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White Oak Akashi Single Malt Review

Distiller: White Oak. 46% ABV. No age statement. Price: $90.

The Akashi NAS single malt (not to be confused with the Akashi Blended Whisky) is a lovely, Speyside-y malt that combines the White Oak distillery’s 7, 5, and 4 year old malts.

Founded in 1919 by Eigashina Shuz–which makes it Japan’s oldest distillery, beating out Yamazaki by four years–the White Oak distillery is in operation for only one month a year, which leads to their combining various vintages to produce bottlings like this one.

Would that more no-age-statement whiskies were this good. The nose leads with honey and orchard fruit, followed by a palate that has more honey, then oak, pear, and ginger. The finish is spicier than I would have expected for a young NAS, and longer.

Unlike the Askashi Blended Whisky, which is both underpowered and underflavored at 40% ABV, the Akashi Single Malt is solid and satisfying. All in all, a damn fine drink. Cheers, friends! – TM

Buy Akashi Japanese whisky online at Mash + Grape

Caribou Crossing Canadian Whisky Review

Producer: Sazerac/Buffalo Trace. Distiller: undisclosed. ABV: 40%. Age: NAS. Mashbill: undisclosed (blend). Price: $45-50.

A salute to our friends up North tonight with the Caribou Crossing — billed as Canada’s first single-barrel whisky since the 19th century.

I jumped on this when it popped up at K&L Wines Hollywood a few months back as a way to start expanding my palate for Canadian whisky. Until then, I’d had little, and only truly enjoyed the Lot 40 Rye. (I know some of you will say Green Apple Jolly Ranchers, but I love it.) The Caribou Crossing came recommended by Canadian Whisky guru Davin de Kergommeaux, and got a respectful writeup from Mark Bylok in his fine book The Whisky Cabinet. Good start.

How is it? A very light but enjoyable dram — though not the revelation the Lot 40 was. Nose: Rye, plum, fruitcake, malted milk. Marzipan. Maybe a touch of jasmine. Plus a whiff of neutral grain spirit for the first few drams — uh oh — though this faded with a week or two and 1/3 of the bottle gone. Palate: orange marmalade, with alternating stewed fruits and preserves. Mouthfeel is where it falls down. At 40% ABV, it’s awfully light. The Lot 40 is 40% too, but a flavor bomb. The Caribou Crossing is much shyer. Finish: very little to speak of, just a hint of almond oil and pencil shavings.

As a Sazerac/Buffalo Trace product meant to raise Canadian whisky’s profile in the US — hand-picked from 200,000+ barrels of Canadian juice that Saz/BT has laid up — why play into the American prejudices about Canadian whisky by releasing it at such a low proof?

I’d be quite curious to try a more potent future release along these lines. As for the Caribou Crossing, I’m glad I tried it. But I’m getting another Lot 40 next. – BO

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley ‘Classic Laddie’ Review

Distiller: Bruichladdich. 50% ABV. No age statement. Region: Islay. Price: $50-60.

Couldn’t have more respect for Bruichladdich, but the Scottish Barley “Classic Laddie” does not show the distillery at its best.

The name recalls the much-loved Laddie 10 it replaced–a modern classic if there ever was one, and an amazing deal while it lasted–but the comparison does the current offering no favors.

Very dry nose, with barley and wet hay. The palate is medicinal, with iodine and band aid notes that mimic the entry of certain heavily peated Islays such as Laphroaig or Bruichladdich’s own Octomore, but the Classic Laddie is unpeated, leaving you with just enough of a reminder of the familiar Bruichladdich malt to leave you yearning for their better offerings. Long sourish finish. Water and time do little to sweeten the deal.

Sad to say, but my advice is to give this one a miss. Incidentally, if you’re anywhere near Greece, I’ve heard rumors the Laddie 10 is still on the shelves there. Maybe time to plan a trip? – BO

Buy Bruichladdich whisky online at Mash + Grape

Amrut Fusion Single Malt Review

Distiller: Amrut. 50% ABV. Age: NAS. Price: $65-70.

Been hearing good things about the Amrut Fusion for a while, and it didn’t disappoint. This no-age-statement mix of separately distilled batches of unpeated Indian malt (75%) and peated Scottish malt (25%) exploded on the global scene when Jim Murray gave it a 97 in 2010, calling it the 3rd best whisky in the world. Whisky Advocate magazine (then called Malt Advocate) followed that by naming the Fusion World Whisky of the Year in 2011.

Amrut is based — and ages its whiskies — in Bangalore, India, which has an average temperature of 91 degrees F, and loses up to 15% a year to the angels. Once blended, the Fusion spends its last 6-9 months before bottling in bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and/or Jack Daniels.

