Bombay Original London Dry Gin (40%)
London Dry Gin — EnglandTastedThe Bottle: Despite not being as well-known as it’s blue-hued brother, the standard Bombay Dry Gin bottle follows the standard Bombay recipe of being squat and rectangular. There’s some nice information about the recipe on the back, including the botanicals that are used; but it’s otherwise unremarkable. Which is fine, since it should live in your freezer anyway. In the Glass: It’s gin, it’s clear. It’s a touch more viscous than water but not as much as a few vodka’s that I’ve come across. The Nose: Smooth juniper with a lot of floral notes. This has a really “open” kind of aroma going for it that is a nice weave of all of the botanicals in play. Nothing really stands out and smacks you about it. I picture the botanicals as old men sitting around a table playing cards talking quietly. They’re all there, but no one is trying to grab the spotlight. Taste: My first take on this is that it comes off tasting like the ABV is higher than 43%, there’s a distinct alcohol note to this. It dies down a bit during the development, giving way to a mix of juniper and botanicals (coriander and licorice root takes the lead for my palate). The finish starts off with a certain amount of alcohol astringency, but turns sweet over time. The alcohol note though never really seems to vanish, it’s present across the entire flavor profile. For the money, this is a good option in the London Dry library. It would work just fine in any cocktail that called for it, but I wouldn’t recommend this as a sipper.17.0 USD per Bottle
Beefeater London Dry Gin (47%)
London Dry Gin — EnglandTastedThe Bottle: This one is kind of a classic, ubiquitous on every bar-shelf in the world I would think. Bold red and white colors with the distinctive Beefeater on the front make it easy to pick out from a distance. There’s some information on here about the gin’s history and how it is proudly made in in London. It’ll do. In the Glass: It’s gin, it’s clear. It’s a touch more viscous than water but not as much as a few vodka’s that I’ve come across. The Nose: Juniper is at the forefront, with a backdrop of some mild spices. For 47% Abv, it’s very smooth on the nose and comes off as a pretty no-nonsense gin that isn’t going nuts with botanicals. Taste: The higher than average alcohol content on this carries the juniper and the black pepper really nicely. There are no real discernable sweet or floral notes to my palate. There’s a wash of slightly muted botanicals in there, but juniper and black pepper are at the fore-front. The alcohol is perceivable on the finish, but it doesn’t have any kind of burn that would normally be associated with higher-proof spirits. All-around, this is a solid London Dry Gin. It isn’t overly complex which makes it work really well in a lot of the standard gin-based cocktails out there like a martini or a gin and tonic. In fact, the flavor profile complements citrus in a very pleasing way (think lemon or lime martini instead of olive). I wouldn’t recommend this as a sipper, per se, but you would be hard-pressed to find a better cocktail gin for the money.17.0 USD per Bottle
Balcones Rumble Cask Reserve
Spirit — Texas, USATastedThe Bottle: Fairly straightforward glass-work with a lot of good information on the label about the spirit itself. The dark color label with the gold and white text looks quite pretty against the color of the spirit, though I do wish that they would tone it down with the number of different fonts that are in use. All-around, this is an attractive one to have on your shelf. In the Glass: Dark, burnished bronze. The Nose: Similar to its less powerful cousin (the standard Rumble), but with everything amped up to 11. This stuff is nearly 66% abv, so I highly recommend a little bit of water. The turbinado sugar is the primary component here with lots of deep molasses notes. I don't get a lot of the honey behind the brown sugar, but the figs are definitely in there. Everything integrates nicely together into a "Toffee/Christmas Cake" kind of thing. Taste: This is where this spirit represents somewhat of a challenge. It's 66% abv, but it also drowns fairly easily so you have to find that really delicate balance between Lighter Fluid and Shirley Temple. I have a tendency to underdo the water, so a lot of what I'm getting has an alcohol note underneath everything. BUT, what that's propping up is really quite good. This doesn't read like a whisky, it doesn't read like a rum. It reads like its own, unique spirit. In the taste is where you start to get some of the honey mixing in with the sugar, but everything is bundled together by dark fruit, fig & date notes. The sugar and sweetness is very quick to show up front, which then moves into holiday cakes and dried fruits. It finishes with a bittersweet note that’s really quite pleasant. This one certainly isn't for beginners. It seems like a simple enough thing, but the delicacies really need a practiced hand and palate to get right with the water. When you hit the mark though, it rewards you for it. "Brandy soaked, sugar coated figs" really sums this one up for me, so if that sounds good to you then you probably won't hate this.45.0 USD per Bottle
New Southern Revival Sorghum Whiskey
