A Midwinter Night’s Dram (Act 4) Review

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of my temperance have been greatly exaggerated!

For the better part of winter, a busy work schedule has kept me from blogging, but I’ve been missing it a lot. Plus, I’ve had this guy pointing out my blog neglect and guilting me back into it.

Okay, I might be projecting a little…

Anyway, it’s been FAR too long since my last post, but I’m happy to say that I’m dusting off the Glencairns, breaking out the bottles, and gearing up for plenty more reviews. A Dram Good Drink is finally back in action!

To kick off my return, I thought I’d revisit one of my all-time favorite American whiskies: High West’s A Midwinter Night’s Dram. Way back in 2015, I reviewed “Act 2” of this awesome whiskey, but recently had the pleasure of trying the latest release (Act 4). Although it might not be “midwinter” anymore, this week has been chilly and dreary, and could certainly benefit from a cozy, warming dram like this.

As I’ve said before, High West is one of my favorite whiskey producers in large part because of the skill and care they take in sourcing, blending, and finishing their products. Though they’re sourcing most of their base whiskies from the same producers as many other brands (particularly MGP), they work all kinds of alchemy to turn these spirits into incredibly unique (and delicious) finished products. If it’s sounding like I’m a fanboy, well, yeah (though if you’ve read my other High West posts, you’d already know that).

This particularly whiskey begins as High West’s Rendezvous Rye (itself a blend of high-rye whisky from MGP and a high- and low-rye whiskey from Barton) before being finished in French oak and port casks, which add an awesome, fruity richness to the underlying rye spice.

Nose: Wow, this is rich and enticing. Plenty of cinnamon hits me first, followed by other warming, wintry spices like clove, nutmeg, and allspice. The spices likely arise a blend of both the inherent rye spice and the influence of the french oak casts. It’s not all straight spice, though – the port cask adds a ton of rich fruitiness on the nose, with plenty of cherry, blackberry, and plum. In the background, there’s a bit of lemon zest, walnut, and a hint of black pepper, with an aroma of sweet vanilla tying it all together. A few drops of brings out more vanilla, as well as an extra helping of fresh ground pepper and some more lemon.

Taste: The rye spice is definitely still the dominant element here, with plenty of clove, cinnamon, black pepper, and also some anise and caraway. It doesn’t come off as immediately sweet as I’d expected from the nose – the initial blast of pungent spices is relatively dry, rather than cloying or syrupy. The sweetness is there, though, it just takes time to arrive. Once the initial spice punch subsides, its replaced by longer-lasting vanilla caramel and chocolate covered cherries, which flow into a long, rich finish that’s packed with dark chocolate and rich fruits like cherries, raisins, and black currant. I also get a little coffee on the finish, which reminds me more of chocolate covered espresso beans than brewed or ground coffee. A little water softens the initial spiciness, allowing the sweetness to come through a bit faster. The vanilla takes on a more custardy flavor, mingling with the spices and fruits to remind me a bit of a freshly baked bread pudding.

Since this is the latest iteration of an annual limited release, I thought it would be fun to compare Act 4 to an earlier edition. Unfortunately, I don’t have a bottle of Act 3 around for a more recent comparison, but I was eager to see how this latest batch compared to my bottle of Act 2.

After a thorough comparison, I felt like the fruity notes were much more prevalent in this year’s batch. In Act 2, I found the port-influenced dark fruits came through primarily as subtle accents on the nose and then on the finish. Conversely, in Act 4, there’s plenty of cherry and other fruits on the nose, which also come through on the middle of the palate (though the fruit still persists into the finish). The overall level of spiciness seems similar between the two batches, though I didn’t get nearly as much of the characteristic MGP dill in this year’s whiskey. I also get a lot of mintiness in Act 2, which I didn’t really detect in this newer release. It’s possible that oxidation changed my bottle of Act 2 a bit, but my tasting notes match up to my old review pretty well, so I don’t think much of a change occurred.

Comparing them side-by-side, Act 2 and Act 4 taste pretty darn different. There’s enough similarity that it’s clear they’re related, but they’re definitely not twins. As for the obvious question of which I prefer, there’s no easy answer – both are delicious, but I think I’m leaning ever so slightly toward Act 4.

Questions of the Day: Have you tried A Midwinter Night’s Dram? What’s your favorite port-finished whisk(e)y?

Disclosure: Though I’ve since gone out and tracked down my own bottle (pictured in this review), thanks to Mara Flynn and High West for providing the sample used for this review. As always, all thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

Amaro Montenegro Review

Amari pretty darn big right now, and I’m a huge fan. Bittersweet, rich, soothing. Just the thing to sip after dinner on a cool fall evening. However, not all Amari are created equal. In fact, if you try a bunch, there’s a huge variety of flavors out there; from the intense, bitter, and herbal to the rich and sweet, there’s a world of flavor to explore.

One I’ve particularly fallen for is Amaro Montenegro. Made with a blend of sweet, spicy, and bitter botanicals, Montenegro has a unique taste among its amari peers. It’s dark and packs a bitter punch, sure, but it lighter bodied than some others, and packs a unique, fresh orange flavor that cuts through the heavier notes and keeps it sippable. In fact, this bittersweet dram finishes clean, bright, and somehow even manages to be refreshing, despite being in such a dark, bittersweet spirit. Amaro Montenegro is like the gruff, brooding guy that really just wants to be your friend.

amaro-montenegro-neat-a-dram-good-drink

Tasting notes

Nose: Orange! Specifically, orange oil or essence, like what squirts out when you squeeze a piece of orange rind. This is followed up by rich, warm baking spices like cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. There’s some licorice in there too, along with a gentle hint of mint (far more subdued than what you’d find in Fernet Branca or Branca Menta, though). There are some light herbs in there as well – maybe some parsley and sage – but they’re soft.

