Advent Minis – Heaven Hill 8 Year Old 2009 63.5%

While Heaven Hill hasn’t directly featured in prior tasting experiences, we’re no stranger to their brands like Pikesville and Elijah Craig from their distillery stable.

This particular sample was originally bottled by The Higginbottom, which traces its whisky roots to the late 1800s, when Henry Albert Higginbottom supplied whisky for British troops. The brand was recently revived by Higginbottom’s great great grandson Leo Scott-Francis.

It was part of a cool relaxed evening in Nurnberg sampling minis from my advent calendar. What did we think?

Heaven Hill 8 Year Old 2009 (May 2009 / November 2017) Cask 152736 63.5% – The Higgbottom Revival 

  • Nose – Bourbon banana caramel with a sharpness, honey oats, a granary, wheat husks, unripe
  • Palate – Whoosh! What spice! Dry but with a nice depth
  • Finish – Full spice
  • Water – Now this one cried out for some water. And wow – how fabulous with it. Suddenly out came a cornucopia of fruits with banana, pineapple, green apple, throw in a generous dash of Demerara sugar, the flavours were fuller, colourful with an exceedingly nice after taste

This was definitely an example of a dram that grew on you… the more we sniffed and sipped – particularly after water was added – the more we enjoyed it. We clearly wished there was more than the wee 3cl!

Particularly for my companion, there was a clear new world over old world vibe – she loved the Rye and also this Bourbon vs the Dalmore or Caol Ila. Which is part of the magic of such minis – an opportunity to discover tastes and preferences with a wee nip rather than investing in a full bottle.

What do the chaps at Master of Malt have to say about this Heaven Hill?

  • Nose: Honeyed fruit and fresh florals. Spicy cedar and nutmeg.
  • Palate: Quite punchy at full strength, with clove, menthol and black pepper. A drop of water helps to bring buttered corn and sponge cake notes forward.
  • Finish: Coffee bean, dark chocolate and oak.

Here are a few others we tried from my advent calendar minis:

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Advent Minis – Whistle Pig Rye 10 year 54.3%

I had to be amused by the journey our 1st sample has taken. Originally from Canada – like me – it then was aged at WhistlePig Farm in Vermont. To then be rebottled by the folks at Drinks by the Dram in the UK and finally shipped off to me in Nurnberg, Germany.

But this was no normal WhistlePg in my wee advent calendar of single casks – nope! This was a single barrel release at cask strength.

WhistlePig 10 Year Old  54.3% – Drinks By The Dram Exclusive

  • Nose – It started off with typical rye, some spice, cloves, orange peel, honey and oats, porridge, sweet caramels, hint of mint and a touch of oak
  • Palate – Had all the lovely elements of rye, some caramel, spice, more of the honey and oats, more of that butterscotch… it reminded me a bit of stroopwaffles
  • Finish – Light liquorice, butterscotch
  • Water – Racks up the spice, the rye became even more prominent, more barley and less honey, the light brown black liquorice danced on the palate, lots of spice on the finish in a most delicious way

I have to admit upfront that I’m not normally a rye fan. But this was a darn good dram. Nothing about it was harsh, and whilst there was no major variation and you couldn’t call it complex, it was full flavoured and really quite enjoyable and well balanced.

And my companion? Let’s just say she discovered that she absolutely IS a rye fan! Particularly for this one.

What do the folks over at WhistlePig have to say about the standard expression?

The spirit of entrepreneurship.

Fortune, superb taste, and hustle lead us to the discovery of an aged Rye Whiskey stock in Alberta, Canada. We rescued the stock from misuse as a blending whiskey, aged it in new American Oak, then hand-bottled this rye on its own. We’re honored to present the most awarded Rye Whiskey in the world.

  • Nose – Allspice, orange peel, anise, oak, char and caramel
  • Palate – Sweet; hints of caramel and vanilla, followed by rye­spice and mint
  • Finish – Long finish; warm butterscotch and caramel

Here are a few others we tried from my advent calendar minis:

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Drammers Club is in Mumbai!!!

Another malty memory from 2019 was my first Drammers Club tasting in April… which was a practical cornucopia of whiskies!

