Michter’s US#1 Straight Rye Review

Producer: Michter’s/Chatham Imports. Distiller: undisclosed Kentucky distiller. ABV: 42.4%. Age: 3 years. Mashbill: undisclosed. Price: $40.

There are some days when I’m really in the mood to just drink rye whiskey. Sometimes I’ll go the cocktail approach, but most of the time I prefer it neat.

I’ve been revisiting all of Michter’s standard releases, and their US#1 Straight Rye whiskey has joined my short list of go-to ryes. Michter’s bottles a straight rye that’s 3 years old and from an undisclosed Kentucky distillery. By law it has to be from a mashbill of at least 51% rye, but Michter’s doesn’t disclose anything further on the recipe.

On to the juice. On the nose are notes of light spicy rye, caramel covered apples, and freshly cut wood. Sweet rye dominates the palate, which has brown sugar, cinnamon, and slight chocolate notes. Vanilla and spice combine in its lovely finish.

On those days that call for an all-around good rye, I’m glad this is one of the ones on my shelf. What are some of your daily drinking ryes? – JTR

Lagavulin 8 Review

Distiller: Lagavulin. Region: Islay. ABV: 48%. Price: $55.

The Lagavulin 16 is my desert island whisky. It’s my go-to for celebrations and times of mourning. It’s my absolute favorite and while some come close–very close–for me, I want my last dram on this earth to be the Lagavulin 16.

And so, of course, I couldn’t resist the pull of the recently released Lagavulin 8. This limited release commemorates the 200th anniversary of the esteemed Islay distillery, and was inspired by an 1887 visit by the whisky writer Alfred Barnard–whose seminal tome The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom remains one of the great achievements in whisky writing. Barnard commented that the 8-year-old Lagavulin of more than a century ago was “exceptionally fine,” and the distillery sought to honor that comment with this release.

Mission accomplished, folks. For a young Lagavulin, the 8-year-old is worth every penny of the $55 MSRP. The nose is somewhat delicate. I caught citrus, lapsang souchong tea, and the brine of driftwood. The palate brings the peat and then some. It’s every inch a Lagavulin, getting more pungent and smokier in the glass, with underlying hints of tobacco and spice. The finish is far more sustained than I would have thought. The smoke dissipates slightly, leaving you with the slowly dying embers of the best campfire you’ve ever known.

Friends, if you can find it, buy it. Here’s to growing old with our favorites, even as they surprise us in wonderful ways. – TM

Yamazaki 12 Review

Producer: Suntory. Distiller: Yamazaki. ABV: 43%. Age: 12 years. Price: $100+.

Among the many Japanese whiskies that are hard to find these days, Yamazaki 12 is one of the scarcest. Part of the reason may be the halo effect of the sensational (and even harder to find) Yamazaki 18, but the 12 is very appealing in its own right. It’s fruitier and fuller-bodied than the peated Hakushu 12, and it may be a bit more approachable for less experienced whisky drinkers than the Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 12–though don’t sleep on that Nikka.

(Incidentally, Nikka’s done a far better job than Yamazaki of producing a no-age-statement substitute for their all-but-inaccessible 12-year-olds…the Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt NAS is a stunner, and remarkably close in maturity and complexity to the 12-year-old, while the Yamazaki NAS single malt is raw and unfocused, especially next to its age-stated predecessor.)

On to the main event. The Yamazaki 12 is matured in a mix of ex-bourbon barrels, ex-sherry butts, and Japanese mizunara oak casks. The latter is known for imparting tropical and/or fragrant floral notes, and the Yamazaki 12 has plenty of both.

The nose starts out reminiscent of the honeyed Glenmorangie 10, then adds canned pineapple. Lychee. Fragrant jasmine. Golden raisins and plum blossoms.

The mouthfeel is pleasantly oily, and the palate has golden raisins in a buttery apple strudel. Plum brandy, mild spice, and barrel tannins just sour enough to give balance and backbone to what otherwise might be too sweet an experience. The finish has citrus rind and a bit of barrel char.

Easy-drinking but substantial, unchallenging but satisfying. At just enough of an angle from your everyday Speyside or Highland to keep things interesting. It’s little wonder the Yamazaki 12 was a hit, and a bit of a shame it’s so hard to find now–and so overpriced when it does pop up. At $60, this would be a no-brainer. At $80, I’d raise an eyebrow. At $100+, it’s a try-before-you-buy.

Kanpai, friends! – BO

Barrell Bourbon Batch 8 Review

Producer: Barrell Bourbon. Distiller: undisclosed TN distillery. ABV: 66.4%. Age: 9.5 years. Mashbill: 70% corn, 25% rye, 5% malted barley. Price: $80.

Axis readers know well that we’re big fans of Barrell Bourbon. The whole project I liked from the beginning: a single man with a singular palate–who also happens to be a heck of a nice guy–selecting and bottling 100% cask strength, unfiltered, true single barrel bourbons ad whiskies from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana.

Joe Beatrice has released eight bourbons and two whiskies so far, and I’ve had the pleasure of trying nearly every one. I opened the latest, Barrell Bourbon batch 8, with a big smile. It’s the oldest so far, at 9.5 years, and the strongest, at a whopping 66.4% ABV, distiled and aged in Tennessee.

The nose is a big one–no surprise there. On the bright, brash, fir forest side. The mashbill’s 25% rye, and it shows. Roasted peanuts and caramel corn, slightly burnt. The palate adds buttered pumpernickel bread and loads of cinnamon spice. A touch of minerality emerges on the long, dark, oaky-sweet finish.

How do you keep impressing when you’ve released so many memorable bottlings so far? Ask Joe Beatrice. I’ll tell you one thing: it must be a good problem to have.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Barrell Bourbon kindly provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Buy Barrell Bourbon online at Mash + Grape

Balblair 2003 Review

Distillery: Balblair. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. Age: about 12 years. Price: $60-70.

Balblair is a Highlands distillery I paid too little attention to until recently, and I’ve been glad to make up for lost time.

Distillery General Manager John MacDonald, who has headed up the Edderton-based operation since 2006, selects and releases vintages marked by year of distillation, rather than age.

The 2003 vintage is an excellent place to start–especially if you like your single malt on the spicy side. The nose has ginger, white pepper, lemon zest, and oak. Then apricot danish. On the palate, there are stewed pears, honey, then white oak, all in a seamless progression. The body is buttery–the 46% ABV serves it well. Candied citrus bourbon notes throughout, and lingering spice on the end.

A delicious introduction to Balblair’s current lineup. Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Balblair whisky online at Mash + Grape

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

Balblair 1999 Review

Distiller: Balblair. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. Age: about 15 years. Price: $70-80.

It’s been a pleasure tasting my way through recent releases from Balblair, the northern Highlands distillery that proudly declares vintage years on its squarish bottles in place of age statements. This 1999 vintage was no exception.

The younger ’03 vintage, which you can think of as “Balblair 101” (as in “intro to,” not proof), was spice-forward in a very appealing way. The ’99 is too.

It starts with the loamy, mineral note–could it have been matured in ex-Dickel barrels? That’d be my guess. White, dry, gingery nose. A bit like the eye-opening Craigellachie 19, minus the spritz of sulphur. Lovely oily body with a balance of honey, malt, and spice. Finish: orange marmalade on toasted rye bread. Very nice!

If you overlooked Balblair in the past, you shouldn’t. If you’ve had it, let us know what you think!

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Balblair whisky online at Mash + Grape

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

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