Other Whiskey — South Carolina, USATastedThe Bottle: Heavy. You could bludgeon someone to death with this thing… The base is nearly an inch of solid glass which gives it a very “rocks glass” kind of feel (reminds me of Kirk & Sweeney). The label has a crazy mix of different font faces, just shy of being over-the-top. There are some nice blurbs about the distillery itself as well as the spirit inside. In the Glass: Light bronze. On the Nose: Sweet and fruity. Banana, grain and a touch of boot polish? It’s 44% abv., but you can get your nose in here and not have any burn from the proof. Without seeing the label, it’d be hard not to think that this a rum! It smells nothing like any other American spirit that I’ve tried. Taste: This is totally a proper Sothern gentlemen vacationing in the Caribbean. Barbados with a bourbon backbone. The taste follows the nose very closely; a well-integrated tropical sweetness with a grain-heavy finish. You will want to add a few drops of water to this one given the abv., as it helps tame down some of the bitterness on the end. Everything with this happens fairly quickly; arrival, development and finish. This doesn’t have the heft for any real staying power after the sip is over, but I really don’t hold that against it. There’s no age statement on the bottle, but I’d be willing to bet that you could count on one hand the number of New Years Eve’s that this stuff spent in the cask. Honestly, I am often disappointed with a lot of the newer American whiskies that I’ve tried. Mostly, they usually just try to emulate the established big names (and often fail). A lot of this comes down to maturation and the rush to market. Occasionally though, you find one that’s trying to forge its own path. That’s what we have here. I’m not sure how common sorghum is as a base grain for a spirit, but it totally works. This isn’t trying to be a Jack Daniels or a Maker’s Mark. It’s so very different from the other offerings out there and you can tell that it has been put together by someone that knows what they are doing. It’s comfortable in its own skin, so-to-speak. As an aside, I purchased this when I visited the distillery recently and I had the privilege of trying out their Jimmy Red Corn Bourbon….and it may have been the best bourbon that I’ve ever tasted. It’s pricey, but I highly recommend it if you ever come across it.40.0 USD per Bottle
Ledaig 10 Year
Peated Single Malt — Islands, ScotlandTastedThe Bottle: Similar to my review of its sister, Tobermory, this is a very classy bottle to have on your shelf. There's some nice relief in the glass that refers to the Isle of Mull and the distillery's founding in 1798 and the label is straight-forward and unpretentious. Like the Tobermory, it makes reference to being un-chill filtered, but it doesn't say anything about natural color. In the Glass: Honey & bronze. This one's hard to read from a natural color perspective. I'm going to presume that there isn't any E150 caramel color in the mix, but it'd be nice if they would just say that. I should also call out that it’s now a bit darker than the last time that I had it. The image on distiller is very lemon-yellow, which is what it used to look like. No longer. On the Nose: Coastal peat and a hint of underlying coal smoke. This is definitely a salty islander, and you could easily be forgiven for thinking that it's from Islay. Just behind the chimneysweep, there's an interesting mix of marine notes and what I would think figs would smell like if you removed all trace of sweetness. A little bit Laphroaig, a little bit Talisker. What’s really interesting is that this doesn’t just ready like “peated” Tobermory. Blindfolded, I wouldn’t be able to tell you that this has anything to do with the unpeated offering from the same distillery. This is its own thing. Taste: This is where the sweetness comes in, barley sugar and dried fruit. Then the marine note comes back in with a smoky/saline/fisherman kind of thing (it sounds ridiculous, but you probably know what I mean). The development is mostly sweetness and the finish turns bitter and slightly astringent. There’s no mention of it, but maybe this has seen the inside of a sherry cask? It would explain the color… You will want to add a few drops of water to this one seeing as its $46% abv., it helps tame down the finish. Where this differentiates itself from its Ileach brethren is in the finish. There's something more savory going on that you don't necessarily find in many of the Islay malts of the same caliber. It's interesting, unique and pleasing to the palate. I quite like this. I’m a sucker for interesting and peated malts, and this doesn’t fail to deliver. If you’re looking to branch out beyond Islay, give this a go. It’s a touch more expensive that some of the more well known and similarly aged malts, but I like to think that more of the money is making it back to the distillery so that they can afford to take some creative risks in the future (this could be complete codswallop, but hey…). Update: Tobermory has confirmed that it is natural color.60.0 USD per Bottle
Lost Distillery Lossit