Taste: Wow, this has a surprisingly bright flavor – something I don’t think I’ve experienced with other Amari. It’s also lighter-bodied than of its kin. The first notes that hit the tongue are the orange promised on the nose. There’s plenty of orange oil, but also a little sweet navel orange juice. This mingles with plenty of sweet, warm spices, with cinnamon and ginger being the dominant notes. These are joined by clove and cardamom toward the middle, as well as some soft, leafy herbs. There’s some bitterness in there toward the finish, but it comes across as a lingering orange tang, rather than a sharp bite.

I’m already someone who enjoys sipping amari, so I didn’t think twice about pouring a stiff glass of this neat, but Amaro Montenegro is balanced and gentle enough that I suspect even people who may not want to sip on other such spirits could enjoy this neat. I’m really looking forward to pouring myself a snifter of this to sip in my recliner on a snowy evening (Okay, do I officially sound like an old man now? 😉

Montenegro with a Twist - A Dram Good Drink

Amaro Montenegro is also quite refreshing to sip on the rocks with an orange twist, but it also works wonders in a range of cocktails, where it can have some surprising, exciting results. After some experimentation and brainstorming with the brilliant Alzuri at Spirit World, it’s my pleasure to present two Amaro Montenegro cocktails to help usher in fall. Both of these drinks play up the spiced orange flavor that readily comes through in Amaro Montenegro, which immediately makes me think of fall.

modified-paper-plane-a-dram-good-drink

The (Modified) Paper Plane

  • 1 oz High-rye bourbon
  • .5 oz Campari
  • .75 Amaro Montenegro
  • .75 Lemon juice
  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until thoroughly chilled.
  • Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

This is a variation on the original paper plane cocktail, which calls for Aperol and a mellower bourbon (I believe the original recipe recommends Elijah Craig). However, with some adjustments to the ratios, I think the more astringent Campari plays nicely with the citrusy notes from the Montenegro. Those same orange notes also work really well the spicy flavor of rye, hence the bourbon swap, too.

taste-of-autumn-ingredients-a-dram-good-drink

Taste of Autumn

  •  1.5oz Dark Rum (A funky blackstrap rum like Gosling’s is ideal)
  • 1oz Amaro Montenegro
  • .5oz White Vermouth (I used Cocchi Americano)
  • A few dashes of black walnut bitters
  • Combine the ingredients in a large mixing glass, fill with ice, and stir until well chilled.
  • Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

This drink is based on some experimentation that we did a few weeks back at Spirit World. The rum provides a nice rich space, reminiscent of what I’d find in spicy molasses cookies. The Amaro Montenegro of course contributes that rich, inviting spice, as well as its trademark bright orange flavor. Once again, this gives me that great taste of spiced orange that’s so prominent and inviting this time of year. The vermouth rounds things off in a pleasantly unexpected way. At first glance, a sweet vermouth seemed like a natural fit with this drink, but the heavy flavors and richer herbaceous notes in many sweet vermouths may have overpowered the relatively gentle Montenegro. Instead, a tart, vibrant white vermouth works well with the already bright notes from the amaro, while still adding a bit of extra herbal complexity. I’m quite happy with the end result on this one. I won’t be cocky enough to claim to have created this drink – I’m sure many people have already “invented” nearly the same cocktail – but I will happily keep making these throughout the season.

I’m looking forward to playing around with more cocktails with Amaro Montenegro – though it’s quite likely I’ll burn through the bulk of the bottle on my shelf just sipping it, pondering what I want to make with it next. 🙂

Questions of the Day: What’s your favorite amaro? Have you tried Amaro Montenegro?

Hilhaven Lodge American Whiskey Review

Once again, Happy National Bourbon Heritage Month! In honor of the occasion, I have another bourbon-y review for your reading pleasure.

Hilhaven Lodge is a new American whiskey release from Diageo, who have been making a huge push to expand their presence in the booming American whiskey market. This whiskey draws its name from the Hilhaven Lodge in Beverly Hills, a private residence that has been the home and refuge of a number of celebrities and Hollywood personalities since the 1920s. Currently, it’s owned by director Brett Ratner, who licensed its name to Diageo for this whiskey.

The spirit itself is a blend of straight bourbon, rye, and Tennessee whiskies from varying eras. I suspect that the impetus for this was that Diageo had some stock lying around in their various warehouses that they were hesitant to bottle straight, and wanted to find a good use for it. If so, I don’t have any issue with it – it’s a common enough practice, and can result in some really tasty products.

So how does this whiskey stack up? Well, I found it enjoyable enough, if rather light and inoffensive. It’s only bottled at 40% ABV, so I went into it expecting a gentle dram, and my expectations were certainly met on that front.

tasting-setup

 Nose: Overall, it’s a very light nose, with hints of tropical fruit. Not really what I typically expect from an American whiskey, but certainly not unpleasant. I get plenty of oranges and almond, along with a little vanilla. There’s also a substantial bit of banana in there, as well as some peach and pineapple. It rounds off with a slight hint of wildflowers and a little honey. The closest closest comparison I can think of would be a light Irish whiskey, or maybe a young Lowland single malt – definitely unexpected from a whiskey that combines the three quintessentially American brown spirits.

Taste: It comes across relatively thin on the tongue, and very gentle. I really don’t get nearly as much vanilla as I do in many straight bourbons or ryes, and almost no caramel, which was surprising. Although this could be a product of the unusual combination of component spirits, to me it suggests very little wood influence, and that the character of the spirit itself is coming through. Supposedly the Tennessee whiskey is from the 1990s and the rye is from the 1980s, so I would expect that the 2000s-era bourbon component is probably pretty young.

