FEW Bourbon Whiskey, Cask Strength

20160121_102338 FEW Spirits is a local distiller for me, located just north of Chicago in Evanston, IL. They are generally regarded as one of our better local distilleries, and I haven’t tried any of their products that are in the least bit sucky. They make bourbon, rye, white whiskey, a couple gins, and a single malt. The also have a Malort-type Swedish wormwood liqueur, which I think is a one-off and I can’t remember what they called it. If you haven’t suffered thru the manly Malort before, google it. Then skip it. Tho Letherbee Distillers make an enjoyable version called Besk. Ya, ya, I digress.

I was at a Binny’s location for a scotch tasting event, and FEW was there giving out samples on the other side of the store. I’m sure they knew there would be a great turn-out, so showed up with a table and some bottles. I tried their limited, special-edition, cask-strength, Binny’s-only bourbon and rye. Both were quite good, and a week later I picked up a bottle of the bourbon for my xmas holiday travels (the family & I packed up the pop-up camper and headed for the Keys. This required a bottle of the FEW, Pappy 12, & Trader Joe’s Islay Storm. The latter two will be reviewed forthcoming. Ya, ya, I digress).

This was a bit of a bargain since it was the same price as the regular 93 proof version, but at 118.6 proof. It’s not a single barrel, but a vatting of 3 barrels, so whatever bottles they got from those 3 barrels is it. Three grain – corn, barley malt, northern rye. Aged in barrels from Minnesota.

With water the nose on this baby is sweet, with cola, cinnamon, nougat, root beer, sawdust, vanilla, & new leather. Mouthfeel is medium but chewy, with a palatte of toffee, butterscotch, caramel, tobacco, leather, some oak, mixed with a bit of rye spice and a bit smoke. Finish is fairly long, simultaneously featuring some sweet and some dry, tobacco, smoke, a bit of salt.

It’s good stuff. I assume it’s relatively young for a bourbon, and doesn’t have the taste of a 12 year old, but it is not harsh at all, even when you try it without water. To me that’s the sign of a whiskey that was made well, in smaller batches, with careful attention to the cuts. If you get a chance, try it, tho it may be tough to find it at this proof. They should think about doing more limited editions of this strong stuff.

Again, digress; as far as my holiday camper trip, this was my dram of choice. For some reason it seemed like a better choice than the Pappy. For xmas eve at my in-laws, I brought the Islay Storm, as those guys are scotch drinkers, and it’s a surprisingly solid choice for the price. For New Years Eve, I brought the FEW, but everyone but me stuck to wine or the Not Your Father’s Root Beer (another local product). Oh well. More for me.

Grade: A-

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The English Whisky Company Peated Single Malt

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When I go on a golf weekend with a group of friends, of course a bottle is required baggage. When a day involves 36 holes, a flask is needed, as well as a relaxing dram afterward. So on one such trip, I picked up a bottle of The English Whisky Company’s Peated Single Malt, a Binny’s Select Cask. It was on sale, no chill-filtering, no coloring, cask strength at 60.9%. Bottled from a vatting of two casks, # 108 & 166, and was # 380 of 426 bottles. Sounded like a good candidate for the job.

 

I had read about the English Whisky Company, producing out of the St. George Distillery in Roudham, Norfolk. Back in 2009, it was the first English whisky to hit the market in 100 years. Seems kinda funny that England, being next to the prolific Scotland, falls that short. But such is the case. When they started up, they got Ian Henderson, formerly of Lafroaig, to help out. If it’s like Lafroaig, I thought, I’m game.

 

The nose featured citrus, was somewhat skunky, some ash. Some leather. Nose is not that strong. Lotsa of alcohol. It noses like young stuff, as I imagine it was. There was no age statement. Adding more water brings in more vanilla behind the ash, but still noses young with much alcohol. Not much of a nose, but hey, it’s young.

 

The palate was ashy upon entrance and all the way thru, and tastes of old paper midway. Crisp at the very start of entrance but that doesn’t last; it gets kinda muddy. Adding more water brings in more sweetness, a little bit of butterscotch. Not a lot of complexity under all the peat, tho. As I said, muddy. Nothing much jumps out under the peat.

