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Uncategorized Whiskey

Kaiyō Japanese Mizunara Oak Whisky

Among the vast variety of new Japanese whiskies that have flooded the market the past few years is Kaiyō Whisky. The immediate question in my mind when I see one of these bottles is: “But is it really Japanese whisky?” (For more discussion of fake Japanese whisky, click the link.)

The answer, fortunately, with Kaiyō Whisky is: Yes, it’s legit. You have to do a lot of digging on the internet and take everything you find with a grain (or perhaps the whole shaker?) of salt. But I’m reassured that Kaiyō is authentic Japanese whisky.

The funny part is, the brand itself doesn’t proclaim their products as “Japanese Whisky.” I appreciate their extra efforts towards providing candor with their labeling, even if the brand is not otherwise especially transparent.

Kaiyō is reportedly “teaspooned” whisky from some Japanese supplier(s) that the company bought as unaged spirit. (If you want to learn more about “teaspooning,” which is common in the Scottish whisky industry, read this.) The people behind Kaiyō then blend and barrel the whisky, notably in Mizunara (Japanese oak) casks, among others. The barrels are then put on a boat and sent on a three-month trip to rock and sway the whisky, thus hyper-charging the aging process.

If that all sounds a little silly and overcomplicated…I agree! So let’s get to the whisky.

Kayiyo Japanese Mizunara Oak WhiskyKaiyō’s “Japanese Mizunara Oak Whisky” is the company’s flagship bottling.

It’s definitely a young whisky, slightly fruity and sweet to start, before turning dryer with some peppery spice and tea-like flavor.

There is more wood influence than you might expect, although it’s a bit rough, even a touch smoky. I’m not sure that aspect of it is a positive.

Kaiyō Japanese Mizunara Oak Whisky is an interesting whisky, and a decent one. I would like to see how it tastes after it has more time in the barrel to mellow some of the flavors from the wood and to add more complexity. As it stands, it’s a bit simple and unbalanced. For an Asian spirit especially, it could use some more Zen.

Like most new Japanese whiskies on the market, this one isn’t cheap, when you consider how young a whisky you’re buying. Although even at $60, it can look reasonable compared to many of the alternatives. Overall, I say it’s definitely worth a try.

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Whiskey

Heaven Hill Launches Two New Whiskeys

First up is a remaking of one of the distillery’s old stand-by bourbons: Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond. This was a workhorse bottling for many years, usually located on the bottom shelf, but still a reliable and tasty whiskey.

At six-years-old and 100-proof, this was one of the best sub-$20 whiskeys you could find. But nothing in the whiskey business ever stays the same — not these days, anyway — so the label was discontinued last year.

Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond Bourbon Whiskey

Now Heaven Hill is relaunching it in a beautiful new package — truly one of my favorite redesigns I’ve seen of a bottle. It’s still bottled-in-bond, which means it’s still 100-proof, and they’ve added a year to the age, so now it comes in at a very respectable seven years.

Naturally, this all comes at a price — namely an estimated $40 per 750-ml bottle. It’s a lot more than it used to cost. But considering how much NAS bourbons with lower proofs are selling for, it’s still a bargain.

According to Josh Hafer, Senior Manager for Corporate Communications at Heaven Hill Brands, this will only be available in California, Texas, New York, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, South Carolina, and Colorado to start. But it will presumably be rolling out wider in the months to come. I have not yet had a chance to try it. But once I do, I’ll try to report back.

Elijah Craig Rye WhiskeyEven more exciting, for me anyway, is the news that Heaven Hill will be launching a straight rye whiskey under the Elijah Craig banner. Elijah Craig is one of Heaven Hill’s most-respected whiskeys, a bourbon that wins awards and pleases fans, even after they removed the 12-year-old age statement.

(As an aside, they still make an 18-year-old bourbon and, when you can find it, it’s superb. It’s hard to believe that as recently as 2012 when our review was written, you could still find Elijah Craig 18 for $36 in almost any liquor store. Those days, sadly, are long gone.)

But now comes Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. It won’t officially be available until January 2020, but I’m already looking forward to it. It will initially launch in limited markets — North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Oregon — but I hope a bottle makes its way to me sooner than that. At a suggested price of $29.99, I predict this will become a favorite rye of a lot of people very quickly.

