Vita Dulcis 19 – USA Knob Creek Straight Rye 50%

Next up… another from the US  in my Vita Dulcis 2020 International Advent Calendar… And I’m in the home stretch with just a few more to go!

USA – Knob Creek Straight Rye Whiskey 50%

  • Nose – Sweet grains, then sour mash, herbal, ginger
  • Palate – Yup! There is that distinctive rye spice! Packs a bit of a whallop… then settles down, brown sugar
  • Finish – A bit of pepper

To me, this is a clear rye. 

I admit, I sampled it on two occasions – once on its own and I realized I simply wasn’t in the mood, so set it aside after a sip. And again this evening after sampling Heaven’s Door Straight Rye Whiskey.

When you think of a classic American rye… it is something like Knob Creek. At first it comes across as direct, no finesse… yes it isn’t just rye spice, there are herbs, wood elements and other things… that start to grow on you…

Distillery official tasting notes?

  • Colour : Shades of gold to light amber.
  • Nose : Expansive notes of herbs and rye with nuances of oak.
  • Taste : Bold rye spiciness with undertones of vanilla and oak.

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Vita Dulcis 18 – USA’s Heaven’s Door Straight Rye Whiskey 43%

Back in the day, this guy sat on a chair and started crooning out of tune. Family friends caught him in a Greenwich Village cafe in the 60s and… having no clue of what impact this singer songwriter would have on music and culture… I’m speaking of Bob Dylan.

And now? Whiskey…

I remember when 1st launched, friends reached out to ask what I thought?

My response? I won’t know til I try… and that’s what is fun about buying whisky advent calendars… chock full of samples you might not otherwise have an opportunity to try.

So what did I think?

USA – Heaven’s Door Straight Rye Whiskey 43%

  • Nose – Definitely rye, but with a lighter touch, sweeter… a bit of honey, vanilla, cream some wood, maybe a touch of mint or basil? Some cream
  • Palate – Again – clearly rye, yet has a lighter touch, less bite… mellows more readily, a bit of apple with a rye spice chaser….
  • Finish – A bit of citrus and licorice then mint

OK, I confess… I’m not a big rye fan. But this one worked. And I honestly didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did!

What do the producers have to say?

Breaking with tradition, we finish our Straight Rye Whiskey in toasted oak cigar barres, air-dried in the low-lying mountain region of Vosges, France. This proprietary finishing results in a smoother, ore approachable rye with notes of orange peel, coriander, and spice.

Would I agree? I’m surprised to admit, yes…

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Vita Dulcis 12 – USA’s Legent “Two True Legends” 47%

This is my first encounter with Legent bourbon, which brings together Fred Noe (think Jim Beam 7th generation master distiller) and Shinji Fukuyo (Suntory), combining bourbon and blending of bourbon, sherry and red-wine casks.

It was third sampled in an evening of north american whiskies… what did I think?

USA – Legent “Two True Legends” Finished in Wine and Sherry Cask 47% – Kentucky Straight Bourbon

  • Nose – Young, granary, old spilt red wine
  • Palate – Alcohol kick. Brash spice, cloves and cinnamon, mash
  • Finish – Warm spice

They indicate it has been matured in sherry, but no hint of it in the whisky. As for the wine? Reminded me of some whiskies I have tried that are partly matured in Merlot or Pinot Noir – which to be honest, doesn’t tend to work for me. And this case? Hmm…. not really.

I must admit, I simply wasn’t in the mood so stopped after one sip.

So I decided to come back and give it another go… better… definitely better… or perhaps I calibrated to a different style.

What do they have to say?

Legent is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey partially finished in wine and sherry casks. But it’s more than that. It pushes the boundaries for how bourbons can be created while remaining true to the core of bourbon’s principles. It’s a collaboration between two whiskey legends – Fred Noe & Shinji Fukuyo – and two unique styles of whiskey making.

They speak of a three cask strategy:

  • Bourbon barrel aging. From these barrels, Legent absorbs char notes and rich, traditional bourbon cues like layers of caramel, oak and vanilla.
  • Sherry Cask finishing. Sherry casks add complex layers of spice, raisin and heavy dried fruit labor. These casks also help give Legent its deeper, reddish colour.
  • Red-wine cask aging. French oak wine casks impart different oak notes than traditional white oak bourbon barrels. These red-wine casks also give Legent mild, fruity undertones and a light acidity.

Now… back to the next in my Vita Dulcis 2020 Advent Calendar!

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Vita Dulcis 11 – USA’s Corsair Hydra 42%

Next up, a trip to Tennessee with a whisky from Corsair…. These folks are all about experimentation… Starting with beer, Darek Bell and Andrew Webber founded Corsair Distillery in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2008. Two years later, Corsair shifted and became the first craft distillery in Nashville since prohibition, since expanding to two centres – both beer and spirits.

