American Whiskey

Review: American Rockies Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Picture courtesy of the Fountana Beverage Corp..

Picture courtesy of the Fountana Beverage Corp..

ABV
44%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Producer Wyoming (Kirby, Wyoming)

This is produced by the Fountana group, alongside their terrific Canadian Rockies whiskies. This is sourced from the mountains of Wyoming, so in all likelihood it is from the well-reputed Wyoming Distillery.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose has some sharp wood – almost with sharp pine-like notes. Orange peel, bean sprouts, cream of wheat, anise, corn grits, clove, dill, and prunes. Some nice candied notes too – Reisen and Toffifee. And with time, some berry notes. The palate is very well integrated, with a very nice thread of dried corn, light spice, mixed dried Italian herbs, and very pleasing vanilla and toffee. The balance between the fruit, grain, and oak is terrific. The finish is sweet, lightly oaky, lightly grainy. This is good! It’s quite a lighter style of bourbon, but it has some nice elegance to it.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This is a really nice complex bourbon that isn’t too big. It’s a bit different, too, to its credit – with more herbal and unique fruit notes than in many bourbons.

Value: Average. It’s not a bad buy, but you could do better with different bourbons for $71.


Review: Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Balcones Baby Blue 2.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
Used 5 Gallon Barrels
Recipe
Roasted Heirloom Blue Corn
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This whiskey is made from double distilled heirloom blue corn, matured in used 5 gallon casks for a limited time. It is released young and youthful - intentionally - in order to display the character of the blue heirloom corn used to make the whiskey. The first whiskey released in Texas since prohibition, and perhaps the cornerstone whiskey which established Balcones as a leader in craft distilling.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is sharp and young – oily, unripe pear, jalapeno, white pepper, but is full of lots of toffee, mixed roasted nuts, and lots of tropical fruit. But – it evolves, with cinnamon, sunflower oil, dried corn, and terrific roasted notes. The palate has lots of toffee, with some spice, tea, and light oak – and rich sunflower and corn oil (which does a nice trick!). The finish is lightly sour, with more toffee and some pear – but rich and spicy - the spices on the end are brilliant. Young, but very well crafted – the distillate comes through beautifully and it is creamy, rich, and spicy – and a bit candied. It is terrific!

I really like it. The youthfulness on the nose does detract the score, though. But, that being said – I do like whiskies that show good underlying distillate – and this has that.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This really is unique, and shows the amazing depth that a young whisky can have, and, moreover, one made from the typically one-dimensional corn! This is rather unique in the world of whisky.

Value: Medium. At about 60$ USD, it’s a bit high in cost for what you get. I was between low and medium for this, but it gets the bump to medium for uniqueness.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: BB18-3

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is raw, rich, and so full of corn. It is awesome. Sweet, oily, and creamy – with vanilla, prunes, dried apricot, blood orange, clove, and baking cinnamon rolls. The palate is so creamy! What a wonderful mix of oak, berry notes, tobacco, cacao, and dried corn. The finish is slightly tannic, with lots of vanilla, oak, dried fruit, and light baking spice (nutmeg too). Awesome!

Highly Recommended. This really is unique, and shows the amazing depth that a young whisky can have, and, moreover, one made from the typically one-dimensional corn! This is rather unique in the world of whisky.

Value: Medium. At about 60$ USD, it’s a bit high in cost for what you get. I was between low and medium for this, but it gets the bump to medium for uniqueness.

Score: 87/100

Value: 63/100 (based on $93)


Review: Balcones Brimstone Scrub Oak Smoked Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Balcones+Brimstone+1.jpg
ABV
53%
Aging
>1 Day
Recipe
Roasted Heirloom Blue Corn
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

Scrub oak is a variety of small, shrubby oak present throughout the US. They are more shrubs than trees, so you wouldn’t make barrels from them, but Balcones found a use for this oak here! They smoke the distillate as part of a proprietary process, and it is aged for “at least one day” in accordance with whisky regulations in the USA (though I’m not sure how long it is actually aged, but it isn’t labeled a bourbon or straight bourbon, so it is presumably not aged that long).


Review (2019)

  • Batch: BRM18-2 (Bott. 3.28.18)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is gorgeous. Rich woodiness and multifaceted oak, but this is offset by a light berry fruitiness and some rich dried fruit. Frying tomato paste, sandalwood, and rosewood. A home smoker at work…The palate has terrific mouthfeel and contains a terrific hit of smoke, black pepper, vanilla, and clean oak. There are terrific dried fruits throughout. The finish is smoky, rich, and woody. I do love this stuff!