For those not familiar, the Drammers Club started in New York and has been opening chapters around the world. For Mumbai, co-president Charlie Prince teamed up with Rohan Mirchandani.

In the session I joined, Charlie shared the intent to anchor Mumbai sessions with an Indian whisky and American  plus other interesting bottles picked up around the world.

The focus for India was Paul John with Yash Bhamre, Brand Ambassador:

  • Brilliance & Edited– I’ll admit, seeing 10 odd whiskies, skipped this pair to focus on sampling those not yet tasted
  • Nirvana 40% – An opportunity to try even before its official launch! It was friendly, approachable, fruity, caramel, easy going
  • Select Cask Peated from Yash’s personal collection, while it didn’t have the pronounced ‘bacon‘ of some editions, it was still a great example of their cask strength peated avatar
  • SMWS 134.3 “Hello Flavour” 56.9% ex bourbon cask, 189 bottles, released 2017… had tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, intense flavours and a delightful finish

And for the American side of the equation?
  • Barterhouse 20 year 45.1% – Easy going creamy and one I’d love to try again in more optimal tasting circumstances
  • Old Commonwealth Postage Stamps of Ireland – A very unique dram that deserves specific attention. I hurriedly jotted down a few tasting notes – Tight black currents and dark berries, black vanilla pods, rich creamy caramel coffee on the nose… Smooth flavorful tea leaf on the palate, a bit queer with the finish initially but harkened back to the nose
  • Heaven Hill Marsala Hogshead Finish (2001/2017) Cask 17074, 46.5% Bottle 13 or 199 bottles – I wasn’t sure about this one, it started off as very musty, nail polish, definitely different funky. However it tasted much better – smooth and sweet, wet fall leaves, berries with spice, finishing with tannin merlot

To round things out, we also explored from Japan:

  • Ichiro’s Double Distillery 46% – Not bad with lots of cantaloupe, honey dew melon, musk melon
  • Ichiro’s Single Grain – I skipped this one – too much of a good thing is, well… too much!

Now I will admit both my pics and tasting notes are rubbish. A crowded noisy bar – no matter how fabulous it is for sociable occasions – just isn’t my way of savouring a single malt. So you will have to forgive my scant impressions. It also cemented my preference for humble low key tasting evenings with a small group of friends over a trio or at most quartet of whiskies not over 10!

Don’t get me wrong – I’m delighted Mumbai has a Drammers Club chapter and wish the team all the best. Charlie and the gang are definitely bringing greater variety of whiskies to a larger audience – and that surely is a good thing!

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Kentucky Rye – Angel’s Envy Rum Finished Rye 50%

We all know about the angel’s share…. the portion of whisky that evaporates while quietly maturing in barrels – typically 5% a year in the case of Kentucky bourbon.

The brand “Angel’s Envy” is a multigenerational affair – Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson came out out retirement from a lifetime in the whiskey industry to collaborate with his son, Wes, on a bourbon finished in Port barrels. Wes’s son Kyle then also joined the family business.

The story goes that after tasting their inaugural whiskey, Lincoln joked that they’d “finally gotten a better deal than the angels.” Hence Angel’s Envy brand was created by Louisville Distilling Company, now a subsidiary of Bacardi Limited.

After Bourbon finished in Port, they turned to Rye finished in Rum casks and Cask strength series finished in Port. Our host selected the Rye finished Rum… and this is what we found…

Angel’s Envy Rum Barrel Finished Rye 50% Batch I0T, Bottle 291

  • Nose – A very strong unmistakable burnt caramel, treacle, maple syrup, bananas and cream, some salted caramel, coca cola, rich, sugary and creamy
  • Palate – Like a fine rum… it was one of those drams we can call “desert in a glass”, bread pudding, nutmeg, coconut cream
  • Finish – Sweet spice that lingers

There was zero question the rum had a strong influence here. And no ordinary rum – this was clearly quality stuff. We thought of rums like Criterion and others Lucas has introduced to the world such as Long Pond.

I have to admit this was unlike any rye I’ve ever tried. It was simply sinfully sweet… and yet when it came to the cigar, wasn’t happening. The very elements that made it so unique, were the same elements that prompted us to steer clear of pairing with a cigar. This Rye demands to fly solo, no accompaniment.