Anyway, oranges and orange zest are front and center, coupled with honey and a little ginger. There’s a bit of vanilla toward the middle, but it’s far from dominant. I also get a pronounced amaretto note, along with some banana and peach. There’s a bit of black pepper in there as well. The finish is moderately long, and is filled with toasted almonds all the way down.

hilhaven-lodge-featured-image

I’m always cautious about the effects of adding water to whiskies bottled at 40% ABV, and with how gentle the nose and taste is with this one, I was even more hesitant. But still, for the sake of completeness, I had to try. Sure enough, I came away with the firm impression that this is better sipped neat. Adding even a few drops of water diluted almost all of the tasty floral and fruity notes on the nose, leaving a bit of lemony astringency and some toasted almonds. It also absolutely destroyed the subtle flavors that emerged on the palate, washing away just about everything I found interesting. Yup, this is a dram I think is best served neat.

just-say-no

With the light, floral flavors, I could see this whiskey playing nicely in some refreshing summer cocktails. Unfortunately, being so light, I would be concerned that many of its most interesting notes would disappear among the other, more strongly flavored ingredients (to say nothing of what chilling would do to its already gentle and subtle nature!).

Overall, I found this to be a pleasant enough straightforward sipper. It could be a good dram for someone just starting to get interested in American whiskies, but who’s still hung up on the heavy flavors and alcohol burn common to so many bourbons. I’d also be interested to see what this would be like at a higher strength. It may still not provide the flavors I’m most inclined to look for in a day-to-day sipper, but it has potential, both as something a little different, as a base cocktail ingredient.

Question of the Day: Have you tried Hilhaven Lodge? What are your thoughts on it?

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample of Hilhaven Lodge, generously provided by Taylor Strategy and Diageo with no strings attached. As always, all thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

Blaum Bros Cask Strength Knotter Bourbon

Happy National Bourbon Heritage Month! It’s been a busy month here, so I’m behind on posts, but in honor of this glorious occasion, I have something fun to share today.

My wife and I just got back from a great long weekend in Galena, Illinois. Among the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Blaum Bros. Distillery (because if I’m visiting a town with a distillery in it, of course I’m going to stop by!).

Blaum Bros. is a young distillery (opened in 2013) founded by two brothers, Matt & Mike Blaum, who clearly have a passion for the distillation industry (as well as a killer sense of humor – it’s noteworthy throughout their whole site, but check out the disclaimer on their “about” page – I won’t weigh in too specifically, but let’s just say I got quite a laugh out of the dig they snuck in there).

Anyway, our visit was an outstanding experience. We had an exceptionally awesome tour, led by the dynamic, animated, and well-informed Dennis!

 Dennis, describing the ingredients in whiskey.Dennis, describing the ingredients in whiskey.

Don’t worry, there’s absolutely a pot still for distillation! I just couldn’t get a great picture, since it was partly blocked by the crowd of people riveted by Dennis’s presentation. Seriously, the tour was packed!

Yes, they have a real, hand-hammered pot still. It was just blocked by the crowd of visitors!

It says a lot that my wife, who is not at all a whiskey drinker, had a wonderful time on the tour, and said she learned a lot. Dennis was dynamic, informative, and extremely personable. Even as someone pretty well-informed about the process of making whiskey, I was thoroughly engaged! It also didn’t hurt that

It also didn’t hurt that they capped off the tour with some samples of their spirits (their “Hellfyre” vodka, while not my thing, was a spicy spirit that should blow the Fireball crowd away. And would be awesome in a Bloody Mary). And of course, we capped off our visit with a couple of delicious cocktails, made with their house spirits.  A riff on an Old Fashioned, made with their house distilled barrel aged gin, took the cake for me. I could easily have gone back several more, if things like “responsibility” and “moderation” weren’t such important words.

But of course, since you’re reading this on my blog, you’re probably most interested in the whiskey that Blaum Bros. is selling. Rest assured, Blaum Bros. wants to produce great whiskies. But of course, those take time to age. Their first house-distilled whiskies will soon be available – a rye is coming later this year, followed by a straight bourbon in the next year or two – but in the the meantime, what’s a distillery to do when they want to sell bourbon, but their own spirit still needs more time in the barrels?

blaum-bros-barrels

Of course, they source their whiskey! Like many other distilleries, Blaum Bros. purchased barrels of barreled spirits from MGP, and is blending it and releasing batches as they deem it ready.

Their name for this product? Knotter Bourbon. Say it slowly. Really emphasize each syllable. Then read the subtitle at the bottom of the label. Or hey, look at the name closely.

Blaum Bros. Knotter Bourbon

Yup they’re being honest that they didn’t distill this stuff!

As you know if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest, and I applaud their transparency. But the important question is: is this whiskey any good?

Well, the standard, three-year-old Knotter Bourbon certainly is a solid dram. I found it a little rough to sip neat, but it mixes very well (I could easily see it in an Old Fashioned, and I enjoyed it at the distillery mixed with maple syrup and sasparilla).

However, the bottle I took home is in a different league from their standard offering. It’s a nine-year-old bourbon, and those extra six years make a huge difference. The whiskey is far mellower, but at the same time, way richer. More than that, it’s bottled at cask strength (56.25%)! That extra strength translates to more flavor in the glass, and it’s definitely packed with tasty aromas and flavors.

Blaum Bros. Knotter Bourbon - A Dram Good Drink

A Glencairn is my typical go-to whisk(e)y glass, but I actually like this more from a glass with a wider opening. The alcohol blast is so intense out of the narrower Glencairn that it hides a lot of the best notes from the nose and taste. Of course, your own preferences and results may vary.