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). It’s the first non-peated smoky whisky I’ve really taken to. It has a rich woodiness, smokiness, and it’s distinctly smoky and non-Scottish.

Value: Average. It’s pretty good to get a unique, smoky whisky like this for about $70 US. It competes with some of the cheaper Scottish peated whiskies pretty well – but it really is in a category by itself. If you’re good to lay out 70 USD for a whisky, this is a decent pick, but it’s still 70 USD.


Review: Balcones 1 Texas Single Malt Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Balcones+Single+Malt+2.jpg
ABV
53%
Aging
19 Months
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This is another American Single Malt, but it is very American – it doesn’t taste Scottish. I appreciate distilleries that are forging their own paths, like American distilleries trying to create a different style, not just replicate Scottish single malts. It’s certainly seen a lot of oak, given the colour!


Review (2019)

  • Batch: SM18-3 (I think; hard to read; bottled 5.8.18)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose has strawberry jam, roasted grain, blanched tomatoes, and charred oak. There is a real rich woodiness present here. Loads of wood too – sandalwood, rosewood, and oak. The palate is loaded with strawberry jam, astringent oak, wood charcoal, chocolate malt, cacao, and pear. It’s still very woody, to great effect. The finish has lightly roasted grain and a light astringency.  

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This is another great example of an American single malt – it’s unique and tasty, full of oak and grain.

Value: Low. You can certainly get better value products in the American market, or the Scottish market, for the price. However, it is on the cheaper and better side of American single malts.


Review: Balcones Texas Rye 100 Proof Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Balcones+Rye+1.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
18 Months
Recipe
100% Elbon Rye
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This was produced from 100% Texas Elbon rye for Balcones tenth anniversary celebration. There was a cask strength and a 100 proof version released. The rye was grown from farmers who were approached by Balcones to see if they would grow some rye for them as a cover crop, and harvest the grain for them, rather than just let them be eaten by cattle etc. as part of crop rotation. It is made from rye, roasted rye, crystal roasted rye, and chocolate roasted rye. I believe it’s the first roasted rye grain whisky I’ve had.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: RYE10018-2 (Bott. 6.7.18)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Loads of fruit – mandarins, pear, prunes – and loads of rye grain – roasted grain, wet grassy fields, and some dry marsh. Roasted nuts and roasted malt notes, too, and a touch of cauliflower. There is so much earthy grain packed into this! The palate is sweet, and full of a rich roasted character (think chocolate malt), chocolate, and dried apricot. The finish is full of deep dark chocolate, and a rich earthiness (damp, rich, earth). The finish is hot and spicy, too – I quite like it. With water added, it opens up well – especially the fruitiness. But you lose some of the dense grain character. Very nice!

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). Not only is the flavour great, but the roasted character of this rye really comes out and is rather unique.

Value: High. A price of $44 USD for a rye like this, with its unique character and rich flavor, is pretty good.


Review: New Southern Revival 100% Jimmy Red Corn Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

High+Wire+Revival+Jimmy+Red.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak; Aged 2 Years
Recipe
100% Jimmy Red Corn
Distiller High Wire (Charlestown, South Carolina)

If you talk to any chef in a critically acclaimed restaurant, they’ll always tell you that good food starts with quality ingredients. It’s odd, then, that

Anson Mills is a company which started as an endeavor to explore heirloom grains for the good of both land and flavour. Originally, it came out of a desire to resurrect old strains of rice used in southern cooking renowned for flavour. If you want to try some of the best oats of your life, order some from Anson Mills and cook according to their instructions. It’s a “wow” moment.

Anson Mills worked to resurrect one strain of corn, Jimmy Red, which was a red variety of corn which became popular among moonshiners. Originally, there was not even enough corn to make a batch, so High Wire partnered with Clemson University and Anson Mills to generate the seed stock and produce some corn. They describe it as the most flavourful corn they’ve ever distilled, with a rich 3 inch oil cap on top of the fermenter! The heirloom grains typically have deeper roots, which bring more trace minerals (and flavour) into the grain (as older vines would for wine). This whisky is similar to Balcones Baby Blue, similarly an heirloom corn with loads of flavour.

