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Malahat Bourbon and Rye Review

Malahat Straight Bourbon – Distillery: Malahat Spirits Co. ABV: 46%. Mashbill: undisclosed/high wheat. ABV:  Price: $65.

Malahat 100% Rye – Distillery: Malahat Spirits Co. ABV: 46%. Mashbill: 100% rye. Price: $65.

You know microdistilling has hit its stride when you see headlines like “7 San Diego Distilleries You Need to Know.” And you realize the article’s two years old.

California law hasn’t been kind to microdistilleries, though that’s finally changing for the better. My current home town of Los Angeles has been uncharacteristically slow on the uptake, but our sister city to the south is right in the center of the U.S. microdistilling boom. Among its most promising representatives is Malahat Spirits Co.

Malahat–the name of a schooner that ran bootleg booze to Southern California during Prohibition–was opened in 2014 by three friends, Ken Lee, Tom Bleakley and Tony Grillo. They focused on rum at first, with their Cabernet-aged rum winning Best in Class from the American Distilling Institute the last year. They also have one of the best-looking tasting rooms I’ve ever seen:

Photo from malahatspirits.com

I learned about Malahat from a friend a good two years ago, and had been waiting for a taste of their bourbon and rye. The wait is over!

Malahat Straight Bourbon was aged 2+ years in 30-gallon barrels. The mash bill is undisclosed, but Tony Grillo told me it’s “fairly high wheat.” That shows on the nose, which is big and fruity. Apple is prominent, followed by fragrant notes of cedar, vanilla, and lemon pith. Very pretty nose, with little indication of the spirit’s youth.

The palate’s a bit of a let-down after such a promising beginning. The fruit and fragrant notes are here too, together with baking spice, raw leather, and a certain lacquer bite that carried through to the finish. With some more time, this one will likely be a winner.

The Malahat 100% Rye is ready right now. It’s a great young rye–and all the more impressive given the technical difficulty of distilling from a 100% rye mashbill. Asked why Malahat chose to go 100% rye, Tony said, “For the challenge!”

Met and mastered. The nose is amazingly bright. A fresh fruit and berry basket, with just a hint of mint. Blueberries stewed in cinnamon. Fresh sweet grain. Lemon danish.

The palate is just as enjoyable, with spiced apple peel, creme brulée, Meyer lemon, and vanilla pipe tobacco. The spice persists through the medium finish.

A strong start for Malahat’s whiskey-making. Availability is wide in California, including various online retailers.

Cheers, friends! – BO

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

Virginia Highland Malt Whisky Review

Producer: Virginia Distillery Company. Distiller: undisclosed Highland distillery. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $50-55.

The Virginia Distillery Company is tucked away in Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains, which, as you know if you’ve been there, is one of the most preposterously idyllic spots on earth. They’re currently maturing the American single malt they’re distilling themselves, which I’m already eager to try given that it’s aging in ex-bourbon barrels, as opposed to the overwhelming preponderance of virgin oak maturation among other American single malts.

In the meantime, they’re also sourcing Highland malt from an undisclosed Scottish distiller and finishing it in Virginia port barrels. The result is their Virginia Highland Malt Whisky.

It has a very appealing traditional Highland nose, one I’d put somewhere between Tomatin and Aberlour: Red Delicious apple, stewed pear, and butterscotch.

The palate immediately restrains the sweeter notes in a broad tannic grip–a great compliment to the fruit core. Texture and substance to the body. Hints at a sherry notes, but the port inclines things more toward raspberry and cranberry than raisin and fig. Dried orange rind late on. The finish is nicely lingering, with blackberry tea.

The Virginia Distillery Company has a winner on their hands here. And it should get some more attention after being lauded in the 2017 Whisky Magazine awards. The only downside is how high they’ve set the bar for their own single malt. Luxury problems, as they say.

Cheers, friends! – BO

The Virginia Distillery Company graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Copper & Kings Blue Sky Mining Brandy Review

Producer: Copper & Kings. Distiller: undisclosed. ABV: 50%. Age: 7 years. Price: $40 for 375ml.

One of the few malternatives that has made its way into the regular Axis repertoire has been the line of extraordinary American brandies by Copper & Kings.

