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High West Bourye 2017 Review

Producer: High West. Distiller: MGP. ABV: 46%. Age: 10+ years. Blend: it’s complicated. Price: $80.

A few years back, Baldo and I sat down for lunch in my town of Evanston, IL. The restaurant, a very good and basic Italian, had High West’s Bourye as an option. “Grab it,” Baldo said, “you’ll love it.”

Well, it’s two years later and I can’t say he was much off the mark. The 2017 version of the Bourye is a blend of straight bourbon and ryes ranging from 10 to 14 years old, all from MGP. There’s a high-rye rye, a low-rye rye, and a high-rye bourbon in the mix. (Got all that?) And like previous releases, it’s got a welcoming profile that’s good for the novice and experienced consumer alike.

You definitely get that rye on the nose, but there’s also vanilla, raisin, and a hint of blackberry. The palate is really nice, with an initial nutty overlay that’s quickly conquered by the swelling fruits of blackberry, raspberries, and a touch of currant.

I wasn’t mad for the finish, which was too abbreviated for me, but I quite like this one overall.

My main quibble is the price point. I like the whiskey enough where it could be a staple of the collection on taste alone, but it’s just not an $80 whiskey to me.

Cheers, friends! – TM

Buy High West whiskey online at Mash + Grape

High West graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Laddie 10 Second Edition Review

Distiller: Bruichladdich. Region: Islay. ABV: 50%. Age: 10 years. Price: $60.

The First Edition of the Laddie 10 was the kind of never-fail daily dram I wish I’d bought a bunker-full of. Alas, it’s long gone…and the no-age-statement replacement, the Classic Laddie, has only been, for my money, a partial substitute.

But with the arrival of Bruichladdich’s new head distiller, Adam Hannett, we have the very welcome arrival of the Laddie 10 Second Edition. It flew off the shelves at K&L Hollywood, but I was lucky enough to snag a bottle first.

The proper way to taste this unpeated Islay would be side-by-side with the First Edition, but having long since finished that, I tasted it alongside the NAS Classic Laddie.

Age-stated whiskies and their NAS replacement are always fun comparisons. (See our side-by-side of the Hibiki 12 and the NAS NAS Hibiki Harmony, for one example.)

So how do these stack up? Let’s start with the new Laddie 10. In short, it’s as good as I remember the last one–if not a touch better. Toasty nose, with roasted almonds, marzipan, a seesaw between milk and white chocolate, and sweet oak. Some rich Syrah cask influence (20% of the malt is finished in Syrah casks, I believe), and (call me crazy) a slight whiff of jicama.

The palate is potent, concentrated, dense. Raspberry jam. Brown butter. Nice tannic backbone of barrel char. Longish finish, on the dry side, with charred marshmallows. Immediately I was wishing I’d picked up two of these. A tough act for any NAS to follow.

The Classic Laddie has an immediate family resemblance, but seems the less mature of the two. It’s a touch lighter in the glass–pure gold, without the 10’s orangey tint. Perhaps that tint is the Syrah in the 10, as there’s less of that on the nose with the Classic. Similar toasty marzipan on the palate, but a bit grainier, with a touch of raw oak that’s not in the 10.

There’s that raspberry jam on the palate. Some butteriness here too, but less depth, less integration than the 10. Ground ginger and lemon pith on the finish, with a touch more sourness than I’d prefer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Classic shows up just fine on its own, but suffers a bit by comparison with the 10–which I consider an unalloyed success. Now I’ve got to do a side-by-side w that long lost First Edition!

Slàinte, friends! – BO

Buy Bruichladdich Whisky online at Mash + Grape

Ardbeg Kelpie Review

Distiller: Ardbeg. Region: Islay. ABV: 51.7%. No age statement. Price: $125-160.

I have a true weakness for very few things. The filmography of Gerard Butler is one. And while I’ll sing the praises of London Has Fallen every day, my Butler love pales in comparison to my feelings for Ardbeg.

Unlike Mr. Butler, Ardbeg has yet to disappoint me. I adored last year’s Dark Cove Committee release, but I think this year’s might be even better. Named after the fabled Scottish water spirit, the Ardbeg Kelpie is a wholly different experience than any I’ve had with the Islay distillery before, possibly due to the use of Russian virgin oak (from the republic of Adygea) in the maturation process–along with Ardbeg’s usual ex-bourbon barrels.

Take the nose, to start. It’s got a hint of a slowly burning Cuban cigar. Muted espresso tones, faint brine, and a whisper of citrus. The palate has a base of slow drip coffee, but atop it roasted lemons, dark chocolate, and an oily BBQ residue dance along the tongue. It’s an ambitious combination of elements and while any one would be too much, the interplay here is utterly exquisite.

And my whisky gods, the finish. It’s gentle and undulating and the citrus starts it off, but the familiar Ardbeg peat fire takes over and guides you home.

Friends, this one is a masterpiece and I’m damn glad to have tried it. Watch this space for an interview with distillery manager, Mickey Heads, coming soon. In the meantime, if you have an Ardbeg Kelpie review of your own to share, please do.

Here’s to art, real art, in our whisky. Cheers! – TM

Buy Ardbeg Kelpie online at Mash + Grape

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

Lost Spirits Abomination and Navy Style Rum Review

Producer: Lost Spirits. ABV: 54% (Abomination), 61% (Navy Style Rum). No age statement. Price: $50.

