Review: Colkegan Offers Up an American Take on Peated Scotch
These New Mexico single malts use mesquite to add a sweet campfire note
What we’re drinking: Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey, Colkegan Cask Strength Single Malt and Colkegan Apple Brandy Cask Finished
Where they’re from: Santa Fe Spirits is an award-winning independent distillery located 7,000 feet above sea level at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in New Mexico. It was founded by Colin Keegan (a former England resident and also a former architect) in 2010; the distillery crafts everything from an unaged pure malt whiskey to apple brandy — as well as some exceptional Scotch-like whiskeys with a Southwestern twist.
Why we’re drinking this: We got into smoky American whiskey last fall, thanks to Arizona’s Whiskey Del Bac. It was like our country’s take on a peated Scotch, albeit with some interesting characteristics.
“It’s a riff on the peat smoke in a Scotch,” admits founder Colin Keegan. “And I think you can smell it. We say it noses like an Islay, leaning to the Scotch drinker, but drinks like a Highland. I mean, I love Ardbeg, but we were looking to cater to an American palate. So what we’re offering is a little sweeter and more balanced. Americans think bourbon and oak, so that’s our primary market.”
Interestingly, the whiskeys at Santa Fe are aged for only a minimum of three years — credit the hot, dry New Mexico climate for that reduced maturation. (“Our angel’s share is 12%,” explains Keegan, which is much higher than you’d find in Scotland or Kentucky.)
All of the expressions below, crafted from 100% malted barley (30% of which was mesquite smoked), were matured in both new and used American oak, which does a lot to balance out the smoke.
How it tastes:
- Colkegan Single Malt Whisky: A hint of campfire on the nose, this is fruity and creamy on the palate, where a barbecue flavor hits strong, along with some cherry and oak.
- Colkegan Cask Strength Single Malt: A whopping 118 proof, the smoke is more prevalent on the nose here. As well, there’s a lot of dark fruit that comes out on a first sip, followed by milk chocolate, baking spices and a hint of citrus.
- Colkegan Apple Brandy Cask Finished: Ginger, apple, strawberry and even a bit of lemon meringue dominate here, though there’s still a modest smokiness present. At 92 proof and with an extra year aging in a cask that held the distillery’s apple brandy, this is sweet and mellow, with a slightly drier, oakier finish. “It’s the closest thing we have to a bourbon in taste, if you ever smoked a bourbon,” says Keegan.
Fun fact: If you’re not a whiskey drinker, the distillery’s Wheelers Western Dry Gin uses botanicals primarily sourced from New Mexico. This means outside of juniper, you’ll find unique botanicals built from osha root, magenta flowers and sage.
Where to buy: Available in stores in nine states, you can also buy Colkegan releases online. There, these three American Single Malt bottles are available in 41 states for $210 as a bundle.
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