Tag Archives: blended

Bushmills Red Bush Review

Distiller: Bushmills. ABV: 40%. No age statement/3+ years. Price: $18-22.

In my snobby younger days, I would routinely turn my nose up at the standard Irish blends. The Jameson and Powers never did it for me, and the only one I could routinely endure was Bushmills.

Now, of course, the last few years have seen massive growth in the complexity and quality of the Irish whiskies available in the U.S. I’d put Teeling and the Spots (Green and Yellow) up against the best in  the world. Bushmills’ higher-end offerings, like the 16-year-old single malt, are delectable.

So when I saw the new Bushmills Red Bush at my favorite convenience store, I was intrigued to see how the lower-end offerings of this venerable producer had changed with the times.

The verdict is…not much. It’s a bit mysterious what’s new about the Red Bush, as it’s prominently marketed as “matured in bourbon casks”–but so is the standard Bushmills White Label. (The Black Bush adds some sherry maturation.) The few existing reviews of the Red Bush I’ve read, along with Bushmills’ own patter, repeat the dreaded moniker “smooth,” which for me is usually shorthand for forgettable.

The Red Bush isn’t quite that bland. There’s a whisper of flora on the nose, and you’ll find some honey and vanilla if you try hard enough. The palate, as you’d expect from a blend aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks, has elements of the oaky BBQ, along with traces of vanilla, but the flavors are so faint that it’s difficult to discern much of anything. And the finish doesn’t deserve the name. By the time you’ve finished the first sip, you’ve already forgotten what you were drinking.

I’m tempted to say that for around $20, you could do worse, but there are so many better options at or just above this price point in the Irish whiskey world (think West Cork), the bourbon world (think Old Granddad,) and the single malt world (think Glen Moray) that there’s no reason to try this fairly mediocre blend.

Here’s to demanding more from those we love. Cheers, friends! – TM

Black Grouse Review

Producer: Famous Grouse/Edrington Group. Distiller: various. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Price: $25-30.

Over the holidays I needed a blended whisky to serve as a cocktail base, and it was the perfect occasion to assess the Black Grouse. It’s a mix of the Famous Grouse blend and unspecified peated single malts–Josh at The Whiskey Jug suspects Caol Ila, Famous Grouse’s website mentions “a rare version of Glenturret”…it’s a bit of a mystery.

On to the notes. The nose is malty and a bit waxy, with a core of tree fruit and tropical overtones. No hint of peat I could detect. The tropical fruit comes to the fore on the palate: mango and lychee. It’s only 40% ABV, so it’s a mild affair overall, but it’s sufficiently rich to hold a cocktail together. The peat comes through on the finish, warming though still quite soft, and lightly spicy.

The Black Grouse has recently been repackaged as “Famous Grouse Smoky Black,” with mixed reviews at places like Master of Malt, though some buyers unhelpfully compare it to Laphroaig or Ardbeg. That’s a mistake. It’s a mid-range blend, and isn’t meant to stand up to single malt peat monsters. But as a standby mixer that a single malt drinker can respect, I’d give it a solid recommendation.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Loch Lomond Reserve Review

Distiller: Loch Lomond. Region: Highlands. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Price: $18.

I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Loch Lomond–the lake itself–ever since Mrs. McDram and I spent a romantic weekend on it back in 2008. I was dimly aware at the time that there was a Loch Lomond distillery nearby, but I neither visited it nor saw much evidence of it on the shelves.

Fast forward to 2014, when a private equity group called Exponent swooped in and bought the on-again-off-again distillery–along with Campbeltown’s Glen Scotia distillery–and began a revamp of the brand. The Loch Lomond Reserve blended whisky is one of the results.

Loch Lomond is rare among Scottish distilleries in having a wide range of stills to work with in-house: traditional copper pot stills, pot stills with rectifying columns, Coffey stills for making grain whisky, and the rare Lomond still, which is also in use at Scapa and Bruichladdich. If you can dream it up, Loch Lomond can make it. (And they’ll have to make a little more than usual after spilling $1.2 million worth of whisky this summer.)

That makes this base blended whisky, the Loch Lomond Reserve, a good place to start. I’ll come right out and say it: this $18 whisky is better than it has any right to be. I enjoyed it more than blended scotch whiskies that cost 2-3 times as much.

It’s on the lighter side at 40%, but the nose lets you know there’s plenty of substance to work with: vanilla, peach, apple, candied grapefruit, and peanut brittle.

The palate is lemony and creamy, nicely balanced, with no bite. Nice oak vanillins. Again, on the lighter side, but never watery. A touch of chicken with orange glaze comes late–then the finish brings a delicate smokiness. Then lemon pepper and ground ginger.

I’ve found that the better blends are great for accompanying food–far better than most single malts, to my taste. The Loch Lomond Reserve fits this bill nicely. It may fall a bit short of the standard of the excellent Usquaebach blended whiskies, but it also costs less than half of what they do.