I’ve used the cliche “these guys don’t mess around” about some of the better microdistillers. The thing about Lost Spirits is, they do mess around, constantly–and better than just about anybody.

Lost Spirits founder Bryan Davis is a born iconoclast, a guy who literally vibrates with energy when he presents his experiments. The biggest of those has been the Thea One “flash-aging reactor”–see our feature on it for details.

We at the Axis haven’t been afraid to call BS when we see it, including in the “accelerated maturation” world. But if you’ll pardon the paradox, Bryan’s search for shortcuts takes no shortcuts. And his results put most other “accelerated maturation” efforts to shame.

Which brings us to their latest releases: two Abomination Peated Malts and a new Navy Style Rum.

The Abominations put young, heavily peated malt whisky sourced from Islay through the flash-aging process, together with Riesling-seasoned oak staves. The red-label uses toasted staves, the black-label uses charred.

Both are a big step forward for Lost Spirits malts–and the bar was already high. The nose is bold on both, with a core of BBQ-ey oak notes familiar from virgin oak-matured scotch. Then coconut, lemongrass, and ripe banana. The peat’s strong and brash on the palate, with smoked banana, clove, cooked sugar. At 54% ABV, there’s plenty of room to dial the intensity down if you’d like. I found the complexity grew as I did. The finish is on the sweeter side, with burnt zucchini bread, birch beer, and mesquite briquettes. The red-label gives a more of a toasted-baked-goods cast to this overall profile, while the black-label has stronger vanilla from the heavier char. Both are must-trys for peat lovers.

The rum is my favorite from Lost Spirits so far. Bottled at a huge 61% ABV, it’s sublimely rich and buttery. Both brighter and softer than earlier Lost Spirits Navy Rums. A masterpiece.

All three show Lost Spirits at its best, and are excellent deals at around $50. Keep the experiments coming! Cheers, friends! – BO

Lost Spirits graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Bushmills Red Bush Review

Distiller: Bushmills. ABV: 40%. No age statement/3+ years. Price: $18-22.

In my snobby younger days, I would routinely turn my nose up at the standard Irish blends. The Jameson and Powers never did it for me, and the only one I could routinely endure was Bushmills.

Now, of course, the last few years have seen massive growth in the complexity and quality of the Irish whiskies available in the U.S. I’d put Teeling and the Spots (Green and Yellow) up against the best in  the world. Bushmills’ higher-end offerings, like the 16-year-old single malt, are delectable.

So when I saw the new Bushmills Red Bush at my favorite convenience store, I was intrigued to see how the lower-end offerings of this venerable producer had changed with the times.

The verdict is…not much. It’s a bit mysterious what’s new about the Red Bush, as it’s prominently marketed as “matured in bourbon casks”–but so is the standard Bushmills White Label. (The Black Bush adds some sherry maturation.) The few existing reviews of the Red Bush I’ve read, along with Bushmills’ own patter, repeat the dreaded moniker “smooth,” which for me is usually shorthand for forgettable.

The Red Bush isn’t quite that bland. There’s a whisper of flora on the nose, and you’ll find some honey and vanilla if you try hard enough. The palate, as you’d expect from a blend aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks, has elements of the oaky BBQ, along with traces of vanilla, but the flavors are so faint that it’s difficult to discern much of anything. And the finish doesn’t deserve the name. By the time you’ve finished the first sip, you’ve already forgotten what you were drinking.

I’m tempted to say that for around $20, you could do worse, but there are so many better options at or just above this price point in the Irish whiskey world (think West Cork), the bourbon world (think Old Granddad,) and the single malt world (think Glen Moray) that there’s no reason to try this fairly mediocre blend.

Here’s to demanding more from those we love. Cheers, friends! – TM

Barrell Rum Review

Producer: Barrell Craft Spirits. Distiller: undisclosed Jamaican distiller. ABV: 67.37%. Age: 7 years. Price: $70-100.

File this under “coming as a surprise to no one”: Barrell Rum Batch 1 is a stunner.

Joe Beatrice of Barrell Craft Spirits (f.k.a. Barrell Bourbon) has been putting out knockout barrel-proof whiskies for a few years now. He keeps releasing hits, and somehow keeps topping himself.

Joe took the sound approach of establishing a reputation by focusing on bourbons with a few core profiles first, then gradually branching out. He experimented with a sherry-finished American whiskey last year–which I loved–and now it’s joined by a rum.

Fred Minnick just wrote a great piece calling on bourbon geeks to lean on rum makers the same way they have on whiskey producers: to up transparency, eschew additives, and generally cut the BS. There are great rums out there that whiskey drinkers would love, Fred says, but the industry standards are so low that they’re lost in the sea of sugary additive-dosed swill.

Enter Joe Beatrice. He got his hands on a barrel of first-rate Jamaican rum, aged it seven years in a bourbon barrel, and bottled it the right way, uncut, unfiltered, unadulterated, and with zero BS. It’s a major eye-opener.

Big lime on the nose. Oak. Cooked cane sugar. Glossy, varnished fruit –think watermelon Jolly Ranchers. With time, it’s more organic: ripe wild strawberries.

The palate has lime, molasses, and brown sugar, though it’s much drier than most super-premium rums–a good thing for whiskey drinkers. The finish adds notes of gingerbread, Angostura bitters, and allspice. Bewitching.

This has become my go-to end-of-night dram. Well done again, Joe! – BO

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