Category Archives: Whiskey

Recipe: Shamrock Sour

Posted on March 11, 2012 by Christopher Null| 1 Comment

Most St. Patrick’s Day cocktails are nasty concoctions of Midori and other mystery liqueurs. This recipe from Julie Reiner has nothing remotely Irish in it, but it actually sounds good.

Shamrock Sour
2 parts Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
1/2 part Green Chartreuse
1/2 part Lemon Juice
1/2 part Grapefruit Juice
1/2 part Agave Syrup (to make, combine equal parts of water with Agave Syrup)
1/4 part Egg White

Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin and shake without ice to blend. Add ice and shake. Strain over fresh ice in a double rocks glass and garnish with a mint sprig and a lemon wheel.

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Posted in Bourbon, Recipes, Whiskey

Review: Redbreast 12 Years Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey

Posted on March 6, 2012 by Christopher Null| 2 Comments

OMG how the people love Redbreast. It wins awards, has hipster cred, and bartenders love the stuff. It’s the hippest Irish whiskey on earth, and it costs a boatload.

Somehow I’ve never really gotten into it.

Made by Midleton (which also makes Jameson and other Irish brands), it is distilled three times in a copper pot still before aging. Now the venerable 12 year old Redbreast is newly available in a cask strength version, bumping the proof up to 115.4.

Most people drink Irish because it is so easygoing, and Redbreast shows why the Other Half may be getting into it: It is not so easy, bolder, fuller, more flavorful, and a little rough around the edges, perhaps primarily due to the use of both malted and unmalted barley in the mashbill. There is plenty to like here: That telltale Irish whiskey banana character (almost over-ripe in the way it comes across), coconut, nougat, dried figs, raisins, and butterscotch syrup. It’s creamy and rich, almost like a dessert or an ice cream topping. But it keeps that quirky funkiness — a kind of bitter edge that you really only catch on the finish.

Of course, at cask strength it is a different experience than at 80 proof. But even I was embarrassed at how easy it goes down without cutting it with water. The side effect of high-proof whiskey is always that crazy long finish, though (I wouldn’t call it “burn” here), something you can only cut with… another sip.

Now that I’ve spent more time with Redbreast, I’m starting to see what the others do. I can’t speak for the 80-proof varieties (yet), but this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

A- / $70 / irishdistillers.ie

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Posted in Irish Whiskey, Rated A-, Reviews, Whiskey

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Four

Posted on February 20, 2012 by Christopher Null| Leave a comment

Once more into the breach? We’re a quarter of the way into the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project, with the fourth round of 12 Bourbons released this month, bringing the total to 48 out of 192.

Need previous coverage or a baseline of what this experimental series is all about? Find it here:
Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three

We won’t waste time this quarter going into the basics. This round focuses on the differences between two warehouses at Buffalo Trace, one with wood floors (Warehouse K), and one with concrete (Warehouse L). You’ll find both rye and wheat whiskeys here, plus the usual variety of wood grain in barrels, but otherwise the details are the same: 125 entry proof, #3 char, level 12 seasoning, and bottom half of tree used for the barrels. As usual, all Bourbons are bottled at 90 proof.

My results: I found the Warehouse K whiskeys to be better than their otherwise identical Warehouse L counterparts 4 out of 6 times. I gave them tie grades once and scored the Warehouse L whiskey higher once (and I think the Warehouse K whiskey on that comparison was simply off). Wood ricks are of course traditional in Bourbon country, and maybe this is why: They seem to produce better booze.

