Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Kavalan Series Part 5 of 10 - Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peaty Cask Single Malt Whisky Review

Here is the fifth in a series of 10 Kavalan whisky reviews. You can read more background in part 1 but the TL;DR version is fellow local redditor /u/onewaybackpacking graciously brought back one of these cool Kavalan sampler packs back from Taiwan for me. Thus far in the series we have had:

  1. Classic Single Malt

  2. Concertmaster Single Malt

  3. Podium Single Malt

  4. King Car Conductor Single Malt

Today we will be covering the Peaty Cask which according to their website is a distillery exclusive. Most information online I've found indicates it is not itself peated but was aged in former Islay Scotch casks. As a brief reminder, I am mostly an American whiskey drinker who occasionally dabbles in malts so take that for what it is worth.

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Taiwanese Single Malt Whisky; No Age Statement; 50% ABV

Nose: Bourbon like scents of vanilla / caramel and a chargrilled fruit meat medley. This does not have the "box of bandaids from a burned down hospital" peated whisky note like a Laphroaig but I can definitely pick up on some earthy peat aromas. I would have guessed Scotch finished bourbon from the nose.

Taste: More sweet notes like creamy butterscotch, a good amount of cereal grains, and charred tropical fruits like pineapple. Mouthfeel is thicker and more oily than all those sampled thus far. Again like the nose this is by no means an ashtray laden peat smoke bomb but the Islay cask aging is definitely noticeable, particularly in the finish that rides out for quite a while with some scorched earth notes.

Thoughts: This edges out as my favorite thus far in the series, slightly ahead of the Concertmaster. I am not a huge peat head but I do enjoy them every once and in a while and this scratches that itch. The tropical fruit presence is there but not as forward as in the others, I believe due to being rounded out by the smoky peat notes. Overall I found this the most interesting yet as it has the best mouthfeel and the biggest range of flavors from sweet to fruit to smoke so it's much more dimensional.

Rating: B-

Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.


Monday, February 15, 2021

Kavalan Series Part 4 of 10 - Kavalan King Car Conductor Single Malt Whisky Review

Here is the fourth in a series of 10 Kavalan whisky reviews. You can read more background in part 1 but the TL;DR version is fellow local redditor /u/onewaybackpacking graciously brought back one of these cool Kavalan sampler packs back from Taiwan for me. Thus far in the series we have had:

  1. Classic Single Malt
  2. Concertmaster Single Malt
  3. Podium Single Malt

Today we will be covering King Car Conductor which I can't find much credible information on how it was aged so all we can say is NAS whisky. As a brief reminder, I am mostly an American whiskey drinker who occasionally dabbles in malts so take that for what it is worth. This is the last sub 50% ABV whisky in the mix, so I think things should be looking up from here as the coming samples are likely much more my style.

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Taiwanese Single Malt Whisky; No Age Statement; 46% ABV

Nose: Mostly caramel / honey sweets and grains, like sugar coated bran cereal. There is some of the calling card tropical fruit I have found in all the whiskies in this series thus far as well. It is very bourbon like to some extent, minus the lack of corn grain flavors. The nose is a little flat - maybe the most boring yet.

Taste: A lot like the nose - upfront is floral and sweet, then transitions to juicy island fruits like bananas and pineapples, and then the finish rounds out with a little bit of dry baking spice and what I would describe as powdery runts candy. The finish is rather short and the heat is pretty minimal, about what I'd expect for 86 proof. It drinks like a fruity, bourbony Scotch. 

Thoughts: This was okay. Again I appreciate the fruity tropical forward notes I am finding in all of these Kavalans but this one didn't have much else to wow me. On the plus side, it didn't have the earthiness or bitterness I found in some of the other ones, so I can find no real flaws other than it just being a little flat for my tastes. I'd imagine at ~50% I'd like this quite a bit more.

Rating: C / C+

Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Kavalan Series Part 3 of 10 - Kavalan Podium Single Malt Whisky Review

Here is the third in a series of 10 Kavalan whisky reviews. You can read more background in part 1 but the TL;DR version is fellow local redditor /u/onewaybackpacking graciously brought back one of these cool Kavalan sampler packs back from Taiwan for me. Thus far in the series we have had:

  1. Classic Single Malt
  2. Concertmaster Single Malt

Today we will be covering Podium, which is aged in a combination of new American oak and refill casks. Nothing terribly exciting about those stats but I am glad to be done with the 80 proofers. As a brief reminder, I am mostly an American whiskey drinker who occasionally dabbles in malts so take that for what it is worth.

