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Barrell Rye Batch 1 Review

Barrell Rye Batch 1 – Producer: Barrell Craft Spirits. Distiller: MGP & undisclosed Tennessee distiller. ABV: 58.5%. Age: 4.5 years. Mashbill: see below. Price: $80.

When it comes to bourbon and rye whiskeys we all have our favorites, but sometimes there’s nothing like satisfying the urge to try something new and different. The question is where do you go to find that “something different”?

The previous batches of Barrell Bourbon have been a part of my answer to that question, so I was eager to give the new Barrell Rye Batch 001 a go.

Although Barrell is in the process of building its own distillery in Louisville, it continues to do an amazing job sourcing and bottling cask strength whiskeys (and rum) from different distilleries. Each batch is a unique blend of whiskeys that provides a new experience with every release, and this inaugural rye batch is no exception.

This is a unique blend of rye from MGP and an undisclosed Tennessee distillery. There is a higher component of the MGP rye, which has an interesting 51% rye/49% malted barley mash bill.

Sweet caramel, toffee and butterscotch lead on the pleasant nose and are followed by a soft rye spice. The palate has a similar sweet and spicy profile but there’s an additional complexity of malt and citrus. As the palate transitions to the finish, the familiar MGP mint notes become evident and intermingle beautifully with the malt flavors. The finish is a little subtle but quite sustained with rye spice and malt.

For its first rye batch, Barrell could have released your typical and familiar sourced rye, but instead we get something both different and delicious. Cheers! -JTR

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

Laphroaig PX Cask Review

Laphroaig PX Cask – Distiller: Laphroaig. Region: Islay. ABV: 48%. No age statement. Price: $70-80 (1L).

Remember, whisky fans, the thrill of traveling abroad 7-10 years ago, ducking into a duty free and knowing you’d find at least a few stunning deals and special releases?

Times have changed. All too often, duty free whisky aisles are divided between run-of-the-mill releases you’ll find anywhere, discounted blends that don’t appeal even with the discount, and gimmicky “travel retail exclusives” that are both overpriced and forgettable.

Though these sad ranks comes the Laphroaig PX Cask like a conquering hero. I’ve seen this in a few airports over the past year, and when it popped up at the Stockholm Duty Free on sale for $70, I couldn’t resist.

This duty free exclusive is a no-age-statement whisky, like most of Laphroaig’s current lineup. It’s matured first in ex-bourbon barrels, then in quarter casks, then finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. It’s bottled at a healthy 48% ABV.

The nose starts with the classic Laphroaig salty-citrusy-maritime profile, but saltier than usual. Bright. Piney. Lime, grapefruit. Gradually warmer: grilled lemon. Toasted almond. Cinnamon late on.

The palate is strong and savory. It’s a dinner dram—not to have with dinner, but to have as dinner. Salted pork. Aged balsamico. But the brightness emerges from underneath, and with it, the fiery peat. A little wild.

The transition to the finish brings blackberry brandy. The peat goes on and on. Cinnamon again, spicy vanilla bean, candied lemon peel.

Liking the Laphroaig Quarter Cask as I do, this dram–essentially the Quarter Cask with a bit of PX on top–was right up my alley.

It was particularly interesting tasting it side-by-side with the Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017, which is a cask strength Quarter Cask. I usually gravitate toward cask strength whiskies, but if I could only choose one, I think I’d take this PX Finish over the latest Cairdeas.

Little wonder that two weeks after purchase, 1L PX Finish is already gone. (I did have a little help.)

Slàinte, friends! – BO

Buy Laphroaig online at Mash + Grape

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

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017 Quarter Cask Review

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017 Quarter Cask – Distiller: Laphroaig. Region: Islay. ABV: 57.2%. No age statement (5+ years). Price: $80.

The Laphroaig Quarter Cask is a justly beloved standard release from the Islay distillery. It’s a great next step for fans of the Laphroaig 10: they age their brash, briny malt for 5+ years in ex-Markers Mark casks, then finished for six months in quarter casks.

Quarter casks hold a mere 21 gallons, considerably less than the standard 53-gallon ex-bourbon cask. That translates to  more wood exposure per liter, and theoretically accelerated maturation. In practice, the influence small casks–sometimes overused by microdistillers who are rushing their product to market–can be unpredictable. But Laphroaig knows their stuff, and their quarter cask finish works wonderfully.

Enter the Cairdeas 2017 Quarter Cask. The Cairdeas is an annual limited edition that changes each year. (Last year’s was truly brilliant–see Thane’s review of it here.) This year’s release is a cask strength version of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask, dialing the ABV up from the 48% of the standard release to 57.2%.

