Midleton Very Rare Review

Distiller: Midleton. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Price: $150.

A real stunner, this one. I first had the Midleton Very Rare during a long and memorable night of tastings at the home of J.T. Rickhouse, during which he brought out one heavy hitter after another: Yamazaki 18, Highland Park 30, Bruichladdich Octomore 1.0…and still the Midleton stood out from the crowd.

This is among the best Irish whiskies being bottled today, period. It’s the best from the distillery most known for Jameson–but it’s a world away from anything released under that brand name, except maybe the excellent Jameson 18.

The Midleton Very Rare is a blend of 12- to 25-year-old whiskies aged in ex-bourbon and sherry casks. It’s been an annual release since 1984, and just 50 casks’ worth hit the market each year.

The nose leads with strong notes of dried apple and young leather. Then grilled pears, and savory note that hints at mesquite. With time in the glass, a maple note familiar from many Irish whiskies emerges, but more complex and velvety here, dribbled over a toasty Belgian waffle. Some sweet white oak sap too.

The palate has canned pears in syrup. Almond candy sprinkled with ground ginger and nutmeg. Late on, there’s a cotton candy softness that manages somehow not to be too sweet. The finish is on the long and mild side, with honey and roasted pine nuts–yep, that’s baklava–and a little cedar.

At $150 or so, it’s not cheap–but it’s a dram you won’t soon forget.
Sláinte! – BO

Jim Beam Signature Craft Red Wheat Bourbon Review

Distiller: Jim Beam. ABV: 45%. Age: 11 years. Mashbill: 76% corn, 13% red winter wheat, 10% malted barley. Price: $45-50 (375ml).

I’ve always been curious about the small 375ml bottles from the Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection that I’ve seen in stores, but have passed due to their $50ish price tag. The series mixes up Beam’s usual mash bill by adding or substituting unusual grains to the old corn-rye-malted barley standby–think brown rice, rolled oats, or triticale.

However, I couldn’t resist when I recently found a bottle of the 11-year-old Soft Red Wheat for $20. As the name implies, it swaps in 13% red winter wheat as the flavoring grain in place of rye. So how is it?

On the nose and palate are notes of sweet fruit, deep oak and slight vanilla. Although light in texture and not overly complex, there’s also subtle spearmint mixed with caramel on the back end, followed with more heavy oak on the finish.

I’m glad I tried this, but I’d have to sample the other bottles in the collection prior to putting down the $50 for a go.

Do you have a favorite of the Harvest Bourbon Collection? Let us know! -JTR

Cavalry Bourbon Review

Producer: Spectrum Spirits. Age: 4 months. Mashbill: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley. Price: $30.

I fashion myself as fairly old-school in my tastes. The designated hitter is an abomination–and that’s not just because my White Sox can’t hit. Movies were better when you had to suggest more and show less. And whisk(e)y should be aged in casks, ever so slowly, until it’s just right.

But I can’t lie. The geek in me, who entered all those science fairs, loved Star Trek, and knows that Fringe was the best sci-fi show of recent decades (What about Battlestar?? -BO), is fascinated by what some distillers are doing with science to expedite the maturation process and get that sweet whisk(e)y on our lips faster than ever.

So Cavalry Bourbon was highly intriguing to me. It uses an accelerated maturation process called TerrePURE that suggests similarities to Lost Spirits‘. As a Cavalry rep said:

The simple version is that the process is a carefully controlled application of ultrasonic energy, heat, oxygen, and other factors designed to dramatically improve the quality and taste of a wide range of distilled spirits. For brown spirits, such as bourbon and other traditionally-aged whiskeys, the result is a rapid maturation that would otherwise take 4-6 years.

Whiskey distillers and rectifiers have been looking for ways to accelerate maturation since time immemorial, whether with small barrels, sound waves, or “flash-aging reactors.” (See Reid Mitenbuler’s great Bourbon Empire for a good account.) To some, even the attempt is sacrilege. To others, it’s a matter of what winds up in the bottle. We at the Axis are in the latter camp.

Cavalry Bourbon is a product of NJ-based Spectrum Spirits. It starts with an unaged whiskey with a mashbill of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% barley malt–which whiskey geeks may recognize as a product of Indiana-based spirits giant MGP. South Carolina-based Terressentia runs the juice through the TerrePure process and cuts it down to 90 proof. Science aside, the question is, is it any good?

The answer is a qualified, “Yes, but.” When I first cracked the bottle, it was a ton of blah. All the components fit together well enough, but there was nothing really interesting about it. Then I let it sit for a while. Wow–almost an entirely new whiskey.

The vague hints of county fair butterscotch and vanilla I caught on the nose were far more pronounced. The palate, which contains both of those elements, adds sweet corn, corn husk, and a faint caramel. The finish is far more sustained that it has any right to be, and carries the corn to the end.

I liked the Cavalry, and it costs a reasonable $30–though that’s a crowded price point, with big hitters like Elijah Craig Small Batch, Evan Williams Single Barrel, Eagle Rare, and 1792 all costing roughly the same. I’m not gonna say that Cavalry is my favorite, but it’s an intriguing newcomer on the market.

So here’s to expanding our horizons and our palates. Cheers, friends! – TM

The producer graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

1792 Full Proof Bourbon Review

Distillery: Barton 1792. ABV: 62.5%. No age statement (estimated 8.5 years). Mashbill: 75% corn, 15% rye, 10% malted barley. Price: $45-50.