The bourbon was first released in November 2017.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 5

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is rich and grain forward – very diverse – semi-dried tomatoes, rich spices, buttery polenta, thyme, caramel, vanilla, oaky spices, nut oils, apple sauce, and mixed grain porridge. Complex, interesting, and it doesn’t smell too youthful. It’s a whisky I would enjoy spending significant time with on the nose, which is a rare compliment. The palate is warm and rich, where a dense corn character unfolds with lots of mineral notes and a pleasant, fall marsh earthiness developing on the finish. The spiciness in the palate is subtle, but excellent in terms of where it sits. The finish has nice spices – nutmeg, hot cinnamon, and more semi-dried tomato and a light herbal character.

Perhaps the most flavorful 100% corn whisky that isn’t more than 15 years old, although Blacones Baby Blue is worth a shout too. This is a bit richer and has more oak, and it’s not quite as creamy, oily, or “raw” corn as the Baby Blue. I really appreciate the investment into quality corn – it does show. Also, this will get even better if it continues to sit in a barrel a few more years.

A great tasting besides Balcones Baby Blue, Westland Single Malt, and Glen Saanich Ancient Grains – all great, young, grain driven whiskies.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). On a taste level, this might drop down to “recommended” but it’s extremely worthwhile to try the complexity and uniqueness in a corn whisky like this. It’s rather fascinating.

Value: Low. On a value standpoint, paying north of $100 USD for a product like this - you are paying for something unique, local, and more expensive to make - but on a taste perspective, you can do better for flavour and complexity from some larger producers.


The Wonderful World of Westland's Single Barley New Makes by Jason Hambrey

Westland Barleys.jpg

Single malts exist all over the world in various shapes and sizes, and few scottish malt producers talk much about the flavour of the grain they use. Instead, it’s a lot of focus on yeast and maturation - perhaps because mostly they all use the same barley!

One of my “wow” moments in my whisky journey was visiting Westland distillery during the past year. I was able to taste new make distillates produced by Westland which are made from different varieties of barley. Westland is involved at the front end not only of whisky production, but also barley breeding, working closely with the grain genius Dr. Steve Jones (of Washington State University). Westland partners with Dr. Jones to breed barley varietals for flavour in whisky production. Successfully breeding a new strain of barley takes about ten years, if the strain is a success. What whisky producer wants to add ten years on the front end of an already long process!? I’m sure glad they do. Let me describe a few new makes from different varieties:

Copeland Barley

Copeland is the most commonly grown species of barley in the USA. This new make is the most like their whisky, with strong fruity notes and a rich grain base and slight spice. Rich, fruity, and clean.

NZ151 (Ricard) Barley

Sharply fruity, with lots of dried fruit notes. It’s also more earthy and definitely more spicy. Very unique – this is my second favourite of the distillates.

Talisman Barley

More “simply” grain – the grain comes forward more at the centre here than in any of the other new makes, with candied fruit still playing around in the background. This is nice – I quite like the grain forward nature. However, it isn’t as complex as the other distillates, and it is ever so slightly astringent.

Purple Obsidian Barley

Incredible – rich barley, pine –evolving over time. It is abundant in flavour: rose, rich rice, jasmine tea, licorice, clove, Campbell’s tomato soup, and green tea. This is absolutely phenomenal – rich, complex, balanced, textured. Excellent.

You can’t taste these, but the other stuff Westland makes is fantastic: I recommend the Westland American Oak, Sherry Wood, Peated, and Garryana.

Review: Stagg Junior Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
63%+
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 10% Rye, 15% Malted Barley
Distiller Buffalo Trace (Frankfort, Kentucky)

Stagg Junior was released in 2013 partially to satisfy many consumers who wanted to try the George T. Stagg bourbon, a whiskey usually about 17 years old and bottled unfiltered and at barrel proof part of the esteemed and rare Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. This whisky is aged 8-9 years, and, similarly, is from the same recipe (also the recipe of Buffalo Trace) and is cask strength and unfiltered. It comes out in batches, and, thus, the alcohol percentage and flavour vary from batch to batch. As the whiskey is younger, has high production, and is released multiple times per year, Buffalo Trace hopes this is a more accessible whiskey in the mold of George T. Stagg.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A (66.05%)

  • Bottling Code: B14 191 0957N

  • Bottling Date: 2014

There’s a good dose of earthy oak, caramel, black tea, lots of white grape (the fruit really lifts up the whole nose), honey, a bit of marsh that’s drying out in the fall (or another season, I suppose…), and lots of dried apricot. I love the earthiness of the oak. The palate is sweet with a lot of black tea, candied orange, and some sharp spices – a mixed bag of old stale cloves and peppercorns. Still a bit sweet with almost a raisin-y type sweetness to it. Fades to tannins, oak, and dried apple.

