Sunday, December 28, 2014

The GlenDronach Revival 15 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $60
- 92 Proof
- 15 Years
- Region: Highlands

This bottle was given to me as a birthday present from my in-laws.  I gotta say, they have fine taste in selecting such a gift!  I had never had anything from the GlenDronach distillery, so I was very eager to give this a try.  I found myself frequently going back to this bottle, even when I had other options available to me.

This Highland single malt was matured in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks, and the nose as well as the flavor profile show it.  The sherry scent overwhelms, muting the typical alcohol and barley aromas.  The whisky is darker, indicative of its age (and the darker color was apparently the primary factor for my father-in-law in selecting this particular bottle). 

It is definitely a fruity whisky, but it's well-balanced by the other flavors.  It is heavy on the sherry, but also has notes of dark fruits like blackberry and plum mixed well with a mild citrus quality.

Those fruity tones, however, give way quickly to toffee and chocolate flavors that seem to blend perfectly with the sherry finish. 

The sherry and dark chocolate linger in the back of the throat long after each sip, reminiscent of dark chocolate covered strawberries or cherries (though not quite).

Sherry whisky is not everybody's cup of tea, and understandably so.  But, as far as they go, this is one of the better ones I've tried, and when I'm in the mood for such a dram, I wouldn't hesitate to reach for this one.

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

- $60
- 80 Proof

It occurred to me that there are a number of types or styles of whiskey that have yet to make their way into this still-young blog, such as Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskeys.  Accordingly, I and my belly felt it necessary to work to remedy the situation.

My familiarity with Irish Whiskey did not extend much beyond Jameson's, but I had heard very good things about Green Spot Irish Whiskey, a whiskey that only relatively recently became available in the States.

I don't typically spend much time addressing the nose of the whiskeys I try.  Obviously, the taste is the most important factor.  This one, though, is noteworthy.  When I was in junior high and high school, my friends and I, just like every other suburban teenager, would hang out at the mall.  There was one shop in the mall called The Tinder Box that sold tobacco products, including cigars and pipe tobacco.  Though I rarely went in there, the store had an unmistakable and very enjoyable smell as we would walk past, likely dominated by the pipe tobacco.  Just walking past the shop we'd be hit with strong aromas of vanilla, cloves and other spices.

Long story short, Green Spot smells exactly like walking past the Tinder Box in the mall.  I could not stop raising the glass to my nose every time I poured a drink.  It was absolutely amazing to me, and took me back.

AS to the more important part, the taste, this is a very smooth and mild whiskey.  It was not strong, but had noticeable notes of vanilla and toasted nuts.  It has a nice woody flavor that I found I liked the most.  There were also slight undertones of citrus fruit, somewhat lemony.  However, the vanilla dominated and was the single flavor that remained on the tongue long after.

This is a sweet whiskey that is very easy to drink.  It has almost no burn at all.  It's not bold in any flavor, and perhaps it's only a matter of preference, but nothing about it really jumped out at me (except the nose).  Nonetheless, it's a good whiskey, and I would love a chance to try out Yellow Spot if it ever makes its way onto my local store's shelves.

Grade: B

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Distillery Tour - Portland's Distillery Row and More

Last week my wife and I made a trip to Portland to visit my family.  Portland has a nice up-and-coming craft distillery scene, and I was going to make certain that at least some of my time was spent getting to know that scene a bit more.

My brother-in-law shares in my enjoyment of whiskey, so I had my partner in crime.  Distillery Row is comprised of seven craft distilleries near downtown Portland, all, for the most part, within walking distance of each other.  To do a tour, all you have to do is stop by any one and purchase a Passport for $20, which gets you tastings at each distillery.  I couldn't really go wrong!

Our first stop was at House Spirits Distillery, makers of the Westward Oregon Single Malt Whiskey that I've reviewed previously.  Obviously I was already a fan of their whiskey, but I was eager to try their other products as well, including their best-seller, Aviator Gin.

After there we went to Eastside Distilling, New Deal Distillery and Stone Barn Brandy Works, hitting more than of Distillery Row on the first day.  We also went across town to check out Clear Creek distillery, a distillery known for growing pears and apples inside the bottles they use for their brandy.  It's really nothing more than a gimmick, as they merely pour the brandy over the fruit when bottling, but pretty neat nonetheless to see a full pear inside a bottle of brandy.

On the second day we finished the tour, hitting Rolling River Spirits, Vinn Distillery (offering gluten free products made from rice, including a spirit called Mijiu, which I've never had before), and Wild Roots Vodka, specializing in infused vodka.

I've dedicated this blog to whiskey reviews, so I'll keep the focus on whiskey.  However, below I've also identified what I think were the best of the best in other categories.  As to the whiskey, I knew I was already a fan of House Spirit's Westward Oregon.  Only one other distillery, however, had bourbon. 

Eastside Distilling offered Burnside Bourbon, a young bourbon aged 4 years, and Burnside Oregon Oaked Bourbon, a double barreled bourbon.  I found the 4 year bourbon much to my liking, offering many of the notes and flavors expected in a bourbon.  However, it's age showed, as it was missing the depth and boldness of a more well-aged bourbon.  The Oregon Oaked bourbon was a lighter bourbon, reminding me more of a single malt.  It was not a very complex bourbon, and lacked any sweetness or spiciness found in traditional bourbons.  They also had cherry and marionberry infused whiskies, both of which I found far too dominated by the fruit flavor, and would expect these to primarily be used as mixers.

