Solera

Review: Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Aged Bourbon (Sauternes Finished) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46.3%
Aging
~6 yrs; Charred virgin oak, refill oak, and sauternes casks
Recipe
Bourbon (37% Rye)
Producer Hillrock Estates (Ancram, New York)

Hillrock Estates is in the Hudson Valley in New York State, and certainly "craft” – they grow their own grain, do their own floor maltings, and are doing some creative things – they are using a solera system (the only bourbon I know of to do this) which is a process coming from sherry production where barrels are never fully drained – only part of the barrel is drained and new spirit is added to mature. Thus, a solera spirit has a variety of ages in it – all the way to a minute percentage of the original batches. Glenfiddich 15 Year Old does this with Scotch, and has achieved quite a wonderful product in doing so. This whisky is also sauternes finished – at the least, all of this leads me to be very intrigued! Dave Pickerell, notable distiller of Makers Mark and establisher of Whistlepig, is now at the helm here, too. Hillrock started out with sourced bourbon, and I am not sure if this is produced or sourced – likely sourced, for now, as it smells quite mature.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

The nose has sweet notes of corn, rye, dried apricot, marshy earth, white grape, pear, and lots of spice. A rich, complex, buttery sweetness comes out too – likely from the sauternes – and it does a wonderful trick. The spices almost seem to be in the category of tequila – very interesting. I find bourbon to be a bit of a limited category because of the regulations, and consequently I find it often cannot rival the complexity of Scotch of Canadian – but whiskies like this tend to expand that category. A remarkable nose. The palate is complex, combining earthy corn, spicy rye, oak, and loads of spices - roasted jalapeno, clove, sharp cinnamon – along with milk chocolate, caramel, and a bit more pear. The finish is buttery, yet full of spices and grain notes and light woody incense. Wonderful stuff – this is a micro-distillery product that competes with some of the best of the big guys!

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

Value: Low, at $137.


Ron Zacapa Sistema Solera 23 Guatemalan Rum by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
6-23 years old, American, Sherry, and PX barrels
Recipe
From molasses
Distiller Zacapa (Guatemala)

This is one of the most popular and available "premium" rums known, and, for a long time, represented the best rum you could get at the LCBO (along with the El Dorado 21). For a number of years, it won the International Rum Festival's compeition for the best premium rum, and was the first rum inducted into the international rum festival's hall of fame. It is distilled from Guatemalan sugarcane, and distilled before being transported to Zacapa's aging facility in the mountains - the "House above the Clouds" where it ages at an altitude of 7500 feet. The key to this rum is the aging - the rums pass through 4 different barrels - new american oak, reused oak, sherry, and Pedro Ximinez - all of these barrels are never totally drained, either, meaning that trace elements of the rums throughout the years are present.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

The nose is dry and oaky, with lots of sherry – apple seeds, molasses, classic oaky spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, raisins, and a slightly sour character. And a bit of earthiness – like a dried out marsh. Becomes a bit vegetal with air. Dried orange peel. Mint. The tannins are present on the nose, and lightly elegant overall. Lots of orange and molasses on the palate, finishing with lots of rancio. Cinnamon, and stewed spiced plums, raisins. Finish of dried fruit and rancio – and slightly sour. The nose is terrific – the palate and finish are only mediocre though.

Assessment: Recommended.

Value: Low.


Review: Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
15 Years; Various Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Glenfiddich (Dufftown, Scotland)

This whisky is quite unique as it is aged via a “solera” process, used frequently in sherry, where you have a big solera vat (in the case of glenfiddich, made of oregon pine) where the distillers add in new aged whisky before they remove some – and the vat is always kept at least half full. Thus, you add whisky, and remove some – but the whisky you remove contains bits of whiskies as old as the vat itself, resulting in a mix of whiskies from the most recent filling to much older fillings.

In order to fill up the solera vat, whiskies aged in sherry casks are vatted together, and whiskies aged in new oak are also vatted together. The contents are then mixed with more whiskies, this time from refill casks , and this is all added into the solera vat (which has a capacity of 37,000 litres). The whisky is then allowed to rest for a few days before 50% of the vat is emptied to produce a bottled batch of the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old. It’s quite the process – but it does produce something quite unique – a blend of batches from the current year and dating back even to the start of the vat, and each year in between.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

This is quite a bit different than the 12 year old – it’s busier, spicier, and once the nose opens up is quite an incredible dram.

Nose: Apple and pear definitely come through, though the apple is more like a golden delicious than the green apple found in the 12 Year Old. Some cinnamon and vanilla come through, with honey, maple, apricot jam, marmelade, alongside dried apricot, raisins, and prunes, and some rich malt. At first I find the nose a bit dense, but it starts to open up and unfold brilliantly with time. Vanilla and apple just come out more and more as it sits.

Taste: Malt, with some apple and cinnamon and vanilla on the finish. It’s quite dense – there’s a lot going on. There is some sweet honey underneath, and there is a slightly grassy character alongside the malt with the spice riding over top of it all. I get a slight bit of spicy earthiness in the background, as if from peat, as I find with all the glenfiddich expressions…and there’s some milk chocolate on the finish. There is a great richness to this as well, and the balance is great. The mouthfeel is great in this one.

Finish: A bit fruity and spicy, with apple, vanilla and some lovely honey. Definitely longer and busier than in the 12 year old. There’s some oak and plum jam as well. Slightly dry.

This is rich, complex, and bold (at least in the Glenfiddich range). The balance of the nose, taste, and finish is good, and overall this is a very engaging whisky, especially after some time in the glass when it starts to open up and move from dense and bold to creamy and honeyed.

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

Value: Average at $77.