Taconic Straight Rye Whiskey – Barrel Strength review

This was the one Taconic release I was most excited about when the initial announcement was made by PWS Imports that they were going to be bringing the Taconic core range to us in Alberta.

I’m always wanting to try different rye whiskeys released from different areas to see if there is a difference. I have found that there is definitely a difference between southern and northern rye .This bottle, which is being produced in upstate New York could fall somewhere in the middle. Only one way to know, so let’s dive in.

First thing I noticed is the beautiful colour of this whiskey. It falls more to the reddish side of the spectrum than the yellow which was a surprise. Maybe not being proofed down with water keeps it way darker. Either way, it’s impressive and stands out in the glass but more so in the bottle.

A quick swirl to check viscosity and I was almost about to type that it has no legs at all…oh they are there. It just took a while for them to even start to drop. A nice, thin, long steady drop down the glass shows promise. You can almost tell just with a swirl how oily this whiskey is.

Nose: Immediately the rye grain note is noticeable as it should be. A bit of rye spice warms up the nose hairs, but surprisingly for a barrel proof this doesn’t nose hot. The spice gives way to a beautiful floral sweetness. Fruit orchards in the spring in BC during an unseasonably hot day. Apples and pears just starting to fill out after fruiting from their blossoms. There’s another floral note I can’t quit pin down. Like fresh tulips or marigolds basking in the sun. I absolutely love this nose and my mouth is watering already.

Palate: Oh baby! This coated my entire mouth instantly. That rye spice comes out large on the entry. Baking spices with cinnamon, but almost as if it’s cinnamon and sugar mixed and sprinkled across a warm buttered rye bread slice. The sugar sweetness fades back into rich fresh fruit notes. Couple that with the nutmeg, a touch of black pepper and some vanilla and honey and this is beautiful. There’s a touch of a wood note, a slight touch of butter tannin just before the finish begins.

Finish: Medium in length, but heavy on flavour. An almost maltiness shows up in the finish with more vanilla and a sort of apple skin note. There is a little flare up of pepper/spice midway through the finish and it just seems to prolong the finish a bit longer.

With water added…

With 5 drops of water into an ounce pour.

Nose: Ooooh this is all rye reminiscent of some of the heavy hitters now. But still unique. The spice has disappeared but the full flavour rye notes are more powerful. Almost a dusty grain note, like a farm on a hot day with a warm wind swirling the air around the grain bins. I find an almost fake banana flavouring note now. And the sweetness is a lot more butterscotch or even a touch nutty like cracking open a fresh bag of peanut brittle and inhaling deep.

Palate: Pow. That beautiful rye character just again wakes you up. The sweetness immediately feels cranked up with water. Still coats the mouth well and the banana note is there again. Like overripe bananas used in baking before they go full off. And wow, the spice and cinnamon return much later with water and stick around longer in the finish too. There’s still a nice flavour spot on the very back of my tongue that won’t fade completely away. Almost like I have a tiny spot of chewy caramel candy stuck to my tongue that won’t go down no matter how hard I try.

Conclusion

Overall this whiskey surpassed even my expectations. It’s mature beyond its years and tastes better than a lot of ryes double or triple its age. The rye spices mixed with the fresh fruit and wood influence all compliment each other amazingly and never try to out do one another. This is a must have for any rye lovers out there. Oh and that spot on my tongue is still giving off flavour.

Instagram: @seankincaid

Taconic Founders Straight Rye Whiskey review

Today, we’re taking a virtual trip over to the east coast to the Hudson Valley region of New York to review the second bottle in Taconic Distillery’s core range: their Founder’s Rye

Rye whisky production is experiencing a bit of a revival these days. Although still bourbon’s little sibling in terms of production, the rye renaissance is being driven by a renewed interest amongst bartenders and consumer alike.

Most mass produced rye still leans towards a mashbill that hues close to the legal minimum of 51% rye. The large proportion of corn in these mashbills gives these ryes a sweeter flavour so as to appeal to the everyday bourbon drinker.

In terms of “high rye” rye, Midwest Grain Products of Indiana (aka MGP) and Alberta Distillers Limited are the largest producers. Their whisky, in turn, is bottled by them under various brand names or shipped to other distilleries for blending and bottling under their own labels.

Lately, craft distilleries have tried their own hand at rye distilling using high-rye mashbills. This leads us back to Taconic, whose Founders Straight Rye Whiskey has a mashbill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. It’s aged for at least three years in virgin American oak barrels and bottled at 45% abv.

