Oct 18

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – Review

Nikka Coffey Grain WhiskyNikka Coffey Grain Whisky

90 Proof

Price Point: $55 – $65 for 750 ML

Distiller: The Nikka Whisky Distilling Co., Ltd., Japan

 

Background

I’ve been on a bit of a kick lately of purchasing whiskeys just because they are wildly different than the norm.  I recently saw Corsair Quinoa on the shelf, and had to buy it (despite its questionable price point given its age) just because it was made from a grain not typically associated with whiskey.  I’ve experimented with some white dog whiskeys and even ventured into (gasp!) flavored whiskeys (Sons of Liberty Hop and Pumpkin Spice, to be exact).

I saw this bottle of Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky sitting on the shelf, badly needing a home, and thought it was just weird enough for me to buy it.  Again, despite the price point.  I had the pleasure of sampling Nikka’s 12 Year Old Pure Malt a few months back, and greatly enjoyed it.  How different could this one be?

 

Review

The nose on Nikka Coffey Grain is just that – grainy.  This is not a great quality for my nose and preferences.  There are some creamy vanilla notes with toasted almonds.  It’s strangely difficult to nose this whisky without experiencing a burning sensation in the nostrils.

Grain, grain, and more grain.  This just doesn’t do it for me.  Nikka Coffey Grain is nutty and drinks somewhat hot.  There are subtle notes of caramel that emerge after letting the whisky coat the inside of the glass, and finally some banana, too.

There’s sweet sugar cane on the initial finish.  Afterward, it’s a little bitter and off-putting.

 

Rating & Recommendations

Nikka Coffey Grain isn’t my cup of tea (or whisky), earning a rating of 76 out of 100.

Perhaps it’s just my palate, but I can’t seem to get on board with grain whiskies.  Compass Box Hedonism didn’t do well with me and neither does this one.

 

-Ryan

Oct 04

Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch – Review

Monkey Shoulder ScotchMonkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

86 Proof

Price Point: $25 – $35 for 750 ML

Distiller: Wiliam Grant & Sons Ltd

 

Background

How could you not buy a whisky called Monkey Shoulder?  Especially when it has three little monkeys hanging onto the “shoulder” of the bottle?  Obviously I couldn’t resist, or you wouldn’t be reading this review.

The only thing holding me back from purchasing this bottle was its nature as a blend.  Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t good blends (think Sheep Dip and Royal Salute 21 Year Old).  But there are also hideously poor blends (cough, Johnnie Walker Red Label, cough).

The purist in me stays away from blended Scotches, as I have found overwhelming favor with single malts.  The realist in me recognizes that not all blends can be bad, and in fact, many single malts are blended in a way – they are just not categorized as a “blend” on the label.  Monkey Shoulder meets this difference somewhere in the middle, shying away from grain whisky, and using malt whisky from three neighboring distilleries in Speyside.

 

Review

Monkey Shoulder noses initially like a fine Speyside single malt.  This very much reminds me of a Balvenie (I found out after reviewing that Balvenie is one of the three whiskies used in this blend!).  There’s a nice balance of malt and subtle floral notes.  It’s refreshing to experience the nose of a blend with no trace of grain aromas.

Monkey Shoulder has a light-to-medium mouthfeel.  It’s a pretty straightforward Speyside Scotch; very pleasant, well-rounded, and balanced.  Could spend a little more time maturing in barrels, but still very drinkable.  It’s silky smooth with subtle leather notes, and vanilla.

This whisky has a very nice finish – malty and pleasant.

 

Rating & Recommendations

Monkey Shoulder is a good whiskey at a great price point, earning a rating of 82 out of 100.

Of all the blends readily available, Monkey Shoulder is surely one of the better ones.

 

-Ryan

Sep 20

McClelland’s Highland Scotch – Review

McClelland's Highland ScotchMcClelland’s Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

80 Proof

Price Point: $20 – $30 for 750 ML

Distiller: T&A McClelland Limited

 

Background

Bottom shelf isn’t always bad.  Certain whiskeys prove that statement – many refute it.  Here in the good old U. S. of A., most of our bottom shelf whiskey is bourbon and other American varieties.  Bottom shelf Scotch is rare, and typically finding a single malt for under $30 proves difficult.  I have this strange fantasy that things are the exact opposite in Scotland – loads of poorly designed labels on cheap single malts, with only the best of the best when it comes to American whiskey.

McClelland’s is a brand that offers Highland, Lowland, Speyside, and Islay expressions, and are typically readily available.  I’ve avoided them for several reasons – you tend to get what you pay for (rules are made to be broken), 80 proofers don’t usually do it for me, and I’ve never seen McClelland’s reviewed or even mentioned (are they worth mentioning?).  For $25, I thought “why not?” and picked up a bottle.

