Rye — (bottled in) Kentucky, Multiple CountriesTasted April 8, 2021Barrell's offerings, with just a couple of exceptions, have always been somewhere between good and great for me. Rye whiskey is hit or miss. But Barrell rye finished in rhum agricole, madeira and apricot brandy barrels was not something I could pass on. Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I like rye when the rye itself is tempered and well balanced with barrel notes. The couple of Whistle Pigs I've had do that quite nicely. But I'm not so fond of ryes that taste like boozy versions of Pumpernickel bread (or pickle brine, but that probably goes without saying). Would the Seagrass be like it's three cask cousin, the love it or hate it Armida, where the finishing casks obscure the base spirit (I fall into the “love” camp, but tasted blind and given ten chances to guess what the Armida was, I doubt I would have correctly said “bourbon”). Or perhaps the cask strength rye would win out, overpowering the finishing casks? Or would the Seagrass achieve a harmonious balance? The answer is...harmonious balance!! This is unmistakably a rye with a very nice nice rye hit from the start carrying through to the finish. But the finishing casks add a great complementary sweetness that goes on and on. Both the rhum agricole and the apricot brandy are discernable. The madeira perhaps slightly less so, although I got some faint wine notes well into the finish. There’s tons of fruit, and the rye combined with sweet notes offered a cinnamon cookie vibe. The Seagrass clocks in at 59.2% ABV. It’s very drinkable at full proof, but I found that just a touch of water opened it up quite a bit. I also suspect the bottle will open up given some time. I expect fans of rye whiskeys will dig this, but I also think it will appeal to bourbon fans who don’t normally love rye. Great stuff from Barrell!!80.0 USD per Bottle
Faultline Blended Scotch Whisky
Peated Blend — ScotlandTasted February 8, 2021Wow. This is a K&L exclusive, blended by Douglas Liang. I don't write a lot of reviews of bespoke bottles, but this one deserves it. Faultline is a blend of Highland and Island whiskies. The Highlands provide a rich, fruity, creamy base, with a pleasant smoke from the Island contribution. It works beautifully. What other whiskies have a super rich fruity and creamy base with a nice layer of smoke? (I'm talking super fruity and creamy. By comparison, take for Balvenie Peat Week - fantastic whisky but not in the same rich, lush category) There are only two other whiskies I'm familiar with that make for a useful comparison - Glenglassaugh Torfa and Compass Box Lost Blend. (Feel free to let me know if I'm missing some obvious ones). So how does the Faultline compare? Fortunately, I have a bottle of the No Name on hand, along with a sample of the Torfa. The Torfa (which I very much enjoy) is frequently described as rich, buttery, and creamy. I agree, but the Faultline is richer, creamier, and more buttery. The Torfa has just a hint of youthful harshness; the Faultline does not. The peat of the Torfa is slightly barbeque; the Faultline's peat note doesn't have a barbeque aspect, but it's a very nice smoke nevertheless - not at all bitter or ashy. Two solid performances, but I give the nod to the Faultline. The Lost Blend (excellent, IMO) is not richer or creamier (but about equal) but is more complex - more nuance in the fruit notes, a hint of wood spice, and a more distinguishable oak influence. The Lost Blend's peat is a bit stronger, while still allowing the fruit to shine. The winner? The Lost Blend. But still, the Faultline keeps it respectable. I've made both comparisons without regard to price. The Torfa goes from $60-80 here in the U.S., while I believe I paid $99 at Binney's for the Lost Blend. The Lost Blend is once again...lost...as a limited edition, it's mostly sold out, unless you want to pay $1600 for it at Cask Cartel (no, I'm not exaggerating). So at $25 and with an ABV of 50%, the Faultline is a stunning accomplishment. I don't consume enough whisky to require a "daily drinker", particularly given my stockpile of bottles that refuses to stop growing. Nevertheless, I've already ordered a second Faultline bottle. K&L does releases like this on a batch-by-batch basis, and this is one I'd like to have on hand indefinitely. And since Cask Cartel is not going to get $1600 out of me, it may be as good as it gets in this niche!25.0 USD per Bottle
Balcones Lineage Texas Single Malt
American Single Malt — Texas, USATasted January 15, 2021I'm not sure I can come up with anything that hasn't been said already, but here goes... Based on some of reviews I've seen both here and elsewhere, I expected this to be a very different Balcones offering, albeit a good one. Having tried it, I'd now say it's unmistakenly a Balcones, with a twist. What's new (at least in my experience with Balcones)? The fruitiness - a great peach note on the front palate, followed by honey. There's also a malty cereal note that's a bit more typical in Scotch. What's the same? The Balcones rich, malty mocha. Like its home state, big and bold. Anyone who is familiar with Balcones would be able to guess that it's Balcones in a blind tasting. The final verdict? A winner. And at $40, a notably great value. Balcones is big enough that I'm hesitant to call it a craft distiller, despite it being independent of the big conglomerates. But I can't think of any American single malt that comes close at this price, craft or otherwise, and I'd take it over a number of other American single malts that cost twice as much.