New Deal Distillery did not have any whiskey offerings.  However, they had a special event the following day, and in conjunction with that event, they were releasing a small batch bourbon.  Because I enjoyed all the other products New Deal had to offer, I went ahead and purchased a bottle, which will surely be the subject of a review once I find the bottom.  Again, however, because of the bourbon's young age (aged only 1 year), other flavors came to the front, notably orange peel.

Stone Barn Brandy Works offered one of the more unique whiskeys, a white Oat Whiskey.  I found it interesting, but lacking in flavor for the most part.  Their Hoppin' Eights Whiskey reminded me of a Canadian Whiskey, but with a little more bite. 

Finally, Clear Creek Distillery, which specializes more in Eaux de Vie and Brandy, had a single malt whiskey, much in the Scotch tradition.  For a 3-year old whiskey, this was a smooth pour, carrying a slight peatiness and a mild oak flavor.  It had a clean finish, and I expect that at some point I'll be tracking down a bottle of this to give it a full try.

As to the other spirits I was able to sample, here are the best of the rest:

Best Gin:  There was a progression here.  I started with Aviator Gin, an excellent Gin from House Spirits.  I then tried the Portland Dry Gin 33 and Gin No. 1 from New Deal, and I was torn as to which I liked best.  However, on day two I finally made my way to Rolling River Spirits.  They only had two spirits available, a vodka and a gin, and their extra attention and focus to the craft of these spirits definitely showed in the final product.  The Rolling River Gin is possibly the best gin I've ever tasted.  It's light, mildly fruity, with notes of lavender.  This was one of my favorite spirits I tasted the whole trip!

Best Vodka:  I am not a vodka drinker, and I was not jumping at the opportunity to try every vodka put in front of me.  However, the Rolling River Vodka was very impressive.  It was a very smooth vodka, with minimal burn that went down very well.  I don't drink much vodka, but I could enjoy this stuff!

Best Flavored Vodka:  I couldn't pick just one here, so I've got three.  The first is the raspberry infused vodka from Wild Roots.  This stuff tasted like raspberry jelly.  I could just pour it over ice and drink it.  New Deal Distillery had two incredible flavored vodkas.  Mud Puddle is a cacao infused vodka which tasted like baking chocolate and was phenomenal.  Their other flavored vodka was a product called Hot Monkey.  This hot pepper flavored vodka not only has a great name, but it's flavor and kick were great, really profiling the flavor of the peppers, and not just the heat.

Best Coffee Liqueur:  Being in Portland, nearly every distillery had a coffee liqueur, each getting their coffee from a local brewer.  While each and every one was very good, the Coffee Liqueur from New Deal Distillery (made from Water Avenue Coffee) was at the top of the list for me.  This may be a personal preference more than anything, however, as this was the sweetest of the coffee liqueurs that I tried. 

Honorable Mentions:  The Oregon Brandy from Clear Creek Distillery was excellent, a very complex spirit that I actually enjoyed even more later the next evening, as my brother-in-law had picked up a bottle.  The rhubarb liqueur from Stone Barn Brandy Works was like drinking dessert.  Finally, the Below Deck Spiced Rum from East Side Distillery was excellent, one of the better spiced rums I've had (topping an admittedly short list). 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Straight Kentucky Bourbon 9 Year

- $70
- 123.2 Proof
- 9 years

While browsing the shelves the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, looking for the bottle I'd be enjoying during the long weekend, the purple wrapped Willett Family Private Single Barrels hand selected by Binny's were just screaming for me to give them a try. I had never had one of their private bottlings before, and this was just the kind of harder-to-find bottle I was hoping to get for the holiday. This particular barrel was aged for 9 years and bottled at 123.2 proof.

I cracked into the bottle the night before Thanksgiving, and the nose hit me with the alcohol burn of a higher proof bourbon, but also vanilla and leather.

The first thing I noted upon tasting it was the watery texture. I have found that more premium bourbons tend to be heavier, but that was not the case here. It did not detract from my enjoyment in any way, just something I wasn't expecting.

While enjoying my first glass, aside from the alcohol burn, I noticed the toffee and vanilla flavors, with an almost overly vanilla extract flavor that stuck in the back of my throat. It was good, but not as good as I expected.

The next day, though, after filling my belly with turkey and pie, I went back to the bottle, and it was a completely different whiskey. Even having been open for only one day, the sweetness exploded, serving as the perfect drink following a huge meal.

Not only was the corn sweetness now at the front, but the vanilla was less offensive, and now seemed to blend with a cereal flavored undertone, reminding me of frosted Cheerios (don't know how many of you have had this particular cereal, but it's one of my favorites!).

Oddly enough, that flavor then gave way to a bold Mexican chocolate flavor, with a mild cherry aftertaste. This dichotomy of flavors happened to go great with chocolate, particularly the fudge that my parents had sent me from Oregon a week prior for my birthday.

This was an excellent bourbon, and I look forward to the chance to try some of their other private bottlings.

Grade: B+