Willett 2-Year-Old Rye Review

Distiller: Willett. 110.8% ABV. Age: 2 years. Mashbill: undisclosed. Price: $40.

Willett’s 2-year-old rye got a lot of folks excited when it was first released in summer 2014 — and with good reason. The Willett family has a 150-year history in the whiskey business, though in recent years it’s been sourcing, blending, and bottling other distilleries’ stocks under the moniker Kentucky Bourbon Distillers — including  the excellent Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, Corner Creek, and Willett Pot Still Reserve, among others — rather than distilling itself.

Correction: while resuming distilling itself. The 2-year-old rye marks Willett’s first home-distilled release in 30 years. And it’s one hell of an attention-grabber.

Why release something so young when you’ve got so much high quality sourced whiskey on the market? Because you already know you’ve got something to get excited about.

Willett’s 2-year-old rye is wild and fiery as a barnstorming teenage preacher.

Hot, brash, fiery nose, with rye bread, anise, candied citrus, and maraschino — not the sickly sweet cherries, but the beguiling Italian liqueur that packs herbs and bark and bitters into an elixir that transforms cocktails with a single drop.

But don’t get your Manhattan glass out yet. This one’s a sipper. There is a touch of white dog on the palate, but there’s so much more going on, all supercharged by the youth without being out of control. Fresh-cut flowers, prickly spice, and sweet citrus again. Give it a little water. It’ll expand, but it won’t slow down. Long, complex finish.

Willett’s older sourced ryes have garnered much praise, but between this and, say, their 8-year-old MGP/LDI rye, I’ll take this one any day of the week.

Great things to come here. Great things are here already. – BO

 

 

Talisker 10 Review

Distiller: Talisker. 45.8% ABV. Age: 10 years. Region: Islands. Price: $50-55.

One of the great standard-issues out there. The softer side of the islands, but so well balanced that even its delicacy is just robust enough. Honeyed malt, mild peat, and brine in perfect harmony, with a dash of white pepper on top. Medium finish.

In an age of peat monsters and sherry bombs that don’t always live up to their concepts–not to mention the growing ranks of no-age-statement releases–Talisker 10 is a modestly priced modern classic that knows just what it wants to be.

Sláinte! – BO

Buy Talisker online at Mash + Grape

Caol Ila 12 Review

Distiller: Caol Ila. 43% ABV. Age: 12 years. Region: Islay. Price: $55.

The lovely Caol Ila. The lightest of all the Islay malts, prized by blenders, though often — and unjustly — overlooked in its pure form. Showing great restraint among its brasher, peatier cousins, this one should be on your shortlist for summer single malts.

The nose carries herbal, almost floral hints and, perhaps, a touch of smoked meats on the back end. The palate, perhaps my favorite of the Islays after Lagavulin, is clean, with subtle smoke and oil. The finish warms with spice.

An absolute joy. – TM

Col. E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bourbon

Distiller: Buffalo Trace. 50% ABV. Age: 4+ years. Mashbill: BT’s Mash Bill no. 1 – exact proportions undisclosed, but 10% or less rye. Price: $40-45.

If anybody’s hit the sweet spot between tradition and innovation, it’s Buffalo Trace. There’s their fine standard offering, old standbys like Blanton’s, and their enormously ambitious and wide-ranging Experimental Collection — an effort to systematize and track the effects of everything from what floor in the warehouse the whiskey was aged in to what part of the tree the barrel was made from.

Along these we have BT’s Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. series, honoring a man who was an innovator of his time and helped pass the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897.

The Col. Taylor Rye is big, bold, and one of my favorites in the category. The Small Batch Bourbon is big and bold too, but for me, less successful.

The nose has the standard BT Mashbill no. 1 profile of baked goods and dark oak, but there’s an odd unintegrated note there too: anise? It’s 50% ABV, but feels even hotter on the tongue — harsh where I want it to be rich. The palate brings notes of shoe polish and wood varnish to the caramel and oak.

This is a confrontational bourbon, not a masterpiece of integration like Blanton’s or BT’s Rock Hill Farms. Not a daily drinker for me, and not for the faint of heart. But on a night when I’m looking for a challenge, it can still hit the spot. – BO

Buy Col. E.H. Taylor Whiskey online at Mash + Grape

FEW Bourbon Review

Distiller: FEW Spirits. 46.5% ABV. NAS. Price: $50.

One of the finest young bourbons you’ll ever taste, and it’s right in my backyard. Started by Evanston, IL, local Paul Hletko, FEW Spirits gets extra points for taking its name from Frances Elizabeth Willard, a major temperance campaigner from Evanston. The town itself was dry for more than a century, from 1858 to 1972.

No more! FEW uses local ingredients and distills onsite to make a terrific roster of gins, a superb rye and white whiskey, and this beauty.

FEW’s bourbon has a lovely caramel color and an initial nose of bourbon spice and cinnamon. Palate of corn, cinnamon with pepper sneaking up and a touch of juniper. You can taste the youth of this bourbon, but it’s not overpowering.

As always, hats off to Paul Hletko and crew. – TM

Old Forester 1870 Original Batch Review

Distiller: Brown-Forman. ABV 45%. NAS. Mashbill: undisclosed, probably 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% barley. Price: $45-50.

First taste of the recently released (as of summer 2015) Old Forester 1870 “Original Batch,” a tribute to founder George Garvin Brown’s innovation of batching his bourbon for consistency.

I found this one a bit puzzling…no mashbill stated, though the website says it combines “three expressions of Old Forester,” with “minimal filtering,” and most reviewers suspect that it’s OF’s standard recipe of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% barley.

Strong oak on the nose, with an undistinguished blend of caramel and spice on the tongue — far lighter body than OF Birthday Bourbon, which I love — and a sour tannic note on the finish. Didn’t get the bright fruit/candy apple others mention, though I’ve noticed fairly strongly divided opinions and impressions on it so far. (Pretty ironic for the “tribute to consistency”…)

May need to revisit this one. Other folks out there tried it? What do you think? – BO

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