Do Good Distillery Benevolent Czar Review

Distiller: Do Good Distillery. ABV: 119.8%. No age statement. Price: $50 (375 ml).

Do Good Distillery caught my eye a few months ago with their unusual name and wide range of smoked whiskies made in Modesto, CA. They have some interesting parallels with our friends at Seven Stills, 90 minutes to the west in San Francisco. Both were dreamt up by craft beer lovers who decided to take their home brewing efforts to the next level. Both consciously reproduce craft beer profiles or elements thereof in their whiskies. And both like to experiment.

Do Good’s line includes bourbons, malt whiskies, and a few white spirits. The Benevolent Czar (just in time for the centenary of the fall of the Romanov dynasty) is their boldest offering. It’s a cask strength behemoth that reproduces the intense flavors of a Russian Imperial Stout–a favorite of the Do Good team, and, I should say, of mine too.

The nose is dense and sweet, with cocoa, orange zest, sweet oak, and a beery/yeasty note. It recalled the Wasmund’s Single Malt (without the tennis ball note), but Do Good doesn’t go the infusion route: its flavors come entirely from the grain bill and a range of small barrels. The palate has very pronounced coffee notes, verging on Seven Stills Fluxuate. Orange-infused bitter chocolate. On the sweeter side, but not overly so. The finish is pure coffee porter.

Remarkable density of flavors, nearly dessert dram territory. How do they do it? The grain bill is proprietary, but Do Good rep Andrew Bennett pointed to the traditional Imperial Stout components: pale malt, crystal malt, chocolate malt, and roasted barley. “Some of our single malts were actually beers we used to enjoy as beers,” he wrote. “We brew our version of a Russian Imperial stout, ferment and distill with the grain on, then we barrel age it in new American Oak Barrels with a heavy char.  The barrels are new and not dosed and there is no infusion of any kind. Brewed, distilled and barrel aged, that’s it.”

Do Good gets most of its grain from farms within 90 miles of Modesto–always good to see–and their experiments are only getting bolder. “Our philosophy is to have something for everyone,” Andrew said. (Shochu was also mentioned.) The Benevolent Czar isn’t cheap, but there are plenty of options in the rest of their range that hit the $50 for 750ml microdistillery sweet spot.

Hats off to Do Good for bringing good new things to the ever-more-interesting California microdistilling scene. Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Do Good spirits online

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

Ardbeg Corryvreckan Review

Distiller: Ardbeg. Region: Islay. ABV: 57.1%. No age statement. Price: $75-80.

There have been plenty of reasons to complain about the no-age-statement trend in Scotch whisky (and all whisk(e)y) in recent years. But there are undisputed NAS gems out there. Ardbeg, ever the overachiever, has two of them.

The first is the Uigeadail, about which more here. The other is the Corryvreckan (so named for a certain Scottish whirlpool).

I’ll admit it: I’m so partial to the Uigeadail that I’d underestimated the Corryvreckan for some time. But making my way through a Christmas bottle over the last few months has changed my mind for good.

What sets the Corry apart for me is the pronounced but wonderfully integrated wine cask influence–the original 2009 release, at least, was matured partially in Burgundy casks. (I’ve been particularly attuned to this because of the variety of excellent wine-cask-finished single malts I’ve been sampling recently, from Springbank, Bruichladdich, and others.)

The wine cask is there on the nose as a sort of fermented currant note–dark, dense, winey fruit. Sweet and savory notes mingle: buttered popcorn, candied lemon, plenty of nuances in between.

The palate has sweet barbecued pork. Smoked bacon. Strong peat but not brash or challenging–more restrained and mature than the Ardbeg 10 in that regard.

The finish has key lime pie with a buttery, toasty graham cracker crust. In short, the dram start to finish has the range, variety, and dramatic arc of a great meal.

It’s interesting how Ardbeg has actually put itself in a bit of a bind with the quality of the Corry and the Oogie. Their annual limited releases are often excellent–this year’s Kelpie, last year’s Dark Cove, and the 2009 and 2010 Supernova are great examples–but they’re also NASes, and always pricier than the Oogie and Corry, while not always being clearly better.

Luxury problems, as they say. I’m happy with a glass of any of them.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Ardbeg whisky online at Mash + Grape

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.

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