I stumbled across this insight from the folks at Flaviar:

Angel’s Envy Rye starts life as a quality, but rather traditional mix of 95% Rye and 5% malted barley. Bulleit, Dickle… a lot of the top guys use this mix because it works well. This is where Angel’s Envy works their magic. First, they age it a full six years in medium-char American oak. Then they finish it for an additional 18 months in Rum casks, but not just “any” Rum casks. These are “THE” Rum casks from Plantation Rum… the ones that started as Cognac casks from Maison Ferrand. So Angel’s Envy Rye is third in a line of super-premium awesomeness in those casks, emerging 7 1/2 years old. No more sales pitch, you just think about that for a minute and get back to us.

What the makers of Angel’s Envy share as their tasting notes?

  • Appearance – Crystal clear quality with a rich, reddish amber color
  • Nose – Aromas of citrus, caramel candy, maple sugar, vanilla, oak, hazelnut, spice, and sherry wood
  • Palate – Sweet rum, sherry wood, and soft oak
  • Finish – Both sweet and dry, as well as quick and easy

What else did we try in our Kentucky Rye evening?

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Kentucky Rye – Wilderness Trail Single Barrel 56.5%

Our host set himself a very clear goal – to bring together a quartet of Kentucky Rye that reflects the range of possibilities…

Next up was a single barrel from Wilderness Trail at full cask strength… Spoiler alert! This was simply exceedingly drinkable, pairing perfectly with a cigar!

In this case the magic lies in a few things these folks are doing a bit differently….  They talk of their unique yeast strains, proprietary Infusion Mashing Process, chemical free steam, largely locally sourced grains from nearby farms (except barley from the northern US)… but what is truly unique is the use of sweet rather than sour mash.

Sour mash uses spent mash from the previous batch in the new one, reducing bacterial infestations and the preferred method since the 1800s. Sweet mash is ‘fresh’ each time and considered ‘risky’ due to potential for contamination. Hence the guys at Wilderness Trail designed their whole approach around a highly sanitized process that enabled them produce spirit that is “softer” and “more flavorful”. You can read more about this in Fred Minnick’s Forbes’ article.

As always, what matters most is what we found in our tasting….

Wilderness Trail Single Barrel 15017 Kentucky Straight Rye 56.5%

  • Nose – What a nose! Toffee, caramel, juicy
  • Palate – Fabulous! Sweet desert, soft and sooo smooth, quite chewy… and while certainly was from the Rye family, there were other things going on that blended together rather well, some sweet spices, tobacco leaf and caramel
  • Finish – Long, sweet with a lovely spice

We quite enjoyed this one. You could hear appreciative words around the room “Fabulous” “Wow what a finish!” “Zero burn” In short, it went down rather well with the most balanced character – sweet but not too sweet, spice but not too much spice, quite delightful on the nose, substance on the palate with a terrific finish.

As usual, we set it aside to try the last one – Angel’s Envy – which was pure burnt caramel and treacle. When we returned to this one, what stood out was how everything simply worked together – each element adding its bit but none too much. It was no surprise when the Gurkha Seduction cigar was paired with the Wilderness Trail.

I was curious about this one as it clearly held its own… It was sweet, well rounded with a a lovely balance… again it was only when I sat down to write my tasting notes that I learned this combines corn and barley from a sweet rather than sour mash – clearly accounting for its character.

Definitely one to watch out for!

What did the folks at Wilderness Trail have to say?

Our Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskeys are offered as a Cask Strength release. We have the lowest entry proof we know of in Kentucky. We barrel at 100 proof to highlight the balance of the grains and alternate solubility expression from the barrel. Our three-grain recipe is 56 percent rye, 33 percent corn and 11 percent malted barley. Our rye mash bill is one we created for a broader balance of flavor to offset the typical high ryes commonly found. We use Kentucky-grown Heritage rye from our local KY Proud farm. We enter the new, air-dried #4 char, 53-gallon barrels at 100 proof for our Rye Whiskey and age until maturity in our barrelhouse. We age our Rye Whiskeys on the upper floors of our Rickhouses A & B, arguably one reason for their vibrant expression at 3 + years. We plan to age our Ryes as long as our Bourbons — in the 6-8 year age range — but we do plan to introduce some 3 and 4 year old Rye Whiskeys as Cask Strength releases. We just keep finding wonderful honey-barrels with great expressions that need to be explored.