That said, on the whole, I found this round to be very worthwhile — in fact, taken as a group, it’s probably the best set of releases to date. Not sure if it’s me, but there’s a lot of sweetness in this batch… for the most a good thing.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #10 – Interesting texture, almost like dissolved sugar. Great body and good balance, with flavors of apricots, tangerines, aged wood, and a long vanilla cream finale. Smooth, silky finish. One of the best from this series to date. A (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wood ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #14 – More syrupy, and more wood influence. Bit of raisin in the body, giving this a touch more interest. Not a bad whiskey at all. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #42 – A bigger whiskey than the previous, more sweet, and a bit of burn. Cedar box and evergreen notes. A solid Bourbon, especially for the sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) out there. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wood ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #46 – Heavy wood influence, a bit overcooked. The finish redeems with a powerful cinnamon character. Plenty of vanilla here, too. Solid, woody Bourbon. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #74 – Pure vanilla and caramel, a lovely Kentucky approximation of creme brulee. The wood makes an appearance at the end, which somewhat mars the fun. Still like it. A- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wood ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #78 – Lots of wood here, but that fades with time in the glass. Beneath that there’s some sugar. Caramel character, to be specific. That sweetness grows as the finish rumbles on. A- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #106 – Nice orange character, which grows stronger as the finish builds. A sizeable wood influence in here, too, but the balance is not as full-formed as with other Bourbons in this collection. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wood ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #110 – Smooth caramel in a glass, with some unusual herbal notes on the finish, plus some dark chocolate character. Quite a departure from the other whiskeys in this collection, particularly its sibling, #106 — and really quite enjoyable with its complexity. A (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #138 – Evergreen notes on the nose lead to a somewhat traditional and sweet whiskey. The finish is a touch sour compared to the others in this round, but on the whole it’s another solid Bourbon. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wood ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #142 – Perhaps the first miss in this collection. Not much happening on the nose, and on the tongue it fades quickly. Over-wooded, with the flavor sucked out a bit. B- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #170 – Pure nougat on the nose and the palate, but a touch on the alcoholic side, leaving a hot finish lacking in most of the other whiskeys here. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wood ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #174 – A touch of menthol, some cherry notes, then a lingering, lasting sweetness. Great balance. Lovely Bourbon. A (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

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Posted in Bourbon, Rated A, Rated A-, Rated B+, Rated B-, Reviews, Whiskey

Review: Benromach Origins, Batch #1 Golden Promise 1999

Posted on February 17, 2012 by Christopher Null| 1 Comment

We’re doing things a little backwards here. We’ve already reviewed Benromach’s second Origins series experimental Scotch whisky, and we’re backtracking to get to its first, Golden Promise 1999.

What is Golden Promise? A special type of barley developed in 1965, and one of the most popular in Scotch whiskeys. The Golden Promise used in this bottling was grown at Drumin Farm in Glenlivet. It’s considered one of the best barleys in the world and has won the prizes to prove it. This whiskey is made exclusively with this barley instead of a blend of lots of varieties, which is common.

The whisky is 9 years old, bottled in 2008. Otherwise the production is pretty par for single malt.

So, can you really “taste the barley” here? You can. As grain character goes, there’s plenty to go around. I’m not sure I know what raw (un-whiskyed) barley really tastes like, but I imagine it’s a lot like this. Big cereal character, with toasted grains, much like you’d get in a young American whiskey. Spicy and racy on the finish, it’s more convoluted than complicated.

Ultimately I think this whiskey feels a bit undercooked, and the grain character is too far in the foreground. More time in oak (possibly much more time) could temper some of that toast character, or a sherry cask finish might have rounded out the flavor profile.

But as an experiment, this is quite interesting: Pure grain, virtually no peat influence, and limited time in the barrel make for a curious whisky experience that’s worth a sample dram.

100 proof. (Batch #3 is shown below, but the bottles are nearly identical.)

B+ / $50 / benromach.com

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Posted in Rated B+, Reviews, Scotch, Whiskey

Review: Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams 2011 Limited Release Scotch Whisky

Posted on February 12, 2012 by Christopher Null| 3 Comments

The story behind the creation of Cask of Dreams is beyond anything else I’ve ever heard of in the five years I’ve been writing this blog.

If you don’t know the tale, draw near, and listen to the story of how you make a truly unique whisky.

Cask of Dreams starts with off-the-rick Glenfiddich, with Malt Master Brian Kinsman picking 14- to 16-year-old casks of the lightest style of whisky he could find.

Meanwhile, Glenfiddich ambassadors took 11 new, unused oak casks and took them to the streets of 11 U.S. cities. No, literally. They rolled them around, had locals sign them, then had a party to celebrate all things ‘Fiddich.