 

Review

The nose on McClelland’s Highland starts out malty, with notes of sourdough bread.  There are some pears and apricots, and absolutely no smoke present whatsoever.  A hint of rubbing alcohol shows up to add some bitterness.  This nose is relatively straightforward and simple.

Once in the mouth, McClelland’s Highland has a thin mouthfeel at 40% ABV.  Most of the interesting fruit aromas disappear on the tongue.  There’s a touch of malt but again, it’s toned down.  A little bit of mint shows up (basil leaves?).  Certainly not terrible, but nothing too special either.

There’s more malt on the aftertaste, but not much more in this somewhat brief and mediocre finish.

 

Rating & Recommendations

I got just about what I expected out of McClelland’s Highland, which is why it still earns a respectable 77 out of 100 rating.

This is a decent Scotch for the price point; it just doesn’t quite stack up with other single malts.  Sometimes you do get what you pay for.

 

-Ryan

Sep 13

What’s on Your Shelf? (Part 3)

Whisky Collection September 2014

So far, I have posted two parts (Part 1 and Part 2) of “What’s on Your Shelf?”  Since Part 2, I’ve kept a couple, deleted a bunch, and added a few. Here they are:

What’s taking up space on your shelf?  Let me know in the comments below.

 

-Ryan

Sep 06

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Scotch – Review

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old ScotchGlenfiddich 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

80 Proof

Price Point: $50 – $60 for 750 ML

Distiller: The Glenfiddich Distillery

 

Background

As whiskey bloggers, sometimes we sample a distillery’s entry-level expression and that can steer us into appreciating their whiskey, or not wanting to venture further with them.  As they say, first impressions are everything.

This is certainly the case with Glenfiddich.  I reviewed their 12 Year Old expression in May of 2012, was not impressed, and have not gone back to them since.  After having the opportunity to try the 15 Year Old in a bar and at a friend’s house, I decided to buy a bottle and examine this one a little closer.

 

Review

On the nose, this single malt is nutty, malty, and honeyed all mixed into one.  There are some rich caramel and toffee notes, too.

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old has tasty malt with some mild leather in the mouth.  It’s very spicy with some almond and coffee notes that make things interesting.  There’s more honey here, and perhaps some crème brûlée.  There’s just the slightest hint of peat on the back-end.  The only flaw I can find is something a little bitter and unpleasant on the back of my tongue, but only for a moment and then it’s gone.

The finish on Glenfiddich 15 Year Old is really tasty and pleasant.  It has a malty finish, and is probably the best part of the overall drinking experience.

 

Rating & Recommendations

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old is a great “mid-size” expression from the distillery, earning a rating of 86 out of 100.

This is certainly a more enjoyable whisky than the 12 Year Old (in my opinion), and absolutely worth the money.  I brought my bottle to the beach for a week-long vacation with my wife and her family.  In four or five days, the bottle was gone, and I was tempted to go out and purchase another.

 

-Ryan

Aug 23

J. Potts Whiskey – Review

J. Potts WhiskeyJ. Potts Whiskey

94 Proof

Price Point: $25 – $35 for 750 ML

Distiller: Manatawny Still Works

 

Background

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of touring Manatawny Still Works in Pottstown, Pennsylvania (you can read about it here).  As stated in my write-up, I bought a bottle of their J. Potts Whiskey, a 94 proof white dog whiskey with a mash of wheat, oats, malted barley, and rye.  I promised them a review, but I assured them that I would be honest in my process, as I always am.  I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings!

 

Review

The nose on J. Potts starts out with cereal, and a very sweet aroma.  It’s clean and a little intense at 47%, obviously not having been mellowed by oak.  J. Potts is untamed but not unpleasant; lots of earthy, grainy notes – I get a vitamin smell.  Its malty aromas lend themselves more to a Scotch than an American whiskey.  Toward the end, some unique floral notes creep in.

The taste on this unaged whiskey is undoubtedly white dog (moonshine), but still very sippable.  The alternative mashbill devoid of corn brings an interesting mix of flavors to J. Potts.  It has a surprisingly fruity flavor, although I can’t put my finger on what fruit specifically.  The texture is chewy and oily (a good thing!).

The finish is enduring and sweet; the youthful untamed spirit will stick around with you for a bit.  While it’s not unbearable, this is the part of the J. Potts experience that can most use a degree of barrel maturation.

