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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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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