Nose: Spicy! Cinnamon, clove, ginger, and vanilla. Lots of alcohol burn! Wood sap, a little milk chocolate. Something a bit vegetal deep in there – some dill? (Suggests a rye-heavy mash bill).

With some water (about four small spoonfuls), the burn softens, but is still there. I also get more woody notes, with pine, toasted oak, and some coconut. Some toasted spices emerge, with cardamom, allspice, and a bit of caraway.

Taste: This is a thick, viscous whiskey. It arrives heavy and sweet, with tons of vanilla and cinnamon. There’s also a substantial amount of caramel and butterscotch, blended with some ripe red apples. The Alcohol burns away the finish quickly, leaving a dry, astringent tingle, with a hint of ginger and spice.

Adding some water mutes the burn a bit, allowing more of the spice to emerge. The cinnamon takes a turn toward red hot candies (which I rather enjoy), and it’s joined by other warm baking spices, like cardamom, clove, and allspice. There’s a light sourness to it, coupled with a mild herbal bitterness. It almost reminds me of chewing on a fresh basil leaf. Without the extra burn, the finish lengthens, but isn’t nearly as sweet as I’d expect from the arrival. Instead, it lingers with warm cinnamon, tannic oak, a hint of vanilla, and a slight charcoal bitterness at the very end.

Crucially, this bourbon earned my cat’s seal of approval. In fact, he was reticent to let me take the glass away for a sip!

Protective Cat

This cask strength bourbon is drinkable neat, but the initial boozy punch masks a lot of the flavors. This is a dram I absolutely prefer with a little water, which removes the slight sour bite from the finish, allowing the whiskey’s natural, spicy sweetness to shine all the way from the arrival to the finish. In fact, it can take a substantial amount of water and still deliver a ton of flavor.

Based on their other spirits (their gin is an easy sipper, and the barrel aged version is delicious), I’m excited to try Blaum Bros. house-distilled whiskies in the near future. For now, I’m quite happy with this bottle! I think I’ll try it out in some cocktails soon, too. I bet it makes a great whiskey sour.

Question of the Day: Have you tried any of Blaum Bros. spirits?

High West Valley Tan Review

HW Care package

The other day, I got a care package from High West!

Cat Investigation

Naturally, my cat had to investigate. Since the delivery was met with his approval, I thought it would be a good idea to feature it here.

In all seriousness, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of High West’s whiskies. I’ve said in multiple posts that they’re doing an excellent job sourcing and blending whiskies, and creating delicious, unique products as a result. However, one thing High West isn’t really known for is distilling and producing their own aged spirit.

High West Valley Tan represents an exciting development for these whiskey innovators, in that it’s the first aged whiskey that the distillery has distilled, aged, and bottled in-house.

A Bit of History

The name, “Valley Tan” has quite a bit of Utah history to it. One of the first industries to develop around the Salt Lake Valley was leather tanning, and “Valley Tan” was the name given to any leather goods produced in the region. Eventually, the term became a moniker for any product produced by the Mormon population in the Territory (as opposed to goods imported from the United States). This included– yes – whiskey.

With Valley Tan, High West has released a whiskey based on the recipe of original Mormon spirit. And in adopting this name for their first aged whiskey, the distillery has done something quite clever; they’re recognizing the history behind the spirit, but also acknowledging that it’s a uniquely Utah drink, too. In fact, it’s made primarily with wheat grown in-state.

Valley Tan Label

This all makes for a fun story (and I geek out about history, so it’s great for me), but you’re probably all waiting for me to get to the important part: How does it taste?

I’m happy to report that High West has succeeded admirably here. They’re developed a highly enjoyable, unique whiskey. It’s light bodied, fruity, and floral. In my opinion, it makes a great summertime dram.

Valley Tan - Cover Image

Nose: It’s immediately clear that this is a whole different animal from a bourbon or rye. The nose is invitingly sweet, with notes of vanilla, marshmallow, and soft caramels. There is a pronounced floral note that reminds me not so much of a particular flower as a fresh-cut bouquet. I also get notes of apples and peaches, mingling with a slight acidity and a hint of toasted oak. There’s also a notable, earthy richness woven throughout the nose that helps to offset some of the sweetness.

With a drop of water, some of the sweetness and floral notes fade. In their place, I get more toasted oak and a light vegetal note, reminiscent of freshly chopped parsley.

Taste: The whiskey is light bodied, but packed with plenty of flavor. The arrival is sweet and toasty, like freshly baked banana bread, coupled with notes of golden raisins and baked apples. Towards the middle, I get fresh red apple and the caramel that I smelled on the nose, along with some toasted coconut. There’s a prickle of heat that reminds me of black pepper or ginger, and it nicely offsets the sweeter, fruity notes.  For a whiskey with so much sweetness, it’s not at all cloying. The finish has notes of apple, raisins, and candied ginger that come together before drying up and leaving me ready for the next sip. Before I knew it, my glass was empty, and I was left wondering how that happened.

As on the nose, a drop of water mutes the sweetness considerably, creating a much drier dram. It also gets considerably spicier, with much more ginger and black pepper interwoven with the apple notes. Personally, I think I prefer it without water, but it’s quite tasty both ways, and just comes down to personal preference.

At 43.5% ABV, this whiskey is lower strength than a number of other offerings from High West, but it holds its flavor very nicely (that said, I would love to see what this would be like at cask strength…).

