American Whiskey

Review: Ironroot Hubris Straight Corn Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Ironroot Hubris.jpg
ABV
60%
Aging
24 months
Recipe
100% Corn
Distiller Ironroot Republic (Deniston, Texas)

This whiskey is making this distillery famous - a straight, complex 100% corn whiskey with loads of flavour. It has won best corn whisky awards already - not the typical unaged or barely aged corn spirit called "corn whiskey" (there are no regulations around aging corn whiskey in the USA).


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2017 Edition

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is very playful and fruity – full of flavor. Grape, bubblegum, spices, cinnamon, oak, fresh pizza dough, celery, and an oily richness. The palate is sweet, full of candy-fruity notes (pear, candy grape) and finishing with oak and porridge – but balanced with the complex fruit character. It’s a delicate balance – the youth is present, yet wonderfully shows the interesting distillate. The finish has some spicy oak, welcomed by me. The complexity blooms if water is added, but it is nice, big, and rich at cask strength. The best American corn whisky I’ve ever had (it’s hard to compete with the old Canadian corn whiskies, if you like that style as I do).

Score: 86/100

Value: 43/100 (based on $96)


Review: Balcones Blue Corn Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
64.9%
Aging
~2-3 yrs; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This bourbon is made with blue corn as the primary component, rather than the typical mass produced yellow corn in most bourbons.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2017

The nose is slightly sour- but shows a competition between oak, fruit, and grain. The grain is terrific – I love it when craft distillers really try to showcase the grain. Lots of sandlewood, too – it is terrific. Vanilla, toasted black pepper, celery seed, and toasted clove – an interesting , and well crafted, nose. The palate has white oak, green grape, nutmeg, rye bread, and a rich array of spice. There is some marmelade and a complex, almost, umami character. It is described as rich at mid-palate – no kidding! Lots of oak, spice, and fruit there. Terrific at cask strength. The roasted character is so central, and so strong – I love the myriad set of notes which are toasted, which fit into the grain and the oak. The finish is lightly drying, with nice tannins, white pepper, creamy corn, and pear. A nice whisky, but still, a bit less complex than the baby blue distillate. Somehow, the new oak doesn’t seem to serve balcones. But, I suppose it’s what you like.

Why lower than baby blue? Less complex. But, when it hits 5 years of age – I can only imagine!

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value:: Low. It’s a fairly expensive, even compared to other Balcones whiskies which are quite good, like Baby Blue or the Rye.


Review: Balcones True Blue Cask Strength Corn Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
65.7%
Aging
~2 yrs
Recipe
100% Roasted Heirloom Blue Corn
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This whiskey is older than Baby Blue, but still only about 2 years old - and made of the same 100% roasted heirloom blue corn.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

What marvelous color! The nose has some nice, rich fresh oak – with spicy, competing grains underneath. It is quite nutty – lots of walnut – but the nose seems a bit stuck on nuts and oak, without the underlying complexity in the distillate shown in baby blue. Roasted, rich, pecan, too. The palate is rich, but grainy – with lots of dark cacao, dark coffee, and charred oak. Sweet and slightly confectionary – the roasted character actually reminds me of some mezcals, with some roasted jalapeno notes. At cask strength, it is big – and the spices are terrific. It has quite a bit of great woody character – like gentian, but not bitter. The finish is full of nuts and spice, but it remains sweet and ever so lightly creamy.

Corn whisky is often fairly plain – they are showing that this isn’t the case here! In Texas, they do things big – no surprise to find this, then.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. A bit pricy for what you get in the glass in terms of flavour.

 


Review: Westland Garryana American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

ABV
56%
Aging
American Oak and Garry Oak; 4 years old
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (5 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

Westland is obsessed with portraying the land they live on - the pacific northwest, and part of their journey to being authentic to their landscape was to investigate the local Garry oak, a rich and rarely used style of oak which was first used for wine but was too powerful. Rather than release single Garryana casks, Westland decided to blend around the powerful wood to showcase different elements it displays. At first I was dissapointed, wanting to taste the unique wood directly - but as soon as I did, I understood, and now I can taste it come out differently in all of the Garryana blends.

When I visited Westland, I asked Matt Hoffman, the master distiller, and Steve Hawley, marketing director what was in Garryana 3.1. They both laughed, said it was complicated, and wouldn't give me an answer. Shane, their blender, finally let me in, and I understood why the others skirted the question...

