Friends, you all know of my love for the end-of-bin sales. The treasures unearthed there find a comfortable, if often short-lived, life on the shelves of Castle McDram.
So when I saw Compass Box’s Asyla at a roughly a third off, I grabbed it and ran. After paying for it, of course. I’m a huge Compass Box fan and I was really looking forward to this one. A 50-50 malt-grain blend, containing a heavy proportion of Linkwood and Teaninich malt aged in first-fill ex-bourbon casks? I mean, hell, count me in.
But this one left me empty. The slightly acrid nose has pear, mulch, malt, and vanilla. The palate is sadly underwhelming. Bananas slap flaccidly at the malt, which paws lazily around the pear and fainting lime. There is barely a finish to speak of, more a disappointing drift of thin, weak flavors that echo the palate.
Don’t judge Compass Box by this one, though. This is a rare misfire in a mostly stunning lineup. Their Peat Monster and Great King Street are knockouts, and Baldo counts the 2015 Compass Box Flaming Heart as one of his top drams of all time.
All in all, the Compass Box Asyla only served to reinforce my belief that if you don’t try a producer’s less successful attempts, you’ll never know what’s truly sublime. Here’s to better days and better drinks ahead, friends! – TM
Sunshine Reserve American Whiskey – Producer: Manhattan Moonshine Company. ABV: 42.5%. No age statement. Grain bill: mostly oats, with smaller proportions of rye, smelt, and malted barley (exact proportions undisclosed). Price: $50.
Nearly two years and many reviews ago, I had the chance to enjoy the Manhattan Moonshine, a lovely white whiskey from upstate New York. I loved it and said so and figured I wouldn’t hear from company co-founder Will Kehler again.
Well, color me thrilled to be wrong. The Manhattan Moonshine Company has now come out with the Sunshine Reserve American Whiskey. And it’s a real beaut.
It uses the moonshine as a base–note the unusual grain bill, oat-based and corn-free–and ages it for an undisclosed period primarily in convection-baked oak, rather than charred. The company also says it ages the whiskey at an unusually low proof for a lighter, sweeter profile and less dark wood notes. (The details aren’t disclosed.)
On to the tasting. There’s calf leather and pipe tobacco on the nose, along with Gala apple and bacon. The palate is supple and rich and delightful, with baking spice, hickory, and burnt ends from BBQ. The finish is quite abrupt–perhaps at a slightly elevated ABV it would last longer.
I really enjoyed this one and I can’t wait to see what Manhattan Moonshine/Sunshine Reserve does next. In the meantime, if your local doesn’t have Sunshine Reserve, they sell online at shinereserve.com.
Cheers, friends! – TM
The producer graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.
Old Henry Clay Straight Rye Whiskey – Producer: James E. Pepper Distillery. Distiller: MGP. No age statement. Mashbill: >90% rye (likely 95% rye, 5% malted barley). Price: $20.
Where are the great whisk(e)y bargains these days? Here’s one. I’d been feeling a little self-conscious about the number of $50+ bottles I’d been reviewing in recent weeks–many of them excellent, but price-wise, out of reach for most–and along came the Henry Clay Rye to shake things up.
Henry Clay is a no-age-statement straight rye from James E. Pepper, better known for its 1776 rye and bourbon line. Pepper is reviving an old brand and reopening an old Lexington, KY, distillery that operated from 1879-1958.
In the meantime they’re sourcing very good rye and bourbon from the old reliable MGP. Henry Clay is their entry-level bottling, at 43% ABV and about $20. It’s a steal.
It’s from a high-rye mashbill–at least 90% rye grain, as opposed to the 51% rye of Sazerac or Rittenhouse, say–but has excellent balance.
The nose is bright, fresh, and fruity, with white grape and lychee early on. Almost like a young armagnac! Some leather, some orange rind. Some white pine. Very slight hint of fennel, stopping well short of the brash anise or black licorice notes to be found in some other high-rye-mashbill ryes.
The palate adds a robust but perfectly integrated spice to the nose’s fruitiness. It’s on the lighter-bodied side, but substantial enough for its ABV. Sweet oak and a hint of white chocolate. The price mounts toward the end of the palate, then fades on the finish. Earthy but citrusy. Key lime. A bit on the short side.
