Friday, December 31, 2021

Laphroaig Cairdeas Port & Wine Casks Islay Single Malt Scotch

- $100
- 104 Proof
- Islay

I have absolutely grown to love sweet and peat. It started when my wife brought home a random bottle of Longrow Red almost five years ago. Since then I've not only grabbed every Longrow Red release, but I've also made it a point to try anything else I can get my hands on that has that combination of smoky peat and a wine barrel finish.

So, naturally, I find myself drinking Islay Scotches fairly regularly, and the Laphroaig Cairdeas releases certainly meet that criteria. This particular release was a blend of whisky matured in second fill Ruby Port barrels and ex-bourbon barrels, and then finished in red wine casks.  There was no question this would give me all that sweet and peat I was after.

Right away I got a ton of dark, jammy fruits on the nose. It was a rich and sweet combination of blackberry and fig. The peat was not anywhere near what I expected, and was only mildly present. That, however, allowed for soft notes of orange and vanilla to come through. The overall combination was incredibly mouth-watering.

As to the palate, right up front I got that nice hit of smoke, along with a black pepper spice on the tip of my tongue, followed immediately by that rich blackberry jam note. There was a little bit of fig and raisin as well, to add a bit of richness, but I also got something bright, like red raspberry, that was unexpected. 

There was a decent amount of brown sugar sweetness, perhaps at times leaning more towards a molasses note. It also had a bit of a pastry note, like puff pastry used for Danishes. 

The finish, though, was what made me fall in love with this whisky. It was on the finish that the smoky peat really kicked in. That peat note coupled beautifully with the rich, jammy blackberry and fig that also dominated, resulting in this smoky, sticky, fruity note that remined me a bit of a sweet barbecue sauce. Put this on some pork ribs and you might have something!

This is an incredible example of what I love in that sweet and peat combination. "Cairdeas" translates to friendship, and I think I've found a new friend here. This is going to be right there with the Longrow Red as a release I'm going to be picking up every time it comes out.

Grade: A

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Bowman Brothers Binny's Single Barrel Select Virginia Straight Bourbon

- $30
- 90 Proof
- 7 Years
- Barrel #031
- Virginia

The A. Smith Bowman Distillery been making some fantastic bourbon for quite some time now, and it seems only recently are they getting the mass-love that they deserve. Of course there has always been a bit of a cult following, particularly for some of their rarer releases. In the past, though, these releases, while sought after by bourbon aficionados, haven't necessarily been the subject of the high demand for other limited products.

Recently, though, their Gingerbread releases have not only been amazing, but have gotten the attention of the bourbon fan base generally. And the Bowman Cask Strength is an incredibly desired bottle, one which continues to elude me. Despite the increasing demand, however, Bowman Brothers introduced a single barrel program that provides consumers with an age-stated, single barrel product at an incredible price! At only $30, I had absolutely zero hesitation grabbing one of these off the shelf at Binny's the second I saw it.

When I took my first whiff of this whiskey after popping the cork, I knew that I had something good here. I was hit immediately with dark and rich fruit notes, like plum and cherry. I also got a burnt sugar note that provided a touch of sweet, caramelized smokiness. Interestingly, there was something earthy to it as well, almost like caramelized mushrooms. Sounds super weird, and it is, but it was oddly delicious-smelling.

Luckily, I didn't get that mushroom note on the flavor. Rather, I immediately noticed rich notes of cinnamon and amaretto liqueur. It certainly had a tangy and spicy quality to it that at times leaned more towards an anise flavor. Luckily for me that flavor never got too over-bearing.

As the bottle opened up, the sweeter, more dessert-like flavors seemed to come forward. On later pours I got a distinct chocolate note. I also got a note that once I put my thumb on it, I couldn't help but noticing. That was a cherry pie filling note. It was not just a cherries in syrup note, but the actual pie filling flavor. As I said, once I found that note, I couldn't escape it. I happen to love cherry pie, though, so I wasn't complaining.

It was on the finish that the cherry pie filling really took over. Aside from a light cinnamon note, that flavor really dominated the finish. Given this was 90 proof, the finish wasn't very long lasting. But, despite the lower proof, this whiskey had an abundance of flavor, and it had more complexity than I ever would have expected.

I don't know how frequently these Bowman Single Barrels are going to be seen on shelves, but I do know that whenever and wherever I see them, so long as the price stays where it is and the age stays generally the same, I'm going to be buying a bottle (and perhaps more). 

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Crown Royal Noble Collection 16 Year Blended Rye Whiskey

- $70
- 90 Proof
- 16 Years
- Canada

Admittedly, I don't find myself reviewing too many Canadian whiskies on this blog. Perhaps that's unfair, or perhaps I just haven't found many that have really blown me away. Sure, I've had plenty of good Canadian whiskies. I've had some very good Canadian whiskies. But I just haven't had one yet that, to me anyway, has really knocked it out of the park.

But, when this was released, I found myself drawn to it and knew I'd need to pick up a bottle. While it was a "rare" release, it was relatively easy to find. It was just set out on the shelf, like any other bottle. That said, it didn't make it much past a week before they were all gone. After all, a 16 year old rye for only $70, even if it is Canadian, is a hard one to pass up. Plus, the one rye I have had from Crown Royal, the Northern Harvest Rye, was really good, so I felt pretty confident I wasn't going to be getting a stinker.

The nose was kind of funky.  It had an earthiness to it, almost like an unsalted, toasted peanut note. That was paired with a sweet honey note as well, with a little bit of black pepper spice. On top of all that, I got a distinct oak note, but somehow that oak flavor came across as sweet, almost like it was mixed with a burnt sugar note to have that sweet balancing any bitter notes.

