Friday, July 24, 2015

Koval Single Barrel Four Grain Whiskey

As a Chicago-area native, it seems a shame that I had yet to review (or even try) anything from Koval distillery, a Chicago craft distillery that makes its way onto the shelves in nearly every liquor store and liquor isle, but not in my shopping cart.  Finally, I gave one of their offerings a try--their four-grain whiskey.

Most intriguing is the blend of grains Koval uses to make this whiskey.  It has a mashbill of oat, malted barley, rye and wheat.  No corn in the mashbill, but with the strong flavor that rye usually provides, the unique tang that wheat adds, and the wildcard of the oat, I couldn't even guess what this was going to taste like.

The nose is soft and subtle, and it very much reminded me of a Scotch.  The barley scents certainly came through.  Minimal burn on the nose, but, considering it's bottled at 94 proof, that's to be expected.  There's a certain sweetness on the nose as well, letting you know that though it may smell like a Scotch, it's not going to taste like one.

And it certainly doesn't.  My initial impression was that this is a very sweet whiskey, and I mean syrupy sweet.  While I enjoy the sweetness with bourbons, this was, quite frankly, a bit too much for me.

Interestingly, the grain that I expected to be the least noticeable seemed to be the strongest.  There was a predominant flavor that I couldn't quite place my finger (tongue?) on.  However, the flavor, in a certain weird way reminded me of oatmeal cookies.  To be more specific, a few years back Baskin Robbins had an oatmeal cookie flavored ice cream, which didn't taste exactly like oatmeal cookies but you got the idea.  That's more like the flavor that was coming through.

The whiskey was drinkable, but I couldn't tell if I liked it or not.  So, I let it sit on a shelf for a few weeks and re-visited the bottle, wondering whether it might improve after opening up a bit.  While remaining very sweet, after a couple weeks, it had mellowed enough to not be as mouth-puckering sweet as it was.  Interestingly, it seemed to take on a bit of a smokey flavor, reminding me just a bit of peated Scotches (but not quite as yummy).

Overall I was not impressed.  It just came across as a weird and unfriendly mix of flavors that was way to sweet and kind of odd tasting.  While drinkable, it's not one I'd prefer to drink again.  I will, however, be trying out their other offerings, as I've heard they're doing good things at Koval, and perhaps I just started with the wrong one.

Grade: C-

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Collingwood 21 Year Canadian Rye Whisky

My forays into Canadian whiskies has largely consisted of Canadian Mist and Crown Royal.  When Collingwood released a 21 year old rye whiskey, made from 100% rye, aged in oak casks and finished in a toasted maple casks, and at a very affordable price for its age, I had to give it a try.

I could not have been more pleased with a purchase than I was with this one.  I have always found Canadian whiskies to be softer whiskies, offering more subtle flavor as opposed to the bold, more punch-you-in-the-face flavor that many bourbons have.  The subtlety of this whisky's flavor is what makes it great, though.

With each sip I found myself noticing something different and each time completely enjoyable.  It is a sweet whisky.  Perhaps my mind was tricked by the marketing, but the maple flavor seemed to stand out the most.  I feel I must clarify, though.  When I say maple flavor, I don't mean maple syrup.  I mean it tastes like freshly cut maple wood smells, which to me is a wonderful smell.  The maple flavor was there just enough to be noticed but not enough to be offensive--a slight but sweet woodiness that did not overtake the whisky.

The sweetness of the whisky is casually followed by the rye spice, almost unexpectedly.  The combination of the rye bread notes with the maple notes provided a great mix.

In later pours, milk-chocolate flavors came through, reminding me of the smoothness of good chocolate after it melts in your mouth.  Again, the mix with the maple and rye flavors continued to work well, and with each pour I found myself eager for the next.

Ultimately, all the flavor balanced well with the expected woodiness of such an aged whiskey.  While it's a dry whiskey, again, it's not too dry, and the wood undertones were, again, prevalent enough to be enjoyed without taking over the flavor.

Usually I tend to ding a whisky for lacking in boldness.  However, in this case, it's the subtlety of the flavors that makes this whisky.  Even at only 80 proof, there's a lot going on here, and, while the flavors may not be strong, they are nonetheless excellent and I really enjoyed taking my time with each pour to discover each note.

My only criticism is the oddly shaped bottle that looks like an over-sized bottle of cologne.  But Collingwood loses no points for this, as it's what's in the bottle that counts.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey

When I first started branching out with my bourbons, looking for better quality than whatever I had been mixing with Coke up to that point, someone had recommended Breckenridge Bourbon to me. However, in wanting to taste the best of what that bourbon has to offer, I focused more on the well-established distilleries and the local craft distilleries. Finally, though, my wife brought a bottle home for me the other day and I got a chance to give this one a go, and I've been missing out.

Although I don't usually do so, I feel the bottle itself is worth commenting on. That's only because on the back it has a sweet printing of the ski slopes at Breckenridge, a place that I'm particularly fond of and can't wait to get back to, making this a winner in my book before I even took a sip.

As to the juice itself, this comes across as a very crisp and clean bourbon. It initially comes across as mildly sweet, tasting like brown sugar and vanilla bean, with very minimal burn at only 86 proof. It had a light oakiness that balanced well with the sweeter flavors.

Despite coming across initially as a crisp and watery bourbon, it had an oily finish that left a distinct cinnamon flavor on my tongue. It was enjoyable, but nothing to write home to mom about.

However, a couple pours into the bottle (though not necessarily in the same night), the flavor only improved, getting a bit sweeter, a little bit smoother and very enjoyable! The vanilla and caramel notes really came through and the wood tones faded out.

In the end, this is one of the best non-Kentucky bourbons that I've had. I finished the bottle much faster than I really wanted to, which to me is the best sign of a good bourbon.  I would recommend this to anyone, whether to someone new to bourbon or someone who loves their bourbon but may hasn't had this one yet.

Grade: B+