This is as good a straight-ahead MGP-sourced rye as you can ask for, at a very accessible price. Eminently sippable, brilliant in cocktails too. Hats off to James E. Pepper!
Lost Distillery Auchnagie(Archivist Collection) – Producer: Lost Distillery Company. Distiller(s): undisclosed. Region: Highlands (in theory–see below). ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price:
Lost Distillery Stratheden(Archivist Collection) – Producer: Lost Distillery Company. Distiller(s): undisclosed. Region: Lowlands (in theory–see below). ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price:
Lost Distillery Gerston (Archivist Collection) – Producer: Lost Distillery Company. Distiller(s): undisclosed. Region: Highlands (in theory–see below). ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price:
There’s no shortage of independent bottlers finishing, bottling, and/or blending big-name (or obscure) single malts in interesting ways. The Lost Distillery Company takes a different approach.
The name suggests they might be about tracking down malt from shuttered distilleries and bringing it to market. What they actually do is more interesting: giving shuttered distilleries a speculative life-after-life by sourcing and blending malts meant to approximate their styles.
We don’t have a warehouse full of old forgotten whisky, we don’t have a secret recipe or DNA analysis and we don’t have plans to reopen any of these lost distilleries. The answer to what we do lies in the history books…
An “Archiving Team” headed up by Professor Michael Moss from The University of Glasgow determines what it can about the key components that would have made up a given lost distillery’s products: era, water, barley, still, wood, etc.
Our Archivists and Whisky Makers, along with a panel of selected ‘noses’, attempt to bring to life the evidence before them. They create a blend of single malts from different distilleries and with different flavour profiles, tweaking the composition to sit easily with both the evidence of the archivist and the interpretation of the whisky makers.
Naturally, there’s quite a bit of guesswork in the process. And there’s no one around from 1910 to say, “Eh, you need about 10% more peachiness on that Towiemore, mates.”
That said, the Lost Distillery Company does impress with the depth of their research into the distilleries whose names they use, presented in great detail on their website.
The big question, of course, is whether they impress with their malts. Read on…
Lost Distillery Auchnagie
Auchnagie had a century-long run in the Highlands from 1812-1911. The nose of the Lost Distillery Company’s recreation has lovely canned fruits in light syrup, with something salty and savory behind it–smoked ham?–and a fragrant wood note.
The palate is quite intense , with a play of light (bourbon-cask fruit) and dark (mature wood) notes. Quite sharp at first, though it softens with time and a few drops of water. There’s a hint of white smoke that suggests a very small peated component (this, like all LDC releases, is a blend of single malts), or healthy barrel char. The finish is pleasantly sooty. Salt lick. Lemon peel. Leather.
Very enjoyable, distinctly old-fashioned. Recommended.
Lost Distillery Stratheden
Stratheden (1829-1926) was a Lowland distillery founded by one Alexander Bonthrone, who was so dedicated to the craft that he ran the stills nearly to his death–at the age of 92!
The nose on the LDC Stratheden has a rubbery, tarry note that’s quite unusual in the absence of peat, but not unwelcome. A little heat. Sweet mustiness. Freshly polished shoe leather. Orange saltwater taffy. I enjoy the nose so much that I’m in no rush to sip.
Palate is salty, with blackberry syrup and balsamic vinegar reduction. The finish is long, complex, and intriguing. Think mulled wine with heavy dry spice, especially allspice, and clove.
Every bit the equal of the Auchnagie.
Lost Distillery Gerston
Gerston is a recreation of the malt of two Highland distilleries, Gerston One (farm-scale, 1796-1882) and Gerston Two (industrial-scale 1886-1914).
The LDC Gerston comes on with quite a sweet nose. Vanilla, marshmallow, cotton candy. Distant hint of peat. Butteriness that gives a strong suggestion of some Pedro Ximenez influence in there. Musty, old fashioned in a way that’s familiar now after the Auchnagie and Stratheden.
The palate is more savory than sweet: mustard barbecue chicken. Quite mild peat that registers mostly as spiciness. Dried apple with cinnamon. The finish balances dying embers with lingering spice.
You could call the LDC mission quixotic, but the results are undeniable. When you’ve had your fill of the rivers of young, bright, uniformly honeyed malts from the big names–when you’re in a bit of a musty, old-fashioned, leather-library-binding mood yourself–try a Lost Distillery Company release. I think you’ll be glad you did. And be sure to share your thoughts.