The 11 casks were then sent back to the Highlands of Scotland, and the whisky from those aforementioned casks was put into these new oak casks for finishing. New oak will age a spirit mighty fast, so it was watched carefully, bottling after three months in those “Casks of Dreams” at 97.6 proof. The whisky from those 11 casks was mingled in the final vatting: There’s only one 2011 Cask of Dreams, not 11 of them.

3,500 bottles were made, all to be sold in the U.S.

This is a unique and intriguing whisky. I can’t think of any other release that used new oak at any point in the creation. Notably, there is no ex-sherry wood in this blend, increasingly common for single malt whisky.

It’s really a lovely, and dangerously drinkable malt. Despite a respectable age and despite the new oak influence, it is remarkably light in body, lush with character. Vanilla pops out first on the nose, and that carries over to the body. Here you’ll also find big apple fruit — almost applesauce, with cinnamon notes, especially once you add water — plus lots of exotic cedar box and incense lacing. The finish turns to figs, golden raisins, and some cooked stone fruit flavors. But none of this is overcooked the way some old whiskys can be. There’s no real raw wood influence here, just that smooth vanilla that I chalk mainly up to the years it spends in ex-Bourbon barrels.

Cask of Dreams will be back in 2012, this time with an art-focused bent on the barrels and a more international vibe perhaps. Meanwhile, this bottling is already hard to find. Snap it up if you can.

A- / $100 / caskofdreams.com

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Posted in Rated A-, Reviews, Scotch, Whiskey

Review: Concannon Irish Whiskey

Posted on February 10, 2012 by Christopher Null| Leave a comment

There are about a half dozen unique things going on with this new Irish whiskey. Let’s enumerate them one by one.

1) It’s being sold and branded not by a distillery and not by an Irish company but by a California winery. It is, however, made in Ireland, in conjunction with Cooley Distillery (a giant in Irish whiskey).

2) It’s aged (four years) in ex-Bourbon barrels, then finished in Concannon Petite Sirah barrels for four more months. Most Irish isn’t finished in any other kind of barrel, much less a Petite Sirah wine barrel. (In fact, I’ve never heard of anything being finished in a Petite Sirah barrel.)

OK, that’s two things, but those are two really big things, am I right?

Concannon, as the name suggests, has Irish heritage, so a whiskey from this Cali winemaker makes more sense than you’d think. And the results, I have to say, are impressive.

The nose is rich with nougat character, soft sugar, a bit of vanilla, like a custard. This continues on the palate, where a lush body offers up orange juice, banana pudding, and a bit of oak wood. The body is spot-on, balanced in the way that makes everyone find Irish whiskey so easy to drink. It may not have the depth of a well-aged Jameson Reserve, but for an Irish in this price range it’s got soul to spare. Well done.

80 proof.

A- / $25 / concannonvineyard.com

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Posted in Irish Whiskey, Rated A-, Reviews, Whiskey

Review: Jameson Black Barrel Select Reserve Irish Whiskey

Posted on February 7, 2012 by Christopher Null| Leave a comment

Jameson is one of the big darlings of the whiskey world right now — Irish is currently the fastest growing spirits category, and Jameson is at the top of the sales charts. We’ve long loved Jameson’s various incarnations, and now it’s out with a new one.

Jameson Black Barrel is mostly malted barley aged for considerably longer than standard Jameson — 12 years vs. 5 to 7, in both Bourbon and sherry casks. Then a touch of grain whiskey that’s been aged in Wild Turkey barrels is added to the mix. Bottling alcohol level remains at 80 proof.

While there’s nothing specifically “black” about Black Barrel, it’s a considerably different experience than standard label Jameson. The nose is rich, Bourbon-like, with vanilla and toasty oak notes. The body is creamy and impressively smooth, undercut with some citrus character likely brought on by the sherry cask influence. The finish offers grain notes, like a bowl of thick, raisined oatmeal, with a fleeting touch of smoke at the end. It’s night and day with regular Jameson, which is all fresh fruit and grass, with a menthol character to it. Black Barrel, side by side, very quickly overwhelms the regular bottling. As Irish whiskey goes, it’s almost decadent.

A- / $38 / jamesonwhiskey.com

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Posted in Irish Whiskey, Rated A-, Reviews, Whiskey