Even if you water it down to 40% you still get quite a nice bourbon. But, much better at cask strength – though watered to 58-60% might be my sweet spot for this bourbon.

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

Value: Average (based on $85).


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 10 (63.2%)

  • Bottling Code: L180860118:557 REF IA 5C VT 15C

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Lowest proof to date for a stagg jr!

Very fruity! Cherries, mulberries, white grape, a light floral note and lots of spice – clove and ground cinnamon (i.e. more on the spicy than the woody side). The palate is big with dried fruit and a rich oiliness – full of that buffalo trace rye note you see clearly in the standard buffalo trace bottling – but it’s much bigger and richer here. Amazing fruity notes – raspberry jam, hibiscus, cherry, strawberry, but alongside the oily corn, oak, and spice you’d expect. The finish is drying, with lots of dried stone fruit (notably cherry), oak, caramel, and tannin.

A definite improvement on the initial stagg jr. which didn’t make me jump to buy more of them. This is much better.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average (based on $85).


Review: Wild Turkey Rare Breed Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
54.1%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
~51% Rye, 37% Corn, 21% Malted Barley
Distiller Wild Turkey (Lawrenceburg, Kentucky)

This whiskey is a near barrel proof bourbon, bottled at 54.1%, from Wild Turkey. It was originally released in 1991, and is a mix of bourbons 6-12 years old.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Nose: The first thing I notice are almonds and caramel. Orange, allspice, dried apricot, peppers, light smoky ash, very light vanilla, and a bit of sourness to it as well. Oak drifts in and out, and the corn is present, along with a some good malt, and some notes that remind me of white flour. Interestingly, I also get a kidney bean note! There’s a bit of dense spiciness with a thread of bitterness which I find doesn’t really fit in too well with the rest of the whiskey. A bit of earthy, marshy notes as well – which seem to be coming alongside the corn. It’s complex, with a lot going on, but I don’t find it particularly elegant or balanced.

Taste: The rye comes in quite nicely on the palate, alongside the corn – it’s quite a big whiskey. Leather, tobacco, rye spice, caramel, pineapple, and a bit of orange. It finishes with some spices, including anise. A bit of detracting bitterness I think. This is good, and interesting, but not spectacular.

Finish: Anise, marzipan, and caramel…it’s a bit dry, with a tiny bit of bitterness and sweetness. Some of those marshy earthy notes too, which I suppose is the earthiness of the corn coming through, and even some earthy-mushroom notes.

Value: Average, at $68.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 2015/09/17 14:11 LJ10946

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Rich...this is full of coconut, vanilla, oak, and fruit – plums, apricot, prunes, and dried peaches. It has a nice grainy character, with a nice earthiness and farm-like character to it. The palate balances the fruit, sweetness, and a light grain character. I’m enjoying this much more than the last batch of rare breed that I had - perhaps I got it wrong last time (it was just a small sample in 2015) or it’s actually better. The finish has fennel seed, oak, plum, and dried corn.

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

Value: Average, at $61.


Review: Ironroot Icarus Straight Corn Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Ironroot Icarus.jpg
ABV
53.75%
Aging
24 months; Virgin Charred Oak Finished in Peat and Port Casks
Recipe
>80% Corn
Distiller Ironroot Republic (Deniston, Texas)

This is one of the most interesting whiskies I've ever come across. A straight corn whisky (rare), finished in peat casks (rare, if not the only American to do so yet), and port casks. The only thing mildly in the category is High West's campfire, but even that is quite a bit different.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 14K20-A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

One of the most unique noses I have encountered. Sharp, smoky wood, sweet fruits, sharp mineral notes, crushed glass, caramel, and corn. Very complex, and very interesting. The palate is full of that sweet, smoky character with lots of vegetal character, including milkweed and dandelion stems (very interesting!). The complex underlying corn distillate character is present, too – as seen in their Hubris bottling. The finish has rancio, smoke, oak, and corn. The closest thing to this is High West’s campfire, but they are very different in  terms of casks and distillate, so it is a weak comparison – but there are just not many spirits in this category. Quite nice at the release strength – and the complexity and intrigue is brilliant. However, it is slightly out of balance – the rich fruitiness of the port combined with a light sourness means I enjoy one dram, but probably won’t reach for a second.

Regardless, I view this as a very interesting whisky for pushing the limits, and, again, very complex and interesting.

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

Value: N/A (I was given a sample by a friend and I’m unaware of pricing)