Highland Park Magnus Review

Highland Park Magnus – Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Price: $40.

I’ve been waiting on this one for a special occasion. I’ve been in love with Highland Park’s line for as long as I’ve been drinking whisky, and I’m always excited for new beginnings from old friends. So on a day when I recorded a very fun voiceover (a new career-ish move), I knew I wanted to celebrate with the newest permanent addition to the line.

The Highland Park Magnus is named for Magnus Eunson, a Scot of Norse descent who allegedly had an illegal still in 1798 on the site of the current distillery. Highland Park used Orcadian malt in the making of this no-age-statement release, and it carries through what is a light, lovely, and delicate whisky.

The nose has a heathery peat right up front, which quickly fades into Scottish honey, North Sea brine, and a subtle toffee note.

The peat continues to be at the forefront on the palate. It is, to be fair, on the watery side due to the low 40% ABV, but it lets through flavors of raisin, black tea, and peppery ginger snaps. Later there’s more heather and a vague hint of briny oyster that I loved.

The finish was where I most noticed the low ABV. It has an initial fiery blast that fades too quickly–with a complex profile like this, I wanted to savor it more.

But I’m not gonna complain. Any single malt distiller who’s offering a truly solid whisky at this price point gets my respect at a time when we’re seeing so many brands demanding prices that are simply not justified by the product.

Here’s to Highland Park for making a quite lovely whisky that everyone can afford, and here’s to all of you, friends. Slàinte! – TM

Buy Highland Park whisky online at Mash + Grape

U.S. craft distilleries pass 1,000

It’s official: the number of U.S. craft distilleries in operation has passed 1,000, according to latest assessment by Michael Kinstlick of Coppersea Distilling.

Kinstlick released his updated snapshot of the U.S. craft distilling market today, and the growth he’s tracking continues unabated at a rate of roughly 350 new distilleries per year, with a current in-production total of 1,043:

One of the most interesting trends Kinstlick notes is the predominance of craft distilleries on the West Coast. Washington state in particular has been an overachiever: it went gone from zero craft distilleries in 2006…

craft distilleries by state 2006

…to 94 in 2016–the most in the country. (California and New York are tied for second place with 89 apiece.)

craft distilleries by state 2016

Kinstlick offers some interesting comparisons with the earlier growth trends among craft breweries. While we can expect microdistillery growth to taper off somewhat in the near future as “marginal” players exit the market, don’t jump on the bandwagon when you see the first headline about the “end of craft distilling”:

The craft beer market started seeing exits in the early-90s, just as the craft distillery market is now. Then the number of new entrants continued to dominate until the late-90s/early- 00s when exits went up & entrants declined and predictions were for the “end of craft beer.” And then the number of breweries tripled after 2010.

Thanks to Kinstlick for sharing this latest update. You can sign up at Coppersea for future updates–and check out their delicious spirits too.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Barrell Rye Batch 1 Review

Barrell Rye Batch 1 – Producer: Barrell Craft Spirits. Distiller: MGP & undisclosed Tennessee distiller. ABV: 58.5%. Age: 4.5 years. Mashbill: see below. Price: $80.

When it comes to bourbon and rye whiskeys we all have our favorites, but sometimes there’s nothing like satisfying the urge to try something new and different. The question is where do you go to find that “something different”?

The previous batches of Barrell Bourbon have been a part of my answer to that question, so I was eager to give the new Barrell Rye Batch 001 a go.

Although Barrell is in the process of building its own distillery in Louisville, it continues to do an amazing job sourcing and bottling cask strength whiskeys (and rum) from different distilleries. Each batch is a unique blend of whiskeys that provides a new experience with every release, and this inaugural rye batch is no exception.

This is a unique blend of rye from MGP and an undisclosed Tennessee distillery. There is a higher component of the MGP rye, which has an interesting 51% rye/49% malted barley mash bill.

Sweet caramel, toffee and butterscotch lead on the pleasant nose and are followed by a soft rye spice. The palate has a similar sweet and spicy profile but there’s an additional complexity of malt and citrus. As the palate transitions to the finish, the familiar MGP mint notes become evident and intermingle beautifully with the malt flavors. The finish is a little subtle but quite sustained with rye spice and malt.

For its first rye batch, Barrell could have released your typical and familiar sourced rye, but instead we get something both different and delicious. Cheers! -JTR

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

Laphroaig PX Cask Review

Laphroaig PX Cask – Distiller: Laphroaig. Region: Islay. ABV: 48%. No age statement. Price: $70-80 (1L).

Remember, whisky fans, the thrill of traveling abroad 7-10 years ago, ducking into a duty free and knowing you’d find at least a few stunning deals and special releases?

Times have changed. All too often, duty free whisky aisles are divided between run-of-the-mill releases you’ll find anywhere, discounted blends that don’t appeal even with the discount, and gimmicky “travel retail exclusives” that are both overpriced and forgettable.

Though these sad ranks comes the Laphroaig PX Cask like a conquering hero. I’ve seen this in a few airports over the past year, and when it popped up at the Stockholm Duty Free on sale for $70, I couldn’t resist.

This duty free exclusive is a no-age-statement whisky, like most of Laphroaig’s current lineup. It’s matured first in ex-bourbon barrels, then in quarter casks, then finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. It’s bottled at a healthy 48% ABV.