Peated Blended Malt — ScotlandTastedThe Bottle: The Lost Distillery Company does a really good job with their packaging. The bottles are all black frosted glass with lovely, stamp-like labels. There's a wealth of information on the label that provides details on the recreation in question. Specifically for this, the Lossit distillery from Islay wich oerationed from 1817 to 1867. In the Glass: Light straw. On the Nose: Medicinal peat, wet rocks and brine. There is a definite marine quality to this, but with very little sweetness. It reads like a younger cousin to Laphroaig (and I would be amazed if there wasn't any of that in here). Taste: This is on the younger side of things, but not to its detriment. The nose continues through the palatte, but there is a pronounced dried fruit sweetness on the finish that turns bitter after a few sips. Let it open up for at least 15 minutes and the bitterness gets tamped down with more sweetness. It's a solid autumn sipper. This is a simple, fairly-well integrated dram. It was priced right around Johnny Walker Black mark, and I do prefer it to that; but I think that I'd rather spend the extra few dollars and go with the Laphroaig 10. The Lossit reminds me so heavily of Laphroaig's flagship that I can't help but compare the two. I can totally see where others would prefer the Lossit to the Laphroaig, since this is a bit softer and less medicinal; but for those who enjoy that facet of Islay, there is no substitute. The goal is to produce a modern interpretation of what this distillrey would be producing if it were still in business today. Now this is very intriguing, if not a bit safe (since there's no way to actually know what would have been). Still, that-being-said, the team at The Lost Distillery Company does an admirable job across the range. I really enjoy the perspective that they bring to the table for things that we'd honestly never be able to try. I had never heard of Lossit before this, so at the very least it's an interesting(and tasty!) history lesson.30.0 USD per Bottle
Glen Scotia 15 Year
Single Malt — Campbeltown, ScotlandTastedThe Bottle: Restrained. There is a small black label on both the front, and back, with some decent information about what's in the bottle; along with a nice relief of the company logo and city of origin. The bottle is a touch tall for my taste, but there is neither anything stand-out nor regrettable about it. In the Glass: Bronze. On the Nose: Rich and complex. There is the "Campbeltown style" to the way this is put together, notes of sweet and salt intermingled with touches of chocolate and dried fruit. the balance on this is really quite good, there's just enough of everything so that no one component takes away from the other. Very inviting. Taste: Powerful arrival of sweet and salt that develops into pronounced notes of: dark chocolate, dates/figs and absinth of all things. That may sound like an odd flavor to be in there, but it sits so well in the mix with everything else. I believe that even Distiller puts "chocolate covered pretzels" in their review and I can honestly see why, that's exactly the backbone of the finish that this develops. Along with the green fairy sidekick, the chocolate pretzel makes for a complex and lasting flavor. I've never had another spirit that was quite like it. I'm not sure how Glen Scotia gets these flavors into their malt, but I hope that they don't change a thing. This is one of my favorite Scottish single-malts, hands-down. I used to think that the Springbank 15 was the best thing to ever come out of Cambpeltown...but I gotta say, this pipped it. At the time of this review, I have yet to try their other offerings; though the Victoriana and the 18 are both on my list. I highly recommend picking up a bottle if you are looking for a non-peated single malt and you're ready for something that isn't from Speyside
Compass Box Spice Tree
Blended Malt — ScotlandTastedThe Bottle: Compass Box has always excelled in this area, and The Spice Tree is no different. This is an elegant and artistic label that not only looks great on the bar, it would make for a fantastic poster as well. In addition to the artwork, there is a load of history and tasting notes on the label, all very good stuff. They nicely tell you that the spirit is natural color and non-chill filtered. Couple this with the 46% ABV, and we're in business. Further, if you were to go to their website you can get a really good sense of what the spirit blend is that makes it into the bottle. In the Glass: Light gold. All of the color on this comes from the wood in which the spirit was matured. On the Nose: Notes of cinnamon, clove and apple right-off-the-bat. Barley sugar and oak are laced into the back-drop with what one would generally describe as "wood spice". This stuff is incredibly inviting. I've often seen peated whiskies described as being "autumnal" in nature, and I get that...but The Spice Tree shows that there is another way. There is as great a sense of fireplaces, grey skies and fallen leaves with this dram as anything you will find from Islay. Taste: Right from the arrival, you get a full-bodied and flavor-packed experience. Baking spices and barley sweetness from the onset that develop into complex flavors reminiscent of a toffee pudding. The finish has the flavor of dried apple slices with a pronounced dryness. At 46% I do recommend adding a few drops of water and giving it a few minutes to open up in the glass, your patience will be greatly rewarded. End-to-End, this is a fantastic whisky. If you are on-the-fence about trying a blended malt, please don't hesitate to try this. Compass Box consistently shows the kind of complexity and balance that one can get when you take the time to artistically blend individual malts and mature them in high-quality barrels.