It is a blend of 7 casks, with a bit less than 1700 bottles produced. It is Shane's version of the original vatting of Garryana, blended by Matt Hoffman, which was never released. The original recipe had been vatted with about 20% Garry oak amidst other cask types, but rather than being released, it was put back into the barrels that they came from. Of these 10 or 11 casks, 4 were pulled out for this blend - 2 Garry oak and 2 ex-bourbon. These were then vatted with 1 washington malt ex-bourbon cask, 1 peated new oak, and 1 five-malt recipe matured in new oak. The youngest whisky in the blend is 51 months (4.25 yrs) and the oldest is 58 months (4.8 yrs).

Bottled non-chill filtered and without caramel colouring.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 3.1

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Garry oak is so intense – and I like intense whiskies – so I was always curious why they blended this until I tasted a straight garry oak whisky. It is intense. If you water this down, you can taste the garry oak – it is quite central – rich toffee, buckwheat soba noodles, molasses, and a deep spiciness – that’s the garry oak. It is very balanced, and broader than the first two releases – the first which was focused more on the phenolic, smoky elements of garryana and the second on dried fruit. This does it all - wood, smoke, malt, roasted malt, and a complex finish.

The nose brings together a lot - white grape, white oak, dried cherry, dried apricot, toffee, burning conifers, and an umami characteristic like a subtle soy sauce. The palate has light licorice, hickory smoke, roasted lemon, toffee, an incredible woodiness, clove, and jam too – quince, apricot, peach. The finish is drying, spicy, smoky, and still full of stone fruit jams. Cacao, too – and a nice flash of garry oak!

This is complex, awesome stuff. One of my favourite American whiskies I’ve tasted of late, both delicious and extremely interesting.

Score: 89/100

Value: 18/100 (based on $200)


Review: Westland Garryana Single Cask American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
N/A
Aging
New Garry Oak
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (5 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

Here is a rarity - Westland matures a lot of their whiskey in Garry oak, but blends it into their limited releases rather than release it straight. I understand why - this is intense! However, I graciously was able to try this. It may well get blended into a future garryana release.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Cask 2951

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: N/A

Now this is quite something! While I have heard that garryana oak is quite unique, I’ve never been able to taste a straight garry oak whisky! It is rich and thickly woody – sweet wood, caramel, toffee, nutmeg, almond, and a rubbery sort of phenolic character. It’s not smoky, to me, but it’s like smoke. Dried orange, dried papaya, dried mango, candied mandarin, buckwheat – it’s still a bit young, but this is very complex and very interesting! It’s no wonder garry oak didn’t work well for wine – you’d need a massive wine to tame this beast!

The finish is also fascinating – it is woody, but very different than what I’ve tasted before – as if the vanilla has been replaced with toffee, or perhaps dulce de leche, and the clove notes are more along the lines of the smoky elements of brown cardamom. I was also expecting it to be more tannic – but perhaps the good dose of seasoning has dealt with that!

I love nosing this stuff...wow. This is amazing rich stuff, but not quite complete on its own – it’s no wonder that they blend it! It would be marvellous as part of a blend.

Score: 84/100

Value: N/A


Review: Westland Amaretto Cask American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
50%
Aging
Amaretto Cask
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (5 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

I got a sample of this while I was at the distillery and was astounded. I tasted lots at the distillery, but this was my favourite, and I would never have thought it would work so well. The Amaretto comes from the Sons of Vancouver distillery.

Bottled non-chill filtered and without caramel colouring.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Cask N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: N/A

What a nose! Lightly smoky, with dried cherries, charred oak, pencil shavings, chili, and a slight almost rubbery note. I really like this stuff – it’s a fascinating nose – unique and not at all what I was expecing, which was a whisky that was loaded with almond. I discovered after the fact that this is in part due to the fact that Sons of Vancouver’s amaretto isn’t loaded with almond – it’s made with apricots, bourbon vanilla beans, orange peel, and demerrera and blackberry honey. The palate follows from the nose, with a light dry-ness to it and some very nice smoke integrated in, along with a growing earthiness. This is fantastic! The finish has cherries, apricot, oak, spice, and candied orange. The smoke/earthiness that is integrated in so well to the fruit (quite rare) is so intriguing and works so beautifully – this is one of my favourite whiskies tasted this year. The smoke battling the apricot on the eventual end of the whisky is amazing.

The finish is nice, but not long enough – and it is, perhaps, a touch too sweet – but I expect this could easily be eased with a bit of blending.