What else was on our Kentucky Rye menu?

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Kentucky Rye – New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye 50%

Our host started our evening by asking if we were familiar with the quartet of Kentucky Rye we were about to try? Most of us had heard of Basil Hayden’s – more for their Bourbon than Rye – however I simply had to admit I had never heard of New Riff distillery before.

We can be forgiven for that living in India as this is a new entry into the Kentucky whiskey world – having started only in 2014 as a small, independent, family owned distillery. This bottle was picked up from the distillery and likely one of their initial batches from Spring 2019.

The idea of “New Riff” is to build on Kentucky bourbon and rye making traditions… They use 95% rye and 5% malted rye, aged for at least four years in 53 gallon toasted and charred new oak barrels, no chill filtration and “bottled in bond.”

Just in case you are curious, “bottled in bond” is a label for an American-made distilled beverage that has been aged and bottled according to a set of legal regulations contained in the United States government’s Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, as originally laid out in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897.

So what did we find?

New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye (Spring 2019) 50%

  • Colour – Bright gold
  • Nose – Started a bit soft, hint of tobacco – perhaps charred oak? Fruits, tart and sweet candy, has a nice hint of spice, back to the candy…
  • Palate – Banana, that distinctive rye spice, then became sweet and syrupy
  • Finish – VERY dry, sour mash, dry dust rag…
  • Water – Rather than add water, we first took a good swig of cold water then sipped the rye… Ugh! No no no no no no! Very bitter, all that dry element accentuated further…. for us at least, having this neat is perfection!

Overall most found it quite nice though not complex. The nose and palate were the strongest with the finish almost a bit TOO dry.

There was something almost rustic about this one. There was no question this was a rye however it was not in the least bit harsh… even at 50%. Perhaps its age or other elements accounts for the happy absence of “kick” found in some rye that cry out for a mix! And I also had a sneaking suspicion this rye would easily hold its own in a quality cocktail.

We set it aside to continue our journey through Kentucky ryes… on the revisit we found the spice remained… again one that made me wonder, what would it be like in a cocktail?

What did the folks at New Riff have to say?

  • Appearance: Extra rich, unfiltered deep amber color.
  • Nose: Spicy and detailed, showing mint, black pepper, and vanilla with hints of orange and oak.
  • Taste: Cinnamon spice, vanilla and sweet toffee moving into a bold mouth feel with rich Rye spice, caramel and toasted oak. Complex flavors drink older than four-year-old.
  • Finish: Bold Rye spice with vanilla buttercream and lingering brown sugar, plus a mineral-grassy Rye tone that fades slowly.

What else did we try in our journey through Kentucky Rye?

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Kentucky Rye – Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye 40%

Our host shared he wanted to start with the Basil Hayden’s one as it was an ‘outlier’ in flavour profile and approach. He also shared the reason he wanted to focus on Rye is the ‘liberties’ that can be taken to explore a range of combinations without any major restrictions.

Hence this was not simply matured in a Port cask…. it actually had Port simply blended with the Kentucky Straight Rye and Alberta Rye!

Which I somehow hadn’t clued into until after our tasting… no wonder our notes keep coming back to cherries and port!

Here is what we thought…

Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye 40%

  • Colour – Such a vibrant ruby red it was unreal! (the photo does NOT do justice to the colour!)
  • Nose – Started off a bit peculiar – like it was whiskey at all! Then shifted into orange, cloves, a bit musty and metallic, old wood polish, then increasingly the black cherries of the port became more and more pronounced, peaking behind was some vanilla custard… after the 1st sip, it took a sour almost sharp quality, lots of wood, vanilla and above all cherries
  • Palate – Sour fruits, dark cherries, spice comes in from behind… better on the 2nd sip, oily, sweet… while quite linear had different dimensions, becoming sweeter and sweeter with each sip, the port element remains strong, wood and even a bit of whey
  • Finish – Definitely there

Fresh out of the bottle it was a good place to start – while the three elements were not melding together cohesively, it did make for an interesting interplay. Unlike most where port is an accent from being matured in ex-port pipes, this was full on port… which clearly is due to it literally being added to the mix!