 

Finish featured ashy peat, more like Ardbeg than the sweet peat of Lafroaig, though there is some vanilla. Adding more water brings a little more sweetness. Astringent. The ash makes it a pretty long finish.

 

I just didn’t care for this. Now I love a good peated Scotch (this obviously is not Scotch), but I don’t like peated for peated sake. I’ve tried plenty of drams where it was all peat but not a lot underneath, and that’s this one. With its very ashy peated flavor, I would compare this to Ardbeg, but it just doesn’t have that complexity that Ardbeg has under the ash. And being young is no excuse; try a bottle of Kilchoman , and you’ll be blown away by how great a young peated whisky can be. I won’t be coming back to this.

 

Grade: C

Whiskey Del Bac, Dorado & Clear, Hamilton Distillers

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Working as an independent contractor in film & video, I sometimes have to go on the road to shoot a project. When I do, I like to check out the local craft distilleries & try something I wouldn’t be able to get at home in Chicago. Such was the case recently when I was working in Tucson, AZ. A whiskey came to my attention called Whiskey Del Bac, produced by Hamilton Distillers in Tucson. They produce three whiskeys – Classic (unsmoked), Clear (smoked, unsaged), and Dorado (smoked & aged).

The story goes that one evening, while sipping scotch & bbq’ing, Stephen & Elaine Paul discussed making a smoky whiskey in a Southwest style, using mesquite instead of peat. But they didn’t just talk about it; they did it.

And they do it right. They get their barley from an organic source in Colorado, and then do their own malting. Excellent. In these days of sourced whiskey, these guys have their own malting floor! And they dry their malt with mesquite harvested from southern Arizona. They keep it real by using Tucson tap water (where else you gonna get water in the desert?). Its local. Its craft. Its good.

I tried the two smoked versions, the Dorado and the Clear.

The Dorado has a nose of caramel, mesquite, cola, and was a bit bourbon-like for being a malted barley whiskey. The entry is sweet, but not like bourbon. You can taste the alcohol, but it doesn’t burn. Some oak. Mouthfeel is relatively thin. Then that great, dry mesquite smoke sets in. Ya. The finish is more dry smoke, cola, and has a good length.

The Clear is a much different animal. From the nose I could have sworn it was mescal. Really. I get lime, grain. Upon entry I get grain, as to be expected from a clear whiskey, as well as frosting, juicy fruit, lime, and smoke. The finish is dry, short, with smoke and a bit of lime.

I really liked the Dorado. I like smoky whiskeys and this is one very unique dram. It reminds me a bit of Balcone’s Brimstone, but in many ways is more refined. Brimstone really hits you over the head with the smoke and proof, where as Whiskey Del Bac is a bit more complex and nuanced. The Dorado is aged only 6 months or so in small, 15-gallon American oak barrels (probably why I was reminded of bourbon on the nose), as is to be expected for a new distillery; if they age some of this stuff longer I would imagine it would lead to incredible, very complex results. I found the Clear to be fascinating. I’m not a regular drinker of clear whiskeys, but this one is so different it has to be tried. Its great to try a local craft whiskey that uses local resources to make a truly local dram. And its great to see that Hamilton is letting the ideas flow and producing something truly unique. I expect we are gonna be hearing a lot more about Hamilton as this new distillery matures and grows.

You just have to try these truly American whiskeys. However, good luck getting some unless you’re in the area. If you’re there, seek them out and thy shall be rewarded. I wanted to get a bottle to take home but the stores said there was none to have. I read they are expanding, so hopefully their distribution will widen. Then everyone can try it, & the craft whiskey community may see what inspiration, hard work, & not taking the easy road can yield.

 

Dorado – A

Clear – B

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Cadenhead Auchentoshan 14 Year Old Scotch

Auchen1  I picked up a bottle of Auchentoshan  14 year old bottled by the indybottler  Cadenhead. It was on clearance, marked downsignificantly. It is not chill-filtered, and has  no coloring. Oh yeah, and best of all seems to be close to cask strength at 55.1%. Since I’ve enjoyed my limited experiences with Auchentoshan in the past, and because it checked all the right boxes, I snatched it up.