Slàinte, friends! – BO
A company representative graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.
Sugarlands Distilling is a young distillery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee–opened in 2014–that makes a wide range of flavored moonshine. But its bid for whisk(e)y geeks’ hearts comes in the form of their Roaming Man Cask Strength Rye.
The Roaming Man Rye starts by taking transparency to new heights. Sugarlands reveals not just the age, barrel size, and mash bill–2 years; 25 gallons; 51% rye, 45% corn, 4% malted barley–but very well packaged bottle bottle comes with a gas chromatograph chart showing the shifts in the chemical makeup from new-make to final release.
That’s a good way to grab a whisk(e)y geek’s attention. The other way is with the juice–and they do that too.
It’s a potent 61.7% ABV. The nose has toffee and a yeasty dough note up front. But from a fresh bottle, the heat of the spirit masks everything else. Fortunately with a bit of aeration and water the heat declines considerable. Caramel apple comes to the fore, with heavily toasted tobacco and vanilla bean just behind it.
The palate explodes with flavor: rye, mint, licorice, sweet oak, mahogany. It’s also fiery at first, and benefits significantly from some time and air. Gradually it becomes much milder and more accessible. Candied pecans late on. The finish is endless, with very dark bitter chocolate, clove, maple, and a touch of birch beer.
The first two batches of the Roaming Man Rye sold out fast, even at a pricey $50 per 375ml, and I can see why. It’s a bold and accomplished young rye by an ambitious distillery that’s got nothing to hide. Sugarlands just released its third batch of the Roaming Man in late October 2017. Craft whiskey fans, keep your eyes peeled.
Glenmorangie Astar – Distiller: Glenmorangie. Region: Highlands. ABV: 52.5%. No age statement. Price: $90-100.
The relaunch of the Glenmorangie Astar hit Los Angeles in high style this month, with Dr. Bill Lumsden–GlenMo Director of Distilling & Whisky Creation–hosting a dinner and tasting at the Moet Hennessy House in the hills above West Hollywood.
Glenmorangie has quite a robust lineup. It ranges from the Original 10-Year-Old, which provides the based for just about every other release, to wine-finished staples like the Nectar D’Or and Quinta Ruban, to limited Special Editions like the Milsean and Artein, up to the luscious 18-Year-Old and NAS masterpiece Signet.
If the Original is heart of the Glenmorangie line, the Astar is the heart of the heart–the purest expression of what defines the distillery.
The Original is defined by brightness, silkiness, elegance, and a balance of fruit and floral notes that Dr. Bill attributes to two things: the unusual height of Glenmorangie’s stills, and their cask selection.
The Original uses a certain proportion of GlenMo’s so-called “designer casks,” made from slow-growth Missouri oak, chosen for porousness, seasoned for 2-3 years in the open air, charred, filled with Jack Daniels for 4 years, then dumped and shipped to GlenMo.
The Astar uses 100% of these “designer casks.” It’s also bottled at 52.5% ABV, adding to the intensity. (The first Astar was bottled at 57% ABV, but Dr. Bill felt the extra heat did more to obscure the whisky than reveal it.) All in all, Dr. Bill’s description of it as “Glenmorangie Original on steroids” is apt.
On to the tasting!
The nose has pear, green apple, marzipan, orange peel, candied banana, coconut milk, and light toasted oak. For my money, it’s a bit closed at full strength, but comes alive with a few drops of water. Faint cacao nibs. Toasted almonds.
On the palate, both the fluffy vanilla and the juicy fruit notes bloom. Blood orange, ripe pear, pineapple. Fresh coconut. Over time, a pleasant toastiness emerges.
The finish is long and robust, with spice leading the way–lemon pepper, ground ginger, lemon rind–before a wisp of cotton candy at the end.
I frequently hear from whisky lovers who lament the proliferation of wine cask finishes, and yearn for purer manifestations of their favorite distilleries: straight ex-bourbon cask maturation, high ABV, no funny business. There are lots of wine-finished whiskies I love–including from GlenMo–but it’s a beautiful thing to have so pure a manifestation of GlenMo’s core character.
It takes time and patience to appreciate the nuance of Astar, but it’s worth the effort.
Slàinte, friends! – BO
Glenmorangie graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.