Tag Archives: microdistillers

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.

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.

Lost Spirits Abomination and Navy Style Rum Review

Producer: Lost Spirits. ABV: 54% (Abomination), 61% (Navy Style Rum). No age statement. Price: $50.

I’ve used the cliche “these guys don’t mess around” about some of the better microdistillers. The thing about Lost Spirits is, they do mess around, constantly–and better than just about anybody.

Lost Spirits founder Bryan Davis is a born iconoclast, a guy who literally vibrates with energy when he presents his experiments. The biggest of those has been the Thea One “flash-aging reactor”–see our feature on it for details.

We at the Axis haven’t been afraid to call BS when we see it, including in the “accelerated maturation” world. But if you’ll pardon the paradox, Bryan’s search for shortcuts takes no shortcuts. And his results put most other “accelerated maturation” efforts to shame.

Which brings us to their latest releases: two Abomination Peated Malts and a new Navy Style Rum.

The Abominations put young, heavily peated malt whisky sourced from Islay through the flash-aging process, together with Riesling-seasoned oak staves. The red-label uses toasted staves, the black-label uses charred.

Both are a big step forward for Lost Spirits malts–and the bar was already high. The nose is bold on both, with a core of BBQ-ey oak notes familiar from virgin oak-matured scotch. Then coconut, lemongrass, and ripe banana. The peat’s strong and brash on the palate, with smoked banana, clove, cooked sugar. At 54% ABV, there’s plenty of room to dial the intensity down if you’d like. I found the complexity grew as I did. The finish is on the sweeter side, with burnt zucchini bread, birch beer, and mesquite briquettes. The red-label gives a more of a toasted-baked-goods cast to this overall profile, while the black-label has stronger vanilla from the heavier char. Both are must-trys for peat lovers.

The rum is my favorite from Lost Spirits so far. Bottled at a huge 61% ABV, it’s sublimely rich and buttery. Both brighter and softer than earlier Lost Spirits Navy Rums. A masterpiece.

All three show Lost Spirits at its best, and are excellent deals at around $50. Keep the experiments coming! Cheers, friends! – BO

Lost Spirits graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Barrell Bourbon builds a distillery!

Friends of the Axis know about our enthusiasm for Barrell Bourbon, which began as a series of sourced whiskey releases by Mr. Joe Beatrice, first bourbon (see JTR’s fresh review of Bourbon Batch 9), then a non-bourbon whiskey, then a (really remarkable) rum.

We’re happy to share the news that Joe is taking the next step in what’s been a very impressive journey so far, building a distillery to be headed up by master distiller Tripp Stimson, former Brown-Foreman chemist and Kentucky Artisan Distillery master distiller.

Barrell’s full release (dated 2/6/17) is below:

Louisville, KY: Today, independent spirits producer Barrell Craft Spirits, LLC. (BCS), parent company of Barrell Bourbon, Barrell Whiskey and Barrell Rum, announced that it will be building a new distillery in Jefferson County, Louisville, KY. The facility will be located in the Gilmore Industrial area in greater Louisville. In addition, BCS named veteran distiller and distillery consultant Tripp Stimson as Master Distiller.

BCS is an independent bottler of unique batch, cask-strength, aged sourced whiskey and rum spirits.

Barrell Bourbon and Barrell Whiskey are both award-winning spirits. Over the past two years, eight different batch entries have won high praise in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge and the San Francisco World Spirits competitions, earning scores between 92-98 and 4 Double Gold medals. Additionally, Barrell Bourbon and Barrell Whiskey have received high ratings and top recommendations in both the Whisky Advocate and the Wine Enthusiast.

Now in its fourth year of operation, BCS will begin producing whiskey and bourbon by the end of 2017, with the goal of producing 1,000 barrels in the first year of operation and 2,000 in the second year. When appropriately aged, the spirits will be included in the BCS product portfolio. Plans for additional expansion are currently under consideration.

Tripp Stimson, formerly a scientist at Brown Forman and Master Distiller at Kentucky Artisan Distillery, has consulted in the craft spirits industry for the past several years in areas ranging from fermentation to distillery design. Additionally, he built the first malting operation in Kentucky in 2016. He will be responsible for developing the product formulation for BCS as well as leading the BCS distillery building initiative.

Looking forward to good things from all involved!

Buy Barrell Bourbon online at Mash + Grape