Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mortlach 16 Year Old Scotch Whisky Review:

When one hears the word, “Speyside,” if you are thinking about whisky, fragrant and floral notes seems to make their way into your mind. As is well known, Scotland is vast when it comes to distilleries. Yet in terms of flavor profiles we commonly think of its 4 to 5 regions and Speyside whiskies seem to be a prisoner to this notion just as equally as one would think of the peaty whiskies of Isla. However this concept, that all Speysiders taste the same, is one people are beginning to move away from. Mortlach 16 Year completely blows the hinges off this perspective. This old-world big bruiser of a Speyside has nothing to do with the fragrant and floral, and everything about the rich and meaty.

Possibly the heaviest and most outspoken character of the Speysiders, Mortlach holds one of the most unique distillation methods of any whiskey in Scotland.  Starting with the washbacks, even though all 6 can hold 90,000 liters of wort, they are only charged with 55,000 liters. With distillation, Mortlach uses what you could call partial triple distillation (technically 2.8). The only distillery in Scotland with such a practice, the spirit is finally condensed using five worm tubs made of larch and one made of stainless steel – this is where much of its potent nature originates from. And with this old style of production a spirit is created with a character that fits perfectly into the Johnnie blends (especially the black label) – which for a time made the obtaining of a bottle very difficult. So with my wife and I having the rare opportunity of visiting Scotland last summer, we grabbed a bottle at the Cardhu distillery before heading back to the States.

Mortlach 16 Year Old Scotch Whisky Review:

Price: Around £42.00 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: The legendary Flora & Fauna label. It’s hard to dislike this on any level. You feel privileged to have such a bottle.

Alcoholic Content: 43% abv, 86 proof.

Nose: A large beefy nose – think of a syrupy stew or doughy pot pie. Tightly woven. Rummy with figs, sweet plum. 

Palate: Quickly lets its presence be known. Sherried panforte. Soft fruit cake. Drops off into a beautiful dry finish with a little smoke, pepper, and ginger spice.

Conclusion: Mortlach has been labeled a cult malt for good reason. It’s assertive and powerful in a place where elegant and graceful rule. It breaks all the rules by way of holding on to tradition. Of course we would love a cask strength or higher abv, but one cannot complain with this too much. All I can think about is how sad it will be when this bottle is gone. If you can get your hands on this, savor it. Take it slowly.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Angel's Envy Bourbon Whiskey Review:

Produced by the Louisville Distilling Company, Angel’s Envy is simply a brilliant product. What you get when you buy a bottle is a small distillery production without any of the hype from the micro industry and one which is constructed by a first-class master distiller, Lincoln Henderson. His experience being intensive, Lincoln put small-batch bourbons for Woodford Reserve on the map while he also played a large part in the development of Jack Daniels’s “Gentleman Jack” and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. Along with two younger generations, the Henderson’s have created a great product with a modern edge. Aged at least four years, the liquid is then transferred and finished in port pipes for four to six months, lending them to label their product as a “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Barrels.”

Angel's Envy Bourbon Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $45.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Some comments have been made that the label is a bit much, and I agree that it does at least toe the line. But the in the end the design is clean and elegant with a beautiful wooden cork stopper. The label details are clear and concise. On a side note their website provides great clarity to their product. Exactly what I like to see.

Alcoholic Content: 43.3% abv, 87 proof. The only issue, though minor, is the abv. Could have been higher, and with the flavor profile it would have added a great compliment. More reason to get excited about trying the cask strength version.

Nose: The nose is a wonderful delight. Supersweet corn and honey.Tropical notes. Some Kiwi and tangerine coated in sugar cane juice. Mint, vanilla, toffee, and wood in the back.

Palate: Balanced and complex corn and rich toffee flow into sweet honey and mulling spices. Spicier than other reviewers led me to believe, Angel's Envy has a tactile palate imparting you with orange zest and fresh oak in the back. What you are left with at the end is the port pipe sweetness. Very well rounded. The dram will slowly open up into more maple sweetness on the finish.