To compare the Elijah Craig Rye to the two other ryes available in Heaven Hill’s portfolio — Pikesville Rye and Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye — I’d say it falls somewhere in the middle.

All three whiskeys have the same mashbill: 51% rye, 35% corn, and 14% malted barley. The differences come with the aging, blending, and proofing.

Rittenhouse Rye is bonded, so it’s bottled at 100-proof and consists of all four-year-old whiskey. Pikesville Rye is all six-year-old whiskey and is bottled at 110-proof.

The new Elijah Craig, on the other hand, will be bottled at a gentler 94-proof and will consist of whiskeys from age four on up, whatever mix it takes to get the flavor profile they’re looking for. It is expected to contain at least some older barrels.*

Hats off to Heaven Hill for keeping things interesting, and for giving us some new whiskeys to be on the hunt for.

*The information on the age of Elijah Craig Rye comes to me from Bernie Lubbers, the Whiskey Brand Ambassador for Heaven Hill.

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News Whiskey

Hatozaki Whisky — Read Before You Buy

Hatozaki Japanese Whisky
A tip for my friends in Virginia — and whisky lovers everywhere. I made a stop at the local ABC store today and noticed that they had bottles of Hatozaki Whisky on the shelf. Cool, you might be thinking! A new Japanese whisky to try. Not so fast.
 
Hatozaki Whisky is a product of the Kaikyo Distillery, located in Hyōgo Prefecture and owned by the AKASHI-TAI Sake brewery. The whisky they are currently bottling and selling, however, is NOT Japanese whisky in the way that you might think.
 
In other words, this whisky was not distilled in Japan. As has become common practice with a lot of the new “Japanese Whisky” companies that have emerged in the last few years, they do not have their own whisky to sell. Instead they buy whisky in bulk from Scotland and Canada, bottle it, slap their own label with some kanji on it, and sell it to foreigners as Japanese Whisky.
 
They can’t legally sell it in Japan. But other than that, the Japanese laws regarding whisky labeling are very vague and they permit a spirit like this one to be sold in foreign markets as if it were real Japanese whisky. The U.S. has its own laws regarding the labeling of spirits. But those mostly apply to booze produced in the U.S. There are strict laws regarding what can legally be sold as “bourbon,” for example. But when it comes to imports, the usual practice is to follow the rules of the country of origin.
 
The Kaikyo Distillery does actually exist and they are apparently distilling their own whisky. Which is great news! Many of these Potemkin distilleries only have a bottling plant and nothing else. Even so, it will be at least a few more years before we see Hatozaki Whisky for sale that was actually distilled by them.
 
Does this mean the whisky is bad? No, of course not. It could be excellent for all I know. According to the company, they are blending various stocks of whisky together to achieve the flavor profile they want for their product. There might even be a tiny bit of Japanese whisky some other company made in the mix. But it’s still not real Japanese whisky and it’s HIGHLY unlikely it’s worth the money you’d have to pay for it.
 
You’d never know anything of this if you read the bottle’s label or visited the company’s website. The information isn’t exactly secret — but they aren’t going out of their way to tell anyone either. In fact, what they’re trying to do is mislead consumers into buying something that they’re not really getting.
 
There is a movement afoot in Japan to change their rules regarding what can and can’t be labeled as Japanese whisky. In addition to misleading the public, many are concerned that these ersatz products will taint the reputation of Japanese whisky — which has been built over decades and is high for a reason.
 
Let’s hope change is coming soon.
Categories
Whiskey

Angel’s Envy Bourbon Whiskey

Angels_Envy_bourbon_whiskeyI had a little taste of this old bottle of Angel’s Envy bourbon that has been sitting on my shelf forever. It’s a flavorful, but mellow whiskey — just glides across the palate. I didn’t get a lot of notes from the port finishing, to be honest. I’d be interested to try their sherry-finished expression, as I’m a longtime sherry fan.

Even so, this was excellent. Just a very fine, tasty bourbon. (My wife, who usually doesn’t drink bourbon, agreed.) Lincoln Henderson was a master when it came to making and blending whiskey, and this bottle demonstrates that. A tip of the hat to the old distiller.