The potency does great things to an already fine release. The nose is unmistakably Laphroaig–sweet and peaty–but with a twist. Clementines, canned peaches, an enigmatic floral note. White chocolate—flecked with candied ginger.

The palate is salty and spicy, particularly without water. Red pepper flakes. Salted caramel. Dry smoke. With water, the palate gets a good deal sweeter. The peat tips toward mesquite–as opposed to the iodine of the Laphroaig 10–wrapped in a blanket of vanilla.

Ashiness and sweetness intertwine on the very long finish. There’s a hint of maple syrup, then a trail of white smoke that leads you all the way back to Islay.

The 2016 Cairdeas was a tough act to follow, but the 2017 won’t let Laphroaig fans down. Slàinte, friends! – BO

Buy Laphroaig online at Mash + Grape

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

Seven Stills Czar Review

Seven Stills Czar – Distiller: Seven Stills. ABV: 47%. No age statement. Price: $30-40 (375ml).

The craft-beer-to-whiskey path is a well-traveled one. The esteemed Lew Bryson tells in the excellent Tasting Whiskey how he made the transition–a bit unexpectedly–when his employer, Beer Advocate magazine, abruptly transitioned to Malt Advocate magazine. (Soon it would be called Whisky Advocate, and Bryson would be managing editor there until 2015.) I made a similar transition myself some years back, with a detour in cocktail geekery along the way.

The good guys at Seven Stills did too. Tim and Clint were Bay Area college buddies obsessed with craft beer–as drinkers and brewers. They couldn’t help but wonder what some of their favorites would like taste like as whiskies. They got their hands on a little copper still and started experimenting. They haven’t stopped yet.

The Seven Stills Czar is part of the Seven Stills Series: whiskies based on craft beers the guys developed themselves, each of them devoted to one of San Francisco’s seven hills. (The Czar’s, fittingly enough, is Russian Hill.)

They started with their own Russian Imperial Stout–a favorite style of mine–and distill it twice. Now here’s the trick: the second distillation passes through a gin basket filled with hops.

Wait…a hopped stout…as a whiskey? How does that work?

Very well, it turns out.

The nose on the Seven Stills Czar has the roasted coffee and baking cocoa notes you might expect from the stout base. But the hops add a very distinct, very bright halo of pink grapefruit. Utterly intriguing–this is coming from a hopped-whiskey skeptic–and very appealing. Beyond it, hints of caramel, molasses.

The grapefruit turns to wild raspberry on the palate, bringing a distinct tang. Then chocolate lava cake, and a malty, beery core that’s familiar from other Seven Stills whiskies. The barrel influence comes through as cedar and cigar box.

The finish brings the end-of-the-beer-glass stout notes back, along with wild raspberry jam and burnt popcorn.

The Czar has officially taken me from hopped-whiskey skeptic to hopped-whiskey believer. I tried it on a Wednesday, and was back to the store on a Thursday to get a gift bottle for a friend.

Stay tuned for notes on two more tasty new Seven Stills releases coming soon.

Cheers, friends! – BO



Laughton Brothers Bourbon Review

Distiller: Quincy Street Distillery. ABV: 45.5%. Age: 2+ years. Mashbill: 83% corn, malted barley, malted rye (proportions of the latter undisclosed). Price: $45.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love finding distilleries in essentially my backyard. I have total respect for anyone who wants to make a go of creating their own whiskey, and if they’re doing so a stone’s throw (more or less) from my house, well, even better.

Over the years, I’ve been thrilled to discover Koval, Whiskey Acres, and F.E.W., all of which are Chicago-area distilleries doing great things. Now I have to add Riverside, Illinois’ Quincy Street Distillery to the list.

Their Laughton Brothers Bourbon is a straight bourbon based on a recipe of 83% corn, with barley and rye malt making up the remainder. It’s aged for two years in Missouri charred oak barrels, and it’s really quite good.

The nose has an element of freshly shucked corn that gives it a pleasing funky aspect. A bit of seared pork belly and green apple, along with vanilla extract.

The palate is surprisingly well rounded. Corn fritters with rich butter. Country ham. A slight hint of vanilla pudding. And wrapping it all up is a welcome medicinal note that cuts the sweetness at just the right angle.

The finish is refreshingly long and mellow. Candied pears float along, buoyed by an undercurrent of cornbread, hookah tobacco, and oat.

The Laughton Brothers Bourbon was a random purchase by Mrs. McDram and one I’m very glad to have tried.

Cheers, friends! – TM

Paul John Single Malt Whisky Reviews

Whether you’ve got a few dozen malts under your belt or a few hundred, there’s nothing quite like opening a new stage in your whisky journey.