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Taiwanese Single Malt Whisky; No Age Statement; 46% ABV

Nose: Bourbon like scents of vanilla and caramel but with a Scotch twist - grain cereal instead of corn cereal. The fruit notes are lighter than the previous whiskies but still definitely tropical in nature. The new American oak usage sticks out to me as there are some prominent tannic wood notes too. 

Taste: Starts off with a lot of honey and sugary grains and then finishes with wallop of tropical fruits, like juicy fruit gum. Once the fruit rollercoaster ends there is some astringent and charry oak at play as well which lingers as slightly bitter wood tannins. 

Thoughts: I'm now convinced tropical fruits are indeed the calling card of Kavalan and while they were hiding in the nose here, they certainly come through in the palate. The mid and back palate are just an explosion of luscious island fruits which are the star of the show. Having said that, there is an astringency here that wears on me and it finished out longer than the fruitiness. I suspect that is a byproduct of the new American oak and the aggressive climate these are aged in. All in all I really enjoyed the flavors and the proof gives it enough body to be more in my wheelhouse but I would have preferred less astringency.

Rating: C / C+

Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Kavalan Series Part 2 of 10 - Kavalan Concertmaster Single Malt Whisky Review

Here is the second in a series of 10 Kavalan whisky reviews. You can read more background in part 1 but the TL;DR version is fellow local redditor /u/onewaybackpacking graciously muled one of these cool Kavalan sampler packs out of Taiwan for me. Today we will be covering Concertmaster, which is a single malt first finished American oak and then finished in a variety of Portuguese port casks. I am usually a fan of port finished whisky and port itself so I am looking forward to this one. As a brief reminder, I am mostly an American whiskey drinker who occasionally dabbles in malts so take that for what it is worth.

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Taiwanese Single Malt Whisky; No Age Statement; 40% ABV

Nose: Like the previous single malt, it is very tropical fruity and sweet with honey and sugary grain notes. What this has over the classic malt though is the red fruit notes are way ramped up. While I detected a twinge of sherry/port finish in the first one, the port finish is very evident here.

Taste: Tastes as it smells - sweet, super fruity, sugary grain, and a fruit heavy finish. The fruitiness really shines as it's a range of island fruits and red fruits. I assume that range is the variety of port casks this was finished in but I am also starting to think tropical fruits might be a calling card of Kavalan. In the back palate and finish there is a little bit of earthiness like bitter tannins / dirty oak.

Thoughts: This is a step up over the regular classic single malt. Whereas that one had some tropical notes and then mostly just classic single malt flavors, this ramps up the sweet fruit notes all over the place. It's slightly bonkers how fruity this is. As for the negatives, as someone who prefers higher proof whiskies, this is a bit thin and lacking in the amount of depth I prefer. I could also do without the touch of earthiness but overall this was pretty good. On a more positive note, I believe this was the last 80 proofer in the series so the thinness issues should start going down as we move forward.

Rating: C+ / B-

Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Kavalan Series Part 1 of 10 - Kavalan Classic Single Malt Whisky Review

Here is the first in a series of 10 Kavalan whisky reviews. The background here is a few years ago a local fellow redditor /u/onewaybackpacking who was vacationing in Taiwan graciously offered to pick up one of these awesome Kavalan sampler packs. I had always meant to sample and review them as a series, so here is that long overdue set of reviews. Sorry it took me so long, dude.

I am mostly a bourbon and rye man so I am by no means an expert in malt whiskies but I do enjoy them on occasion and have covered a few in my ~350 spirits reviews. Prior to this my experience with Kavalan was pretty limited to only a few of their special releases but I do know their aggressive climate can help impart a lot of flavor even at a young age. Knowing how my tastes go, my fondness will probably go up as the proof rises.

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Taiwanese Single Malt Whisky; No Age Statement; 40% ABV

Nose: Very fruity and sweet. Lots of honey and sweet grain notes, like sugary raisin bran but with mangos instead of raisins. There is a lot of fruit here, was this aged in former sherry casks?

Taste: No real departure from the nose. It is light and delicate with mostly sweet tropical fruits and some grainy notes like bran cereal.

Thoughts: This is decent enough - it's super fruity and very drinkable. The most interesting thing I find is just how tropical the fruit notes are, which is something I am not really used to in the American whiskey world. My complaints are that it doesn't have a lot of depth, neither in the sweet flavors or woody range and overall it is rather thin. I think those are all mostly due to 80 proof being below my wheelhouse though so your mileage may vary. 