It’s been about four years since I made my first trip down to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and visited a half dozen distilleries over a few days. What caught me off guard during the trip was the way some of the visitor centers were overly polished–clearly the creations of people with advanced marketing degrees rather than a love for drinking bourbon. Those places strained to force an “authentic experience” on you, rather than letting the long history of the brands and physical distilleries tell their own story. I wanted Kentucky, not Disneyland.

However, after driving a quiet residential road past trees with darkened bark (from fungus that grows near distilleries and feeds on ethanol in the air), I reached what appeared to be the nondescript back entry of a small industrial plant. I negotiated the passage around a couple of heavy grain trucks to a small strip of parking spots. Across the street were loading docks and pipes billowing steam, and inside was a quaint tasting room. I knew my experience at the Barton 1792 Distillery was going to be different. This was raw. This was authentic. This was where bourbon was made.

The 1792 Full Proof is the fourth and most recent limited-release bourbon by the brand. The character of the juice matches the distillery–raw and authentic. Bottled at barrel entry proof of 62.5% ABV, there is a lot of heat on the nose and palate, which bathes the traditional bourbon flavors of deep vanilla and old oak with lovely spice. Dampened earthiness and subtle smoke fight for attention over the sweet vanilla notes, and they reveal themselves more with a few drops of water. The finish is long and pure Kentucky.

This is my favorite of 1792’s limited releases, and an amazing value for its high proof and lower price point.

Cheers! -JTR

Feature photo from instagram.com/1792bourbon

Barr an Uisce Irish Whiskey Review

Barr an Uisce Wicklow Rare – Producer: Barr an Uisce. ABV: 43%. No age statement. Blend: 80% grain, 20% 10-year-old malt. Price: $50.

Barr an Uisce 1803 Single Malt – Producer: Barr an Uisce. ABV: 46%. Age: 10 years. Price $80.

One of the real pleasures of the Axis experience is discovering new and delightful Irish whiskies. From the various Spots from Mitchell & Sons (Green and Yellow, with more to come) to the great stuff being produced by Teeling, Irish whiskey is absolutely on the rise.

I’m pleased to report that the offerings from Barr an Uisce fit in quite nicely with the aforementioned heavy hitters. The name translates into “above the water,” and I’d say that this relatively new distillery out of Barraniskey is punching above its weight with these two releases.

The Wicklow Rare is a blended whiskey that’s matured in first-fill bourbon barrels, then finished in Oloroso casks for six months. I got scents of honey, baked raisin, vanilla, and an ever-so-slight medicinal apple on the nose. The palate carried more of the raisin, along with hazelnuts and dark fruit–some plum. The finish is brief but pleasant. It’s a good whiskey, if perhaps a tad bit overpriced.

Now the 1803 Single Malt–well, that’s an entirely different beast. Its name comes from the year when the Barraniskey St. Patrick’s Church was built, and the drink drives for classic single malt. There’s a Wicklow-ish vanilla and honey on the nose, but the palate is infinitely richer than that of the blend. Malt is present throughout, along with a whisper of ginger, cinnamon, baked caramel, and absolute oakiness. The finish is far more sustained, and leaves you wondering whether you want to pour another, or just want to hold onto the sweet memory of the dram you’ve just drained. I adored this one, and you can be sure I’ll be looking for a bottle very soon.

Cheers, friends! -TM

Laphroaig Select Review

Distiller: Laphroaig. Region: Islay. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Price: $50-60.

As most Axis readers will know, I’m an Islay malt fanatic. For me, these whiskies are the pinnacle of the craft. Drinks that draw from the land for both inspiration and history. The kind that force contemplation of nature with every sip. And lately, there’s so much great stuff coming from Islay. From Ardbeg’s Dark Cove to the ongoing great work by Bruichladdich to the ever impressive Lagavulin Distiller’s Editions, these distilleries continue to innovate, while also honoring their heritage. And no one’s doing it better these days than Laphroaig.

I reviewed the Laphroaig Lore some months back and adored every sip, although (spoiler alert) I loved the Cairdeas 2016 even more. That’s vaulted into one of my all-time favorites–and a review is forthcoming.

But it would be a shame if the Laphroaig Select got lost in the glories of the Cairdeas and the Lore. It’s not a traditional Laphroaig, to be sure. It’s softer, which you’d expect from a whisky that finishes the standard 10-year-old in new American Oak, then blends in the Quarter Cask, the PX, and the Triple Wood, adding some Oloroso sherry influence. Think of it as the end of a summer beach bonfire. There’s smoke, but it’s easy to digest and it heralds the advent of fall and richness coming from the earth.

Okay, enough with the poetry. On to the review. There’s oh-so subtle peat on the nose, along with ripe plum and a hint of dry oak. The palate, initially, was underwhelming, but as I’ve enjoyed more of the bottle, its beauty has blossomed. There’s the most delicate peat imaginable, along with marzipan, slight citrus, and rich oak. And befitting a Laphroaig, there’s oak and sherry on the beautifully sustained finish.

I know there are reasons that hardcore Islay fans may dismiss this one as “Laphroaig Light,” but to me it’s a wonderfully divergent strain of a whisky that I’ll never tire of trying.

Cheers, friends! – TM

Buy Laphroaig online at Mash + Grape

A company representative graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Musings, Booze, Reviews