Adding Water

Valley Tan is something absolutely unique; it has very little in common with bourbon, and definitely no similarities to rye. If you want to try something totally different, I heartily recommend it. Unfortunately, Valley Tan is currently only available in Utah, but perhaps that’s just one more excuse for a trip…

Initially, with the whiskey being relatively light-bodied, I figured that “Squar” (The old Mormon word for “neat”) would be the only way to go. While that’s definitely going to be my go-to for this tasty dram, some experimentation has showed me that it can work really well in a summer cocktail, too. With that in mind, I bring you “The Prairie Breeze.”

The Prairie Breeze Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 2 Oz High West Valley Tan whiskey
  • 1/2 Oz ginger liqueur
  • 3/4  Oz apple juice
  • 1 Grind fresh black pepper
  • 3-4 Dashes black walnut bitters
  • Lemon Twist (for garnish)

Cocktail Ingredients

The flavors in this drink are subtle, and the proportions are balanced so that they don’t overpower the base spirit. Instead, each element complements a different component of the whiskey. The fruitiness of the spirit pairs really well with the kick of ginger. The mild burn of the black pepper accentuates the slight spiciness of the spirit, and the rich flavor of the black walnut bitters brings out the earthiness that I got on the nose from the whiskey.

This cocktail is smooth and easy to drink, with a pleasantly warming finish. It’s tasty on the rocks, but I found that I prefer it strained and served up in a cocktail class.

Finished Cocktail

However you choose to drink Valley Tan, I think you’re going to enjoy it. If you get your hands on a taste of it, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Either leave a comment here, or reach out to me on Twitter (@adramgooddrink). Cheers!

Questions of the Day: Have you tried High West Valley Tan? What’s your favorite “unconventional” American whiskey?

Great King Street Glasgow Blend

Happy National Scotch Day everybody!

In honor of a “holiday” I can really get behind, I dug out a bottle that I think represents the way whisky production should be done.

GKS Glasgow Blend Bottle

Yes, it’s a blend. But those of you who have read my previous reviews (or have tried a Compass Box product yourselves) will know that’s certainly no problem at all. This particular blend is an excellent example of the art of whisky blending in peak form. Plus, it’s a delicious, affordable, and versatile dram. What’s not to like?

Those of you who have been following me for a while probably know about my emphatic support for Compass Box’s campaign for whisky transparency. On National Scotch Day, this is the kind of campaign we should all be supporting as we raise a toast to (and with) our favorite drams. Want to know more? Check out my previous post on the subject, and be sure to visit Compass Box’s own site for details (and to sign the pledge, if you haven’t already!).

Anyway, on to the tasty stuff!

Great King Street is a line of blended whiskies from Compass Box. Designed to incorporate a range of flavor profiles while remaining approachable and suitable for sipping or mixing, these are reasonably priced, readily available spirits. The Glasgow Blend is the peaty version, and I’m quite partial to it (as you could probably figure out already). In true Compass Box style, the component whiskies are all disclosed on the company’s website (in a handy infographic, too!)

Source: Compass Box

It’s composed of sherried whisky from Benrinnes (about 1/3 of the volume), blended with peaty whisky from Laphroaig. This is rounded out with a little Clynelish, a bit from Miltonduff, and a drop of a proprietary blend of Clynelish, Teaninich, and Dailuaine that were married together in new French oak casks. These malts are blended with grain whisky from Cameronbridge, composing roughly another third of the total volume.

The blend really works for this one, with the peaty notes of Laphroaig marrying surprisingly well with the lighter and fruitier notes of the other component whiskies.

GKS Tasting

Nose: Light (and getting lighter as it sits in the glass). The peat is there, but it doesn’t lash out at you and accost your senses (an experience I enjoy, but it’s not for everyone). The Iodine-y, medicinal notes of Laphroaig are there, but they’re mild, blended with earthy smoke and some softer aromas. There’s some apple, vanilla, and a bit of chocolate fudge there as well. With a drop of water, I get aromas of vanilla, honey, and pears. The peat fades away almost completely, leaving behind just a pleasant note of damp earth.

Taste: There’s the Laphroaig! The phenolic “thump” is there immediately, but it’s not overly brash. The Grain, Highland, and Speyside whiskies mellow it substantially, while bringing their own flavors. I get some tar, burnt rubber, and dry, medicinal peat from the Laphroaig, coupled with plenty of fruitiness. There’s apple, plums, and a little grapefruit tartness, along with a hint of black cherries. The finish is very dry, with some astringency that reminds me of toasted walnuts. The medicinal notes disperse quickly, but a dry smoke lingers with tart cherry. A drop of water brings out a little more sweetness – I get pears and some milk chocolate – but also introduces a bit of a metallic tang that actually works quite well with the smoky element in this blend.

This whiskey is delicious neat, but it also stands up quite well in a number of Scotch-based cocktails. Seriously, try a Rusty Nail with this – it’s awesome. Or if you’re feeling particularly offbeat, it makes for a uniquely tasty spin on a Rob Roy, too. However you like to drink it, this is a whisky that any Scotch fan should have on his or her shelf.

Question of the Day: What’s your favorite blended whisky?

Camp Robber Review

After an extended hiatus, it’s good to be back! Even though I haven’t had the opportunity to post lately, I’ve been trying plenty of new things and taking copious notes, so I have plenty of whisk(e)y reviews lined up for the coming weeks. But for now,  in the immortal words of Monty Python’s Flying Circus… “And now for something completely different.”

Camp Robber is a new product from Tamworth Distilling & Mercantile, a recently-founded distillery located in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Although only around a year old, Tamworth has been making a name for itself with its line of unconventional gins, intriguingly oddball liqueurs, and peculiar organic vodkas (ever try a sweet potato, beet root, or chicory vodka? Me neither!), but it’s now venturing into the world of whiskey.