The nose starts with the classic Laphroaig salty-citrusy-maritime profile, but saltier than usual. Bright. Piney. Lime, grapefruit. Gradually warmer: grilled lemon. Toasted almond. Cinnamon late on.

The palate is strong and savory. It’s a dinner dram—not to have with dinner, but to have as dinner. Salted pork. Aged balsamico. But the brightness emerges from underneath, and with it, the fiery peat. A little wild.

The transition to the finish brings blackberry brandy. The peat goes on and on. Cinnamon again, spicy vanilla bean, candied lemon peel.

Liking the Laphroaig Quarter Cask as I do, this dram–essentially the Quarter Cask with a bit of PX on top–was right up my alley.

It was particularly interesting tasting it side-by-side with the Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017, which is a cask strength Quarter Cask. I usually gravitate toward cask strength whiskies, but if I could only choose one, I think I’d take this PX Finish over the latest Cairdeas.

Little wonder that two weeks after purchase, 1L PX Finish is already gone. (I did have a little help.)

Slàinte, friends! – BO

Buy Laphroaig online at Mash + Grape

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

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017 Quarter Cask Review

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017 Quarter Cask – Distiller: Laphroaig. Region: Islay. ABV: 57.2%. No age statement (5+ years). Price: $80.

The Laphroaig Quarter Cask is a justly beloved standard release from the Islay distillery. It’s a great next step for fans of the Laphroaig 10: they age their brash, briny malt for 5+ years in ex-Markers Mark casks, then finished for six months in quarter casks.

Quarter casks hold a mere 21 gallons, considerably less than the standard 53-gallon ex-bourbon cask. That translates to  more wood exposure per liter, and theoretically accelerated maturation. In practice, the influence small casks–sometimes overused by microdistillers who are rushing their product to market–can be unpredictable. But Laphroaig knows their stuff, and their quarter cask finish works wonderfully.

Enter the Cairdeas 2017 Quarter Cask. The Cairdeas is an annual limited edition that changes each year. (Last year’s was truly brilliant–see Thane’s review of it here.) This year’s release is a cask strength version of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask, dialing the ABV up from the 48% of the standard release to 57.2%.

The potency does great things to an already fine release. The nose is unmistakably Laphroaig–sweet and peaty–but with a twist. Clementines, canned peaches, an enigmatic floral note. White chocolate—flecked with candied ginger.

The palate is salty and spicy, particularly without water. Red pepper flakes. Salted caramel. Dry smoke. With water, the palate gets a good deal sweeter. The peat tips toward mesquite–as opposed to the iodine of the Laphroaig 10–wrapped in a blanket of vanilla.

Ashiness and sweetness intertwine on the very long finish. There’s a hint of maple syrup, then a trail of white smoke that leads you all the way back to Islay.

The 2016 Cairdeas was a tough act to follow, but the 2017 won’t let Laphroaig fans down. Slàinte, friends! – BO

Buy Laphroaig online at Mash + Grape

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

Seven Stills Czar Review

Seven Stills Czar – Distiller: Seven Stills. ABV: 47%. No age statement. Price: $30-40 (375ml).

The craft-beer-to-whiskey path is a well-traveled one. The esteemed Lew Bryson tells in the excellent Tasting Whiskey how he made the transition–a bit unexpectedly–when his employer, Beer Advocate magazine, abruptly transitioned to Malt Advocate magazine. (Soon it would be called Whisky Advocate, and Bryson would be managing editor there until 2015.) I made a similar transition myself some years back, with a detour in cocktail geekery along the way.

The good guys at Seven Stills did too. Tim and Clint were Bay Area college buddies obsessed with craft beer–as drinkers and brewers. They couldn’t help but wonder what some of their favorites would like taste like as whiskies. They got their hands on a little copper still and started experimenting. They haven’t stopped yet.

The Seven Stills Czar is part of the Seven Stills Series: whiskies based on craft beers the guys developed themselves, each of them devoted to one of San Francisco’s seven hills. (The Czar’s, fittingly enough, is Russian Hill.)

They started with their own Russian Imperial Stout–a favorite style of mine–and distill it twice. Now here’s the trick: the second distillation passes through a gin basket filled with hops.

Wait…a hopped stout…as a whiskey? How does that work?

Very well, it turns out.

The nose on the Seven Stills Czar has the roasted coffee and baking cocoa notes you might expect from the stout base. But the hops add a very distinct, very bright halo of pink grapefruit. Utterly intriguing–this is coming from a hopped-whiskey skeptic–and very appealing. Beyond it, hints of caramel, molasses.

The grapefruit turns to wild raspberry on the palate, bringing a distinct tang. Then chocolate lava cake, and a malty, beery core that’s familiar from other Seven Stills whiskies. The barrel influence comes through as cedar and cigar box.

The finish brings the end-of-the-beer-glass stout notes back, along with wild raspberry jam and burnt popcorn.

The Czar has officially taken me from hopped-whiskey skeptic to hopped-whiskey believer. I tried it on a Wednesday, and was back to the store on a Thursday to get a gift bottle for a friend.

Stay tuned for notes on two more tasty new Seven Stills releases coming soon.

Cheers, friends! – BO

 

 

Musings, Booze, Reviews