Laughton Brothers Bourbon Review

Distiller: Quincy Street Distillery. ABV: 45.5%. Age: 2+ years. Mashbill: 83% corn, malted barley, malted rye (proportions of the latter undisclosed). Price: $45.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love finding distilleries in essentially my backyard. I have total respect for anyone who wants to make a go of creating their own whiskey, and if they’re doing so a stone’s throw (more or less) from my house, well, even better.

Over the years, I’ve been thrilled to discover Koval, Whiskey Acres, and F.E.W., all of which are Chicago-area distilleries doing great things. Now I have to add Riverside, Illinois’ Quincy Street Distillery to the list.

Their Laughton Brothers Bourbon is a straight bourbon based on a recipe of 83% corn, with barley and rye malt making up the remainder. It’s aged for two years in Missouri charred oak barrels, and it’s really quite good.

The nose has an element of freshly shucked corn that gives it a pleasing funky aspect. A bit of seared pork belly and green apple, along with vanilla extract.

The palate is surprisingly well rounded. Corn fritters with rich butter. Country ham. A slight hint of vanilla pudding. And wrapping it all up is a welcome medicinal note that cuts the sweetness at just the right angle.

The finish is refreshingly long and mellow. Candied pears float along, buoyed by an undercurrent of cornbread, hookah tobacco, and oat.

The Laughton Brothers Bourbon was a random purchase by Mrs. McDram and one I’m very glad to have tried.

Cheers, friends! – TM

Paul John Single Malt Whisky Reviews

Whether you’ve got a few dozen malts under your belt or a few hundred, there’s nothing quite like opening a new stage in your whisky journey.

That’s the feeling I had tasting my way through the excellent line of Paul John Indian single malts. If North American drinkers know any Indian whisky, it’s usually Amrut, based in Bangalore. (Their delectable Fusion was one of my favorite whiskies of 2015.)

Paul John, based in the seaside town of Goa, is a newer entrant to the market, but it’s wasting no time in making a name for itself. The distillery has taken home a raft of prizes over the last two years, including multiple Liquid Gold awards from Jim Murray.

The seriousness of the craft is clear: they use all Indian barley, import peat from Islay and Aberdeen, bottle at 46% ABV or higher, and never chill filter.

Having tasted my way through the line over the past few weeks, I now know what the fuss is about. Below are reviews of the full Paul John lineup: Edited, Bold, Brilliance, Classic, and Peated.

As a teaser, suffice it to say there are more than one of these I want on my shelf year-round.

On to the notes!

Paul John Edited – Distiller: Paul John Whisky. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3-7 years). Price: $50-60.

Nose: Wow! What a way to start. Bears a family resemblance to the dense curried spice of Amrut, but it’s unquestionably its own thing. Grilled lemon, fig jam, ground ginger. Toasted almond croissant with vanilla icing. Soft buttery caramel.

Palate: Great dense mouthfeel. Savory spiced meats. Then fig, toasty peat, candied lemon. Cooked brown sugar. Belgian waffle. Grilled plantains. Lots going on here. The wood is sweet and dark—as much mahogany as oak. The peat and oak char carry through to finish.

Finish: Long, evolving…first charred chicken barbecue, lamb with rosemary and cardamom. Then the dessert: fried vanilla ice cream, dusted with cinnamon. Ginger snaps, molasses. The peat twines through it all, toasty and nutty.

Overall: Excellent. Never wanted this one to end.

Paul John Bold – Distiller: Paul John Whisky. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3-7 years). Price: $50-60.

Nose: Pear at the core, sweet and a touch overripe. Grilled pineapple. Dark, dense. Peat and spice coiled and waiting. Chocolate with toffee flecks and a whiff of espresso. Lemon zest.

Palate: orange and pear, then huge spice: clove, ginger, coriander, curry. Ardbeggian peat–in profile if not in strength. Black-bottomed buttery croissant.

Finish: cardamom and pastel sweets on your way out of the Indian restaurant. Pleasant sour and savory mix…soy and wasabi. The lemon zest takes an encore.