Ardbeg 10 Year
Peated Single Malt — Islay, ScotlandTastedThe Bottle: This is the classic Ardbeg style that we've all come to at least recognize, if not love. Dark green glass with gold, white and black trim. If you're familiar with single malt whiskies, this one is instantly recognizable and iconic. In the Glass: This is one of the lightest colored whiskies that I've ever seen, even for a natural colored expression (which I am assuming this is, though they do not come right out and say so on the label). The dark green glass is a really smart choice, as it doesn't let an uninformed customer see the actual color of the liquor and influence their opinion of what it must taste like. On the Nose: Have you ever heard a recording of someone's singing voice and come up with an image of what they "must" look like....only to see a picture of them and be 100% wrong? Yeah, this is that. The lightly colored nature of the liquid might have you thinking that this will be an approachable and delicate little flower... This could not be further from the truth. Sweet, seaside smoke laced with kippers and barbequed pork. Where Laphroaig can come off like burning medical supplies(and I can with full authority tell you that this is a good thing), this one is 100% coastal village carnival: salt, confection, smoked meats. It's delightful. Taste: Crikey is this powerful stuff. An immediate arrival of sweetness and smoke that turns salty and finishes with more smoke and cured bacon. This is a really "meaty" whisky, for lack of a better phrase. If sweetness and smoke were characters in a kids book, this whisky would be a chronicle of their visit to the market square as they peruse each of the stalls, hand-in-hand . "Oh look, the butcher!!....Oh look, saltwater taffy!!" There's a balance to this stuff that you don't often find in many whiskies, least of all in one that is (at least) 10 years old. Ardbeg doesn't do very many age statement whiskies, outside of their flagship 10. Most of them are blends across various age statements with a specific end result in mind. I am 100% fine with the idea that all of their older whiskies go this route as long as they can consistently keep making their 10 the way that they do. Affordable, well-crafted and an absolutely joy for the senses.
Clear Creek Reserve Apple Brandy
American Brandy — Oregon, USATastedThe Bottle: This is one of the few Clear Creek bottles that deviates from their "standard" white label, likely to play up the age statement that it comes with. It's a nice dark green glass with a parchment-style label that gives a fair amount of information. It's nice enough, but it won't really stand out on your bar. the good news here is that unlike some of the other bottles from this distiller, it isn't an awkward fit on a shelf that has height limitations. In the Glass: Straw. On the Nose: Now we're getting somewhere. I poured myself a glass of this a few minutes ago, and from five feet away I can smell it. Distinct notes of apple and oak. If you've ever been to a winery/distiller where you can walk through the aging warehouse, this has some of those same "wood" notes to it. It may be one of the most "autumnal" drams that I've come across. Taste: Smooth, apple arrival with a development dominated by oak and wood spice (reminiscent of Lark's single malt, if I'm honest). The fruit here reads along the lines of a pink/red varietal...no Granny Smith here. The finish is tannic/bitter, but you really don't want a lot of sweetness in a brandy like this...it would just be too much. It's like they found a way to harness the essence of what an apple is all about and left the sugar out of it. If you let a few minutes go between sips, the flavor that is left on your palate is 100% apple skin. Many distillers of this style like to keep the aging to 3, or fewer, years (Clear Creek even does this with another apple brandy offering), but I do think that the extended age on this has done it more good than harm. The concern is always that the oak will overpower the delicate nature of the apple, but that doesn't seem to happen with this expression. You definitely get the oak in the development, more-so than you do on something like a single malt; but it isn't hiding the craft that went into the underlying spirit. This is definitely a sipper, mixing it into a cocktail would destroy a lot of the complexity that it has to offer.