We set it aside and when we returned? It was like coconut water that has gone a bit off… after the cask strength and diverse other ryes, this one at 40% seemed watered down… back to being slightly queer or different.

While it may not be for everyone, it was certainly interesting to try! After later reading the notes it might go well on the rocks, perhaps with a twist of orange or as a cocktail such a Sazerac of Whisky Sour.

What did the folks at Basil Hayden’s have to say?

Blending is an art form, and our Dark Rye is your chance to own what might very well be a masterpiece.

It all begins with Kentucky Rye, providing a firm foundation of spice, oak, dried fruit and subtle molasses undertones for this release to build upon. From there, Canadian Rye from our award-winning Alberta Distillery is skillfully layered in. A touch of California Port, and its complementary notes of ripe fruit, provides the third and final layer to a whiskey just as at home on the rocks as it is in a cocktail.

Full in flavor, yet delicately nuanced, you’d be wise to grab a bottle of our Dark Rye to experience this magical blend for yourself.

  • Color – Deep, rich amber with ruby undertones
  • Aroma – Oaky notes balanced with dark berries and molasses
  • Taste – Complex blend of caramel, dried fruit, and oak with back notes of spice and a rounded mouth feel
  • Finish – Lingering dried fruit with a hint of sweetness and rye spice.

What else was on our Kentucky Rye menu?

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Kentucky Rye – Basil Hayden’s, New Riff, Wilderness Trail, Angel’s Envy

Once upon a time, our Bombay Malt & Cigar lads stuck to their mature Scottish single malts. No more! If anything this Mumbai based tasting group’s quest to expand our horizons has taken on the world in style – Australia, Canada, EuropeIreland, Japan and USA!

With our globe trotting explorations, we have gone far beyond malts too… We’ve taken on grain, lots of different blends, bourbons (a few times!), even rums!

Yet with all this, not once has this group sat down together and cracked open Rye whiskies!

Our recent session rectified this gap and how! We meandered through a carefully curated quartet designed to introduce us to a distinctly different range of Rye – playing with various elements from a Kentucky Rye base.

  • Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye 40% – A blend of Kentucky straight rye, Canadian rye and California Port… not that’s not a finish! That is directly blending port with rye… and it shows with strong port influence with dark cherries
  • New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye 50% – New kid on the block with one of their early batches, aged at least 4 years, following the traditions of Bottled in Bond with a recipe of 95% rye and 5% malted rye
  • Wilderness Trail Single Barrel 56.5% – Not just from a single barrel but also a small batch that produced only 203 bottles at cask strength! This one uses a sweet rather than sour mash with a recipe of 53% rye, 33% corn and 11% malted barley… which likely accounts for the soft, smooth and flavourful experience with terrific  balance
  • Angel’s Envy Rum Finished Rye 50% – Clearly the ‘premium’ end of the spectrum finished in Plantation Caribbean rum barrels (which were earlier used for Cognac)… this was pure desert in a glass bursting with treacle

Our host was completely successful in bringing to us a range of styles with different dimensions…

As for the cigar for our evening? Gurkha’s Seduction… in a ridiculous box but quite enjoyable from start to finish… Medium bodied blend with Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, Columbian Corojo long-fillers, secured by a Dominican Olor binder.

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BMC Bourbon – Bib + Tucker 10 year 66.6%

Can I admit sometimes I find the American whiskey industry just a tad confusing? Rather than distinct distilleries, we stumble across brands which may (or may not) be from a particular state and/or distillery or possibly a blend of several, made from barley or corn or rye or wheat a mix of many grains. Throw change in ownership or associations into the mix and it becomes even more confounding.

Such is the case with Bib & Tucker... Is it American? Yes… It was originally the brainchild of California’s 3 Badge Beverage Corp (previously 35 Maple Street with a Canadian connect), initially reputed to be bourbon from an undisclosed distillery in Tennessee… or was it Kentucky?