When many young distilleries enter the market, they often start off with an un-aged whiskey to tide people over (and fill the coffers) before the mature stuff is ready. In Tamworth’s case,  although they do have a white whiskey on the market, they’re not content to do things by the book. If you’re familiar with their founder, Steven Grasse, this probably isn’t surprising. Steven is one of the brash bad asses of the industry, known for previously launching such unconventional ventures  as Sailor Jerry’s Rum, Hendrick’s Gin (one of my personal favorites), and the Art in the Age brand of organic liqueurs.

Turning his attention to whiskey, Steven and the folks at Tamworth Distilling intend to release a bourbon, but of course (having only been around for a year or so), it’s not ready yet. Many young distilleries that plan to produce whiskey start off by sourcing aged spirit from other, larger distilleries (a practice I have no issue with, so long as they’re transparent about it!), but Tamworth are instead using their expertise at liqueur crafting to do something a bit different.

Camp Robber

Their first aged whiskey-based product, Camp Robber, begins with a sixteen-month-old, high-rye bourbon made with organic corn and rye. To this, they add a blend of apple brandy, apple cider, and caramelized sugar to round out a full-bodied, moderately sweet apple liqueur. Despite containing literal caramel, this spirit isn’t overly sweet (unlike many other apple “whiskies” I’ve tried). Instead, the sweetness helps to round off some of the tartness from the apple and blunt any residual harshness from the young base spirit. It’s sweet, sure, but a liqueur is supposed to have some sweetness to it.

Tasting Neat

I first tried this neat in order to get a feel for it, and I and found the aromas and flavors to be enjoyable, with plenty of apple punch. It’s pleasantly sweet without a huge burst of cloying sugar.

Nose: Corn and apple! Corn meal, ripe apples, cinnamon and clove, burn sugar.

Taste: Lots of creamed corn, oatmeal, maple syrup, dried apple slices, cinnamon, nutmeg (lots of nutmeg), clove, burnt sugar, allspice. Tastes like an apple cobbler, without being nearly as sweet as one!

Cat Nosing

Crucially, my cat approves, too.

Chilled down in a tumbler with some ice, it gets even better. The cold helps to cut through a bit of the sweetness, allowing the apple and cinnamon to become more prominent. I also get a whole heck of a lot of creamy, corny goodness this way. On a whim, I added a twist of lemon zest, and the citrus oils brought out a crisp, grassy note that helped to make the liqueur just a bit more refreshing.

On the Rocks

Still, despite being easy to drink neat or on the rocks, this is definitely a spirit that’s intended for mixing. I can see a lot of cocktail applications for Camp Robber, and I look forward to putting it to use in some tasty autumn drinks when the temperatures drop off in a few months.

Right now, though, it’s brutally hot here, and I want something light and refreshing. When I first tried Camp Robber, my cocktail thoughts immediately shouted “ginger!” (Hey, I love apple and ginger together. It may be one of my favorite combos), so I kept things simple.

In a rocks glass, I poured 2.5 ounces of Camp Robber and roughly 2 ounces of spicy ginger beer over ice, garnishing with a lemon twist. Not among my most “ingenious” cocktail ideas, but on such a hot day, I don’t want to spend a long time messing around behind the bar – I want to get a cold, refreshing drink in my hand quickly.

Camp Robber Highball

This little highball absolutely fits the bill. The spicy ginger pairs incredibly well with the apple flavors, and the burnt sugar notes blend hold the sweet and spicy together exceedingly well. The creamy corn backbone of the spirit rounds everything out, making for a smooth and easy-to-drink cocktail. The lemon oils from the lemon cut through a bit of the sweetness, keeping your palate fresh for the next sip. And the one after that. And the one after that. And the one aft—hey, my glass is empty!

This is an interesting, fun product that I would certainly be equally happy to sip on a hot summer day or a crisp fall one. I’m quite excited to check out some of Tamworth Distilling & Mercantile’s other wares, and I’m definitely eager to try their bourbon once it’s ready.

Question of the Day: What’s your favorite whisk(e)y liqueur?

Disclosure: Tamworth Distilling & Mercantile sent me this sample for review. However, all thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

High West Light Whiskey Review

So, you may have noticed that it’s been a while since my last post. Unfortunately, the “real world” (i.e., paying work) has been keeping me extra busy, but thankfully things are easing up just in time for summer. And just in time for the coming warm weather, I’ve gotten my hands on  a new whiskey that’s light-bodied but still flavor-packed.

High West recently sent me a sample of their new Fourteen Year-Old Light Whiskey, which is a limited release spirit only available for purchase at their distillery store. Based on my enthusiastic tasting, I feel comfortable saying this is worth checking out if you can make the trip out there (a journey I hope to make myself in the near future).

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According to High West, this particular whiskey comes from 100 barrels they stumbled across while searching through other stock at MGP. However, this is quite different from just about any other MGP whiskey you may have tried – or really, from any other premium whiskey out there. Rather than being a bourbon or rye, this is a “light whiskey.” Rather than implying it’s a health food, light whiskey is a grain spirit distilled to a higher proof than straight bourbon or rye (between 80 and 95% ABV).

Light Whiskey is more-or-less the American equivalent of Scottish grain whisky, and just like grain whisky, it’s exceedingly common, but rarely bottled on its own. Just as most Scottish grain whisky is used in blended whiskies, most light whiskey is used as filler in blended American and Canadian whiskies. In fact, the vast majority of Canadian whiskies contain light whiskey. However, just because light whiskey is typically used in blends doesn’t mean that it isn’t tasty on its own. In fact, with this release, High West has demonstrated that, with proper care and maturation, light whiskey can be an incredible dram.

