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Glenmorangie Astar Review and Relaunch

Glenmorangie Astar – Distiller: Glenmorangie. Region: Highlands. ABV: 52.5%.  No age statement. Price: $90-100.

The relaunch of the Glenmorangie Astar hit Los Angeles in high style this month, with Dr. Bill Lumsden–GlenMo Director of Distilling & Whisky Creation–hosting a dinner and tasting at the Moet Hennessy House in the hills above West Hollywood.

Glenmorangie Astar

Glenmorangie has quite a robust lineup. It ranges from the Original 10-Year-Old, which provides the based for just about every other release, to wine-finished staples like the Nectar D’Or and Quinta Ruban, to limited Special Editions like the Milsean and Artein, up to the luscious 18-Year-Old and NAS masterpiece Signet.

If the Original is heart of the Glenmorangie line, the Astar is the heart of the heart–the purest expression of what defines the distillery.

The Original is defined by brightness, silkiness, elegance, and a balance of fruit and floral notes that Dr. Bill attributes to two things: the unusual height of Glenmorangie’s stills, and their cask selection.

Dr. Bill Lumsden

The Original uses a certain proportion of GlenMo’s so-called “designer casks,” made from slow-growth Missouri oak, chosen for porousness, seasoned for 2-3 years in the open air, charred, filled with Jack Daniels for 4 years, then dumped and shipped to GlenMo.

The Astar uses 100% of these “designer casks.” It’s also bottled at 52.5% ABV, adding to the intensity. (The first Astar was bottled at 57% ABV, but Dr. Bill felt the extra heat did more to obscure the whisky than reveal it.) All in all, Dr. Bill’s description of it as “Glenmorangie Original on steroids” is apt.

On to the tasting!

Glenmorangie Moet Hennessy HouseThe nose has pear, green apple, marzipan, orange peel, candied banana, coconut milk, and light toasted oak. For my money, it’s a bit closed at full strength, but comes alive with a few drops of water. Faint cacao nibs. Toasted almonds.

On the palate, both the fluffy vanilla and the juicy fruit notes bloom. Blood orange, ripe pear, pineapple. Fresh coconut. Over time, a pleasant toastiness emerges.

The finish is long and robust, with spice leading the way–lemon pepper, ground ginger, lemon rind–before a wisp of cotton candy at the end.

I frequently hear from whisky lovers who lament the proliferation of wine cask finishes, and yearn for purer manifestations of their favorite distilleries: straight ex-bourbon cask maturation, high ABV, no funny business. There are lots of wine-finished whiskies I love–including from GlenMo–but it’s a beautiful thing to have so pure a manifestation of GlenMo’s core character.

It takes time and patience to appreciate the nuance of Astar, but it’s worth the effort.

Slàinte, friends! – BO

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

Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey Review

Sexton Single Malt – Producer: Proximo Spirits. Distiller: Bushmills. ABV: 40%. No age statement (estimated 4-5 years). Grain bill: 100% malted barley. Price: $25.

I was a bit mystified upon the appearance of the Sexton Single Malt. This Irish whiskey landed Stateside fairly recently with little to no advance warning and not much in the way of explanation. Their website is almost hilariously uninformative: it’s basically just a picture of the bottle.

I wasn’t sure what they might be hiding or why, and in most cases this would irritate me beyond all measure. But sometimes you just give yourself over to the experience, and it’d been a crap day and I don’t want to think too much. So I plunked down the $25 for the (very eye-batching) bottle.

The Axis online braintrust has since helped determine that this is a 4- to 5-year-old sherry-finished single malt from Bushmills. (Cheers to @georgevial1 and @causewaycoastwhiskeyreviews.) On to the juice.

The nose has toasted marshmallow, buttered pecan, and a faint whiff of the end of a campfire. The palate is overly sweet, with the buttered pecan predominating. Beneath that are layers of Jaffa cake, pomegranate, and burnt BBQ bits that temper the sweetness a touch, but not enough. The finish doesn’t deserve the name: it peters out immediately, leaving just a hint of burnt sugar.

All in all, the Sexton Single Malt is not one I’d recommend. I love the bottle design, but that may be the best thing it’s got going for it. Looking for first-rate Irish single malt? Try the West Cork 10-Year-Old at the same price point, or save up and spring for the beautiful Teeling Irish Single Malt. You’ll be happy you did.

Sláinte, friends! – TM

New England Distilling Gunpowder Rye Review

New England Distilling Gunpowder Rye – Distiller: New England Distilling. ABV: 43.5%. No age statement (less than 2 years). Mashbill: 70% rye, 30% malted barley. Price: $45.

Folks, I’m not going to lie. I was dreading this summer’s roadtrip. Although I’ve always wanted to see Acadia and I love Montreal, the idea of two weeks in a car sounded like fresh-cut hell to me. But Mrs. McDram wanted to go, so off we went.

The trip confounded my cynical soul by being fun–and some of the main highlights (especially for me) were the new whiskies we discovered.

Take, for example, New England Distilling‘s Gunpowder Rye. As a devotee of the rye arts, I was intrigued to see this sitting in a quiet Maine bar, and had to try a sip. I loved it, and when I got to spend some more time with a full bottle (graciously sent by the distiller), it only confirmed the first impression.

If you noted the mashbill above, you already know what’s unusual about this rye: as a “Maryland-style” rye, it’s made of rye and a high proportion of malted barley, with no corn. (See an interesting write-up on the history of Maryland-style rye at The Whiskey Wash.)

The nose has winter pine, menthol, faint vanilla, and plenty of rye spice. The palate fires up the rye spice further, but balances it with a lovely vanilla, pulled chicken, and a touch of oak. It falls down on the finish for me. There’s a fire that kicks in at the end, then dissipates quickly, leaving not much behind.