Angels_Envy_bourbon_whiskey_label

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Whiskey

Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2018

jim murray whisky bible 2018Today is another important date in the whisk(e)y-lover’s year, circled on everyone’s calendar: the day when Jim Murray announces the latest selections from his Whiskey Bible.

Murray is a controversial figure in the whisky world, for a variety of reasons that others would be better positioned than I to explain. (Although I’m guessing that pose on his book cover isn’t helping.)

But two things are certain about him and his humbly named book: his selections are sure to cause plenty of eye-rolling — and they’re also sure to set off a buying frenzy.

Whiskies that nobody previously paid any attention to will suddenly become the “it” spirit of the year, just by being named in Murray’s book. It’s not because he has such wonderful taste. He may or may not, and it scarcely matters either way. But much like with Robert Parker in the wine world, Murray is a “name,” he gives a number, and he gets lots of publicity.

So without further blather, here are his picks for 2018 (which are really his picks from the last 12 months).

THE FULL WINNERS LIST

2018 World Whisky of the Year
Colonel E.H. Taylor 4 Grain Bourbon

Second Finest Whisky in the World
Redbreast Aged 21 Years

Third Finest Whisky in the World
Glen Grant Aged 18 Years

SCOTCH WHISKY

Scotch Whisky of the Year
Glen Grant Aged 18 Years Rare Edition

Single Malt of the Year (Multiple Casks)
Glen Grant Aged 18 Years Rare Edition

Single Malt of the Year (Single Cask)
Cadenhead’s Glendullan 20 Year Old

Scotch Blend of the Year
Compass Box The Double Single

Scotch Grain of the Year
Cambus Aged 40 Years

Scotch Vatted Malt of the Year
Compass Box 3 Year Old Deluxe

SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY

No Age Statement (Multiple Casks)
Ardbeg Corryvreckan

10 Years & Under (Multiple Casks)
Glen Grant Aged 10 Years

10 Years & Under (Single Cask)
Scotch Malt Whisky Society Tomatin Cask 11.32 8 Year Old

11-15 Years (Multiple Casks)
Gordon & MacPhail Ardmore 2002

11-15 Years (Single Cask)
That Boutique-y Co. Clynelish 15 Year Old

16-21 Years (Multiple Casks)
Glen Grant Aged 18 Years Rare Edition

16-21 Years (Single Cask)
The First Editions Ardmore Aged 20 Years

22-27 Years (Multiple Casks)
Sansibar Whisky Glen Moray 25 Years Old

22-27 Years (Single Cask)
Hunter Laing’s Old & Rare Auchentoshan 24 Year Old

28-34 Years (Multiple Casks)
Glen Castle Aged 28 Years

28-34 Years (Single Cask)
Old Particular Glenturret 28 Year Old

35-40 Years (Multiple Casks)
Brora Aged 38 Years

35-40 Years (Single Cask)
Xtra Old Particular Caol Ila 36 Year Old

41 Years & Over (Multiple Casks)
Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 1957

BLENDED SCOTCH

No Age Statement (Standard)
Ballantine’s Finest

No Age Statement (Premium)
Compass Box The Double Single

5-12 Years
Grant’s Aged 12 Years

13-18 Years
Ballantine’s Aged 17 Years

19 – 25 Years
Royal Salute 21 Years Old

26 – 50 Years
The Antiquary Aged 35 Years

IRISH WHISKEY

Irish Whiskey of the Year
Redbreast Aged 21 Years

Irish Pot Still Whiskey of the Year
Redbreast Aged 21 Years

Irish Single Malt of the Year
Bushmills 16 Year Old

Irish Blend of the Year
Bushmills Black Bush

Irish Single Cask of the Year
Dunville’s VR First Edition Aged 15 Years

AMERICAN WHISKEY

Bourbon of the Year
Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain

Rye of the Year
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac 126.2 Proof

US Micro Whisky of the Year
Balcone’s Texas Blue Corn Batch BCB 16-1

US Micro Whisky of the Year (Runner Up)
291 E Colorado Aged 333 Days Bourbon

No Age Statement (Multiple Barrels)
George T. Stagg 144.1 Proof

9 Years & Under
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Organic 6 Grain Whisky

10 Years & Over (Multiple Barrels)
Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain

RYE

No Age Statement
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac 126.2 Proof