This young Kentucky distiller brings to brandy the same blend of tradition, innovation, and powerful flavors that its neighbors bring to bourbon. From their massive 62% ABV Butchertown to their beer barrel-finished Craftwerk line, they’ve made me think about brandy in a whole new way. I think they can do the same for any open-minded whisk(ey) lover.

Their latest release is the Blue Sky Mining brandy, a 7-year-old brandy distilled from Muscat grapes, matured in reconditioned wine casks, and finished for 30 months in a Kentucky  hogshead. It’s more floral and delicate in profile than C&K’s earlier releases, but the 50% ABV keeps up the intensity.

The nose is bright, fruity, floral. Jasmine and honeysuckle. A little juniper. Golden raisins. Applesauce. Very bright vanilla late on, bordering on the coconut notes from a light whiskey.

Substantial body. The palate starts with strong musky white grape note–that’s the muscat, naturally. The floral notes evolve into perfumed apple blossom. Then applesauce with cinnamon. Medium finish, with warm cedar and oak notes emerging late on.

Deliciously intriguing. A fair distance from Copper & Kings’ previous releases, but like everything else I’ve tried of theirs, a very welcome discovery. Availability will be limited, but K&L Wines has several other C&K offerings on sale and shippable. I’m about to head there to stock up myself.

Cheers, friends! – BO

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

Chieftan’s Choice Single Malt Reviews

There comes a time in every whisky-lover’s education when independent bottlers are key. Maybe you’ve exhausted a favorite distillery’s official bottlings and want to dig in further. Maybe you want to see how different a given distillery’s spirit can be when it’s in someone else’s hands (and barrels). Maybe you just love the oddballs.

Independent bottlers take a range of approaches. Some buy odd barrels of mature whiskies that happen to be up for grabs, bottle them, market them, and that’s that. Some add their own finishes. Gordon & MacPhail, of which I’m quite fond, acquires new-make spirit, then matures and finishes in their own barrels, allowing a broader look at what a distillery can do than a brand’s own bottlings can. Some add a teaspoon of cask debris to each bottle for extra authenticity–looking at you, Blackadder.

The Chieftan’s Choice line from Ian MacCleod (owner of Glengoyne, Tamdhu, and many blended whisky brands) focuses on rarities, including little-known or closed distilleries. They’ve been showing up more and more in my neck of the woods these days, and I’m happy to share a look at some recent releases, because I’ve been more than happy to try them.

Chieftan’s Bowmore 2002. Region: Islay. ABV: 46%. Age: 13 years.

Bowmore’s official distillery bottlings have been devilishly inconsistent in recent years–which makes it particularly enjoyable to see the Islay brand in fine form here.

Nose of lime taffy. Toasty pie crust. Watermelon. Just a hint of brine. The watermelon shades into cantaloupe on the palate. The peat is sooty, but with some hickory savor. It intensifies on the finish–long and salty. A squeeze of fresh lemon over hot coals at the end.

Chieftan’s Linkwood 1991. Region: Speyside. ABV: 46%. Age: 24 years.

Diageo pours much of Linkwood’s output into the Johnnie Walker and White Horse blends, so with the exception of an occasional official bottling, Linkwood is most often seen in independent bottlings like these.

Brilliant nose on this one. Bright raspberry. Honey. Cotton candy. Baked pear in Chardonnay. Orange sherbet. Fragrant oak. Lots going on. The palate is rich and lively, with the same constant evolution: fresh nuances of fruit and spice around a core of berry compote and bitter orange. Just enough tannic backbone. The tannins are stronger leading into the finish. It’s earthy and spicy, but with a final touch of sweetness: stewed strawberries on a buttery baguette. Lovely.

Chieftan’s Glenturret 1990. Region: Highlands. ABV: 49.7%. Age: 25 years.

Here come the big guns. The highest-proof of the bunch, and packing a big PX punch. If you haven’t had Edrington-owned Glenturret as a single malt, you may have had it in the Famous Grouse blend. On its own, at the ripe old age of 25, and finished in Pedro Ximenez casks, it’s quite a different animal.

