Balvenie Peated Cask Review

Distiller: Balvenie. Region: Speyside. ABV: 43%. Age: 17 years. Price: $100-150/auction.

One of the stronger entrants in the “lovable oddball” category: the Balvenie 17-Year-Old Peated Cask.

Used to getting your smokey prickle from the good old peated barley in the grain bill? The other way is to mature unpeated malt whisky in barrels that previously held peated (most often Islay) whisky. Glenlivet takes this approach in their Nadurra Peated Cask, which I liked quite a bit. Balvenie does the same here.

I should say “did,” actually. This one was a limited edition, and it’s a big rarity now. I was stunned to find it in a corner store a few months back. I splurged on the bottle, hoping it would offer more than just novelty appeal.

Does it ever. The nose has strong dark vanilla from the partial virgin oak maturation. Dried fig. Some tropical fruit. Grilled pineapple. Raisin bars. The peat cask influence comes through as a little barbecue char.

The palate highlights the sherry-matured component first. Then the peat comes through, toasty rather than briny, and much much milder than in the Glenlivent Nadurra Peated Cask. The tropical notes come back late on. The finish has poached pear in syrup, molasses, gingerbread, and graham crackers.

Some people grumble at these peated cask experiments, saying peat should be left to the experts in Islay. I say: when the experiments work this well, bring them on.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Ilegal Mezcal Review

Ilegal Mezcal Joven – Producer: Ilegal. Distiller: Tlacolula Distillery. ABV: 40%. Age: N/A. Price: $40.

Ilegal Mezcal Reposado – Producer: Ilegal. Distiller: Tlacolula Distillery. ABV: 40%. Age: 4 months. Price: $60.

Ilegal Mezcal Anejo – Producer: Ilegal. Distiller: Tlacolula Distillery. ABV: 40%. Age: 13 months. Price: $100.

After some malternative exploration in the cognac vein, it seemed high time to dip into mezcal. Ilegal Mezcal is a great way to do it.

The agave-based spirit is often recommended to scotch drinkers because of its distinctive smokiness, a result of the agave being cooked in an underground pit for several days before distillation.

But smoke alone isn’t enough to convert the whisky crowd, of course–not least because not all scotch lovers are peat freaks. We’re also used to the subtlety, complexity, and depth of flavor that come from a maturation process in oak that can’t be rushed. (Usually.)

Ilegal is a premium mezcal that has all of the above, even in its unaged version. Let’s dive in, shall we?

The Ilegal Joven (unaged) has a bright, fresh nose, sweet and grassy. The smoke is just barely detectable, which is characteristic of the whole line–and may be welcome news for curious scotch drinkers who hew more to Speysides and Highlands than Islays. The palate has bright fresh fruit notes, agave of course, along with apple. There’s a welcome creaminess to the mouthfeel, and a subtly buttery note to go with it.

The smoke starts to emerge–still restrained–toward the finish, along with a hit of roasted coffee. The lack of barrel maturation means it lacks the vanilla and caramel more familiar to whisky-drinkers, but don’t let that get in your way. This is delicious all on its own.

The Ilegal Reposado adds four months of aging in American oak, and with it, additional complexity. There’s a bright, pure sweetness on the nose here too–think just-ripe wild strawberries. Lemon curd. Floral scents, then a toasted coconut note that delivers the subtle influence of the smoke.

The palate is rich, with kumquat, blood orange rind, and sesame cookies with browned bottoms. The finish balances the fruit and smoke, with the strawberry note back for an encore.

The Ilegal Añejo is the richest of the bunch, aged 13 months in American and French oak. It also has the most familiar profile for whisky-drinkers. The nose is a vanilla custard tart with fresh berries, then a drizzle of caramel. The smoke is more pronounced but well integrated. The palate has the most heft and depth of the three. Ripe aromatic fruit mixes with dark chocolate, spice, and delicate smoke. Finish is long and delectable, mixing sweet and savory.

All three of these should put a smile on the face of a whisky lover. Happily for mezcal lovers and the mezcal curious, Ilegal recently signed a national distribution agreement with Southern Wine & Spirits, so this excellent sipper should be a more common sight.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Ilegal Mezcal at Mash + Grape

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

Barrell Bourbon Batch 11 Review

Producer: Barrell Craft Spirits. Distiller: undisclosed Tennessee distiller. ABV: 57.4%. Age: 6 years. Mashbill: 70% corn, 25% rye, 5% malted barley.