Up to 10 Years
Pikesville 110 Proof

11 Years & Over
Sazerac 18 Years Old

WHEAT

Wheat Whiskey of the Year
Bernheim Original

CANADIAN WHISKY

Canadian Whisky of the Year
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

JAPANESE WHISKY

Japanese Whisky of the Year
Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

Single Malt of the Year (Multiple Barrels)
Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

EUROPEAN WHISKY

European Whisky of the Year (Multiple)
Penderyn Bryn Terfel (Wales)

European Whisky of the Year (Single)
The Norfolk Parched (England)

WORLD WHISKY

Asian Whisky of the Year
Paul John Kanya (India)

Southern Hemisphere Whisky of the Year
Limeburner’s Dark Winter (Australia)

Categories
Whiskey

Celebrate the Holidays with Nick Offerman and Lagavulin Whisky

lagavulin scotch whisky

Don’t be lonely or cold (or thirsty!) this holiday season. Let Nick Offerman and Lagavulin warm you up with a little whisky and a crackling yule fire. Here’s the video in all its 45-minute glory.

But that’s not all! You don’t have to settle for just one helping of Nick and Scotch. Because he’s got you covered with your New Year’s Eve countdown as well!

I don’t know about you, but I find these highly amusing. Kudos the Lagavulin and whomever produced the spots.

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Press Releases

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is the 2016 World Whisky of the Year

NORWALK, Conn., November 19, 2015 – Renowned whisky writer Jim Murray today announced Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye as the 2016 World Whisky of the Year, marking the first time a Canadian Whisky has received the honor. The recognition comes at a time when both the Canadian and Rye whisky categories continue to gain popularity amongst whisky aficionados and consumers alike.

“Crown Royal Northern Harvest pops up out of nowhere and changes the game,” said Murray of the whisky, which he awarded a record-tying 97.5 out of 100 points. “It certainly puts the rye into Canadian Rye. To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice.”

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye was first released in the U.S. in early 2015. The variant showcases the distinctly Canadian rye whiskey featured in the traditional Crown Royal Deluxe Blend that consumers have grown to love throughout the last 75-plus years. The latest variant to be introduced by Crown Royal, Northern Harvest Rye (90 proof, 45% ABV) is the brand’s first ever blended, 90% rye whisky and embodies a smooth and spicy flavor profile that can be mixed into traditional rye cocktails or enjoyed neat or on the rocks.

“Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye showcases the rye whisky that has been such an integral component of the Crown Royal Deluxe blend since 1939. This is a testament to the unbelievable blending and distilling that’s been taking place in Gimli for over 75 years,” said Yvonne Briese, Vice President of Crown Royal. “We are thrilled that Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye has been named World Whisky of the Year!”

The recognition comes on the heels of the launch of Crown Royal’s new campaign titled “The One Made for a King.” The creative, which will run across TV, print, out of home, digital and social, was developed to share the 75-year-old brand’s royal origin story and liquid credentials with consumers. To view the TV spots, please visit www.YouTube.com/CrownRoyalBrand

In addition to being named 2016 World Whisky of the Year, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye received a double gold medal at this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is part of Crown Royal’s vast portfolio of variants for whisky lovers to enjoy, including Crown Royal Regal Apple, the #1 innovation launch across U.S. Spirits over the past 12 month period, according to Nielsen and NABCAand Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel, a double gold recipient and winner of “Best Canadian Whisky” in the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

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Reviews Whiskey Reviews

Whisky Review: Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch

The flavor profile of Bowmore whiskies is often described as “sweet and peat,” and that is very much in evidence here with the 15-year-old Darkest scotch. It has a lush aroma of sweet mesquite smoke, just like a good West Texas barbecue, that carries over to the palate.

Bowmore Darkest is aged for 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels and a final 3 years in Oloroso sherry casks. That gives the whisky a very enjoyable rich and sweet character without going too far on the wine notes.

