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Ardbeg Kelpie Review

Distiller: Ardbeg. Region: Islay. ABV: 51.7%. No age statement. Price: $125-160.

I have a true weakness for very few things. The filmography of Gerard Butler is one. And while I’ll sing the praises of London Has Fallen every day, my Butler love pales in comparison to my feelings for Ardbeg.

Unlike Mr. Butler, Ardbeg has yet to disappoint me. I adored last year’s Dark Cove Committee release, but I think this year’s might be even better. Named after the fabled Scottish water spirit, the Ardbeg Kelpie is a wholly different experience than any I’ve had with the Islay distillery before, possibly due to the use of Russian virgin oak (from the republic of Adygea) in the maturation process–along with Ardbeg’s usual ex-bourbon barrels.

Take the nose, to start. It’s got a hint of a slowly burning Cuban cigar. Muted espresso tones, faint brine, and a whisper of citrus. The palate has a base of slow drip coffee, but atop it roasted lemons, dark chocolate, and an oily BBQ residue dance along the tongue. It’s an ambitious combination of elements and while any one would be too much, the interplay here is utterly exquisite.

And my whisky gods, the finish. It’s gentle and undulating and the citrus starts it off, but the familiar Ardbeg peat fire takes over and guides you home.

Friends, this one is a masterpiece and I’m damn glad to have tried it. Watch this space for an interview with distillery manager, Mickey Heads, coming soon. In the meantime, if you have an Ardbeg Kelpie review of your own to share, please do.

Here’s to art, real art, in our whisky. Cheers! – TM

Buy Ardbeg Kelpie online at Mash + Grape

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

Lost Spirits Abomination and Navy Style Rum Review

Producer: Lost Spirits. ABV: 54% (Abomination), 61% (Navy Style Rum). No age statement. Price: $50.

I’ve used the cliche “these guys don’t mess around” about some of the better microdistillers. The thing about Lost Spirits is, they do mess around, constantly–and better than just about anybody.

Lost Spirits founder Bryan Davis is a born iconoclast, a guy who literally vibrates with energy when he presents his experiments. The biggest of those has been the Thea One “flash-aging reactor”–see our feature on it for details.

We at the Axis haven’t been afraid to call BS when we see it, including in the “accelerated maturation” world. But if you’ll pardon the paradox, Bryan’s search for shortcuts takes no shortcuts. And his results put most other “accelerated maturation” efforts to shame.

Which brings us to their latest releases: two Abomination Peated Malts and a new Navy Style Rum.

The Abominations put young, heavily peated malt whisky sourced from Islay through the flash-aging process, together with Riesling-seasoned oak staves. The red-label uses toasted staves, the black-label uses charred.

Both are a big step forward for Lost Spirits malts–and the bar was already high. The nose is bold on both, with a core of BBQ-ey oak notes familiar from virgin oak-matured scotch. Then coconut, lemongrass, and ripe banana. The peat’s strong and brash on the palate, with smoked banana, clove, cooked sugar. At 54% ABV, there’s plenty of room to dial the intensity down if you’d like. I found the complexity grew as I did. The finish is on the sweeter side, with burnt zucchini bread, birch beer, and mesquite briquettes. The red-label gives a more of a toasted-baked-goods cast to this overall profile, while the black-label has stronger vanilla from the heavier char. Both are must-trys for peat lovers.

The rum is my favorite from Lost Spirits so far. Bottled at a huge 61% ABV, it’s sublimely rich and buttery. Both brighter and softer than earlier Lost Spirits Navy Rums. A masterpiece.

All three show Lost Spirits at its best, and are excellent deals at around $50. Keep the experiments coming! Cheers, friends! – BO

Lost Spirits graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Bushmills Red Bush Review

Distiller: Bushmills. ABV: 40%. No age statement/3+ years. Price: $18-22.

In my snobby younger days, I would routinely turn my nose up at the standard Irish blends. The Jameson and Powers never did it for me, and the only one I could routinely endure was Bushmills.

Now, of course, the last few years have seen massive growth in the complexity and quality of the Irish whiskies available in the U.S. I’d put Teeling and the Spots (Green and Yellow) up against the best in  the world. Bushmills’ higher-end offerings, like the 16-year-old single malt, are delectable.

So when I saw the new Bushmills Red Bush at my favorite convenience store, I was intrigued to see how the lower-end offerings of this venerable producer had changed with the times.

The verdict is…not much. It’s a bit mysterious what’s new about the Red Bush, as it’s prominently marketed as “matured in bourbon casks”–but so is the standard Bushmills White Label. (The Black Bush adds some sherry maturation.) The few existing reviews of the Red Bush I’ve read, along with Bushmills’ own patter, repeat the dreaded moniker “smooth,” which for me is usually shorthand for forgettable.