Rating: C

Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Wild Turkey Master's Keep 17 Year Bottled in Bond

Thanks in large part to /r/bourbon, I am very big Wild Turkey fan. Wild Turkey 101 has been my house bourbon for years now and I've been on more barrel picks of Wild Turkey more than any other whiskey. That's partly due to Wild Turkey having more availability but it's also because I know I can almost always find a winner or two on a trip there. While my love of their regular offerings is quite high, I've had varying experiences with their limited release Master's Keep series. The first 17 year was good but not outstanding. Decades was good but a high price for what it was. I loved Revival - probably my favorite of them all. Cornerstone was a disappointment as I didn't think it was much better than the regular Single Barrel Rye. All in all that's a bit of a mixed bag when you are talking about bottles that are nearing the $200 price mark so I entered into this latest release with tempered expectations.

bottle

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Aged 17 years; 50% ABV; $175

Nose: Dusty bourbon funk, butterscotch, woody vanilla sweets. It's sweet, oaky, and slightly funky. The heat level is pretty low yet it still has plenty of depth.

Taste: The flavor profile is compact and dense - dusty old bourbon, dark red fruits, burnt caramelized sugars like toffee, and lots of syrupy/sugary oak. Again like the nose the heat is very well tamed. It's not quite as viscous or dense as some of the best dusty bourbons I've had but the calling cards of a great older bourbon with a balance of sweet and oak are all there.

Thoughts: I've loved this from the moment I opened and I still do here today. This is the closest I've come to tasting modern turkey that drinks like dusty turkey. Given that is 17 years old and bottled in bond that means all of it was made before Wild Turkey upped their entry proof from 107 to 110 and I think that certainly shows in the quality here. I didn't get to try a lot of new releases in 2020 but for me, this was the best one I was able to get my hands on last year. $175 is a lot to pay for a bourbon but I'd buy this again if I saw it on the shelves.

Rating: B+

Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Maker's Mark 101 Review

 Maker's Mark holds a special place in my bourbon journey as it was the first real bourbon I stocked as a house whiskey. That was probably 15 or so years ago and my preferences have changed considerably since then. These days I consider regular Maker's Mark a very middle of the road, average bourbon, somewhere around a C rating. If there are no better options I will happily drink it but there is no denying it is rather thin and lacking in depth. Given those shortcomings and my nostalgia for the brand, I was actually quite excited to hear about the release of the 101 expression. 

bottle

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; No Age Statement; 50.5% ABV; $38

Nose: Very familiar wheated bourbon smells - vanilla cake frosting with a pinch of fruits and wheater zippy spice. It is sweet and woody with a decent amount of depth / oak backbone yet all the while maintaining that soft and approachable wheated profile. Even if this might be the same age as standard Maker's, it doesn't nose as young. I suspect that is the increased proof giving it more umpf.

Taste: A reiteration of the nose - vanilla cake sweets, a bit of wood, and an overall soft profile. Again like the nose though, where the standard Maker's falls short, this actually has some legs to it and delivers a good amount of flavor depth across all the boxes I want checked - wood, sweet, fruit, and spice.

Thoughts: This is a very nice upgrade over standard Marker's. I will reiterate that I have some nostalgia for this brand so it might be skewing my judgement but I quite enjoyed this. It has that classic soft profile a good wheated bourbon should exhibit without being thin and shallow. All in all, it's a moderately well balanced bourbon and at a sub $40 price point, a pretty decent value in this market. I certainly thought so as this is my second bottle.

Rating: B-

Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

George Dickel Bottled in Bond 11 Year Review

A little over a year ago I reviewed the first release of George Dickel Bottled in Bond. The TL;DR was I pretty much hated it. I found it overly thin and remarkably underwhelming given the age and proof. While Dickel tends to be a very polarizing whiskey, this surprised me greatly because I generally quite enjoy it as a nice change of pace from most other bourbons. While there were some that liked the bottled in bond release, I think overall the whiskey community mostly sided with me as there was a considerable amount of groaning when the product won one of those silly whiskey of the year awards. 

Fast forward one year and here we are with a second release of this product, distilled 3 years later in Fall of 2008 but now bearing an official age statement of 11 years. I wasn't quite ready to give up on Dickel so when I saw a bottle on the shelf with a price that is still relatively cheap by current special release standards, I figured I'd take a chance given the lack of anything better to do right now.

bottle

Tennessee Whiskey distilled in Fall 2008; Aged 11 years; 50% ABV; $40

Nose: Toasted marshmallow, light spice bite, a decent helping of traditional Dickel Flintstone multivitamins, and lots of woody charred corn.