 

Rating & Recommendations

J. Potts Whiskey is one of the more drinkable unaged whiskeys, earning a rating of 81 out of 100.

It’s not often that I admit to enjoying white dog, but this one isn’t half bad.  I’m really looking forward to the future of this product after it has spent some time in the barrel.

 

-Ryan

Aug 09

Amrut Fusion Indian Whisky – Review

Amrut Fusion Indian WhiskyAmrut Fusion Single Malt Whisky

100 Proof

Price Point: $40 – $50 for 750 ML

Distiller: Amrut Distilleries Limited

 

Background

I had my first experience with Amrut Single Malt Whisky about a year ago.  I took a gamble on a country not known for its single malts, and had no regrets after my first drink.

Now I have another opportunity to try a different expression from the same distillery.  Enter Amrut Fusion – a unique blend of malted barley from Scotland and India.  The best of both worlds, right?  Let’s find out.

 

Review

The nose on Amrut Fusion is a bit harsh at 100 proof compared to its 92 proof brother.  Once you get accustomed to it, you’ll notice Glenlivet-esque pineapple notes, and very distinct nutmeg.  This is a unique nose, separating this whisky from the rest of the pack.

Fusion could easily compete with Compass Box’s Spice Tree as the “spiciest” whisky I have ever tasted.  Cinnamon and even more nutmeg make appearances, along with mild peat and some almonds.  Malted barley comes in strong on the palate, along with some light tingling on the tip of my tongue.  Amrut Fusion can be slightly bitter at times, which is my only qualm with this whisky.

The finish is lengthy and very nice, with additional malted barley notes and just the faintest hint of smoke.  A very pleasant end to a tasty whisky.

 

Rating & Recommendations

Amrut Fusion is a heck of tasty dram, earning a rating of 89 out of 100.

From start to finish, this whisky impressed me, and I will likely buy again if given the opportunity.

 

-Ryan

Aug 03

Distillery Tour: Manatawny Still Works

Manatawny Still Works Manatawny Still Works Manatawny Still WorksManatawny Still Works Manatawny Still WorksYesterday was one of those unique Saturdays when my wife and I did not have a thing planned for the day.  We thought about driving into Philadelphia and going to a museum, but the thought of fighting city traffic was enough to deter me from that idea.

My wife brought up the idea to visit a local distillery – something I was immediately on-board with.  I reached for a somewhat recent copy of Whisky Advocate, and turned toward the back pages where they list local distilleries by state.  Only three were listed – Mountain Laurel Spirits (distillers of the infamous Dad’s Hat White Rye; they wouldn’t return my phone call or email inquiry, by the way), Philadelphia Distilling, and Wigle Whiskey.  My wife decided a quick Google search was in order, and Manatawny Still Works was first on the list, conveniently located right down the road in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.  She called the distillery, spoke to a friendly voice on the other line, and got us a spot on their 5:00 PM tour.

We arrived at the distillery a little early and were greeted by Randy McKinley and Jeff Vaughan.  Randy is the company’s VP of Sales & Marketing (in addition to wearing many other hats), and Jeff is the co-founder and one of Manatawny Still Works’ investors.  This was a friendly and inviting atmosphere – a place with an entrepreneurial spirit.

With admission for the tour, we were given a complimentary cocktail.  I asked the bartender to make me whatever he recommended using their white whiskey, which turned into a watermelon drink.  It wasn’t bad, but certainly not something I would order again.  Despite the fact that we would be sampling Manatawny’s portfolio neat later, my wife ordered their white whiskey neat.  We chatted a little bit more with Jeff about the history of the young distillery and then the tour began.

Randy led the tour and started by introducing himself and Jeff, along with a brief summary of the distillery’s personnel.  For day-to-day operations, Randy and head distiller Max Pfeffer run the show, along with a small team of bartenders.  As mentioned previously, Jeff is one of the co-founders, along with John Giannopoulos, co-founder of local craft brewery Sly Fox, which conveniently has a “tastin’ room” right across the street.

Randy further explained how the dream of distilling came to fruition in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, a town not known for much of anything, aside from its iron ore.  In fact, as legend has it, the iron ore from Pottstown was used to build both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Panama Canal, although I haven’t done my due diligence on either of those claims.  Regardless, this distillery which opened its doors in March of 2014 is a new sense of pride and identity in this small, suburban town.

After our brief history lesson, we walked toward the fermentation tanks and stills.  Randy explained that typical fermentation periods for spirits is around three days, yet Manatawny’s fermentation can last a dozen days or so.  They believe that a great deal of the character of the spirits is derived from this part of the process.  Next, we turned, and learned about their pot still and continuous stripping still, both sourced from Italy.  Randy told the group about heads, tails, and hearts, and how the unaged spirits are selected from a very narrow center of the stills’ cut.  The spirits going into barrels for maturation can come from a wider range.