Auchentoshan, of course, is one of the few lowland distilleries, in Clydebank just outside Glasgow. Its origins seem kinda murky, and a web search will yield establishing dates of 1800 thru 1834 or so. Word has it that it was started by Irish refugees, and that would make sense, as it is a triple-distilled whisky, just like Irish whiskey. It has soldiered on thru the years, barely escaped the bombs of WWII (some warehouses were lost), has changed many hands many times, and is currently owned by Suntory.

The nose on this is light and fruity. There’s lots of pear, some honey, and some furniture polish from all that alcohol. Cinnamon. Even a touch of maple in there.

The palate upon entry is clean, light, malty. Semi-dry, pear, slightly astringent, slightly soapy (not in a bad way). Less complex here than the nose and finish.

Finish has some burn at first, but that fades quickly into spice, and a little smoke (not peat tho). Medium length and gets grainy and dryer.

I like this. Perhaps because I love a good Irish single malt so much, as it is similar. Now I know some people poo-poo Auchentoshan as being “boring” or “lacking substance”. However, I don’t think that’s really fair. Its triple distilled, so the character is going to be lighter, subtle, more nuanced, and takes more attention. It’s not gonna hit you upside the head. But this doesn’t make it boring. I’ve heard people make the same complaints of Irish whiskey. Someone once said to me, when told about my fondness for Irish whiskey, that he started on Irish whiskey but then graduated to Scotch, insinuating that Irish is for beginners. And I’ve read the same about Auchentoshan. Sure, it’s a good place to start because of its inherent lightness, but to suggest serious whisk(e)y drinkers can’t enjoy it is bs. If it’s not your thing, fine, but don’t go dissin’ it.

Enough ranting .I like this stuff, tho I tend to be a sucker for cask strength stuff. At regular price I might hesitate, but I would hesitate at anything in that price range, so there’s good value in this when marked down.

A-

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Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey

For my first posting, I thought it best to start with a write-up of one of my favorite whiskeys – Knappogue Caster 12-Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey. I’ve been enjoying this one for years, and it never disappoints.

 

Knappogue Castle is an independent bottling of whiskey distilled at Bushmills. It is aged for 12 years in ex-bourbon casks. Bottled at 40%, with some chill filtering, but most likely no coloring. Most Irish whiskeys are blends, so it’s always great to have single malt versions  available to really showcase this style of whiskey, and fortunately there seems to be more Irish single malts coming to market.

 

Up until around 2007, Knappogue Castle was bottled with a vintage instead of an age statement. 1995 was the last vintage year, so if you see a vintage bottle, grab it! Notably, you could probably find their famous 1951 vintage locked away in the back of some large liquor stores, but that will cost you over $1K.

 

As I usually go through at least one bottle every summer, I find that there are subtle differences in it from year to year. Not a lot, though. The signature crisp, light taste, the citrus and peach, the dry and bitter woodiness are always there. However, some years seem to be slightly sweeter and some more bitter. Knappogue Castle also has a 14 year, 16 year, and 17 year expression, and are much different because they are finished in sherry barrels. I have tried the 16 one one occasion, but didn’t like it quite as much as the 12. Then again, I am not a big fan of sherry monsters.

 

Knappogue castle has a very light, straw color. This year’s, 2015, has a nose with citrus, honey, a little astringent, a little mint, some light malty cereal, a touch of vanilla. Upon entry, I get the lots of fruit and citrus, the crisp, and that honey. It develops with peach – not as much peach as I found last year, but it’s there. That’s followed by the bitter, which I love. Many Irish whiskeys get sweet here, but this one develops a great dry bitterness, most likely from the extra time in the barrel. The taste overall is very crisp and light. The finish is short to medium, with mint and citrus. The dry and bitter lasts a bit longer. The oakyness really comes out in both the development and the finish.

 

I highly recommend this one. The light, crisp, dry taste makes it great f or warmer weather, but really is great anytime. Its usually around $40, which isn’t bad for a 12 year single malt. I’m lucky enough to find it at a place that sells it for $30, which makes it a helluva deal. And for those that stick mostly to scotch, it’s a welcome break from the usual. I’d love to see a cask strength version of this. Try it out, and don’t wait for St Patty’s Day.

Grade: A20150816_201318

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