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Signatory/K&L Bowmore 13 Review

Distiller: Bowmore. 59.1% ABV. Age: 13 years (distilled 2001, bottled 2014), refill sherry finish. Region: Islay.

Signatory/K&L picked a real winner here. Rich, unctuous, bewitching. Nose starts out smokey and oily with young Granny Smith apples and butterscotch. At full 59.1% it’s a hurricane in your mouth. Endless buttery richness with an overtone of…grapefruit?

Add a splash of water it’s fantastic: just a touch of smoke now, close to the Springbank 12 CS, with more butter, malt, sugar cookies, and a hint of mustard powder (odd, but great).

Bowmore’s had some rough years and some misfires like the Darkest, but this bottle is a claim to greatness. – BO

Buy Bowmore single malt online at Mash + Grape

Lexington Kentucky Bourbon Review

Producer: Western Spirits. Distiller: Three Springs Bottling. 43% ABV.  NAS. Price: $28.

A most recent random selection and one that has pleased immensely. Seemingly well regarded — they tout their 95-point rating from The Tasting Panel Magazine, which is affiliated with the San Francisco World Spirits Competition — though online reviews seem to be mixed.

A subtle nose of molasses. Notes of caramel and vanilla, if you get though the initial burn and let it sit on the tongue. A slowly enveloping warmth at the finish. It starts young and impudently and finishes as a friend. – TM

Trader Joe’s Blended Scotch Whisky Review

Distiller/producer: Unknown. ABV: 40%. NAS/ Price: $10 for a liter.

We in the Axis are all about the democratization of the world’s finest spirit. The more people know and try, the better the product, says I.

So thanks must be given to Trader Joes. The grocery chain carries a host of affordable spirits ranging from local delights like FEW to their own starter versions of classic whiskies, such as their very drinkable Islay Storm single malt.

However, I insist they can do better with their house blended scotch whisky. A nose of butter and last week’s unwashed fry pan give way to an initial note of dishwater and the glass you meant to rinse yesterday. Thick on the tongue and viscous on the way down, this is one you’ll want to save for the holiday party guest who fails to pick up on your hints as to how late it’s gotten.

You can’t know what’s good if you don’t know what’s bad. – TM

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Distiller: Wild Turkey. ABV 55%, No age statement (estimated 8-9 years). Mashbill: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley. Price: $35-50.

The Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon rounded out the night (bottle 9 out of 10) at our inaugural Axis of WhiskyFest in Chicago. Being a big Wild Turkey fan, I was glad the Russell’s was represented–seeing as it’s some of the best of what WT makes.

The Russell’s Reserve focuses on small batch releases like the excellent 10-year-old, and single barrels like these. Naturally there’s variation barrel to barrel, but you can count on them all for a quality pour.

This particular batch was extraordinarily close to the excellent Henry McKenna 10 from Heaven Hill. (Not such a surprise, perhaps, as the two share an identical mashbill.) Dark, leathery, and sweet, with burnt sugar and vanilla on the nose. The palate adds dark molasses–then the rye turns up as a spike of mint. The finish has dark oak and spice. It’s a pour that takes water well, given the relatively high bottling proof–a few drops will bring out more spice.

If you’re in the mood for a dense, dark, leathery bourbon from Wild Turkey, the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel won’t let you down.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Russell’s Reserve Bourbon online at Mash + Grape

Highland Park Harald Review

Distiller: Highland Park. ABV 40%. No age statement. Region: Islands. Price: $90-100.

Highland Park’s a first-rate distiller, Scotland’s northernmost, and one of just two distilleries on the Orkney Islands. Their 12-year-old is an excellent introduction to single malt for the uninitiated, and 18-year-old is the nectar of the gods.

Then there’s the Harald. This Duty Free-only release from their Warrior Series struck me as thin, raw, underpowered, and muddled. There are hints of familiar Highland Park flavors–baked apple, baking spice, and light peat–but they’re barely detectable at such a low ABV (40%). Which, at this price point, I find a bit baffling.

It’s the mixed blessing of the no-age-statement trend. You get home runs like the Aberlour A’Bunadh, then dribblers that go foul of the third base line.

When it comes to HIghland Park, at least, I’ll be sticking to the standard age-statement releases. – BO

Buy Highland Park whisky online at Mash + Grape