You’ve all seen Baldo’s deep and deserved love for the terrific offerings from Barrell Craft Spirits (f.k.a. Barrell Bourbon), but it was only recently that I was able to review a bottle of this superb product.

The Barrell Bourbon Batch 11 is from barrels distilled and aged in Tennessee, then bottled in Kentucky, with a mash bill of 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley.

As you’d expect from a barrel strength bottling, this bourbon truly opens with a splash of water. I caught vanilla and caramel on the nose, along with summer county fair corn on the cob and a hint of cotton candy. The palate is a thing of complex and rich beauty. There’s a bit of brown butter sauce, subtle layers of spice over oat cakes, and a delightful hint of peanut brittle. The finish has all these flavors and more and is very nicely sustained. Very pleasingly to me, there was even a faint note of French press at the back end.

I was thrilled with my first Barrell experience and I can’t wait to see the next batch. Cheers, friends! – TM

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

Benromach 35 Review

Distiller: Benromach. Region: Speyside. ABV: 43%. Age: 35 years. Price: $500-700.

There’s a bit of a dilemma when you’ve got the chance to sample something truly special. On one hand, you’re itching to pour the day it arrives. On the other, you’re keep telling yourself you need to wait for the Perfect Moment™.

After a few weeks of staring longingly at the sample of Benromach 35 on the counter, I decided my perfect moment was a perfectly ordinary Wednesday. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, and all.

Benromach has been doing wonderful things at its small, deliberately old-fashioned, far northern Speyside distillery since Gordon & MacPhail purchased and revitalized it in the 1990s. Their oldest standard release is a (very good) 15-year-old. This 35-year-old release, like a few 1970s vintage releases, comes from the old stocks that predate the revival.

The 35 is an all-first-fill-sherry blast from the past. Bewitching nose. Beautiful bourbon-soaked stone fruits–stewed cherries and prunes. Mature oak, chocolatey mahogany. Sweet old library must. Raspberry syrup. Wet cedar.

Palate has a subtle sourness behind the rich stewed fruits. Just the right bite. Mulled wine with heavy cinnamon and clove. Burnt apple pie. Beguiling finish with lighter fruit notes: lychee and fresh coconut.

Lesson learned: you can wait for the perfect moment, or you can make one by pouring something this good.

Cheers, friends! – BO

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

Macallan Edition 2 Review

Distiller: Macallan. Region: Highlands. ABV: 48.2%. No age statement. Price: $80-100.

I think I’ve got a new favorite Macallan. Got an overdue taste of the excellent Edition No. 2 with my friends at Jay’s Bar recently. I’d heard raves about this no-age-statement release from Mark  good folks at Scotch ‘n’ Sniff and Malt Review. Now I know why.

The Edition No. 2 is a collaboration between Macallan Whisky Maker Bob Dalgamo and Catalonia’s legendary El Cellar de Can Roca restaurant. In terms of profile, it’s square in Macallan’s sweet spot: dense sherried goodness balanced by just the right amount of darker, drier tannic notes.

On the nose there’s blood orange, marzipan, marshmallow, sweet old oak, and a whisper of mint. The palate adds sponge cake, toasted coconut macaroons, candied ginger, and fig. Full body. The finish has clove-studded Christmas orange with musty grapevine and more sweet oak.

BIG success, this one. Looking forward to adding a bottle to my collection–and trying it alongside the Edition 1.

Slàinte, whisky friends! – BO

Henry McKenna 10 Bourbon Review

Distiller: Heaven Hill. ABV: 50%. Age: 10 years. Mashbill: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley. Price: $25-30.

The Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon is an increasingly rarity: a high-quality, age-stated bourbon that comes at a very reasonable price.

As a single barrel, there’s always going to be a certain amount of variation, but the high quality of these has been very consistent. I found this particular bottle at the back of the shelf of a local store, and it turned out to be from a batch that was distilled in 2002. I was excited to check it out.

On the nose are notes of freshly cut wood with a very small hint of char (like laser-cut wood), mixed with warm new leather that’s been sitting out in the sun. The palate starts with medium sweetness, combined with herbal spices and cinnamon notes that provide a pleasant dose of heat. All of this is layered on top of a lovely base of dampened oak.

This was a good barrel indeed, and it reminds me why I always come back to this great bourbon, especially given its price point.

Cheers! – JTR

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