Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Distiller: Wild Turkey. ABV 55%, No age statement (estimated 8-9 years). Mashbill: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley. Price: $35-50.

The Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon rounded out the night (bottle 9 out of 10) at our inaugural Axis of WhiskyFest in Chicago. Being a big Wild Turkey fan, I was glad the Russell’s was represented–seeing as it’s some of the best of what WT makes.

The Russell’s Reserve focuses on small batch releases like the excellent 10-year-old, and single barrels like these. Naturally there’s variation barrel to barrel, but you can count on them all for a quality pour.

This particular batch was extraordinarily close to the excellent Henry McKenna 10 from Heaven Hill. (Not such a surprise, perhaps, as the two share an identical mashbill.) Dark, leathery, and sweet, with burnt sugar and vanilla on the nose. The palate adds dark molasses–then the rye turns up as a spike of mint. The finish has dark oak and spice. It’s a pour that takes water well, given the relatively high bottling proof–a few drops will bring out more spice.

If you’re in the mood for a dense, dark, leathery bourbon from Wild Turkey, the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel won’t let you down.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Russell’s Reserve Bourbon online at Mash + Grape

Highland Park Harald Review

Distiller: Highland Park. ABV 40%. No age statement. Region: Islands. Price: $90-100.

Highland Park’s a first-rate distiller, Scotland’s northernmost, and one of just two distilleries on the Orkney Islands. Their 12-year-old is an excellent introduction to single malt for the uninitiated, and 18-year-old is the nectar of the gods.

Then there’s the Harald. This Duty Free-only release from their Warrior Series struck me as thin, raw, underpowered, and muddled. There are hints of familiar Highland Park flavors–baked apple, baking spice, and light peat–but they’re barely detectable at such a low ABV (40%). Which, at this price point, I find a bit baffling.

It’s the mixed blessing of the no-age-statement trend. You get home runs like the Aberlour A’Bunadh, then dribblers that go foul of the third base line.

When it comes to HIghland Park, at least, I’ll be sticking to the standard age-statement releases. – BO

Buy Highland Park whisky online at Mash + Grape

Michel Couvreur Peaty Overaged Malt Whisky Review

2015 Axis of WhiskyFest Tasting no. 7. Michel Couvreur Peaty Overaged Malt Whisky. 43% ABV. 12 years old.

If there was a standout at inaugural Axis of WhiskyFest, this was it.  A sherried blend by recently departed Belgian legend Michel Couvreur,  who took new make spirit from top Scottish single malt distillers,  then aged them in his hand-picked sherry casks in caves he dug in Burgundy.

They might have been lost with his untimely passing in 20014, had his protege not taken up the task and started releasing them to selected sellers — including the unsurpassable K&L Wines.

Huge sweet creamy unfiltered mix of peat and sherry. The latter, from fresh Jerez casks Couvreur picked himself in Spain, takes the lead. Like a sherried pre-closing Bruichladdich? A peated ultrarich Macallan? Whatever it is, it’s damn good.

Hats off to Couvreur and K&L — in this and all things. -BO

Bernheim Wheat Whiskey Review

2015 Axis of WhiskyFest Tasting no. 2. Distiller: Heaven Hill. 45% ABV. 7 years old. Price: $30.

Brought to the Fest by the great-grandson of Isaac Bernheim himself. (See the excellent Atlantic article “The Jewish Origins of Kentucky Whiskey” for an eye-opening look at the little-known history.)

One of the few wheat whiskies on the market, with a mashbill consisting of at least 51% soft winter wheat. It has a rich, toasty, Maker’s-like palate. The body’s on the lighter side, but with great balance and mouthfeel. Honey. Light molasses. Begging for some BBQ.

Mild and maybe a touch underpowered compared to its corn-based cousins, Bernheim is still worth appreciating on its own terms. A modest but worthy tribute to the long-neglected legacy of old Isaac. – BO

Balblair 2002 Review

Distiller: Balblair. 46% ABV. No age statement (10 years old). Region: Highlands. Price: $70.

This light, sweet, fresh-smelling dram was a natural to start off what would be a long, packed night of tastings at the inaugural Axis of WhiskyFest.

Founded in 1790, Balblair is one of Scotland’s northernmost distilleries, perched next to the Dornoch Firth. The distillery moved from age statements to vintages a number of years ago, selecting, as it says, for “optimum maturation,” rather than attempting a consistent aged profile year after year.

The 2002 vintage, bottled in 2012, is a light straw color in the glass. Very sweet nose with vanilla and honey. Surprisingly viscous for the low proof. Quite sweet palate at first, following the nose, with just a wisp of white smoke. With a drop of water, light spice emerges.

A delicate, highly enjoyable first dram of the night, any night. – BO

Buy Balblair whisky online at Mash + Grape

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