I first encountered Corsair in 2015 with their Triple Smoke… which happens to make a great old fashioned.

So, what about the Hydra?

USA – Corsair Hydra 42% – American Malt Whiskey

  • Nose – Started with smoked bacon, shifting into hickory then cedar, herbal, changing again… more like a balsam, with a drizzle of maple, a dash of cinnamon, some ripe apples, black current, hint of tea?
  • Palate – Spice but then mellows, more of that balsam wood, a bit of resin with smoke
  • Finish – Limited

Increasingly interesting as I sipped…. it was distinctly different. Clearly not Scottish and not a typical bourbon either. There is a freshness to the aroma. An interesting array of wood elements… came across as well crafted.

To be honest, I knew nothing about this before tasting…. just dove in ‘nearly’ blind.

What could I find out?

It is pot distilled from five hardwood smoked malts –  pecan nut, apple wood, sugar maple, black walnut wood and persimmon (fig/plum), matured for just 12 months.

And distillery official tasting notes? They are no longer included in their website as this was an expression from 2018, but rumour has it that their description was simple:

Smoke, Leather, Firewood

If you are interested in finding out more, I’d recommend checking out Whisky Jason’s video comparing Hydra and Triple Smoke in English or German.

Curious about other minis tried in December 2020? Check out how far I’ve reached in my journey through the Vita Dulcis 2020 Advent Calendar.

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American Minis – Whistle Pig Rye 50%

From New York to Texas, we found ourselves closing our American minis evening back on the East coast in Vermont.

WhistlePig Rye is a proud of its pig! Who is joined by a trio made up of two chemical engineers – Emily Harrison (lead distiller) and Meghan Ireland (maturation chemist) –  with Peter Lynch (master blender). Their focus is purely on rye – in all its various permutations and experimentations.

So what did we try? I’m reasonably certain it was this one…

Whistle Pig Straight Rye 50% 

  • Nose – Honey, fruity, bananas, pear, quince, sweet spices like mace, nutmeg, all spice… then orange peel, shifting into something earthier or herbal, even a little leafy?
  • Palate – Dry spice and surprisingly some sea salt, more of that earthy element with roots, a bit medicinal, herbal
  • Finish – Herbal to the point of being peculiar

Frankly it became a bit strange – we started to be reminded of gripe water or les racines de la grande gentiane… that bitter flowering herb that makes its way into Suze, Aperol and Underberg.

Speaking as someone who appreciates what bitter brings to the flavour palate, this dimension didn’t make it ‘off’. By contrast, it was what made this rye distinctive.

So what do we know?

I will admit I’m guessing a bit here as the information on our wee mini was limited. However I think we tried their standard WhistlePig 10 year Straight Rye – originally from Alberta with a 100 percent pure rye mash, further matured in Vermont in new and used bourbon oak barrels.

I flipped back in my tasting book to notes on the cask strength expression the Drinks by the Drams folks had in my other Advent calendar… That one was all sweetness, spice and  stroopwaffles warming over a hot tea. It was clear both are in the same ‘family’ but certainly not exactly the same either!

All in all, it was a good experience and a nice way to finish our American evening in London with folks hailing from Canada, France and India!

Here was our full American quartet:

With more from our 2019 Master of Malt Advent Calendar…

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American Minis – Balcones Single Malt 53%

From Waco Texas, Balcones was ‘birthed’ as an idea in 2008 and started distilling a year later. They combine blue corn from New Mexico with Texas grown barley and have been putting out a range of whisky expressions from malts to bourbon to rye, with rum thrown into the mix as well.

Balcones Single Malt 53%

  • Nose – Rather than a clear bourbon stamp, we sensed something with – dare I say it? A sherry-like influence. A bit shy initially, as it opened up, we found nuts, raisins, more and more interesting with a decidedly fruity bent
  • Palate – First impression was ‘yummy’, while not complex, it was the kind of dram that grows on you, a nice warm toasty quality, rounding out quite happily with fruit
  • Finish – Didn’t register

Whereas the Hudson’s Baby Bourbon aromas were more interesting than the palate, we found the opposite here. The nose was interesting but the palate was its best feature. A good sipping whisky…

So what do the Balcones folks have to say about their Texas single malt?