A great before dinner dram, during dinner dram, or surprise hit at a party. Well done, Loch Lomond! – BO

The Loch Lomond Group graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Midleton Very Rare Review

Distiller: Midleton. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Price: $150.

A real stunner, this one. I first had the Midleton Very Rare during a long and memorable night of tastings at the home of J.T. Rickhouse, during which he brought out one heavy hitter after another: Yamazaki 18, Highland Park 30, Bruichladdich Octomore 1.0…and still the Midleton stood out from the crowd.

This is among the best Irish whiskies being bottled today, period. It’s the best from the distillery most known for Jameson–but it’s a world away from anything released under that brand name, except maybe the excellent Jameson 18.

The Midleton Very Rare is a blend of 12- to 25-year-old whiskies aged in ex-bourbon and sherry casks. It’s been an annual release since 1984, and just 50 casks’ worth hit the market each year.

The nose leads with strong notes of dried apple and young leather. Then grilled pears, and savory note that hints at mesquite. With time in the glass, a maple note familiar from many Irish whiskies emerges, but more complex and velvety here, dribbled over a toasty Belgian waffle. Some sweet white oak sap too.

The palate has canned pears in syrup. Almond candy sprinkled with ground ginger and nutmeg. Late on, there’s a cotton candy softness that manages somehow not to be too sweet. The finish is on the long and mild side, with honey and roasted pine nuts–yep, that’s baklava–and a little cedar.

At $150 or so, it’s not cheap–but it’s a dram you won’t soon forget.
Sláinte! – BO

Barr an Uisce Irish Whiskey Review

Barr an Uisce Wicklow Rare – Producer: Barr an Uisce. ABV: 43%. No age statement. Blend: 80% grain, 20% 10-year-old malt. Price: $50.

Barr an Uisce 1803 Single Malt – Producer: Barr an Uisce. ABV: 46%. Age: 10 years. Price $80.

One of the real pleasures of the Axis experience is discovering new and delightful Irish whiskies. From the various Spots from Mitchell & Sons (Green and Yellow, with more to come) to the great stuff being produced by Teeling, Irish whiskey is absolutely on the rise.

I’m pleased to report that the offerings from Barr an Uisce fit in quite nicely with the aforementioned heavy hitters. The name translates into “above the water,” and I’d say that this relatively new distillery out of Barraniskey is punching above its weight with these two releases.

The Wicklow Rare is a blended whiskey that’s matured in first-fill bourbon barrels, then finished in Oloroso casks for six months. I got scents of honey, baked raisin, vanilla, and an ever-so-slight medicinal apple on the nose. The palate carried more of the raisin, along with hazelnuts and dark fruit–some plum. The finish is brief but pleasant. It’s a good whiskey, if perhaps a tad bit overpriced.

Now the 1803 Single Malt–well, that’s an entirely different beast. Its name comes from the year when the Barraniskey St. Patrick’s Church was built, and the drink drives for classic single malt. There’s a Wicklow-ish vanilla and honey on the nose, but the palate is infinitely richer than that of the blend. Malt is present throughout, along with a whisper of ginger, cinnamon, baked caramel, and absolute oakiness. The finish is far more sustained, and leaves you wondering whether you want to pour another, or just want to hold onto the sweet memory of the dram you’ve just drained. I adored this one, and you can be sure I’ll be looking for a bottle very soon.

Cheers, friends! -TM

Hibiki 17 Review

Distiller: Suntory. ABV: 43%. Age: 17 years. Price: $150+.

The Hibiki 17 is a masterpiece of balance–a tour de force by the master blenders at Japanese spirits giant Suntory. I also happen to know it’s also a personal favorite of our friend Mark Bylok, he of of the Whisky Topic podcast, Whisky Cabinet book, and whsky.buzz website.

It’s also devilishly hard to find. Not quite as much as the excellent Yamazaki 18, but close. Don’t break the bank for a bottle, but don’t pass it up at a reasonable price.

The nose has distinct cedar and sandalwood notes. Much bolder than the Hibiki 12 or no-age-statement Hibiki Harmony. Plenty of fresh vanilla. Saltwater taffy. A touch of banana. Anisette toast. Excellent.

The palate achieves that harmony of distinct elements that reminds me of the global Malt & Grain blend by master Ichiro Akuto. A delicate dance of sweetness and spice–fresh ginger and white pepper sprinkled on fresh-cut apple and pear–with a very subtle smokiness. The finish brings that anisette toast back, along with just enough bite to make sure you’re paying attention.

It’s a world away from the ultra-rich and velvety Yamazaki 18, but if you get a chance to taste the two side-by-side, they provide a brilliant study in the range Japanese whisky is capable of. The Hibiki 17 is all balance, the Yamazaki 18 all boldness. Both will bring a big smile to any whisky lover’s face.

Kanpai, friends! -BO