Welcome back to our monthly guide to all things whisk(e)y. Please check out our more in-depth looks at new releases from Stranahan’s and Buffalo Trace. This month, we catch up with some stuff released near the end of last year that slipped through the cracks (or that we didn’t get to try until after December 1).
The latest addition to the Dublin distillery’s ongoing Very Rare Cask Series, this single malt spent 30 years in ex-rum casks and was then finished for three years in Pineau des Charentes (French aperitif) casks. Only 316 bottles were produced, and even at $3,699, good luck finding a bottle in the United States. Thankfully, we got a chance to have a sip, and it’s exquisite: coming in at 49.7% ABV and the oldest bottling ever released on this side of the Atlantic, it’s incredibly floral on the nose. Dig in and you’ll find plenty of vanilla and caramel; overall, it’s fairly smooth on the palate and surprisingly not over-oaked or overly tannin-ed. It feels like a refined, richer take on the small batch flagship with some more barrel influence.
For this new annual release from the independently-owned Kentucky distillery, six different mashbills were created using a range of different malted barleys and a variety of cask types. For this inaugural release, five of those recipes were used — new releases will come out every year and be slightly different — consisting of whiskey ranging from seven to eight years old. There’s a lot of biscuit and dark fruit on the nose and palate (cherry in particular), with the different layers from the barrels coming out mid-palate (the red wine in particular sticks out). FYI, sour mashing just means using material from an older mash batch to start the fermentation of a new batch.
The LA-based Broken Barrel is known for exposing younger whiskeys to unique wooden staves from hacked-up barrels. Honey Smoke Reserva, a sequel to last year’s Honey Smoke Rye, features a Kentucky-distilled American whiskey (99% corn, 1% malted barley mashbill) aged for six years, then finished for five months using 50% honey barrel staves and 50% Texas sotol barrel staves and bottled at 110-proof (55% ABV). It’s the sotol that stands out more here, lending an herbal/grassy but also bright component to the whiskey — which, yes, has a small but noticeable honey component (a little sweet, a little bit on the mouthfeel).
Four new bottles from the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery, this new collection features an array of 10- and 12-year-old Irish single malts with rare cask finishes, including plum brandy, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Tequila (before then, they spent roughly six years in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry barrels). Coming in at 46 to 47.5% ABV and at just $60-$75, these limited editions are all unique for the Irish whiskey world and surprisingly affordable. Our favorite? The 10-year Burgundy cask finish, which has a lovely fruity sweetness and strong notes of raspberries and vanilla.
Based on the banks of the River Teith in Stirlingshire, this Highlands distillery took over a cotton mill that closed in 1965. Fun fact: the distillery (which uses only local barley) is powered by electric turbines that generate electricity from the river. This limited release (58.5% ABV) was first filled in ex-bourbon barrels before spending an additional 12 months in virgin American oak barrels. There’s a lot of green apple on the nose here, while the palate matches that fruitiness with warm oak spice, citrus, caramel and candied ginger. The distillery claims it to have a “waxy” character, and that certainly shines through in the mouthfeel.
The Quest to Make Irish Whiskey a Year-Round SpiritIt’s not just for St. Patrick’s Day
Part of the Colorado distillery’s Master’s Blend series, this limited release is a blend of last year’s Infinity release (which also had some of the 2021 blend in it, making this a perpetual blend), as well as a high-malt bourbon and two wheat whiskeys (aged seven and 10 years). Coming in at 55.5% ABV, the 2023 edition is full of butterscotch, oak spice, candied fruit, caramel, dark berries, marshmallow and a bit of cocoa.
A blended whiskey from Buffalo Trace (a first), this new release is a collaboration between Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley and award-winning musician Chris Stapleton (a Kentucky native). Out of 50 blends, No. 40 was the winner here, hence its placement on the label. Bottled at 90 proof, it features notes of honeycomb, butterscotch, vanilla, oak spice and a touch of nuttiness. It’s crowd-pleasing and affordable.
Waterford’s Cuvée Concepts are inspired by the Grand Vins of Bordeaux — basically, these bottles (all 50% ABV) from the terroir-driven brand represent a careful layering/blend of a few single-farm whiskies (you can read more about the concept with Waterford founder and our whisky maker of the year Mark Reynier here). The idea is that the sum is greater than the parts.
Fumo is where Irish peat meets Irish barley; it has an oily mouthfeel and notes of butterscotch, cocoa, biscuit and pear along with a subtle, sweet charcoal smokiness and a bit of seaside minerality. It’s much different and brighter than, say, an Islay Scotch. Meanwhile, Koffi utilizes the whisky crafted from 24 single malts, each one also a single farm origin. The label and carton artwork is by contemporary French artist Nathanaël Koffi. With the youngest whisky here six years old, the expression represents Waterford’s oldest release. Citrus, Earl Grey tea, cola, malt and dark chocolate dominate, with a bit more of the barrel shining through.
My limited exposure to bourbons with any sort of peat element has been iffy at best. But New York distiller Great Jones has a seven-year-old bourbon that spent its two final years in casks that formerly held peated Scotch. The whiskey itself is crafted entirely from corn, barley and rye grown in the Black Dirt region of Warwick Valley in New York. Coming in at 48% ABV, this distillery exclusive features a subtle smoke with notes of buttery caramel popcorn, baking spices and oak.
A new annual release from 2XO (“Two Times Oak”) and blender Dixon Dedman, Gem of Kentucky features single barrels from stocks of a high-rye bourbon mashbill (35%) that spent up to a year in new charred oak before bottling. There are also two different char levels (char 3 and char 4) on the secondary barreling. The final result is full of baking spices, hints of tobacco and oak but also red fruits, chocolate and marshmallow.
This independent Vermont bottler recently added two additions to its Blend Series and two to its Single Distillery Series, covering seven smaller artisanal distilleries in total. These are very limited-edition bottlings (around 400 to 600 of each) and are meant to be consumed during the coldest months of the year. There’s a single malt from California’s St. George Spirits (the oldest craft distillery in the country) and a new partnership with Kings County Distillery in NYC for a bourbon release. All good — and that St. George release possesses an interesting and unexpected piney note — but the standouts are the blends: Lost Lantern Shadow (126.3 proof), a mix of peated American single malts from Boulder Spirits (CO), Cedar Ridge (IA) and McCarthy’s (OR) and Lost Lantern Flame, a marriage of mesquite-smoked single malts distilled by Santa Fe Spirits (NM) and Whiskey Del Bac (AZ).
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