Explosive butter bomb of a nose from the PX. Wow. Dense and intense. Bundt cake with blackberries. Cinnamon bark. Sea salt. French toast drizzled with blackberry brandy. Old parchment. Palate is no less intense. Musty blackberries with the vine and the leaves thrown in for good measure. Fresh sweet tobacco soaked in cognac. After all this, the finish is surprisingly elegant, like the end of a cocktail with Dolin rouge and singed orange rind.

Excellent stuff from Chieftan’s. Their other current releases include a 19-year-old Glen Grant PX Finish, a 19-year-old Glenrothes PX Finish, and a 23-year-old Glen Keith. I can’t speak for those three, but this trio was a delight.

A Chieftan’s representative graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Do Good Distillery Benevolent Czar Review

Distiller: Do Good Distillery. ABV: 119.8%. No age statement. Price: $50 (375 ml).

Do Good Distillery caught my eye a few months ago with their unusual name and wide range of smoked whiskies made in Modesto, CA. They have some interesting parallels with our friends at Seven Stills, 90 minutes to the west in San Francisco. Both were dreamt up by craft beer lovers who decided to take their home brewing efforts to the next level. Both consciously reproduce craft beer profiles or elements thereof in their whiskies. And both like to experiment.

Do Good’s line includes bourbons, malt whiskies, and a few white spirits. The Benevolent Czar (just in time for the centenary of the fall of the Romanov dynasty) is their boldest offering. It’s a cask strength behemoth that reproduces the intense flavors of a Russian Imperial Stout–a favorite of the Do Good team, and, I should say, of mine too.

The nose is dense and sweet, with cocoa, orange zest, sweet oak, and a beery/yeasty note. It recalled the Wasmund’s Single Malt (without the tennis ball note), but Do Good doesn’t go the infusion route: its flavors come entirely from the grain bill and a range of small barrels. The palate has very pronounced coffee notes, verging on Seven Stills Fluxuate. Orange-infused bitter chocolate. On the sweeter side, but not overly so. The finish is pure coffee porter.

Remarkable density of flavors, nearly dessert dram territory. How do they do it? The grain bill is proprietary, but Do Good rep Andrew Bennett pointed to the traditional Imperial Stout components: pale malt, crystal malt, chocolate malt, and roasted barley. “Some of our single malts were actually beers we used to enjoy as beers,” he wrote. “We brew our version of a Russian Imperial stout, ferment and distill with the grain on, then we barrel age it in new American Oak Barrels with a heavy char.  The barrels are new and not dosed and there is no infusion of any kind. Brewed, distilled and barrel aged, that’s it.”

Do Good gets most of its grain from farms within 90 miles of Modesto–always good to see–and their experiments are only getting bolder. “Our philosophy is to have something for everyone,” Andrew said. (Shochu was also mentioned.) The Benevolent Czar isn’t cheap, but there are plenty of options in the rest of their range that hit the $50 for 750ml microdistillery sweet spot.

Hats off to Do Good for bringing good new things to the ever-more-interesting California microdistilling scene. Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Do Good spirits online

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

High West Bourye 2017 Review

Producer: High West. Distiller: MGP. ABV: 46%. Age: 10+ years. Blend: it’s complicated. Price: $80.

A few years back, Baldo and I sat down for lunch in my town of Evanston, IL. The restaurant, a very good and basic Italian, had High West’s Bourye as an option. “Grab it,” Baldo said, “you’ll love it.”

Well, it’s two years later and I can’t say he was much off the mark. The 2017 version of the Bourye is a blend of straight bourbon and ryes ranging from 10 to 14 years old, all from MGP. There’s a high-rye rye, a low-rye rye, and a high-rye bourbon in the mix. (Got all that?) And like previous releases, it’s got a welcoming profile that’s good for the novice and experienced consumer alike.

You definitely get that rye on the nose, but there’s also vanilla, raisin, and a hint of blackberry. The palate is really nice, with an initial nutty overlay that’s quickly conquered by the swelling fruits of blackberry, raspberries, and a touch of currant.

I wasn’t mad for the finish, which was too abbreviated for me, but I quite like this one overall.

My main quibble is the price point. I like the whiskey enough where it could be a staple of the collection on taste alone, but it’s just not an $80 whiskey to me.

Cheers, friends! – TM

Buy High West whiskey online at Mash + Grape

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