That’s the feeling I had tasting my way through the excellent line of Paul John Indian single malts. If North American drinkers know any Indian whisky, it’s usually Amrut, based in Bangalore. (Their delectable Fusion was one of my favorite whiskies of 2015.)

Paul John, based in the seaside town of Goa, is a newer entrant to the market, but it’s wasting no time in making a name for itself. The distillery has taken home a raft of prizes over the last two years, including multiple Liquid Gold awards from Jim Murray.

The seriousness of the craft is clear: they use all Indian barley, import peat from Islay and Aberdeen, bottle at 46% ABV or higher, and never chill filter.

Having tasted my way through the line over the past few weeks, I now know what the fuss is about. Below are reviews of the full Paul John lineup: Edited, Bold, Brilliance, Classic, and Peated.

As a teaser, suffice it to say there are more than one of these I want on my shelf year-round.

On to the notes!

Paul John Edited – Distiller: Paul John Whisky. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3-7 years). Price: $50-60.

Nose: Wow! What a way to start. Bears a family resemblance to the dense curried spice of Amrut, but it’s unquestionably its own thing. Grilled lemon, fig jam, ground ginger. Toasted almond croissant with vanilla icing. Soft buttery caramel.

Palate: Great dense mouthfeel. Savory spiced meats. Then fig, toasty peat, candied lemon. Cooked brown sugar. Belgian waffle. Grilled plantains. Lots going on here. The wood is sweet and dark—as much mahogany as oak. The peat and oak char carry through to finish.

Finish: Long, evolving…first charred chicken barbecue, lamb with rosemary and cardamom. Then the dessert: fried vanilla ice cream, dusted with cinnamon. Ginger snaps, molasses. The peat twines through it all, toasty and nutty.

Overall: Excellent. Never wanted this one to end.

Paul John Bold – Distiller: Paul John Whisky. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3-7 years). Price: $50-60.

Nose: Pear at the core, sweet and a touch overripe. Grilled pineapple. Dark, dense. Peat and spice coiled and waiting. Chocolate with toffee flecks and a whiff of espresso. Lemon zest.

Palate: orange and pear, then huge spice: clove, ginger, coriander, curry. Ardbeggian peat–in profile if not in strength. Black-bottomed buttery croissant.

Finish: cardamom and pastel sweets on your way out of the Indian restaurant. Pleasant sour and savory mix…soy and wasabi. The lemon zest takes an encore.

Overall: Every bit as good as the Edited.

Paul John Brilliance – Distiller: Paul John Whisky. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3-7 years). Price: $50-60.

Nose: Grilled lemon, fig jam, raisin. Similar overall profile to the Bold, though milder, with less spice. Some softer vanilla notes: marshmallow, cotton candy notes.

Palate: Beautiful savory teriyaki chicken. Ginger snap peat. Fragrant cedar. The peat turns a bit ashy late on.

Overall: Like a junior version of the Bold. For fans of other Indian or Asian single malts, I’d recommend starting with the Edited or Bold. For those more comfortable with scotch and looking to dip into something new, start here.

Paul John Classic – Distiller: Paul John Whisky. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3-7 years). Price: $65-70.

Nose: chalky fruits–lemon, orange, lime, berry. The spice is behind them: ginger, curry, and clove.

Palate: recalls a young fruity bourbon. A bit raw. Lots of oak and cedar. The grilled lemon note is a bit overwhelming.

Finish: repeats the nose. Lemon and orange pith. The chalkiness endures.

Overall: my least favorite of the lineup. The chalkiness very much recalls the cask strength anCnoc Blas for me–not my favorite of their (generally excellent) lineup either. The Classic opens a bit with water, but not enough, and is missing the brilliant savory notes I so like in the Edited, Bold, and Brilliance.

Paul John Peated – Distiller: Paul John Whisky. ABV: 58.5%. No age statement (3-7 years). Price: $70-80.

Nose: charred blueberry crumble. Cinnamon. Clove. The peat coils out of the glass, waiting to burst forth.

Palate: there it is. Dark, dense, peat, closest to Ardbeg. Expands and reveals more complexity with water, though not quite that of the Edited or Bold. Vanilla. Sweet oak.

Finish: long and enjoyable, though it doesn’t reveal new depths.

Overall: a good comeback for Paul John’s cask strength offerings after the disappointing Classic. Peat freaks, especially Ardbeg fans, should like this a lot.

In sum, Paul John is doing great things. I can recommend every one of these but the Classic without reserve. There are still some purists who turn their noses up at any single malt that’s not from Scotland, but man, are they missing out.

Hats off to the good people in Goa. Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Paul John whiskies online at Mash + Grape

Paul John graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions were 100% our own.