Overall: Every bit as good as the Edited.

Paul John Brilliance – Distiller: Paul John Whisky. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3-7 years). Price: $50-60.

Nose: Grilled lemon, fig jam, raisin. Similar overall profile to the Bold, though milder, with less spice. Some softer vanilla notes: marshmallow, cotton candy notes.

Palate: Beautiful savory teriyaki chicken. Ginger snap peat. Fragrant cedar. The peat turns a bit ashy late on.

Overall: Like a junior version of the Bold. For fans of other Indian or Asian single malts, I’d recommend starting with the Edited or Bold. For those more comfortable with scotch and looking to dip into something new, start here.

Paul John Classic – Distiller: Paul John Whisky. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3-7 years). Price: $65-70.

Nose: chalky fruits–lemon, orange, lime, berry. The spice is behind them: ginger, curry, and clove.

Palate: recalls a young fruity bourbon. A bit raw. Lots of oak and cedar. The grilled lemon note is a bit overwhelming.

Finish: repeats the nose. Lemon and orange pith. The chalkiness endures.

Overall: my least favorite of the lineup. The chalkiness very much recalls the cask strength anCnoc Blas for me–not my favorite of their (generally excellent) lineup either. The Classic opens a bit with water, but not enough, and is missing the brilliant savory notes I so like in the Edited, Bold, and Brilliance.

Paul John Peated – Distiller: Paul John Whisky. ABV: 58.5%. No age statement (3-7 years). Price: $70-80.

Nose: charred blueberry crumble. Cinnamon. Clove. The peat coils out of the glass, waiting to burst forth.

Palate: there it is. Dark, dense, peat, closest to Ardbeg. Expands and reveals more complexity with water, though not quite that of the Edited or Bold. Vanilla. Sweet oak.

Finish: long and enjoyable, though it doesn’t reveal new depths.

Overall: a good comeback for Paul John’s cask strength offerings after the disappointing Classic. Peat freaks, especially Ardbeg fans, should like this a lot.

In sum, Paul John is doing great things. I can recommend every one of these but the Classic without reserve. There are still some purists who turn their noses up at any single malt that’s not from Scotland, but man, are they missing out.

Hats off to the good people in Goa. Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Paul John whiskies online at Mash + Grape

Paul John graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions were 100% our own.

Glenmorangie Distillery Tour & British Open Championship

In July 2017, Thane had the opportunity to travel to Scotland with Glenmorangie for the British Open Championship–and a very memorable private tour and tasting at the Glenmorangie distillery.

Some guys have all the luck…

Glenmorangie 10

July 19. The Axis would be nothing without all of you who have supported us, engaged with us, helped us. So it’s only fitting that we invite you guys on one of our greatest adventures yet. Starting Thursday, I’ll be doing posts, stories, images from Glenmorangie and its work at the British Open. It’s nothing that we ever imagined when we started the Axis, and this opportunity is due to all of you. Thank you for all you’ve done, and join us as we go on this journey with Glenmorangie.

Glenmorangie lineup

July 21. It was a long, practically epically long, journey to get here, but man, was it worth it. The opening night offered tastings of the entire Glenmorangie range, more than a few Ardbegs, and a personal tasting of the Glenmorangie Signet, which will have a full review later on today. Friends, this is all due to you, and I’ll strive to do you proud in our coverage of the event. Happy Friday and cheers!

Glenmorangie distillery

July 22. Since 1843, the Glenmorangie distillery has been producing some of the most balanced, innovative whiskies in the business. The approach to distilling is both classic–as evidenced by their ability to discern when a cask of the flagship Glenmorangie 10 is appropriate for use in extra-matured whiskies–and constantly innovative, such as their decision to grow their own oak for use in speciality casks. It’s an approach that melds respect for what’s always worked with an insistent need to discover what may work in the future. I’ve always enjoyed learning more about the process of the various whiskies, but this visit has been both highly enjoyable and highly informative. Check back later for a live story from the final day of the British Open. Cheers, one and all!