Next on the tour were the barrels themselves.  Manatawny uses a #4 char for their barrels, as Max feels that this allows them to get the full aromas and flavor notes from the oak in the least amount of time.  Manatawny wants to produce well-matured spirits, but the investors of course want to start putting out product as soon as possible.  Randy told us that the whiskey being aged will be a two year old, but they may or may not have plans for longer-term expressions in the future.

Finally, we arrived at the end of the tour where we were able to taste the spirits.  We started out with Three Bitches Wheat Vodka, a spirit that Randy was very transparent about (pardon the pun).  They source this vodka from overseas where it is distilled six times.  Once they receive it, they distill it one more time before bottling.  He was very honest about this particular product not fitting their craft spirit portfolio, but that they have plans for a “craftier” vodka in the future.

Next up was T. Rutter Rum, an unaged raw sugar-distilled spirit.  This 40-proofer is meant to be a neutral rum for use in cocktails.  It was still tasty, and in my opinion, a step up from Bacardi’s white rum.

At last, we were able to taste their J. Potts Whiskey, a 94 proof white dog with a mash of wheat, oats, malted barley, and rye.  It was explained to me that they omit corn in their mash as they want to distance their product from the typical “moonshine” flavor profile.  I believe that they succeeded in doing so.

And here, the tour ended and the rest of the spectators wandered toward the bar and gift shop.  My wife and I stayed by the barrels and chatted a bit with Randy.  I revealed myself as a whiskey blogger, and he cringed a bit, although I assured him that I wasn’t there to write an exposé piece or anything of the sort.  We talked about the state of the industry, and where he sees Manatawny Still Works going in the future.  I like Randy – he’s passionate about his product and his company, without the slightest hint of arrogance.  I could sense a pride in this young distillery project, and for that reason I think these guys could stick around.

Randy invited me to wander around and take as many pictures as I want, as long as I didn’t trip on any hoses or break anything.  Because of his hospitality, I decided to buy a bottle of his J. Potts Whiskey, which I will be reviewing very soon, although I told him I would be honest in my review, and he should not expect a fluff piece.  I don’t think he would want it any other way.

 

-Ryan

Jul 26

Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old Irish Whiskey – Review

Knappogue 16 Year Old Irish WhiskeyKnappogue Castle 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey

80 Proof

Price Point: $85 – $95 for 750 ML

Distiller: Unknown

 

Background

The fourth and final whiskey I am reviewing as part of Castle Brands’ sample portfolio is Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old.  In case you missed previous posts, I have already reviewed Clontarf 1014, Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old, and Knappogue Castle 14 Year Old.

 

Review

The nose on Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old is once again malty and sherried with nicely matured oak.  It’s mellow on the nose, with cherries and whipped cream.

The additional two years of aging are really evident in the taste.  This is a more subdued, more complex whiskey than the 14 Year Old.  Notes of pears and a little pineapple make this a fruit a medley in the mouth.  It’s also very malty, as seems to be the signature of Knappogue Castle.

The finish is sweet and pleasant, with a surprising nutmeg note to finalize things.

 

Rating & Recommendations

Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old rounds out the brand’s portfolio nicely, earning a rating of 88 out of 100.

This is a very nice single malt that I would absolutely recommend, although I can’t help but think it’s a bit overpriced – I may have never tasted it had I not received a free sample.

 

-Ryan

Jul 24

Mini Barrel Aging Experiment (Day 145)

Sometimes things don’t quite go according to plan.  This experiment is one of those things.

Clearly, after taking some samples during this series of blog posts, my barrel lost some of its volume.  Just as a watched pot never boils (or however that cliche is phrased), a watched barrel of whiskey doesn’t mature.  I stayed away from my barrel until today (July 24th), when I picked it up and noticed it was a little light.  Upon further inspection (opening the bung and holding the barrel upside down), my barrel was empty.

After initial shock and frustration, I realized this was a chance to learn a lesson.  A very expensive lesson – the new make I used, Corsair Wry Moon, goes for about $35 per bottle, and I bought two of them for this.

I learned that the angel’s share phenomenon happens even more rapidly when less whiskey is in the barrel.  I had read that you should periodically add new make to the barrel to keep it full during the maturation process, but I ignored this as I felt it was was, in essence, working backwards.

Although I will not be writing a blog series, I will be refilling my barrel with Buffalo Trace Wheated Recipe White Dog.  I will keep my barrel full and hopefully have a better story to share in a few months.

 

-Ryan

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