This particular light whiskey was distilled was distilled between 1999 and 2001 before being aged for 14 years in second-fill white oak barrels. The higher distillation proof creates a whiskey with a lighter body and mouthfeel (hence, “light” whiskey), but that same higher proof extracts even more flavor from the barrels. This is balanced by the use of second-fill oak, keeping this whiskey from feeling overly woody. Instead, the finished product is complex and flavor-packed, but almost too drinkable. It’s definitely lighter-bodied than bourbon, and I get the sense it wouldn’t stand up particularly well in a cocktail, but that’s not what it’s meant to do. Despite its gentle nature, this whiskey is flavor-packed and delightful to drink neat.

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Nose: The nose leads with milk chocolate, vanilla, some plums, and a bit of cinnamon. I also get a hint of coconut, ginger, some light tannins (probably from the oak, but they smell fruity, like a light red wine). There’s a also decent amount of alcohol nip, but it’s not overwhelming, and doesn’t eclipse the other tasty notes. With a drop of water, I get a bit more ginger, some toasted oats, and a little creamed corn. There are also some lighter fruits, particularly green apple and banana.

Taste: It drinks very easily, with a slight alcohol nip burn that doesn’t eclipse the flavors, but rather is just hot enough to clear the palate for the next sip, while leaving the finish intact. This whiskey has an almost velvety texture that slides across the tongue readily, coating it from back to front. Massively creamy, with tons of coconut (candied coconut), plenty of vanilla, and some light spices (cinnamon and allspice, especially). There’s a little red apple in the middle, along with plump milk chocolate covered raisins. The Finish is delicious coconut crème with a little cinnamon, and it lingers on the back of the tongue for approximately forever.

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With a drop of water, it gets even creamier (if that’s possible!). Milk chocolate-covered bananas (maybe drizzled with a little white chocolate too), a bit of pineapple, and maybe some mango and peach. However, this is s subtle, and doesn’t overwhelm the still-prominent coconut.

Overall, this is an outstanding whiskey, and once again reaffirms my love for both quality MGP whiskies and High West’s incredible barrel selection chops.

Questions of the Day: Have you tried a light whiskey? What’s your favorite “less common” type of American whiskey?

Disclosure: High West sent me this sample for review. All thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

High West Bourye Review

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve probably gotten a sense of some of the things I love. Among the many are 1) Fun, unique whiskies, 2) MGP Ryes, and 3) Product transparency. Today, I have the pleasure of reviewing a whiskey that hits all three of these: High West Bourye.

As a limited release, previous iterations have sold out quite quickly, depriving me of the chance to try them. So when I heard that a new batch was about to be released, I was thrilled for the opportunity to give it a try.

Bottle and Dram

If you’re not familiar, Bourye is a blend of straight bourbon and straight rye (hence “Bou” + “Rye”) – something that’s pretty darn unusual. The previous release was a blend of MGP and Barton ryes as well as Four Roses bourbon. For this new release, however, High West stuck with all MGP juice. It’s a blend of:

  • 9-year-old, high-rye straight bourbon (75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley)
  • 13-year old straight rye (The classic MGP 95% rye mashbill)
  • 17-year-old straight rye (once again, 95% rye)

These last two components are pretty noteworthy – older rye whisky has gotten crazy expensive, with prices for some shooting into triple digits. Although Bourye still commands a relatively hefty MSRP of about $80, High West could have priced it substantially higher and it would have still sold. I appreciate that they refrained from gouging!

Another thing I appreciate is their transparency with regard to the component whiskies and their respective ages. How did I get the information listed above? Intense Internet detective work? Industry insider connections? Black magic? Nope – I just went to the High West website! Heck, the label even  tells you to do so! (Are you listening, SWA?)

Bourye Rear Label

Of course, the most important part of any whisky is the experience of actually drinking it. Here, I’m thrilled to say that Bourye lives up to the hype. It’s a fascinating blend of sweet and spicy, with a ridiculous amount going on. I’ve spent some time sampling this one and trying to nail down my tasting notes, and every time I nose or sip it, I get some new note. I definitely don’t see this whiskey ever getting boring!

Tasting

Nose: This rye is immediately aromatic, with plenty of sweetness and lots of spice. I get potent whiffs of gingerbread, molasses, and clove, as well as some nutmeg and cinnamon and a bit of leather (a note I often get on older whiskies). There’s a bit of the characteristic dill and caraway aroma that I usually get in MGP ryes, but it lurks in the background, underneath the sweeter spices.

After leaving it to open up in the glass for five or ten minutes, the caraway and dill become more notable, although they never overtake the spices. I also start to get a little red apple and a hint of bubblegum. That last note caught me off guard a bit, but although I wasn’t expecting it, I found it to be quite enjoyable!

With a drop of water, the spices soften a bit and are joined by some gentle toasted oak, vanilla, and honey, as well as a little dark caramelized sugar.

Taste: This is a full-bodied and viscous whiskey! It coats my tongue like a rich syrup, but a bit of alcohol prickle and mildly astringent oak cut through before it can get cloying. This syrupy arrival delivers notes of red apple coated in caramel, which is quickly joined by the gingerbread I got on the nose, filling my mouth with an intense, sweet, spiciness. Notes of ginger, cinnamon, and clove fill my mouth, coupled with a little vanilla and a tiny bit of wood smoke. I also get a bit of that characteristic caraway and dill, but it’s subdued, lingering in the background behind the sweet spice. The finish is extremely long, but despite the sweet arrival, it wraps up dry, with a slight saltiness, a bit of white pepper, and clove.