I would buy a few of these, and there aren’t many whiskies in the world which I’ll commit to like that.

Score: 91/100

Value: N/A


Review: Westland Eureka Cask American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
56%
Aging
34 Months; PX Sherry Cask
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (5 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

I tried this bottle and really liked it, because it is so deeply sherried. The flavour is mostly from the cask, but this is a nice sherry cask! It was bottled exclusively for Eureka burger.

Bottled non-chill filtered and without caramel colouring.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Cask 311

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

I really liked this cask, just because it is so deeply sherried. Loads of sweet rancio, dried fruit, baking spices, and honey. It’s quite cask driven, but there is some roasted rice and soy notes too – when you dig deeper into these you start to see the grain bill of westland poking through nicely. It seems very asian-style to me, with buckwheat noodles and five-spice coming in beside the rice and soy. The palate follows on from the nose, with rich sherry notes. It doesn’t vary much from the nose, except a bit more defined spice character and pronounced sugar caramel. It’s quite cask driven, but it’s nice sherry, and a nice cask, and sometimes that’s just what I’m in the mood for.

Score: 85/100

Value: N/A


Review: Westland Distillery Sherry Wood American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

ABV
46%
Aging
New American Oak, PX Sherry, and Oloroso Sherry Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (5 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

I originally didn't go for a bottle of this because I suspected it was something I'd seen too often before - a micro-distillery trying to replicate a Scottish style of single malt - I was wrong. This doesn't taste like Scotch - it is driven by a unique and flavorful barley mash alongside a brewer's yeast and a maturation regime that pairs new american oak with sherry casks! Westland takes the painstaking labour of shipping the sherry casks whole from Spain - they believe this extra effort, which limits them to 10 casks per container, imparts extra vibrancy to the spirit.

Bottled non-chill filtered and without caramel colouring.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

Very much in the Westland style, with the roasted malts coming through with nice roasted grain and toasty notes, yet with the sherry influence – dried orange, clove, nutmeg, rancio, sugar caramel...and a nice spiciness. The palate is sweet, with more of that orange and rancio coming in alongside toasted bread, malt loaf, pumperknickel bread, toasted macadamia nuts, . Dried fruits, smoke, and tannic oak on the finish. A sweet, woody, spicy, and fruity finish – all in equal parts, seemingly. Nice balance!

Score: 87/100

Value: 58/100 (based on $100)


Review: Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Rittenhouse.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
>4 yrs
Recipe
51% rye, 37% Corn, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

Rittenhouse is a brand produced by Heaven Hill, the largest family-owned beverage alcohol producer in the USA and the second largest bourbon producer after Jim Beam. This rye whiskey has been around for some time, as one of the best deals (perhaps the best) in terms of price and quality for a straight rye. This whiskey is bottled in bond, a labeling measure which was put in place in 1897 in order to protect the quality of good whiskey. To put “bottled in bond” on the label, the whiskey has to be the product of one distillation season, produced by a single distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse under US Government supervision for at least 4 years, and bottled at 50% ABV (or 100 American proof). These restrictions are stricter than those for Bourbon (produced in US, use new oak barrels, distilled to no more than 80% ABV, and put in the cask at 62.5%, bottled at at least 40%, with the age written on the label if it is less than 4 years old) and Straight Bourbon (minimum age 2 years without colouring or flavouring added). Thus, to an extent, it is a bit stricter of a labelling regulation.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: Fresh oak and floral, candied rye in great measure, orange peel, along with some honey, and anise. Quite an expressive nose – not difficult at all to smell with your nose quite a bit away from the glass. However, if you search deeper, you find tannins and some bitterness which is too much. Thankfully, with time this is a less significant factor as the aroma develops. Caramel and vanilla come out in time, and some funky farmy earthiness with the honey and oak continuing to grow. The beginning of the nose isn’t that great, but as you get used to it and it develops it really starts to come out wonderfully.

Taste: A good dosage of rye coming through, with the oak counterbalancing and eventually winning out. There’s a lot of honey, and still has the heaven hill style in the mix of it. As I’ve said before, one great thing about visiting distilleries is getting into the barrel houses with the smells – and this reminds me of that Heaven Hill characteristic. The guy who was giving us the tour told us at the time that if Buffalo Trace barreled their bourbon there, it would taste like Heaven Hill, and likewise, if Heaven Hill barreled their bourbon at Buffalo Trace, it would taste like Buffalo Trace. The grain comes through nicely, too – rich and buttery, and the corn seems to come through on the end. Delicious stuff. Spicy on the end, too. Really – a quite fabulous integration of complex grains, oak, and spice.