The Red Bush isn’t quite that bland. There’s a whisper of flora on the nose, and you’ll find some honey and vanilla if you try hard enough. The palate, as you’d expect from a blend aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks, has elements of the oaky BBQ, along with traces of vanilla, but the flavors are so faint that it’s difficult to discern much of anything. And the finish doesn’t deserve the name. By the time you’ve finished the first sip, you’ve already forgotten what you were drinking.

I’m tempted to say that for around $20, you could do worse, but there are so many better options at or just above this price point in the Irish whiskey world (think West Cork), the bourbon world (think Old Granddad,) and the single malt world (think Glen Moray) that there’s no reason to try this fairly mediocre blend.

Here’s to demanding more from those we love. Cheers, friends! – TM

Barrell Rum Review

Producer: Barrell Craft Spirits. Distiller: undisclosed Jamaican distiller. ABV: 67.37%. Age: 7 years. Price: $70-100.

File this under “coming as a surprise to no one”: Barrell Rum Batch 1 is a stunner.

Joe Beatrice of Barrell Craft Spirits (f.k.a. Barrell Bourbon) has been putting out knockout barrel-proof whiskies for a few years now. He keeps releasing hits, and somehow keeps topping himself.

Joe took the sound approach of establishing a reputation by focusing on bourbons with a few core profiles first, then gradually branching out. He experimented with a sherry-finished American whiskey last year–which I loved–and now it’s joined by a rum.

Fred Minnick just wrote a great piece calling on bourbon geeks to lean on rum makers the same way they have on whiskey producers: to up transparency, eschew additives, and generally cut the BS. There are great rums out there that whiskey drinkers would love, Fred says, but the industry standards are so low that they’re lost in the sea of sugary additive-dosed swill.

Enter Joe Beatrice. He got his hands on a barrel of first-rate Jamaican rum, aged it seven years in a bourbon barrel, and bottled it the right way, uncut, unfiltered, unadulterated, and with zero BS. It’s a major eye-opener.

Big lime on the nose. Oak. Cooked cane sugar. Glossy, varnished fruit –think watermelon Jolly Ranchers. With time, it’s more organic: ripe wild strawberries.

The palate has lime, molasses, and brown sugar, though it’s much drier than most super-premium rums–a good thing for whiskey drinkers. The finish adds notes of gingerbread, Angostura bitters, and allspice. Bewitching.

This has become my go-to end-of-night dram. Well done again, Joe! – BO

Barrell Craft Spirits graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Buy Barrell Craft Spirits online at Mash + Grape

Caol Ila 18 Review

Distiller: Caol Ila. Region: Islay. ABV: 43%. Age: 18 years. Price: $85-95.

Caol Ila is a connoisseur’s favorite, justly dubbed Islay’s “Mr. Consistent” by Whisky Advocate Magazine. We should be happy then that it still shows up all over: there are many excellent independent bottlings, it’s frequently a component in Compass Box’s brilliant blends, and it provides much of the peat in Johnnie Walker.

The flagship 12-year-old bottling has long been a staple for me, but the 18 doesn’t make it to the States, so I jumped at the opportunity to grab a bottle during a recent trip to Paris. Boy, am I glad I did.

The nose is an amazing balance of freshness and softness. Lime, grapefruit, vanilla custard. Saltwater taffy. Orange creamsicle. The sweetest, mildest peat smoke, and a distant hint of sea breeze.

Candied orange on the palate, then that orange creamsicle again. Later on, white chocolate with flecks of candied ginger. That same softness from the nose throughout.

The finish brings allspice and clove, Belgian waffle drizzled in orange syrup, and a fuzzy peaty warmth.

With the current Brexit pricing (as of February 2017), this and many other UK/EU-only releases are more accessible than ever at places like Master of Malt. I’ll be tempted to grab another when this one’s gone.

Slàinte, friends! – BO

AnCnoc Cutter Review

Distiller: Knockdhu. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $55-75.

For me, one of the marks of a first-class distillery is getting the basics right. AnCnoc (the brand of the Knockdhu distillery) is one that does. Their standard 12-year-old is one of the best buys out there for an everyday Highland.

That makes it all the more fun to see their experiments pay off. Cutter is part of anCnoc’s growing Peaty Line, which started with four no-age-statement releases and is now up to seven. All are relatively lightly peated (9-20.5 ppm, vs. 55-65 ppm for Ardbeg 10) and bourbon-matured. The Cutter rings in at 20.5 ppm.

Strong split vanilla bean on the nose. Then toasty malt–malt balls, malted milk. Fruit notes follow: first brandy-soaked poached pear, then shading toward tropical, particularly coconut.

The palate is fresh, on the young side, but substantial enough, no rawness. No brine. The peat is noticeable but gentle, with some of the sweetness and sophistication of Caol Ila, though less citrus. Chocolate cream with roasted peanuts and a sprinkling of toasted coconut. The finish is a warm caramelized pie crust bottom.

AnCnoc does it again. The Cutter should definitely be a part of the distillery’s permanent lineup. And I’ll definitely be trying the rest of the series.

Slàinte, friends! -BO

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