Lost Lantern American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1
Blended Malt — USATasted November 11, 2020I learned about Lost Lantern a few weeks ago through Distiller's Friday Wrap Up (have I missed previous news?). What a lineup! A Sante Fe Distilling, mesquite smoked, cask strength, single barrel? Sign me up. A Cask Strength Ironroot corn whiskey? I've been unsuccessfully hunting Ironroot Hubris for a while. Score! A cask strength vatted American malt incorporating whiskeys from seven of my favorite U.S. single malt producers? I NEED THIS NOW. I placed an order immediately. I was able to get this gem of a vatted malt, along with the Sante Fe and an apple brandy finished rye from New York Distilling Company. Sadly, the Ironroot was already sold out. My shipment arrived late last week, and I opened the Vatted Malt without hesitation. We all know that anticipation and high expectations can lead to disappointment, but not here. The nose is not at all what I expected. It's sweet, fruity and perhaps a touch floral. But powerful. More reminiscent of a Speyside or unpeated Japanese whisky at full volume than a typical American malt whiskey. Overall, the palate was more in line with my expectations, but it also presented some nice surprises. It starts as a full, rich, mocha and malt. Fans of Balcones will find themselves in very friendly territory. But as the palate develops, there's fruitiness - apples and grapes, as well as a slightly spicy vegetal note (maybe fennel?) that mixes in quite nicely. The finish brings notes of citrus and ginger with more maltiness, finally fading to an oaky vanilla. It's a unique and complex ride. I found it just a bit hot straight out of the newly opened bottle, but the heat was tamed by about 15 minutes of resting in a glencairn. I suspect I'll find a similar transformation after the bottle has been open for at least a few weeks. I have an open bottle of the first addition of Barrell's Vatted Malt, and a side-by-side comparison was inevitable. The Barrell also uses only American malts, but tastes decidedly more Scotch-like in comparison. The Lost Lantern came across as distinctly American - with a flair. Which is better? That will certainly be a matter of personal choice; I find both to be exceptional. Expect to see reviews of my other two Lost Lantern bottles soon. I simply cannot wait to see what else is in store.120.0 USD per Bottle
Bourbon — Tennessee (bottled in Kentucky), USATasted October 23, 2020Had I tasted Armida blind, I would have been completely befuddled if I had to guess what it was. Cognac? Armagnac?? I'm not ashamed to say bourbon might never have occurred to me. It's unlike any whiskey I've ever had. The reason it didn't offer even a hint of its bourbon provenance is the finishes, which dominate. The pear brandy hits up front - sweet, rich and fruity. The Jamaican rum steadily underpins the palate, while the spicy and slightly bitter amaro crescendos to the finish. There's a rich thickness that is slightly reminiscent of a liqueur. It's sweet, but the Jamaican funk and the amaro bitterness are a great offset. The only comparison I can think of is Barrell's Dovetail. The profiles are very different, but both are finish driven, complex, and highly unique. Also like the Dovetail, Armida is very drinkable at full proof. In fact, I can't think of any other 110+ proof spirit that drinks easier. I find it a bit harder to numerically rate a spirit that doesn't have obvious peers, and I'll be interested to see where others reviewers land. I won't be surprised if Armida ends up as a polarizing dram. For me, the 4.5 simply speaks to the sheer enjoyment I had drinking it.80.0 USD per Bottle
Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond Single Barrel Bourbon
Bourbon — Kentucky, USATasted September 20, 2020This is barrel 15B2820C; bottle 257 of 257. I got this bottle in late July and opened it promptly, anxious to see if was worthy of the high praise Wilderness Trail has been receiving from the likes of Fred Minnick and many others. I tried it on several different evenings within the first 10 days it was open. Had I rated it then, I would have composed a screed about an utterly over-hyped bottle of distilled pablum. In short, I found that it drank a lot hotter than 100 proof and lacked any distinctive taste or character. Heat, spice and muddled...mud, I suppose. But life intervened and I never got around to my review. About seven weeks later, I decided to give it one more shot. I've had many a dram that's better a few weeks after the neck pour, but...wow. This was a transformation that elevated my bottle of WT to the lofty level of the hype the brand has been receiving. This is a solid wheated bourbon - caramel and vanilla, oak and a touch of wood spice. Left to rest for almost two months, the excessive alcohol heat is gone. It's not complex and presents no surprises. But it's balanced, with the sweetness offset by a lovely oakiness that adds a nice touch of dryness to the finish. I'm still marveling at the transformation, the degree of which is unparalleled in my whiskey experience. This is a very solid effort, one that doesn't warrant the "I'll be interested to see what it's like in a few years" statement that concludes all too many craft whiskey reviews. This dram is solid right now.