Glenmorangie cask

July 22. If there’s anything I learned about Glenmorangie during this tip, it’s that the distillery thrives by balancing experimentation and persistence. The Glenmorangie Signet, the 2016 World Whisky of the Year, is a fine example. The no-age-statement whisky is based on the use of heavily roasted chocolate malt, which Master Distiller Dr. Bill Lumsden insisted GlenMo could make work. He was right. It’s matured in casks made from Missouri oak that’s air dried for two years before the liquid ever touches the inside. The result is a whisky unlike any I’ve had.

Glenmorangie Signet

There’s chocolate-covered ginger on the nose, along with barley, roasted coffee beans, and vanilla. It brings to mind walks I used to take through the fields at my uncle’s farm. There’s more ginger in the palate, but it’s more akin to ginger snaps. It melds beautifully with a rich vanilla and caramel that brings to mind a creme brûlée. Whisks of coconut dance along as well, and there’s a lovely stout note that increases with a splash of water.

The finish is stunning. Long, sustained, rich. The stout remains at the forefront, but by the end, there’s a glorious caffè corretto experience that makes me laugh with joy. These folks love the process and it shows in the result. Cheers, friends!

Glenmorangie tasting

July 23. I won’t pretend that my golf game is on point. I won’t claim to know much about the game period. And while I know a touch about whisky, I’ve never had a tasting like the one that Brendan McCarron gave us today while watching the final round of the British Open. Cask strength pours of the first- and second-fills that, when combined, create the classic Glenmorangie 10.

The first-fill has elements on the nose and palate of a seaside port town, where the twirls of candy and roasted meat meld with the tang of the sea. All that and more with the second-fill, including pear, spice, rich butterscotch. When you add water, there’s a lovely float of coconut.

At Brendan’s suggestion, we mixed the first- and second-fill to create a quite close approximation of the cask strength GlenMo 10 that we may never get. Fellow whisky nerds, this has been among the pinnacles of my experiences in the whisky worlde. Oh, and golf was being played. As I write this, Jordan Speith may be about to blow another major lead. Ah, golf. – TM

Interview and tasting with Bruichladdich Head Distiller Adam Hannett

Bruichladdich has long been an Axis favorite. We admire the Islay distillery for their blend of iconoclasm and tradition, their sense of adventure–and most of all for their malt.

Bruichladdich Head Distiller Adam Hannett brought all of this with him on a recent U.S. tour. Thane, J.T. and I had the great pleasure of catching up with him in Chicago.

It’s hard not to start with the obvious question: How did a man of his tender years reach such lofty heights so soon? (Adam’s in his mid-30s, but could still be mistaken for a university student.)

Adam Hannett
Photo from

“To be honest, I worked hard,” he said. “I wanted to be there. I had a passion for it.” That said, “I recognize I’m very fortunate.”

An Islay native, Adam started work at Bruichladdich as a tour guide in 2004 after dropping out of university. He remembers being given a bottle of Murray MacDavid GlenDronach at the end of his first day as part of his single malt education. It was a very good bottle.

“I was hooked,” Adam said.

Then-master distiller Jim McEwan and General Manager Duncan McGillivray became mentors, feeding Adam’s growing hunger to learn every aspect of the craft and the business.

He first voiced his larger ambitions at a Bruichladdich Christmas party “after a couple of drams.” He was several years into his tenure at the time, and working in Bruichladdich’s warehouses. Then-CEO Mark Reynier (who founded Bruichladdich in 2000 and left in 2012) asked Adam about his long-term goals.

“I’d like to be manager,” Adam said. Somewhat to his surprise, Mark replied: “You should do it!”

It was a reflection of Bruichladdich’s ethos of “creating opportunities for young people, for local people. The approach is: Go for it! Give them a chance!” Adam noted Allan Logan as another example: Logan rose from “shoveling shit” as a groundsman in 2001 to being Distillery Manager at age 28–the youngest in Scotland–and is now Production Manager.

Allan Logan and Adam Hannett
Allan Logan and Adam Hannett. Photo by

Adam is now two years into his time as Head Distiller. What has it been like filling the shoes of Jim McEwan, a 50-year industry veteran and whisky legend?