That said, it’s an interesting young rye, and one I’m glad to come back to time and again. Cheers, friends! – TM

New England Distilling graciously sent a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

John Myer Bourbon Whiskey Review

John Myer Bourbon Whiskey – Distiller: Myer Farm Distillers. No age statement. Mashbill: 60% corn, 40% spring wheat, rye & unmalted barley. ABV 45%. Price: $35.

Road trips are an American institution. I can still dimly recall sitting in the back of my parents’ Volvo station wagon, staring out at the ever-expanding American landscape. But what I know now that I didn’t know then is that zipping along America’s backroads can lead to some superb distilleries–especially amid the current U.S. microdistiller boom.

Last summer, the McDram clan met some friends in New York’s Finger Lakes region. They mentioned they’d passed what appeared to be a distillery and asked if I wanted to check it out. Professional responsibility, I said, and off we went to the Myer Farm Distillers in Ovid, New York.

This farm-to-bottle outfit has some lovely offerings, including a wheated whiskey that was out of this world. But the one that stuck with me the most was their John Myer Bourbon Whiskey.

The mash bill is about 60% corn, with spring wheat, rye, and unmalted barley making up the balance. It’s fun to trace how those elements wind their way through the experience. The nose has a fair amount of bakery in it, from corn bread, to fresh made ciabatta, but there’s also a faint whiff of the rye, along with a lovely ginger note that’s well complemented by a dash of vanilla extract.

The palate was the standout aspect for me. It’s damn good. Layers of vanilla cream and toffee are interwoven with layers of rye spice and an earthy oak that cuts the sweetness in just the right way.

The finish was a bit too abrupt for my taste, but I loved the peach that came through. Combined with a resurgence of the vanilla, it brought to mind a peach pie you just set on the counter to cool.

Whiskey should be about conversation, experience, and new discoveries. I have a feeling that in the Myer Farm family, I’ve found a line that will provide all three for years and road trips to come.

Cheers, friends, and enjoy the weekend! – TM

Highland Park Magnus Review

Highland Park Magnus – Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Price: $40.

I’ve been waiting on this one for a special occasion. I’ve been in love with Highland Park’s line for as long as I’ve been drinking whisky, and I’m always excited for new beginnings from old friends. So on a day when I recorded a very fun voiceover (a new career-ish move), I knew I wanted to celebrate with the newest permanent addition to the line.

The Highland Park Magnus is named for Magnus Eunson, a Scot of Norse descent who allegedly had an illegal still in 1798 on the site of the current distillery. Highland Park used Orcadian malt in the making of this no-age-statement release, and it carries through what is a light, lovely, and delicate whisky.

The nose has a heathery peat right up front, which quickly fades into Scottish honey, North Sea brine, and a subtle toffee note.

The peat continues to be at the forefront on the palate. It is, to be fair, on the watery side due to the low 40% ABV, but it lets through flavors of raisin, black tea, and peppery ginger snaps. Later there’s more heather and a vague hint of briny oyster that I loved.

The finish was where I most noticed the low ABV. It has an initial fiery blast that fades too quickly–with a complex profile like this, I wanted to savor it more.

But I’m not gonna complain. Any single malt distiller who’s offering a truly solid whisky at this price point gets my respect at a time when we’re seeing so many brands demanding prices that are simply not justified by the product.

Here’s to Highland Park for making a quite lovely whisky that everyone can afford, and here’s to all of you, friends. Slàinte! – TM

Buy Highland Park whisky online at Mash + Grape

Laphroaig PX Cask Review

Laphroaig PX Cask – Distiller: Laphroaig. Region: Islay. ABV: 48%. No age statement. Price: $70-80 (1L).

Remember, whisky fans, the thrill of traveling abroad 7-10 years ago, ducking into a duty free and knowing you’d find at least a few stunning deals and special releases?

Times have changed. All too often, duty free whisky aisles are divided between run-of-the-mill releases you’ll find anywhere, discounted blends that don’t appeal even with the discount, and gimmicky “travel retail exclusives” that are both overpriced and forgettable.

Though these sad ranks comes the Laphroaig PX Cask like a conquering hero. I’ve seen this in a few airports over the past year, and when it popped up at the Stockholm Duty Free on sale for $70, I couldn’t resist.

This duty free exclusive is a no-age-statement whisky, like most of Laphroaig’s current lineup. It’s matured first in ex-bourbon barrels, then in quarter casks, then finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. It’s bottled at a healthy 48% ABV.

The nose starts with the classic Laphroaig salty-citrusy-maritime profile, but saltier than usual. Bright. Piney. Lime, grapefruit. Gradually warmer: grilled lemon. Toasted almond. Cinnamon late on.

The palate is strong and savory. It’s a dinner dram—not to have with dinner, but to have as dinner. Salted pork. Aged balsamico. But the brightness emerges from underneath, and with it, the fiery peat. A little wild.

The transition to the finish brings blackberry brandy. The peat goes on and on. Cinnamon again, spicy vanilla bean, candied lemon peel.

Liking the Laphroaig Quarter Cask as I do, this dram–essentially the Quarter Cask with a bit of PX on top–was right up my alley.

It was particularly interesting tasting it side-by-side with the Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017, which is a cask strength Quarter Cask. I usually gravitate toward cask strength whiskies, but if I could only choose one, I think I’d take this PX Finish over the latest Cairdeas.

Little wonder that two weeks after purchase, 1L PX Finish is already gone. (I did have a little help.)

Slàinte, friends! – BO

Buy Laphroaig online at Mash + Grape

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