Conclusion: When the product was first released in 2011 there was a New York Times article written by Frank Bruni who stated that “[after drinking Angel's Envy] I missed the rough edges of other bourbons and the way they can burn slightly in the back of the throat. When I drink bourbon, I like the sense that I’m playing with fire.” An opinion no doubt and one cannot simply state it is wrong, but I feel like he simply missed the point: that the intrinsic quality of the whiskey is simply different than what he prefers. And that’s the problem. His “review” wasn’t a review, it was an opinion peace. He is practically stating that Angel's Envy is a tempered product for a wider audience, as if a fruitier and more drinkable 86.6 abv bourbon is somehow less to write home about. When tasting spirits one always needs to remove themselves from the current trends and look only at the intrinsic quality. Funny as it may seem Bruni’s article makes a great point: many people who look at American spirits today and do not see them as somehow relating to or holding an aesthetic quality of a “down to earth” and “humble” product simply disregard it. As I said at the beginning, Angel's Envy actually appears quite different from the micro-guys (aka different from current trends in one respect). I agree that it is a modern product, yet one which is expressed clearly, tastefully (aesthetically speaking), and it is superb bourbon to boot. Let’s shelve the idea that good product should be above the need for marketing, while never succumbing to the idea that it really matters. Diversity in the industry, if it be a real quality product, is needed. Angel's Envy is a product I would recommend.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

High West Double Rye! Whiskey Review:

“Perhaps the spiciest American whiskey I have ever tasted, yet at the same time, quite tame and mellow.” – John Hansell

For the past 100-200 years blended whiskey has been dominated primarily by Scotch and Irish blenders, while the United States beverage industry has been mainly relegated to single distilleries without much sharing of each other's spirits. Where most distilleries in Scotland share and sell their spirits to various other independent bottlers and blenders, you will be hard pressed to find a bourbon distillery which is selling its spirit in any other form than their particular distillery label (besides the big guys like LDI). This trend in the US has, though not as diverse and multifaceted as it’s brothers across the pound, recently have seen some needed change. In the past decade or so, many new whiskies sourced elsewhere have found their place in the market. Labels such as Bulleit, WhistlePig, Templeton, among others have been popping up here and there. And, along with these “bottlers,” have arisen a few blenders in the real sense of the tradition. High West Distillery is one such blender that has been garnering applause for their blended whiskey ( i.e. sourced products) which are then painstakingly blended to achieve a new and unique flavor profile. While there has been some negative media due to the lack of High West distilling many of their own products (they do distil some of their spirits), High West has been more than open with their blending practices, and the fact that they have such stellar products makes a very hard case against their provocateurs. One might raise the question that LDI is finding it's way into most of the bottles I listed, but I would just say that this trend is something which I believe will soon be changing for the better, with more distilleries opening up their store. 

If you haven’t heard about High West Distillery they are located in Park City Utah and, not surprisingly, the first legal distillery in Utah since prohibition (if I could gain a penny every time I use that designation!). Attached to the distillery is a beautiful saloon and restaurant making an out of the way trip a bit more appealing. Rendezvous Rye was the flagship brand and the first offering, much less their first huge successful whiskey. At 92 proof, non-chill filtered blend of a 16-year-old 80% rye whiskey with a 6-year-old 95% rye whiskey this whiskey won the 2008 winner of a Double Gold Medal at San Francisco Spirits competition. Now, the Double Rye, in the similar vein is a blend of a very young 2 year old high rye whiskey of 95% rye, and a 16 year old high rye whiskey of 53% (37% corn, 10% Barley Malt). And what we get with the Double Rye! Is possibly the most unique American whiskey I have ever had. Yes, you read that correctly. The most unique.

High West Double Rye! Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $35.00 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Western-y to say the least. High West have unique bottles to all their products, and I wouldn’t ever tell them to change it. Let’s just say it adds some diversity to your collection. 

Alcoholic Content: 46% abv, 92 proof. Happy with that!

Nose: Immediately hit by an incredibly distinct gin body. Transported into a spring forest with fresh honeydew and green cedar all around. If it wasn’t for the slight oak coming through one could have fooled me into thinking this was some other kind of spirit. A beautiful nose.

Palate: Dark, burnt sugars explode with a rye sweetness. Opens large on the tongue with the gin botanicals and fresh pine leaves, providing a wonderful bitterness yet nothing overly tannic. Extensive and long finish.

Finish: This redefines what a rye can be. Honestly I have never tasted a whiskey this unusual – truly “unique” as some reviewers have put it. And the secret is in the great divide of age. You get the youth and vigor of the very young two year old, but the rare maturity of a 16 year old rye.
This is the beauty of a blended whiskey. You could not get these flavors without the melding of the two together. I cannot say this is for everyone, but if you want something completely different from your normal routine try this outstanding whiskey.