There are flavors of chocolate, raisins, toffee, and a molasses taste like a good dark rum. There is also a little phenol giving it a nice tingle on the tongue. It is somewhat thin in the mouth, but has a long, satisfying finish — not too hot, despite the 86 proof (43% abv).

One of the things that impressed me the most about this spirit is how the fruit flavors from the sherry cask are so well balanced with the smoky peat. Milder than some of the other Islay whiskys, the Bowmore uses its smoke as a grace note, not a solo.

A wonderful whisky and a fine introduction to the Islay style.

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Reviews Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Abraham Bowman High Rye Bourbon

Abraham Bowman bourbon is made in Kentucky by the Buffalo Trace Distillery and then redistilled, aged, and bottled at the A. Smith Bowman facility in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (This is what is generally believed to happen anyway. Sazerac, the owners of Buffalo Trace, are quiet about some of the details of this whiskey.)

The Bowman company has been using the Abraham Bowman brand in recent years to release experimental versions of the company’s whiskey. (I reviewed one of their standard bottlings, the John J. Bowman bourbon, a few years back.) The Abraham Bowman line has included such things as bourbon with a coffee or vanilla bean finish, and even whiskey aged in barrels previously used to hold Gingerbread Beer.

Does it work? The verdict is usually mixed (isn’t the verdict with whiskey almost always mixed?), but these limited edition bottlings have become highly desired among bourbon fans.

The latest is a “High Rye” bourbon, which means a bourbon that contains a high percentage of rye as the “flavor grain,” along with the requisitie majority of corn. (For more of the specifics about what makes bourbon, see the Professor’s Bourbon 101 post.) According to the distillery, this contains “five times more rye” than their standard recipe, which means this must clock in at something close to 50% corn, 45% rye, and 5% malted barley.

My particular bottle is Release #12, Bottle #1256. It was aged for 8 years and 10 months and bottled at 100 proof (50% abv).

The bourbon has a dark color in the glass — darker than I was expecting at under 9 years of age,  and has a strong smell of sweet fruit. (It made me think of bubblegum.) It also has strong ethanol vapors which prevented me from discerning much else.

The taste was equally fiery. I would have guessed this was higher than 100 proof if pushed. There is a lot of rye spice, some vanilla, and dry, almost bitter oak. Hardly any sweetness. Again, it seems older than its stated age; woody, and not necessarily in a good way.

The Abraham Bowman High Rye Bourbon felt somewhat thin in the mouth, although it did have a long, hot finish. The downside here is that I had to add a splash of water in order to appreciate more of the flavor, but that just made it even thinner.

I’m torn about this one. Looking at it as a bourbon, it doesn’t really match the profile I prefer. (I tend to go for wheaters like W.L. Weller, or just lower-rye bourbons like Elijah Craig.) But that doesn’t mean it’s bad — it just means it’s not for me. It certainly has a lot of flavor, even if I found it somewhat one-dimensional.

And if you look at it as a rye whiskey…Well, there are certainly a lot of ryes out there that I prefer for less money. (Like High West Double Rye or Templeton Rye, or just good old stand-by Rittenhouse Bonded.) Although I suspect that given the strength of this whiskey, it would make a very nice Manhattan.

Ultimately, I’d saw that the Abraham Bowman High Rye Bourbon is an interesting whiskey and worth trying, but I’m not sure I’d pay $70 for it again.

Categories
Reviews Whiskey Reviews

Whisky Review: Balblair 2001 Single Malt Scotch

The first thing you notice about the Balblair 2001 vintage scotch is how light in color it is, despite being aged in ex-bourbon casks for 11 years. That is because, unlike many Scotches, this is not doctored with caramel coloring before bottling. But the age is definitely there.

It has the sweet aroma of cereal malt with vanilla (presumably picked up from the bourbon barrels). The flavor is also slightly sweet with caramel and cereal grain, along with a dry oakiness. There is some spice (cinnamon, perhaps) and notes of bitter chocolate, especially on the rather long finish.

The Balblair 2001 Single Malt Scotch is good, but unspectacular. It didn’t have as much balance as I was hoping for. There are definitely interesting elements there, but I didn’t think they all came together.

As this whisky is a little hot at 92 proof (46% abv), adding some water isn’t out of the question. I found that I could discern more of the flavor after doing so.