When I took my first sip, the first thing I wrote down was that this had a thin, watery texture, but was absolutely full of flavor. Right up front I got a tangy amaretto note, as well as a healthy amount of brown sugar, a note I tend to get from Canadian whiskies. It had minimal spice, but rather leaned more caramel in flavor, with a rich sweetness.

I also got that earthy note that I was getting on the nose. While the oak came through, there was almost this dank or musty note. Weirdly, though, I liked it. I thought it worked well with the brown sugar and the oak, which again came across sweeter than I'm used to. 

The finish was probably my favorite part. There I got a distinct cherry cordial note, with the cherry and chocolate flavors, as well as that boozy quality, which I particularly noticed on the finish as I exhaled. I also got this sort of cream soda flavor, particularly on later pours, that I really enjoyed and wish I had found throughout.  

This was a fun bottle, and I ended up liking it way more than I thought I would. It was certainly a different rye, probably due in part to not only the age, but also the location of the aging, that gave some different barrel flavors to the whiskey. I'm so glad I picked this up.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Eagle Rare Binny's Single Barrel Select Barrel #069 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $35
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #069
- Kentucky

As I see bourbon prices for new releases jump up and up from previous releases (looking at you Old Forester and Four Roses), I certainly appreciate bottlings of age-stated bourbons from the large distilleries, especially when they carry 10 year age statements. Eagle Rare and Russell's Reserve certainly fall into that category, and that's a big reason why I never pass on them when I find them.

Of course, being the bourbon that actually got me out of my Scotch-exclusive drinking habits and exploring the world of bourbon, Eagle Rare will always be a soft spot for me. But, to be able to still get a 10 year old single barrel private selection bourbon for $35, even if they are becoming increasingly fewer and farther between, is amazing in light of the current bourbon climate.

The nose was very much in line with most other Eagle Rare bottlings I've had. I got that expected caramel as well as a healthy dose of vanillins. There was also that bit of cinnamon spice that I've come to expect. However, there was also a sort of a root beer note, with that almost minty sassafras note to it. There was also a bit of a fake cherry note--not like cough syrup, but like cherry hard candy.

The cherry note carried over to the palate as well, but it wasn't so much of a fake cherry note.  Rather, it came across as more of a cherry cola flavor. It was accompanied by sweeter notes of caramel and vanilla, along with a black pepper spice that both hit the tip of the tongue right up front and lingered on the finish.

The cinnamon was quite a bit more prevalent as well, so much so that at times it reminded me of a cinnamon liqueur (Goldschlager anyone?). There was also a pastry note, but unfortunately that didn't really translate to a cinnamon roll note like it might sound. It was more of a bready note mixed with that cinnamon liqueur note. That combo wasn't great nor was it bad. It was just . . . there? 

On the finish, that weird combination seemed to translate a bit differently, and I was left with this lingering flavor that I likened to a cherry cordial, though with less vanilla. For some reason, it was on the finish that I got a distinct chocolate flavor, something I hadn't noticed anywhere else. The pastry note also reminded me a bit of Golden Grahams cereal, something I noticed even more on the finish.

This was certainly a bottle of good, yummy Eagle Rare. But, as might be expected from a store pick (and as some people might hope for), it did stray a bit from the standard Eagle Rare profile. At times it was a very good stray, particularly the finish. At other times it was just different. All in all, though, it was another very good bottle in which I found the bottom fairly quickly.

Grade: B

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Hazelburn Oloroso Cask Matured 13 Year Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $100
- 100.6 Proof
- 13 Years
- Campbeltown

This is the next bottle in my foray into Campbeltown Scotches. I've had a Hazelburn before, starting with the 10 Year that tends to be a bit more available. But, when the opportunity came along to grab one of these 13 year Hazelburns finished in Oloroso casks, there was no question I was going to bite. I certainly enjoyed the 10 year, and this seemed like one hell of a step up to continue on with other offerings.

I certainly took my time with this bottle, dipping  back into it for a pour or two maybe once a month, if that. But, over the past week or so, I found myself reaching for this bottle far more frequently. I'm not sure if it's simply due to the fact that I finally got to the halfway point and figured I might as well keep going, or perhaps due to the fact that there was a certain quality about this whiskey that was just hitting right for me. I'm sure it likely was a combination of both.

The Oloroso Sherry casks really took center stage on the nose. I got a ton of rich dark fruit aromas. I was getting rich and jammy blackberry right up front, as well as a bit of tart cherry. I also got a brighter black raspberry and even a fig note. It even had a light tannic note really evoking those wine flavors in the barrel. There was also a sort of brown sugar sweetness, but beyond that, it was all dark fruit notes.

The word "rich" can't be used enough in describing this whiskey. From my very first sip the first notes I wrote were "rich and oily."  That richness came in the form of those same dark fruit notes I was getting on the nose. It was a bit different though. There was a brighter fruit note but with a tart backbone, kind of like cranberry. I even got a bit of a red grape flavor. 

While it had those dark fruits, as well as that tannic wine note I got on the nose, the flavor actually gave way to a much wider array of notes. That dark fruit was layered over lighter but sweet notes of brown sugar and honey. I even got light notes of mint, which was an odd, yet pleasing combination.

That mint seemed to linger on the finish as well, along with a bright, citrusy orange note. The honey sweetness was also present on the finish, making for a great combination of otherwise unexpected flavors. That bright cranberry tartness also seemed to find its way into the finish from time to time.

This Scotch was surprising in that the nose had me expecting something much different than what I got out of the flavor. I thought this was going to be all wine note with some spice, but what I got was far more interesting, complex, and even brighter and lighter. This was a really fun and, more importantly, really tasty Scotch, and it's really no wonder that it went so fast once I got about halfway down.

Grade: B+