Fast forward to 2017 and you will see it is part of a Connecticut based Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits. As for where the golden liquid is actually from and how was it made and from what? I found both TN and KY on the bottle in small print but beyond that… tough to tell…

A different cask bottled at 64% was reputed to be from Kentucky Springs Distilling Co with a mash of 70% corn, 26% rye and 4% malted barley. The grains were distilled twice – through a column still and an old-fashioned copper pot still – then matured in No. 1 charred American white oak barrels… in other words charred for the least amount of time ie approx 15 seconds.

Whereas the one we tried clocked in at whopping 66.6% and I certainly couldn’t track it down… which isn’t so surprising given there are only 159 bottles of this particular expression in existence!

Setting aside my clearly inadequate detective skills, what matters most to us is what did we think? (as I can practically here the gents chaff with “Would you stop your blathering lassie so we can get on with the tasting??”)

Bib & Tucker 10 year Cask C130712 133.2 Proof 66.6%, Bottle 017 / 159

  • Colour – Burnished copper orange
  • Nose – Burnt caramel, tea leaves, toasted grain, dates and prunes, sweet spices particularly cinnamon, apricot salt tart, plum liqueur, a Chinese sour cherry, a bit of leather… as it opened, it became increasingly sour, cinnamon, almost camomile, then sweet with vanilla cream custard
  • Palate – Wow! There was no mistaking the 1st hit of alcohol and power behind this bourbon! If you had any taste buds remaining after the 1st singe, the embers continued to burn… however just as the nose evolved and opened up, so too did the palate… after time it even took on a lovely apricot too
  • Finish – A slightly bitter nutty edge came out after the spice dampened down
  • Water – A few much preferred it with water finding it brought out the tart sourness
  • Ice – Whereas others found it best with a nice chunk of ice

Overall? We thought it has quite an interesting nose that evolved as it opened up. And what a reaction to the 1st sip! The first gent to dive in had taken a good swig – burst out with “Woah!” and looked like he had been kicked by a mule. I kid you not. But slow down and take a wee sip? And be rewarded with a lovely flavourful rolling spice fire in your mouth.

This one certainly grew on us… and after the cigar was part-way through, most switched to the Bib & Tucker to pair and puff away the balance of our evening.

And what do the Bib & Tucker folks have to say? Well… this particular 10 year expression doesn’t seem to have on-line tasting notes however the 6 year is described as:

  • aroma  BIB & TUCKER leads with a strong vanilla scent along with fresh cut sweet grass, wet stone and old leatherbound books.
  • taste  With a smooth entry, the bourbon is nicely balanced with a hint of sweetness. It fulfills the promise of its nose before evolving into a warm, lightly crisp,spicy sensation.
  • finish  BIB & TUCKER lingers in the mouth with a complex, yet balanced chestnutty taste.

While not the same expression, can certainly see some similarity in profile between the standard 6 year vs the 10 year one we tried.

BMC’s Bourbon Night

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BMC Bourbon – Breaker Bourbon Port Barrel Finish 45%

When I tried to find out more about this bourbon, it turns out it is more a brand than a specific new distillery entering the fray.

The folks over at Ascendant are quiet about the origins and details on their website. While the company is based in California, according to Distiller.com, the bourbon has a mash bill of corn, rye and malted barley which is sourced from  Indiana where it is distilled and aged for a minimum of five years, then blended and bottled in California.

Breaker Bourbon Port Barrel Finish Batch No 5 45% Bottle 727

  • Colour – Burnished ruby
  • Nose – Sweet and sour, yhesty, herbal, basil, dry spices of cardamon and cloves, black peppercorn… increasingly sweet then sour mash
  • Palate – Yhesty malt on the palate, dry, milder than expected, even a bit bitter
  • Finish – Hmm… there but… what exactly?
  • Water – Evens it out a bit

This was a strange one. There was no discernible influence from the Port finish – none of the stewed fruits or dark berries or even grapes of any kind. We simply weren’t sure about it so we set it aside.

And when we returned? No… just no… seriously no.

Let’s see what the folks over at Ascendant have to say:

This special edition Breaker Bourbon starts with fully matured bourbon and is finished in port wine barrels. It boasts a distinct hue and complex flavors of vanilla, cereal grains, oak, spice, and rich stewed fruit leading to a dry finish. Citrus and spice linger on the palate with baked apple notes beneath.

We certainly didn’t find much in common with the tasting notes. Pity.

BMC’s Bourbon Night

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