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

Caol Ila 18 Review

Distiller: Caol Ila. Region: Islay. ABV: 43%. Age: 18 years. Price: $85-95.

Caol Ila is a connoisseur’s favorite, justly dubbed Islay’s “Mr. Consistent” by Whisky Advocate Magazine. We should be happy then that it still shows up all over: there are many excellent independent bottlings, it’s frequently a component in Compass Box’s brilliant blends, and it provides much of the peat in Johnnie Walker.

The flagship 12-year-old bottling has long been a staple for me, but the 18 doesn’t make it to the States, so I jumped at the opportunity to grab a bottle during a recent trip to Paris. Boy, am I glad I did.

The nose is an amazing balance of freshness and softness. Lime, grapefruit, vanilla custard. Saltwater taffy. Orange creamsicle. The sweetest, mildest peat smoke, and a distant hint of sea breeze.

Candied orange on the palate, then that orange creamsicle again. Later on, white chocolate with flecks of candied ginger. That same softness from the nose throughout.

The finish brings allspice and clove, Belgian waffle drizzled in orange syrup, and a fuzzy peaty warmth.

With the current Brexit pricing (as of February 2017), this and many other UK/EU-only releases are more accessible than ever at places like Master of Malt. I’ll be tempted to grab another when this one’s gone.

Slàinte, friends! – BO

AnCnoc Cutter Review

Distiller: Knockdhu. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $55-75.

For me, one of the marks of a first-class distillery is getting the basics right. AnCnoc (the brand of the Knockdhu distillery) is one that does. Their standard 12-year-old is one of the best buys out there for an everyday Highland.

That makes it all the more fun to see their experiments pay off. Cutter is part of anCnoc’s growing Peaty Line, which started with four no-age-statement releases and is now up to seven. All are relatively lightly peated (9-20.5 ppm, vs. 55-65 ppm for Ardbeg 10) and bourbon-matured. The Cutter rings in at 20.5 ppm.

Strong split vanilla bean on the nose. Then toasty malt–malt balls, malted milk. Fruit notes follow: first brandy-soaked poached pear, then shading toward tropical, particularly coconut.

The palate is fresh, on the young side, but substantial enough, no rawness. No brine. The peat is noticeable but gentle, with some of the sweetness and sophistication of Caol Ila, though less citrus. Chocolate cream with roasted peanuts and a sprinkling of toasted coconut. The finish is a warm caramelized pie crust bottom.

AnCnoc does it again. The Cutter should definitely be a part of the distillery’s permanent lineup. And I’ll definitely be trying the rest of the series.

Slàinte, friends! -BO

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

Valentine’s Day Gifts for Whisky Lovers

All right, guys and gals. It’s around the corner, and flowers and chocolates aren’t going to cut it.

For the whisky-lover in your life, we’ve got three can’t-miss gift picks. And if your beloved isn’t already a whisky-lover, these should make one out of them.

Bruichladdich Wee Laddie Tasting Collection

Three core offerings from one our favorite Islay distilleries, and one of our favorite distilleries, period. This tasting pack includes 200 ml bottles of Bruichladdich’s Classic Laddie, Islay Barley, and Port Charlotte Scottish Barley. A great introduction to the one of the most interesting distilleries out there, and a great preview for a row of exciting Spring 2017 releases coming from Bruichladdich’s new head distiller Adam Hannett. (More on both soon.)

Available at most well-stocked retailers who carry Bruichladdich, and online here.

Benromach Tripack Gift Set

Are you noticing a theme here? Benromach is a tiny Speyside distillery owned by Gordon & MacPhail, making “1960s style” (very lightly peated) malts that for me are old-school in all the best ways. This gift set has 200 ml bottles of their flagship 10-year-old single malt, their Peat Smoke, and their Organic bottling. (Our reviews here.)

This may be the trickiest of our picks to find, but if you happen to be in the L.A. area, they’re frequently carried by our friends at Bar Keeper in the Silverlake neighborhood.

Glenmorangie Collection Gift Pack

Last but not least, a fine introduction and/or refresher from a staple distillery for any single malt-lover: Glenmorangie. This pack has 100 ml bottles of four core offerings from the honeyed Highlander: the Original, the LaSanta, the Quinta Ruban, and the Nectar D’Or. For those who like the sweeter side.

Widely available at better liquor stores.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours, friends! Slàinte! – BO

 

Barrell Bourbon builds a distillery!

Friends of the Axis know about our enthusiasm for Barrell Bourbon, which began as a series of sourced whiskey releases by Mr. Joe Beatrice, first bourbon (see JTR’s fresh review of Bourbon Batch 9), then a non-bourbon whiskey, then a (really remarkable) rum.

We’re happy to share the news that Joe is taking the next step in what’s been a very impressive journey so far, building a distillery to be headed up by master distiller Tripp Stimson, former Brown-Foreman chemist and Kentucky Artisan Distillery master distiller.

Barrell’s full release (dated 2/6/17) is below:

Louisville, KY: Today, independent spirits producer Barrell Craft Spirits, LLC. (BCS), parent company of Barrell Bourbon, Barrell Whiskey and Barrell Rum, announced that it will be building a new distillery in Jefferson County, Louisville, KY. The facility will be located in the Gilmore Industrial area in greater Louisville. In addition, BCS named veteran distiller and distillery consultant Tripp Stimson as Master Distiller.

BCS is an independent bottler of unique batch, cask-strength, aged sourced whiskey and rum spirits.

Barrell Bourbon and Barrell Whiskey are both award-winning spirits. Over the past two years, eight different batch entries have won high praise in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge and the San Francisco World Spirits competitions, earning scores between 92-98 and 4 Double Gold medals. Additionally, Barrell Bourbon and Barrell Whiskey have received high ratings and top recommendations in both the Whisky Advocate and the Wine Enthusiast.

Now in its fourth year of operation, BCS will begin producing whiskey and bourbon by the end of 2017, with the goal of producing 1,000 barrels in the first year of operation and 2,000 in the second year. When appropriately aged, the spirits will be included in the BCS product portfolio. Plans for additional expansion are currently under consideration.

Tripp Stimson, formerly a scientist at Brown Forman and Master Distiller at Kentucky Artisan Distillery, has consulted in the craft spirits industry for the past several years in areas ranging from fermentation to distillery design. Additionally, he built the first malting operation in Kentucky in 2016. He will be responsible for developing the product formulation for BCS as well as leading the BCS distillery building initiative.

Looking forward to good things from all involved!

Buy Barrell Bourbon online at Mash + Grape

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