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Westland Sherry Wood American Single Malt Review

Distiller: Westland. 46% ABV. Age: 2+ years. Grain bill: 100% malted barley. Price: $70.

You know what I love more than almost anything? The “now I get it” moment. Never comes at the start of a bottle, even one that’s great from the first sip. It’s usually a few days/drams in.

Just had mine with the Westland Sherry Wood last night. This Seattle-made single malt is the third release in Westland’s core range, which includes their standard single malt and a peated version. The Sherry Wood comes from a grain bill that includes Washington, Munich, and pale chocolate malt, and is aged “at least” 26 months, first in new American oak and ex-bourbon casks, then in ex-Oloroso and Pedro Jimenez sherry butts.

Give this one time. The first impression was just pure, unadulterated sweet sherry. Not a finish, but a 50-50 whiskey-sherry mix. Two nights later, maple syrup, cookie dough, and raisins emerged. Then last night: wow. There’s the malt, rich and decadent. Cocoa. Ginger. Roasted nuts. And the other notes now beautifully integrated.

How soon can I make it up to Seattle? – BO

Baker’s Small Batch Bourbon Review

Distiller: Jim Beam. 53.5% ABV. Age: 7 years. Mashbill: 73% corn, 13% rye, 10% barley. Price: $50-60.

Baker’s and Booker’s are often compared, being two highest-powered (and most similar-sounding) offerings from Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection, which also includes the ubiquitous Knob Creek and the pleasant but underpowered Basil Hayden’s.

Booker’s seems to have more fans, but for me, it’s a bit of the Tolstoy vs. Dostoyevsky debate. Or Mozart vs. Beethoven. When both have great things to offer, why choose?

You’ll often see Baker’s profile described as cognac-like, and there’s something to that. The strongest notes I get on the nose are cocoa and honeycomb. With time, old oak. All these are there on the palate, together with a bit of heat, but nothing like the bite of Booker’s. Stewed prunes. And there’s the cognac sweetness and allspice — but with the kind of richness and density in the mouthfeel that only come with the higher proof.

May not be the ideal profile for starting off an evening, but it’s one hell of an after-dinner dram. Cheers! – BO

Buy Baker’s Bourbon online at Mash + Grape

Stranahan’s Diamond Peak Colorado Whiskey Review

Distiller: Stranahan’s. 47% ABV. Age: 4 years. Mashbill: 100% malted barley. Price: $70-80. Reviewed: Batch 4.

My curiosity about the big doings in Colorado got the better of me recently, and I pulled the trigger on the Stranahan’s. Having heard about some batch-to-batch inconsistency with their standard 2-year offering (all but inevitable with a small craft distiller), I wanted to try it in its best light, so I paid the extra $20 for the Diamond Peak–at 4 years old, their most mature offering so far. I got Batch 004.

Stranahan’s has won a rabid following in its home state of Colorado since releasing its first bottle in 2006. (It’s currently owned by NJ-based Proximo Spirits, though production remains in Colorado.) The legend: volunteer firefighter Jess Graber came to put out a fire at the barn of George Stranahan, and the two got to talking amid the embers. They discovered a shared love for whiskey, and the idea for Stranahan’s was born. It’s a single malt, using only local Rocky Mountain barley and water, aged in new American oak. Their extremely limited, once-a-year Snowflake release adds cask finishings to the mix: cognac, sherry, cherry wine.

Let me cut to the chase: this may be the best American single malt I’ve ever tasted. As you make your way through the first few drams from a fresh bottle, the nose blooms in a fascinating way. At first it recalls a fresh, honeyed Irish pot still whiskey–say the Green Spot. Later, the coppery pot still sweetness is still there, but it’s become richer, darker, with just a touch of funk in the back. Old saddle leather. Stale beer. Pencil eraser. Odd. In another minute or two, those notes blew off, leaving a marvelously rich, winey, cognac-like bouquet. What a nose.

