet of peppers mixed with warm cornbread
Finish: A bit of spice at first then fades into mild lemon lime soda
Activation: Brings out more of the citrus earlier, cutting some of the spice.
Notes: With a high proof and a name like Rebel Yell, you expect this rye to be a shooter. It that respect it does not surprise or disappoint. However, if you're looking for a bit of punishment this feisty small batch is more likely to kick your ass if you slow it down a bit.
Distiller: Roche Jaune
Nose: Oats and honey
Body: Some sour corn mash, lots more oats. A touch of smooth caramel underneath.
Finish: Sweet salt water taffy with a hint of banana
Activation: A bit softer, really not much difference.
Notes: Roche Jaune, literally "Yellow Rock" in French, made a series of spirits for Yellowstone National Park. The whiskey is not bad: clean, simple and to the point. The main selling point of this however are the beautiful decorations on the bottle itself. All in all, a fantastic souvenir but not something you'd necessarily want every day.
Distiller: Roche Jaune
Nose: Turpentine and other industrial solvents
Body: Dirty steel, cheap vodka, and a little corn
Finish: Sicky sweet steamed corn, and more old nickels
Activation: Put it on the rocks to take some edge off.
Notes: Moonshine, really? Well this next commemorative bottle from Roche Jaune is labeled "Corn Whiskey", but don't be fooled. Unaged white whiskey is for people who hate themselves. If you're looking to forget an evening, there's no better way to get to it. As far as taste goes, get it cold, drink it quickly, and hope for the best.
Distiller: Russell's Reserve
Aged: 6 years
Nose: Oats and faint soap
Body: Crisp but thin corn with barley and light black pepper
Finish: Sour mash
Activation: Adds some sugary white breading to the mix
Notes: I'm not sure that Russell's Reserve has found the perfect rye whiskey as the bottle claims, but it's a solid offering. Take a swig and don't think about it too hard.
Nose: Sweet coconut and soy
Body: Very watery. Slight lime and coconuts.
Finish: Hardly any
Activation: Please don't.
Notes: The label for Seagram's claims it is 'without a trace of harshness.' That much is true, although you could certainly add that it is more or less without a trace of flavor as well. This is more or less 80 proof water with artificial caramel coloring to it. Good for getting very inebriated quickly, but not much else.
Distiller: Smith and Henderson
Bottle: Old Crofter
Nose: Not much. A little bit of cream.
Body: Kind of vacant. A bit a vanilla and caramel, nothing too exciting.
Finish: A hint of oak, a bit of nutmeg, vanishes quickly
Activation: As if this needed to be gentler?
Notes: Old Crofter is very similar to Seagram's 7: it's a bland, inoffensive, and generic enough to be used in any cocktail. It's main selling point is that it's cheap as heck… disturbingly cheap even. What is in this, anyway?
Bottle: Single Malt
Aged: White Oak 10 years
Nose: Honey, leather, and earthy peat over a hint of barley
Body: More honey and salted caramel over wheat and grains with a hint of pepper.
Finish: Undramatic, a bit of salt and peat
Activation: A bit earthier
Notes: The box tells the story of how the original Stronachie was lost to history and later resurrected in a new location by careful analysis of a few remaining samples. You do have to wonder if it was worth all the effort though: the result is a rather undistinguished malt that falls a bit flat. It's not bad, but with so many other options out there I doubt I'll buy this one again any time soon.
Bottle: Single Malt
Aged: Bourbon and oloroso sherry
Nose: Floral notes over ripe white peaches. Very aromatic.
Body: Melted butter and honey. More peaches, with green grapes. Just of hint of rose.
Finish: Peach cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream.
Notes: This is a fantastic floral whiskey made by a very small distillery here in Texas. Everything about this whiskey is imported… the Scottish malt, the Kentucky white oak, and the Spanish sherry. However, the end results is distinctly Southern, with flavors of butter and peach cobbler. A great find and I hope this one sticks around.
Bottle: Highland Cream
Nose: Warm and earthy pine nuts
Body: Smooth and creamy, dripping with honey, vanilla and English toffee
Finish: Subtle and gentle notes of roasted marshmallows and buttered pecans
Activation: Less of earthy and nutty flavors, adds more cinnamon and caramel
Notes: The aptly named Teachers Highland Cream is a surprisingly good blended scotch, and a great entry point at a low price to newcomers. To me it captures the essence of its pricier single malt brethren, while remaining clean and more accessible to the general public. For me personally, it is a staple of my collection, a perfect daily use scotch for a taster on a budget.