Taste: Thicker mouthfeel than I remember from last time. Upfront it's honey and other sweet woody flavors which transitions into some slight spice and that familiar vitamin mineral note. The finish is a nicely rounded combo of sweet, spice, and wood but it tapers off too quickly.

Thoughts: I came into this thinking at worst it would be as thin and underwhelming as last time or at best it would be like a really great Dickel store pick. All in all, I think this is somewhere in the upper middle of that which is what I expected from the original release. There is a much better balance of sweet, oak, and char this time around making it just an overall better whiskey. My biggest complaint is still that the finish is entirely too short which again I suspect is due to an abundance of filtration. Outside of that, this is decidedly Dickel whiskey through and through and much closer to form of what I expect from the brand. If I see again, I will buy it.

Rating: B-

Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Old Forester Rye Review

Here lately Old Forester seems to be a brand that is on the rise. While I don't see them ever getting the same kind of silly overhyped attention as a distillery like Buffalo Trace, they have had a steady trend of well received releases that seem to be produced with enthusiasts in mind. As a whole, I generally like their products - Signature is decent for the price, 1910 was an interesting change of pace, and 1920 is a terrific all around bourbon that I regularly buy at least a few times a year. They really only have one product I don't care for and that is the limited edition Birthday Bourbon. After trying at least a dozen vintages, I've given up on ever liking it as all I ever taste is bitter acetone. 

So here today we have another newish product released by them in early 2019 in the form of a rye whiskey. It didn't take long for it to start generating a good bit of low level praise, so based on that and the other positive trends I was seeing for Old Forester releases I figured it was worth picking up. While there is no age statement, 100 proof is very modest and there wasn't much risk considering the low asking price. Also of note is the rather unusual mashbill here: 65% rye, 20% barley, 15% corn. That's a little bit higher rye than your typical barely legal 51% Kentucky ryes but the more interesting part is the large percentage of barley which may lend to some cereal note characteristics.

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Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey; No Age Statement; 50% ABV; $25

Nose: Zesty rye notes like pine, clove, and eucalyptus. Some light florals and a sweetness that has minty bubblegum coming to mind. Definitely breathes like a highish rye influenced whiskey. There is a decent amount of oaky wood influence here and not a lot of overpowering grainy new make notes.

Taste: Upfront starts with your typical woody sweets which then transitions into a rye prominence of baking spices/clove. In the finish the wood sweets transform into a darker cocoa vibe and the spice remains though it's not overpowering. Throughout all are the tell-tale banana notes that I get in every Brown Forman whiskey I've ever had which at this point I think has to be due to their yeast. It drinks pretty easy for 100 proof. I would guess this is a little older than the bare minimum of four years for no age statement, maybe 6ish years.

Thoughts: I like this. It's not going to blow you away as an intensely spicy rye nor is the the most nuanced whiskey but it's good as an affordable daily sipper and it works really well in cocktails. For the longest time Rittenhouse was my cocktail rye of choice back when it was still being contract distilled at Brown Forman but these days the Heaven Hill version tastes young and green/earthy to me. This product is considerably better than that and as a bonus, it's cheaper. Hats off to Old Forester for knocking another one out of the park.

Rating: B-/C+

Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Bulleit 12 Year Rye Review

bottle

Straight Rye Whiskey Distilled in Indiana; Aged 12 years; 46% ABV; $55

Nose: Rye spice in the form of spearmint and menthol. It definitely has the spice backbone of a 95% rye mash. There are also some doughy notes like rye bread as well as some faint musty wood. It breathes really easy and overall the nose is rather light which I would attribute to the modest 92 proof. 

Taste: Mostly all wood and spice. The spice isn't quite as evident as in the nose and there is quite a bit of barrel influence. I wouldn't necessarily call it bitter but it's pretty lacking in any kind of prominent sweets. Beyond that, there are traces of the infamous pickle flavor MGP ryes can exhibit and here it's a bit like barrel aged gherkins which is as displeasing as it sounds.

Thoughts: I didn't like this when I opened it nor do I like it now. Maybe I am spoiled by the days of cheaper highish aged cask strength MGP rye but proof aside, profile wise this is nothing like any of those. There is a woody, sweet, and spicy balance in all of those that I love but this is just spice and borderline bitterness. I can't imagine it's just the proof that would make that much difference so I am at a loss as to why I do not like this.

Rating: D+

Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.