Black Dirt Bourbon Review

Distiller: Black Dirt Distillery. 45% ABV. Age: 3+ years. Mashbill: 80% local corn, 12% malted barley, 8% rye. Price: $40-50

Black Dirt Bourbon comes from the New York State microdistiller of the same name, nestled in the fertile valley just north of the New Jersey border where the corn for their mash is grown. (Full disclosure: I’ve got a soft spot for the place since I used to pick apples at the Warwick Valley winery/orchard where the distillery grew up, and often came home with a few bottles of the American Fruits brandies and liqueurs they made before they obtained a license for whiskey distilling.)

They start with points for transparency: their site lists age, mashbills, and char levels for every batch of their bourbon. I tried Batch 6: 45% ABV; 80% local corn, 12% malted barley, 8% rye; 3+ years in new American oak with char level 3. While not quite the first-glass knockout that Wyoming Whiskey was for me, Black Dirt, like WYW, has the unique local character that I think a true “craft” whiskey should, and it gets better every time I revisit it.

Heat on the nose soon dissipates, revealing red clay, black tea, creek stones dried in the sun. The palate’s on the dry side, quite spicy, with burnt corn on the cob and spikes of black pepper — intriguing, especially given the low rye content. With time, dried fruit, and walnuts enter the mix. Dry wood spice on the long finish. The astringency makes it great warm-weather sipper.

Black Dirt Distillery is definitely one to watch. Their latest single barrel is a wheater, which I’m going to try at the first opportunity. They’re only selling in NY, NJ, and CT for the moment, though they’ll be distributing in CA via Young’s as of 2016. Cheers, friends! – BO

Black Dirt graciously provided a bottle for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Buy Black Dirt Bourbon online at Mash + Grape

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon Review

Distiller: Tuthilltown Distillery. 46% ABV. NAS. Mashbill: 60% corn, undisclosed proportions of rye, wheat, and malted barley. Price: $50 for 375ml.

Tuthilltown Distillery is a pioneer NY state microdistiller that won the national distribution lottery after being purchased by William Grant & Sons in 2010. Raft of awards aside, the knock on Hudson/Tuthilltown is that they coast on their excellent packaging and early reputation, while selling underaged spirits matured (mostly) in 3-gallon barrels that do the product few favors — for the equivalent of $100 for a 750.

That said, the Four Grain is the best-reviewed of their current offerings. So how is it?

From a fresh bottle, the raw green oak and biting spirit make it almost painful to nose. A few pours (and some time) in, the rawness subsides enough to let some apricot and sourdough through. The palate is more complex and successful, reflecting the mashbill’s relatively rare blend of four grains. I get burnt apple pie, clove, and pine.

It’s easy to see why Hudson whiskies sell: they look great, draw the curious, and seem like a perfect gift. And I like this one more than the other Hudsons I’ve tried. But for $100 for 750ml of whiskey, there aren’t just a dozen big boys I’d pick over this, there are quite a few microdistillers too. – BO

(Addendum: Haven’t seen them on the shelf in CA yet, but I’ve heard that 750ml bottles of the Hudson Baby Bourbon are showing up in stores with a price tag of $60 — definitely more appropriate.)

Buy Hudson whiskey online at Mash + Grape

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

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