Distiller: Texas Ranger
Nose: Caramel and smoke
Body: More caramel and more smoke. Vanilla and a bit of sea salt underneath.
Finish: Caramel toffee fades into a bitter earthiness.
Activation: No noticeable difference.
Notes: Texas Ranger 1832 is an odd whiskey. The sweet and salty caramel cakey taste is interesting without being overly complex. There's also a hint of a smoky outdoors, but it is somewhat overwhelmed by the dessert flavors. It'll take a few more attempts to really make my mind up about this one.
Bottle: Cù Bòcan
Nose: Strong smoky peat interspersed with thick citrus.
Body: Rather sour. Intense lime flavors overpowers warm earthy notes.
Finish: Lime fades into smoky peat.
Activation: Muddles flavors. Avoid.
Notes: Cù Bòcan is definitely a surprise. From the thick smoke aroma, you are quite sure it is going to be a harsh, peaty malt. However, the longer it lingers on the tongue, the more sour and intense the lime flavor becomes. The distinctive packaging won 'Best new whisky launch packaging' by World Whisky Design Awards, and I am inclined to agree. The bottle is quite striking, as is its contents.
Aged: Bourbon and Virgin Oak
Nose: Lemons and citrus interspersed with vanilla bean
Body: Lemons and key limes in a sweet meringue pie. A little pine nuts with more vanilla and marshmallows.
Finish: Citrus fades into a slight earthy peat.
Activation: Muddles flavors. Avoid.
Notes: The Tomatin distillery has another hit. Although it Dualchas bills itself as a simple, working man's scotch, do not be fooled. The rich complexity and distinctive sour citrus which made Cu Bocan so delightful are back. This scotch is mature well beyond its age and is positively a steal at this price point.
Bottle: Oloroso Sherry Edition
Aged: 12 Year
Nose: Filled with cool cherries and grapes
Body: Clean and subdued almost to the point of being watery. More red fruits with the faintest hint of cinnamon.
Finish: Gentle white oak quickly fades.
Activation: Really, why would you?
Notes: Tomintoul bills themselves as "the gentle dram" right on the label. If their goal was an easy-to-drink scotch, they certainly have made their target with this very accessible Speyside malt. Personally, I could do with a bit more intensity of character, but any fans of the Oloroso finish technique will find this to be a solid if unremarkable bottle.
Distiller: Trinity River
Bottle: Silver Star
Nose: Corn and rye with faint honey
Body: Thin and rather bland. More buttered corn, but not really much else.
Finish: Still more corn, faint pepper, and finally a hint of wheat and barley.
Activation: Adds sweeter, honeyed notes to the body and a crisper finish. Recommend.
Notes: Like so many other micro-distilleries, Trinity River has jumped the gun with the Silver Star. This whiskey never should have left the barrel this early. As a result, we have a dram that tastes highly of its mash components, but without any complexity or character. Avoid this bottle.
Bottle: Pot Still Reserve
Nose: Oak and pine, with spices intermingled.
Body: Strangely salty with dry roasted peanuts. Notes of wheat and pepper.
Finish: Crisp and clean. More salt and pepper with a hint of green apples.
Activation: Slightly sours the taste. Less salty, a bit more generic.
Notes: A simple bourbon in a complicated bottle. More refined than the Hudson whiskies, but with the same rough and ready frontier spirit.
Distiller: Wyoming Whiskey
Bottle: Small Batch
Aged: Charred white oak
Nose: Faint smoke over sour green grapes.
Body: Smooth and clean, reminiscent of an Italian grappa. Faintly sweet wood tones, like sassafras.
Finish: Sweet creamed corn with just a hint of barley. Very gentle.
Activation: Not much difference really.
Notes: This Wyoming Whiskey is definitely corn based, without being overpoweringly so. The sour grape flavors are an interesting touch. Most of all though, I think this will be a good candidate to fire up the Smoking Gun and add a little bit of firewood to the mix.
Distiller: Yellow Rose
Bottle: Double Barrel
Aged: White oak finished in wine casks
Nose: Dirty old boot leather. Slightly smoky.
Body: Smooth and chewy. Full of salted nuts and some dark chocolate. Undertones of tannins.
Finish: Salty and earthy.
Activation: More of a caramel flavor. Pretty subtle.
Notes: Wine finished bourbon is something of an oddity to say the least. Surprisingly, there isn't much of the fruit flavors you would expect in a wine finished scotch. Instead, this is a thick hearty bottle full of nuts and chocolate.