“The honest answer is: I try not to think about it,” Adam said. “Jim said to me, ‘You’re your own man. You’ll do it your own way.'”

Speaking of which. Adam was eager to share his first four releases while we talked. Fittingly, three of them were 10-year-old bottlings of whisky that came off the stills in 2006, when Adam began distilling: the Laddie 10 Second Edition, Port Charlotte 10, and Octomore 10 Second Edition.

Bruichladdich 10s
Photo from

“It’s amazing to see the journey the spirit’s gone on from being a blank slate,” he said. “And it’s quite special because of the journey I’ve been on myself.”

What a way to begin! All three are bottled at a hefty 50% ABV.

The Laddie 10 Second Edition is the comeback of a release so beloved that Bruichladdich couldn’t keep it on the shelves. It was discontinued in 2014. (I’ll confess to doing my small part in contributing to the shortage.)

The new Laddie is every bit a worthy successor, and has a heft and density that set it apart from the no-age-statement Classic Laddie. The unpeated malt was matured in 60% first-fill bourbon, 20% second-fill sherry, and 20% second-fill Syrah casks.

I got banana chips on the nose. Orange saltwater taffy. Vanilla and jasmine. On the palate, lemon custard and creme brulee. Buttery texture. Grape brandy. Very subtle smokiness–from the oak char, not peat–on the finish.

The Port Charlotte 10 is all about “sweet and smoke,” as McEwan would tell Adam. It’s peated at 40 ppm–a healthy level, though sub-Ardbeg and well below Bruichladdich’s Octomore. Matured in a mix of first-fill bourbon, sherry, Tempranillo, and French wine casks.

The nose is quite light at first, with caramelized banana, Meyer lemon, and buttery biscuits. The palate has sweet toasted grain, toffee, and distinct but still subtle peat prickle. The finish is earthy and warming, with the peat taking a turn toward the bonfire.

The Octomore 10 Second Edition is one of the oldest of the notorious cask-strength peat monsters. (A previous 10-year-old release came in 2012.) Peated to 167 ppm, matured in first-fill bourbon and second-fill Grenache Blanc casks, bottled at cask strength of 57.3% ABV.

Naturally, any Octomore is going to lead with the peat. But it’s fascinating how much the extra time does to tame the beast. (Other things being equal, the younger a peated whisky is, the brasher is tends to be.) The nose on the Octomore 10 Second Edition leads with creamy, buttery vanilla, followed by morello cherries, and a tickle of the peat that will rush forth on the palate. The palate also has toasted sweetbreads, and the peat twines with cinnamon spice. The very long finish adds sweet barbecue pork.

To my palate, all three 10-year-olds were and are unequivocal successes.

Then Adam brought out the bottle that kept him up at night.

Jim McEwan took special pleasure in brewing up a periodic limited release called Black Art, for which he would disappear into the warehouses and emerge with a very mature, cask strength bottling that no one else at Bruichladdich had the recipe to.

Bruichladdich Black Art

“It was Jim’s creation,” Adam said. “It was his baby.” Naturally, when Adam set out to make his own Black Art, “I approached it with trepidation. To follow Jim, it’s got to be the best thing you can do.”

It was a true passing of the torch when Jim approached Adam one day in 2015, jotted down the secret proportions on a post-it, and handed it over.

And what could’ve been more in the Bruichladdich spirit than Adam’s thanking him, then tossing out the recipe so he could make a Black Art that was truly his own?

The Black Art 5th Edition is unpeated and bottled at 48.4% ABV. It’s a massively complex, coiled, enigmatic dram. Like previous Black Arts, it draws on malt distilled in the pre-Reynier/McEwan era, before the distillery was shuttered in 1993 (to be reopened by Reynier 2000).

Those old stocks have their eccentricities, Adam said. “They were working with old, imperfect casks. The spirit was excellent, but the casks were poor. They needed to be recasked, which Jim set about doing. His approach was to add layers.”