Finish: after the intensity of the palate, the oak takes the reins and slows the whole thing down leaving you into slow, sweet oak and honey with some spiciness in the mix too and some apples. anise, once again.

This is so popular, and with such great demand, a worker at Heaven Hill told me that they actually sell this stuff at a loss in order to keep the brand profile high until some of the other prices rise. This is great stuff, and terrific value especially in the states – as with most Heaven Hill products, in fact. I am quite a fan of them (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig 12, Larceny, Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope)

Score: 88/100

Value: 87/100 (based on $47)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: B35L6

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Oak, slightly nutty, vanilla, dried fruit, dry candy icing, solidified bacon fat – lots of spices (unsurprisingly). A really rich, spicy product – still with a nice light sweetness and a touch of mint. A corn sweetness grows in the glass. The palate is really nice  - rich with a great balance of oak, sweet, and spice. The corn really comes out on the palate, more than the nose – rich grainy body, yet the spicy rye is there with clove, tea, brown cardamom, and rye bread. The finish is slightly sweet, slightly tangy, full of light oak and more spice. Cinnamon, brown sugar, and light menthol.

I was writing more but I realized it was so much a duplication of the above review and there is no need! I don’t know if I would say that it is a better whisky than it’s older sibling Pikesville, but I like it better. It’s a nice distillate, and I like it with this amount of oak – Pikesville is a bit more oaky. The tanginess here is just perfect.

Score: 88/100

Value: 87/100 (based on $47)


Review: George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
84% Corn, 8% Rye, 8% Malted Barley
Distiller George Dickel (Tullahoma, Tennessee)

George Dickel is the other distillery in Tennessee, the second major whiskey producer in Tennessee after Jack Daniel’s – the largest American whiskey producer in the world. This whiskey is aged 12 years, and filtered through maple charcoal in regulation with the Lincoln County process which Tennessee Whiskey employs. However, unlike Jack Daniel’s, George Dickel chill their products before they filter it through the charcoal, and do so faster than Jack Daniel’s resulting in a different stripping process. Great value for this whiskey, and often a pleasant surprise for guests at tastings I have lead.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: 2015

Nose: Creamy, corn-driven, lightly nutty, raisins, and some really nice oak integration, vanilla, spice – rich flavours here. It’s fairly bready, the yeasty-grainy smell of rising dough. Some of the grain is a bit funky at times and I don’t know whether I like it or not, which on one hand is a good thing because it keeps me thinking.

Taste: Dried corn, dried cherries, with some woody spice which continues on with some honey before gradually letting you down at the finish. The tannins are certainly felt in this one, but it’s not too bitter. Some nice wood smoke in the mix, too, which adds quite a nice edge. I once infused dried chipotle peppers into black eyed peas as they were boiling away, and the grainy-smoky characteristics of this whisky remind me of that.

Finish: Quite bold, retaining its woodiness and honeyed corn character and a decent punch of a spicy peppery feel. Some light apple and dried cherry comes into the mix as well. There’s a nice buttery aspect to the finish too, which I quite like. It makes me think this would do wonders as well whipped into a bit of cream and put on top of a dense chocolate cake…regardless, the spicy/dry dynamic is great here.

This is quite a nice product, particularly for the price. Nothing is out of whack, it’s well put together – though the nose is the weakest part. Certainly one I enjoy to sip…I really quite like their rye, which I might put above this one, but this is still a solid product. The spicy bite at the end makes this one quite addictive and really makes me want another sip. I think I would prefer the Dickel Rye more – if not for the lovely spicy finish on this one. Fabulous value.

Score: 86/100

Value: 86/100 (based on $30)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: L7177R60011413 0307110195531w
  • Bottling Date: 2017

A sweet, rich nose – slightly nutty (marzipan!), almond cookies, oak, green apple, wet marsh, brown rice, and a very floral vanilla character. The palate is sweet, oaky, spicy, and rich – still lots of green apple, vanilla. The corn mixed with the oak is just brilliant. The feel really grips on the palate, too. What a solid whiskey. It’s not breathtaking- but what a whiskey, and what value. The finish fades somewhat quickly, but with more dried corn, oak, and wood smoke.

Hard to do better than this in Ontario if you don’t want to dish out much money. Terrific.

Score: 86/100

Value: 86/100 (based on $30)