Compass Box The Story of the Spaniard
Blended Malt — ScotlandTasted September 10, 2020Today was one of those days where I felt like I was put through the wringer. All was well at the end, but it left me in the mood for an easy, relaxing dram. No peat monsters or cask strength bourbons this evening. My open bottle of the Spaniard was an easy choice. No surprises here - it's a bright, pleasant malt base with a well integrated fruity wine finish. Not complex, but very well done. I have an unopened bottle of Glendronach 12 that I'll have to crack before I finish the Spaniard in order to do a side-by-side comparison. I love the GD12, and my recollection is that it's a very similar whisky, with the Spaniard perhaps having some more dry red wine notes.
Tequila Chamucos Anejo
Tequila Añejo — MexicoTasted September 4, 2020Tequila night! I picked up this bottle from K&L a few months ago. For whatever reason, Chamucos blanco and reposado seem to be readily available, but the anejo is much less common. Since we're headind into a warm Labor Day weekend (with the New England winter potentially right around the corner), I was in the mood for something from the wonderful land of Mexico. This is a prototypical tequila. Plenty of agave on the nose and palate, with some pineapple and pepper thrown in. There's a bit of spice on the finish that I'd say most closely resembles nutmeg. I didn't find any strong barrel notes from the oak, which is typical for me with anejo tequilas (I have yet to do a meaningful exploration of extra anejos). Overall, it's an easy and pleasant sipper. A very nice if unsurprising and unspectacular offering. I bought this for $46, which I think is a reasonable price. Not only do I like the dram; I love the bottle and the label as well. Perfect for a tequila! "Bottleoir", is you will. This would be a great introductory anejo tequila, as well as a great tequila for anyone looking for an easy, familiar dram.
Few Single Malt Triple Smoke
American Single Malt — Evanston, IL, USATasted August 15, 2020I love the creativity and expressions of terroir among various smokey American whiskeys. Not all are a hit with me, but I'm always willing to try a new one. Few Single Malt Triple Smoke seems to only be available currently in the UK, but I was able to add a sample to a recent order from The Whisky Exchange. The description says that the Triple Smoke is, "Made with barley smoked with cherry wood, mesquite wood and apple wood, this is a rich and oily American spirit with a distinctive smoky twang. Expect notes of apricot, apple, salty barbecue, toasted sugar and pastry, with a long savoury, smoky finish." The most noticeable element for me was the "smoky twang", which I found to be usual, but I knew I had experienced it in another whiskey. It took me just a moment to recall where - Fifty Stone Highland-Style Single Malt Whiskey. Fifty Stone is a distiller in Maine that smokes seaweed to dry its barley. The result is an unusual smokey note a bit reminiscent of burnt toast. In the Fifty Stone, it's accompanied by loads of salt and a very tasty malt base. The combination works beautifully. But the Few tastes thinner, despite having an ABV 1.5% higher. Ultimately, there's very little complimenting or supporting the odd smokey note. I'd don't find a burnt toast note to be a good soloist; it needs to be a part of a strong ensemble if it has any hope of success. I love Few's creativity here, and others may find the Triple Smoke to be more appealing. For me, however, this is a pass.
Waterford Ratheadon Edition 1.1
Single Malt — IrelandTasted August 13, 2020Several weeks ago, I attended an online Redbreast tasting put on by the MIT Alumni Association. I did not attend MIT, which demonstrates it’s good to know smart people. The tasting utilized Redbreast’s sample pack - consisting of the 12, 15 and Lustau - with participants responsible for obtaining the whiskey on their own. I had a bit of trouble finding the sample pack in stock, but located it at The Whisky Shop USA in San Francisco. For reasons unknown, the package started it’s cross-country journey, stopped for several days in Kansas, and then was returned to San Francisco. The Whisky Shop offered to resend it, but alas, it was too late for the tasting. There would be no Redbreast for me. But I still wanted to attend the tasting, and I didn’t want to sadly sit in front of my laptop empty handed. Fortunately, I had the perfect Irish stand-in - a sample of Waterford Ratheadon, courtesy of @PBMichiganWolverine. If you haven’t read @PBMichiganWolverine’s review yet, do yourself a favor and scroll down the page. This is the ultimate in local sourcing and transparency. I love it. Did I love the whiskey? On both the nose and palate, it’s unmistakably Irish - fruitiness, mostly white grape and some lemon, cereal malt and caramel. The unusual part is the mineral note that has been noted in every Waterford review I’ve read so far. That’s no coincidence, because it’s unmistakable and it really stands out against the otherwise classic Irish profile. I had mixed feelings - it’s unique, but while it’s definitely maritime in nature, I found it trended slightly towards fishiness. As a pescatarian, I’m not shy about the taste of fish, but I found it to be a bit incongruent here. The ethanol is prominent, which was not terribly surprising for a young whiskey at 50% ABV, and overall, it runs a bit hot. I added some water, which the Ratheadon accepted beautifully. At an ABV somewhere in the low 40s, the heat is gone, the fruits and the minerality are toned down, and the maltiness takes a more prominent role. In the end, I liked the Ratheadon, but I am enamored with Waterford. I’ll be keeping an eye out for future releases, and I hope to see other craft distilleries emulate Waterford’s model. I’ll get to the Redbreasts eventually, but for now, I was thrilled to try the Ratheadon. Thanks @PBMichiganWolverine!