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Willett’s XCF Experimental Cask Finish Review

Producer: Willett. Distiller: MGP. 51.7% ABV.

Ran across this in the sports-barriest place you can imagine that could possibly be carrying something this interesting. Which is to say: I was surprised. And it was underpriced, given the $150+ retail cost of the bottle. And I’d noticed the bartender had a heavy hand. So I dove in.

Willett’s XCF Experimental Cask Finish is a 7-year-old MGP rye aged 90 days in Curacao casks (the bitter orange distillate that goes into Grand Marnier). Explosion of fiery orange off the bat. Rich, but with surprisingly little heat. The orange rind at the end of your old fashioned.

As it sat in the glass, the syrupy brandy notes grew stronger, though it retained enough range and rye spice to call to mind the Bulleit Rye, itself an MGP product with some dry orange notes.

Overall, it’s a curiosity I’m glad I tried, and would recommend for the adventurous — maybe as a cordial or digestif — but I won’t be hunting for a bottle at the price. Cheers, friends! – BO

Craigellachie 13 Single Malt Review

Distiller: Craigellachie. Region: Speyside. 46% ABV. Age: 13 years. Price: $55-60.

A favorite dram of 2015 that tastes just as good in the New Year. From the heart of Speyside, Craigellachie is one of the few single malts distilled with a worm tub condenser, giving an extra weight and density to the spirit. Long a staple of blends, it’s only recently available in single malt form, as part of John Dewar & Sons’ Last Great Malts lineup. (Royal Brackla, Aberfeldy, Autmore, and The Deveron round out the lineup.)

Coppery, buttery, and dried apple notes on the nose. Recalls Redbreast in a very nice way. With time, more malt, bourbon-barrel, and hints of cocoa. Burst of spice on the palate. Shortbread biscuits, a little Chardonnay wineyness. Waxy and viscous on the palate, but with a sense of clarity through it all. Lingering spicy finish with a hint of white smoke.

It’s not the kind of dram that knocks you out the way an A’Bunadh or Uigeadail does, but it’s consistently satisfying–and it lingers in your mind hours later the way a great melody does. And each time you revisit it, it offers more nuance.

It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite Speysides. Check out our thoughts on the 19-year-old version, and stay tuned for a writeup on the 23-year-old too. Sláinte, friends! – BO

Buy Craigellachie 13 online at Mash + Grape

Walking Stick Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Distiller: Buffalo Trace. 45% ABV. No age statement. Price: $35.

The mystery single barrel from Buffalo Trace! Little-known and little-discussed, apart from the fine folks at Breaking Bourbon. Apparently Barton 1792 juice. Young but flavorful — meaty, somehow — and crazily reminiscent of something I can’t place. (Tried this at the ancestral Oakstave estate, so I couldn’t do side-by-sides to pin it down.)

Pleasing corn-dominated nose and palate but fairly dry. Begging for a bit more density/higher proof. Not bad at all. Curious to revisit it.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Review (Batch 6)

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. 70.1% ABV.  Mashbill: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley. Price: $50-100 (if you can find it!)

Dumb luck that I ever scored this little monster. Crossed paths with Josh of The Whiskey Jug in K&L Wines Hollywood at the very moment the 3 bottles they’d just gotten in were carried out to the shelf.

This one’s from batch 6 — at 140.2 proof, I believe the highest they’ve ever released. Takes water well, to put it mildly. But try it with the least possible to start, then watch the flavors unfold as you go.

Baked ham. Tannery leather. Charred tobacco. Amazing. Cut slightly, it tastes like a cross between the Old Forrester Birthday Bourbon and a grilled filet mignon. Planning to make this bottle last a long time. Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Elijah Craig Barrell Strength online at Mash + Grape

Sazerac Rye Review

Distiller: Buffalo Trace for the Sazerac Co. 45% ABV. NAS. Mashbill: about 51% rye, with 39% corn and 10% barley.

For under $40, Sazerac Rye–a.k.a. “Baby Saz” (by contrast with the 18-year release and the cask strength Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye)–is my flat-out favorite in the category.

It’s like the Blanton’s of rye: you can find bolder, bigger, wilder, and older, but this is one I’m always happy to come back to. Low rye in the mashbill, interestingly, contributes to the balance.

Or the William Faulkner of rye: full of sweet damp wood, rich Southern soil, surprising spice, and an assertiveness that runs right up to the edge of self-importance, then settles in genuine depth.

Similes aside — nose: fresh cedar, coriander, rye grain, toasted tobacco. Faintly sweet. Taste: follows the nose, with perfect balance, dry spice, corn sweetness, and a medium finish.

You can use it in a knockout Sazerac cocktail or Old Fashioned, but it’s always a sipper for me. Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Sazerac Rye online at Mash + Grape

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