With a drop of water, the alcohol subsides, making this very easy to sip with almost no burn. It’s way too easy to drink (I had to refill my glass to finish these tasting notes – it just kind of disappeared…) It tastes “older,” if that makes sense. I get more toasted oak, some more wood smoke, and a bit of molasses. The finish gets even longer, with ginger, molasses, and cinnamon mingling with the aforementioned salt, white pepper, and clove.

This is a crazy complex, rich dram that manages to be both full-bodied and flavorful, while still somehow being gentle (especially with a drop of water). If you can track down a bottle, it’s definitely worth trying!

My cat approves, too – or maybe he just wants to chase the jackelope.

My cat stared longingly at this one.

Questions of the Day: Have you tried Bourye? What’s your favorite High West whiskey?

Disclosure: High West sent me this bottle to review. However, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

 

 

Compass Box Hedonism

This is the first of a series in Compass Box Whisky reviews. Look for the next several coming very soon!

In an industry where brands often pride themselves on their age, long lineage, and adherence to rigorous  traditions, Compass Box Whisky is something of an anomaly. As a brand founded by an American, headquartered in London, and producing Scotch Whisky, these guys are bound to do things a little differently.

Started in 2000 by Minnesota native John Glaser, Compass Box has been shattering preconceived notions since day one. Several times, this has gotten them into trouble with the Scotch Whisky Association and EU regulations. In 2005, merely five years after their founding, Compass Box quickly ran afoul of the SWA with Spice Tree, a whisky matured using inner staves inserted into the casks – a practice that (though effective) is banned by the SWA.

More recently, Compass Box has become embroiled in “scandal” (please, hear the sarcasm dripping from my words here) surrounding two of their whiskies – This Is Not a Luxury Whisky and the Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition. If you’re a Scotch whisky fan, chances are you’re familiar with this already, but Compass Box was informed that they were violating SWA regulations and EU law by the egregious act of…disclosing the exact ages of the whiskies that make up each blend. Compass Box has started a pledge to get these regulations changed, and you can do your part by going to their site and signing your support. I certainly have.

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I’m hoping that the ground swell of support eventually results in a change in regulations, but in the meantime, I take all of this as evidence that Compass Box is a brand committed to delivering great, unique products, even if it somehow runs afoul of the organizations dictating what they’re “supposed” to do.

I’ll be reviewing Flaming Heart in the near future, but for now another example of Compass Box doing things differently can be found in this very bottle: Compass Box Hedonism.

Hedonism - Bottle Closeup

“Common wisdom” among many Scotch whisky fans is that single malts are the One True Spirit. Adulterating a fine malt whisky with grain whisky is a heinous crime against humanity. That vile, harsh, and flavorless stuff is reserved for blends – the stuff of lesser drinkers. In fact, blends are often considered to be of better quality if they have a larger proportion of malt whisky (and therefore, less grain). Essentially, grain whisky is the ugly duckling of the Scotch whisky industry.

Therefore, it might seem kind of crazy that Compass Box has come along and produced Hedonism, which is not just a grain whisky, but a blended grain whisky! Multiple grain whiskies! Blended together! With no malt whatsoever! Hopefully you can sense the sarcasm here, because Compass Box Hedonism is damn fine whisky!

Hedonism - Tasting Setup

On their website, Compass Box provides a breakdown of the component whiskies in this blend, which includes whiskies from the Cameron Bridge and Port Dundas grain distilleries (as a side note, Compass Box provides this detail for all of their whiskies, in handy infographic form!). Although they don’t disclose the age of the whiskies in the blend (remember, that’s a big no-no for now…), this isn’t rough young three-year-old grain. These whiskies have definitely been matured for a good long time in their respective casks, and it shows in the delicate, rich aromas and flavors present in this whisky.

Nose: From the first sniff, it’s clear that this isn’t a malt whisky. The nose is light and quite gentle, but there’s still plenty there. I get a substantial, sweet note of caramelized sugar that pairs with a lot of vanilla custard. Although light in aroma, this is creme brulee in a glass! There’s also a bit of cinnamon, a hint of lemon, and a whiff of coconut.

A few drops of water makes the nose even lighter, and most of the richer notes fade into the background. Coconut becomes the dominant aroma, paired with a little  vanilla.

Taste: This is way too easy to drink! The body is quite light, but there’s a creaminess to it that I hadn’t expected with something so gentle. It’s quite sweet, with a ton of custard here, and a bit of caramelized sugar (just like I got on the nose). There’s a rich, sweet grain note too, which reminds me more of brioche bread than a hot cereal. All together, these notes remind me quite strongly of bread pudding. There’s also a pronounced kick of coconut running throughout. That coconut only gets more pronounced on the finish, where it dominates as a rich, sweet coconut cream pie note. It lingers for an extremely long time, with tiny bit of lemony tartness to cut back the sweetness ever so slightly.

After adding a few drops of water, the custardy texture remains, but the flavors are far less rich. The coconut is still there, along with a little almond, but it’s much more muted.

This is an outstanding, unique whisky. It’s packed with tons of sweetness, but (probably because it’s so light-bodied), it doesn’t get cloying. I’d recommend skipping on the water with this one – it breaks up the whisky’s best qualities and flattens it out. It’s an easy and delicious sipper neat, anyway!

I think that Hedonism should be celebrated for doing something completely unique – and getting it to work so incredibly well! If you’re a Scotch whisky fan, you owe it to yourself to try a dram of this at least once.

Questions of the Day: What’s your favorite Compass Box Whisky? Your favorite grain whisky?

 

Compass Box Whisky has not sponsored this post or offered me any consideration for writing it. I’m simply a fan of what they’re doing and trying to promote great whisky. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.