Palate: Sweet but not overly so. Roasted cocoa beans. A touch of youthful bite, but only on the first dram from the bottle, and even that resolves itself with a few drops of water and another few minutes in the glass. Molasses. Pumpernickel bread. Fresh dough–for oatmeal raisin cookies. Body’s a touch thinner than the rich nose leads you to expect, but still pleasantly substantial. Medium finish.

Hats off, Stranahan’s! Can’t wait to see what’s to come. – BO

Buy Stranahan’s Whiskey online at Mash + Grape

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon Review

Distiller: Brown-Forman. 49-50% ABV. Age: 12 years. Price: $60-80 (if you can find it)

The Birthday Bourbon is a special edition Brown-Forman releases each September to honor co-founder George Garvin Brown (born Sep. 2), who conceived of the idea of selling bourbon in sealed glass bottles. With this innovation, he launched his company in 1870.

As a limited annual release, the OFBB profile does change a bit year to year. Many tasters have pointed to the 2013 as a particularly good one…and I’m definitely one of them.

The 2013 OFBB has a big, rich, corn-sweet nose. The taste: Cracker Jacks. Salted Caramel. Dark oak. Cotton candy. Somehow not too sweet, in spite of the nose. Creamy. Substantial body, and at 49%, hugely enjoyable without any water. Long oaky finish.

The 2015 is hotter on the nose at first, but with a little time rounds out, with caramel, dark oak, and dry mint. Oak spice and more mint on the palate, then roasted peanut and pecan notes. The sweetness is subtler than the 2013, with less of the cotton candy and caramel corn I love in that one.

OFBB remains a great pour, a great bottle, and needless to say, a great gift. But with the price creeping up every year, the question of value is a fair one. The 2015 is good, but there are many excellent bourbons out there for less than $80.

They just don’t say “birthday” on them. – BO

Colonel E.H. Taylor Straight Rye Review

Distiller: Buffalo Trace. 50% ABV.  Mashbill: rye and barley (proportions undisclosed, but at least 51% rye, likely higher, and no corn). Price: $60-70.

The Colonel E.H. Taylor Rye is part of the Buffalo Trace lineup honoring whiskey legend Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr., great-nephew to President Zachary Taylor and proponent of the bottled-in-bond act.

It’s fascinating to taste this side-by-side with one of the many fine LDI ryes out there: think Willett 8-year-old rye or Bulleit’s standard-issue rye. Massive contrast. While the LDIs jump out of the glass with candied lemon, burnt orange, maybe mint and chamomile, and always a ton of sweetness, the Taylor’s a different story.

The Taylor is darker on the nose, enigmatic, subtler…fresh-baked squaw bread. Then you taste it: bam. Dark coppery funk. Molasses stuck to a cast-iron skillet. Family resemblance to the wild and divisive Taylor Small Batch Bourbon, but this is my favorite of the two.

Plenty of great LDI-distilled ryes out there. This BT original is something all its own. – BO

Buy Col. E.H. Taylor Whiskey online at Mash + Grape

Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey Review

Producer: Teeling. Distiller: Cooley. 46% ABV. NAS. Price: $40.

I was a touch apprehensive on this purchase, given some early disappointments with Irish whiskies. But the Teeling Small Batch is surprising in all the right ways.

Teeling is a young distillery, opened in 2011 by brothers Stephen and Jack Teeling. Interestingly, it was the first new distillery to be opened in Dublin in more than 125 years. For now, the Teeling brothers are maturing and bottling old stocks from their father’s Cooley Distillery while they get their own production up and running. They’ve already got a good thing going.

The Small Batch is the producer’s flagship offering, alongside which they’re selling a Single Grain, Single Malt, and a series of old (21+ year old) single malts in their Vintage Reserve line.

This Small Batch is non-chill filtered, and was bottled in May 2014 after six months in a rum cask.The nose brings brown sugar, citrus, and toffee. The palate blooms from brown sugar to citrus to oak, and the finish is tannic and just a little rough around the edges.

All in all, a very nice treat. Looking forward to more from the Teeling brothers soon! – TM