So how’s the juice? Fabulous. Papaya, sweet malt, and grape juice winey-ness on the nose. The slightest enigmatic hint of peat turns everything else up a notch. The palate: spice bazaar! Coffee, toasted almond, dry vanilla bean, very gentle peat. Nice oily body. Doesn’t need a drop of water, but try it just for fun. Keeps yielding more. Medium-long, spicy finish with a funky vegetal note I love — maybe overripe banana, but drier.

Brilliant work from Bangalore! Don’t hesitate to try it, and let us know what you think. – BO

Kikori Whiskey Review

Producer: Kikori. Distiller: undisclosed. Age: 3+ years. Grain bill: 100% rice. Price: $40.

First thing to know about “Kikori Whiskey”: it’s not whisk(e)y. It’s shochu, a Japanese spirit with a 500-year-old tradition, usually distilled from rice or sweet potatoes–though sometimes carrots or unmalted barley–and often sold at 25-35% ABV. It uses koji mold to break down starches in the grains before fermentation, and it can be aged, including in oak, as in this case.

Kikori (41% ABV) comes from an undisclosed distillery in Kumamoto, Japan. It’s made from local rice, and is a blend of 3+ year-old spirit, 80% aged in American oak, 10% each in French limousin and sherry casks. Sounds intriguing, and at $40 it seemed worth a try.

Very light straw color in the glass, with tiny brownish flakes swimming about. The nose suggests a young American craft whiskey. Fresh tobacco. Black tea. Pleasant, with some promise–but the palate betrays it: grain spirit, yeasty rice flavor, a little sweetness. Watery body. Finish: none to speak of, apart from a slight sourness. Gave this time, multiple tries over several nights–no improvement.

Why not call Kikori what it is–oak-aged rice shochu? Because there’s no global craze for oak-aged rice shochu. There’s no worldwide shortage of oak-aged rice shochu. There is, however, a global craze for Japanese whisky, with prices spiking, age statements vanishing, and importers looking for new ways to cash in.

In order to have the right to use the word “whiskey” on its label, Kikori had to convince the Alcohol & Tobacco Trade Bureau (TTB) that it met the category’s requirements. They obviously managed to do so–aided, no doubt, by the fact that there is no TTB category for shochu. They just haven’t convinced me. (See the Comments section for more geekery on this point.)

If you’re looking for Japanese whisky on a budget, try the Shinsu Mars Iwai blend, a mere $35, but with surprising richness and heft–or better yet, the slightly more expensive and significantly tastier Mars Iwai Tradition. If you’re looking for an oak-aged shochu that can stand proudly alongside traditional Japanese whiskies, try Fukano. Unlike Kikori, Fukano absolutely has “the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whisky” (per the TTB definition). And it’s flat-out delicious.

Kanpai! – BO

Buy Japanese whisky online at Mash + Grape

Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon Review

Distiller: Wyoming Whiskey. 44% ABV. Age: 5+ years. Mashbill: at least 51% corn, undisclosed proportions of wheat and malted barley. Price: $47.

Wow. There’s nothing like trying a bottle from a microdistiller that’s all but unknown outside its home state, and being not just pleasantly surprised, but truly impressed. Wyoming Whiskey trumpets a 95 rating from WhiskyCasts’s Mark Gillespie — and I can see what he liked.

Wyoming Whisky It’s not a Kentucky bourbon profile, nor should it be. It’s a purely local product: all Wyoming grain and Wyoming water. The company signaled its seriousness early on by hiring as its master distiller Steve Nally, who spent 33 years with Maker’s Mark. (Read the Q&A with him in Imbibe.) They released their first product — their wheated small batch bourbon — in December 2012.

Nose: a touch hot at first, but no white dog bite, no small-barrel blues. Strong green apple. Calvados. Potpourri. With time, toasted baguette with butter.

Palate: black tea with honey. Sandalwood. Sauteed mushrooms? And an empty Chardonnay cask sort of funk that’s hard to place, but I love it. The nose is enjoyable, but it’s the palate that really sets this bourbon apart. You won’t mistake it for anything else on your shelf. Complex, lingering finish.

It’s a distinct enough product that it won’t suit every bourbon drinker. But for my money, that’s exactly what real microdistillers should be doing: producing stuff that expresses a local character, that shows a variety and uniqueness that the big boys don’t.

As with any small distiller, there may be a question of batch-to-batch consistency…I haven’t heard the same wildly split opinions batch to batch as I have with Stranahan’s, but that may also be because Wyoming Whiskey is still little-known. (For reference, I’ve got Batch 28.)

In any event, if you run across it, don’t pass up the chance to try it. And definitely let us know what you think. As of August 2015, it’s sold in 12 states, and the company tells me it’ll soon be sold in 25. It should be sold in all 50.

Hats off, Wyoming Whiskey! – BO

The distiller graciously provided a bottle for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Buy Wyoming Whiskey online at Mash + Grape