It shows. The nose is dense, with sherry and dry red wine notes predominating. The age is unmistakable, but there’s a freshness to the dark berry scents that’s a welcome surprise. The palate is dark and brooding, with mushrooms, old leather, and decaying parchment. The finish takes you from the library to the wine cellar, with cool wet clay and old-barrel funk. And like the best older malts, it constantly evolved and unfolded in the glass.

Not a beginner’s whisky, but one I loved–and I actually preferred to Jim McEwan’s Black Art 4. The memory of it stayed with me for days.

Back at the start of Adam’s whisky journey, his father encouraged him to take that first tour-guide job with Bruichladdich. “He said, ‘You’ll get a free bottle of whisky every month if nothing else.'”

He’s gotten much more than that. And so have we.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Thanks to Bruichladdich for the opportunity to interview Adam Hannett and sample the four whiskies mentioned above. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 12 Review

Producer: Barrell Craft Spirits. Distiller: undisclosed Tennessee distiller. ABV: 54.25%. Age: 9 years. Mashbill: 70% corn, 25% rye, 5% malted barley. Price: $80.

Batch 12 is the latest bourbon from Joe Beatrice’s Barrell Craft Spirits, which has been stunningly consistent in the quality of its releases–all cask strength, mostly bourbon, but also including several non-bourbon whiskies, a rum (spectacular), and a rye I’ve yet to try.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 12 shares the same mashbill with Batch 11, and almost certainly the same undisclosed Tennessee distiller, though 12 is a full 3 years older. Side-by-side, the two provide an interesting study in the differences that come with age and barrel selection.

Thane’s review of the Batch 11 highlighted the vanilla, caramel, butter, and peanut brittle profile. The Batch 12, to my palate, forefronts the citrus and spice.

The nose on the Barrell Bourbon Batch 12 is intensely lemon-y, followed by dark heavy oak and saddle leather. Strong black cherries in syrup follow, then intense bitter chocolate–think of those 85% cocoa bars for the truly jaded chocolate geeks.

The caramel and vanilla lead the palate, then comes the spice attack: cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. As always with Barrell bourbons, there’s all the room in the world to add water and dial in the intensity however you like. I found Batch 12 most enjoyable with a bit more water than I tend to give even its higher-proof predecessors.

The finish is extraordinarily long. On the dry side, with orange pith recalling the citrusy start.

Batch 11 was a very tough act to follow, winning Best Bourbon at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Batch 12 may not surpass it, but it’s another top-quality powerhouse by the man with the golden palate.

Cheers, friends! – 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

Koval Four Grain Single Barrel Whiskey Review

Distillery: Koval. ABV: 47%. No age statement. Mashbill: oats, malted barley, rye, wheat (proportions unspecified). Price: $50

Chicago, to me, remains the quintessential American city. Diverse, insular, innovative, slow to respond. Chicago can be everything at once. Many faults, to be sure. But there’s greatness in its neighborhoods and the people and creations that stem from them. Chicago gave us the greatest newspaper columnist of all time in Mike Royko and it’s given us a damn fine and innovative distiller in Koval.

Like Royko, who blended high satire with gritty reporting , the Koval Four Grain Single Barrel Whiskey is a wonderfully singular expression. Jim Murray thought so as well, having named it as a runner up for U.S. Micro Whisky of the Year in his 2017 Whisky Bible. (See our Koval Millet Whiskey review for another intriguing release.)

The nose of the Koval Four Grain reminds me of a great cookout where cornbread, amber beer, and honied ham take a place of honor. There’s a faint medicinal waft to the back of the nose that balances out the sweetness.

The palate is earthy and light at once. An initial viscous mouth feel gives way to sensations of the whiskey literally popping on your tongue. There’s roasted yam, tart orange, and a hint of pig roasted on a spit. At the end, dark cherry, wood chips, and lovely dark, dark cocoa.

If I have any quibble with the Koval Four Grain, it’s the finish, where the medicinal note predominates and overwhelms. But this is a superb expression of a new-classic distillery, one that I’m proud to have in my home town.

Here’s to home and the drink and food that makes it one. – TM

Buy Koval Whiskey online at Mash + Grape

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

Feature photo from

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