  • Nose: ripe, buttered stone fruit, banana and pears; honey and rose water with delicate citrus accents
  • Taste: silky and full on the palate; lightly toasted bread with fresh butter and marmalade
  • Finish: long finish with lingering toast and burnt sugar notes morphing into rich malt and wood flavors with counterbalancing acidity

Here was our full American quartet:

With more from our 2019 Master of Malt Advent Calendar…

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American Minis – TBWC 24 year Bourbon No 1 48%

Clearly That Boutique-y Whisky Company has featured prominently in our miniature explorations! However this was our first bourbon bottled by them… and a 24 year old one, no less? We were intrigued…

TBWC 24 year Bourbon No 1 48%

  • Nose – Mmmm coconut, lemon, toffee, apples, lots of over ripe fruit, then floral, shifting to sweet grass, then black vanilla being scraped from the pod, sweet leather, rich rum raisin, thick black treacle, molasses morphing into chocolate, then a honey liquor, apricot cream, burnt caramelized baked pineapple, cotton candy
  • Palate – Full of flavour too! Red berries, black berries, cherries… gorgeous! As the nose evolved, elements of it could be found swirling around with a great silky sipping sensation. Simply delicious.
  • Finish – Truthfully I don’t recall – I didn’t note anything for the finish… and think we were just so taken with the aromas then sipping that nothing else registered!

Can I just say – wow! We went from curious to incredibly impressed with the complexity and range we discovered. There was so much character on the nose which followed through on the palate. The more we sipped, the more we enjoyed.

So what do we know? It is their Batch 1, released in December 2018 with 8,376 bottles. In their quirky style, the folks at TBWC have this to say:

Now, now go about your business please – there’s nothing to see here. Don’t you know you’re in a restricted area? No unauthorised personnel allowed.

  • Nose: High notes of dried peel and vanilla, flaming Christmas pudding gives way to pear drops and a light dusting of cocoa powder
  • Taste: Insistent, buttery mouthfeel carrying a lorry load of vanilla, caramel and beurre noisette
  • Finish: Punchy, warm finish with great balance of the flavours

The recommended retail price on TBWC website is £199.95. All I can say is that I’m delighted it made it into our miniatures so we could sample one!

Here was our full American quartet:

With more from our 2019 Master of Malt Advent Calendar…

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American Minis – Hudson Baby Bourbon 46%

I must admit up front that while I’d heard great things about Hudson’s Baby Bourbon, my one and only previous Hudson experience with their single malt years ago was… not great. In truth, it was a clear deterrent to prioritizing further explorations. For years I would see their squat half bottles in various airports and think… should I? And never did.

However when a dram lands in your lap, one must put aside past prejudice and enter into the exploration with an open mind. It particularly helps when sampling with others who had no such preconceived notions from past forays.

What did we find?

Hudson Baby Bourbon 46%

  • Nose – We were initially greeted with sweet corn, coffee, cherries, resin, a bit funky but in a fun way, red licorice
  • Palate – A bit rough – much more so than anticipated from the nose, not complex, woody and a bit medicinal
  • Finish – None to speak of…
  • Water – We gamely tried hoping it might coax out additional elements… don’t, just don’t

Overall it wasn’t a bad start. It certainly was promising on the nose but a disappointment on the palate. We were calibrated for brasher, younger more spirited American drams, however even keeping that in mind, this was potentially interesting but certainly not  brilliant.

We returned after sampling the other three American whiskies to see if the Baby Bourbon had evolved or changed over the hour or so…. The additional time didn’t do it any favours. What remained in the glass had soured, losing those sweet funky elements that made it promising.

So what do we know? Well, touted as the first legal pot-still whiskey to be produced in New York since prohibition, Tuthilltown distillery uses local corn, aged in small 2 gallon barrels… and then coax along the maturity with ‘sonic maturation’ from bass speakers that agitate the cask and the liquid. Hmmm… 

It seems I’m not alone in being ambivalent about Hudson – more than many other bourbon’s out there, you can find a wide range of reactions from absolute raving love to distain and derision!

I tried to find the official tasting notes, however it seems that the distillery has gone in a  different direction and no longer has this ‘Baby Bourbon’ option, shifting instead to a “Bright Lights, Big Bourbon” expression.

Here was our full American quartet:

 

With more from our 2019 Master of Malt Advent Calendar…

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American Minis – Hudson, TBWC Bourbon, Balcones, Whistle Rye

As the months of the pandemic stretch on… our whisky tasting groups have clearly not been meeting in person. For the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents and I, we’d done a couple virtual evenings together – each nipping into what was on hand from our various locales around the globe.

With my UK trip, my host and fellow drammer and I could join together in London while the others tuned in from Belgium and two homes in Mumbai. We decided to add to the mix a merry lass from France known well to the gents from a memorable trip to Scotland years before.

So there we were… poised to pick from our 2019 Master of Malt Advent Calendar. What pray tell did we chose?

Of all the options, we decided to explore a quartet from America….

It turned out to be a rather good mix of styles… and good fun having (gasp!) three people tasting together in the same room. What a rarity these days!

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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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