Nose: this is quite floral and herbal right off the bat. I had to sniff around my spice and dried herb bottles a bit before I settled on ground coriander seed. It’s a little bit sour and floral at the same time. The floral note isn’t very strong and it’s not pungent like a rose. I’m trying to tie it to something in my garden. A faint whiff of Peony, maybe? I’m getting rye bread in here for sure. Not surprising, I guess! Some brown sugar and toffee bubbles up as it sits in the glass for a while. Definitely cinnamon and allspice as well. More than a hint of peach and orange comes up from the glass. Interesting sweet and sour combinations going on here.

Pallet: That interplay between sweet and sour continues during the entry. Orange, vanilla cream, toffee and a little bit of milk chocolate. It’s not super creamy, but it’s enough to coat the mouth. The transition into the development is gentle and not super spicy either, but it’s enough to make the tongue and gums tingle a little. Cinnamon is joined by a pretty decent amount of ground cloves. The oak starts to come into play towards the end of the development and is pretty tame. Especially when I smack my lips, that orange note from the entry is turned up. Sponge toffee is definitely there from the mid-development onwards along with a bit of cracked pepper.

Finish: The finish is medium, I would say. The oak ever so slightly wins out over the citrus to make this mildly drying. The sponge toffee gently fades away. A little bit of old leather and a tiny bit of dark chocolate linger at the end.

With water added…

The nose is a little more oaked and the cloves I got on the development are here now. A little bit of cocoa powder is in there for sure. This is more sweet and less sour on the entry and development now. I was worried that this might be over oaked, but thankfully that’s not the case. Lots of light brown sugar and the custard of a creme brûlée are in the entry. It’s a little more spicy in the development and that helps to cut through the added sweetness. It’s the same cinnamon and clove mixture as before. The finish isn’t that much longer than without water, but that added sweetness gives me a nice spice cake kind of feel that slowly fades away.

Conclusion

This was really nice both with and without water. Having reviewed a few craft whiskies over the summer, there was a tendency for them to fall apart a bit with a few drops of water. This whisky was having none of that. If you like things a little sweeter, try water. If you like a herbal, slightly citrusy and sour rye, take it without.

Taconic’s Double Barrel Maple Bourbon seems to be their top seller due to it’s unique flavour, but their ryes are legit. If you want to know what the barrel strength version of this tastes like, PWS’s own Sean Kincaid will provided you with the answer on Friday.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Boulder Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey review

There was a time, not so long ago, when pretty much everybody associated single malt whisky with Scotland. No longer. In America specifically, single malt whisky production is among the fastest growing spirit categories today.

This fast growth comes at a price, however. Any product that grows so rapidly and is being produced by so many companies with little agreement regarding standardization runs the risk of fracturing in one way or another. Back in 2016, a group of single malt distilleries such as Westland (Seattle), Balcones (Waco, TX) and FEW (Evanston, IL) were concerned by the lack of transparency and standards in their fast-growing category and wanted to do something about it. The American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) was born.

The ASMWC has two major mandates. The first is to act as a lobby group that is trying to get an official Standard of Identity, like bourbon and rye, written into law that establishes a specific category of American Single Malt Whiskey. Given how government works, this will be no easy task.

In the meantime, the ASMWC’s second major mandate is to establish an interim set of standards for American single malt. These include the stipulation that the whisky is made from 100% malted barley which is distilled at one distillery. In addition, the whisky must be mashed, distilled and matured in the United States with a barrel entry proof of no more than 160 in oak casks not exceeding 700 litres. Finally, the minimum bottling strength must be the usual 80 proof.

This is definitely a very basic set of standards, but over the years, the eight founding members of the ASMWC have been joined by over 100 other distilleries who have agreed to abide by them and to help lobby for the Standard of Identity.

Amongst the ASMWC members, the biggest variation in their production revolves around the casks that they use to mature their whisky. Boulder Spirits, who is a member of the ASMWC and whose single malt is in the glass today, have chosen to mature their whisky in virgin American oak casks treated with a #3 char. This introduces notes that will be familiar to bourbon and rye drinkers, but with a single malt twist.

Boulder Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey is matured for at least three years in these virgin oak casks before being bottled at 46%.

Photo credit: Ryan Negley (IG: @theryannegley)

Nose: Most of the notes that I am picking up in the foreground are associated with the virgin oak this was matured in. Sponge toffee, rich vanilla, a hint of cherry bubblegum and cinnamon. I’ve got my spice bottles out for this one as there’s some other stuff in here I want to identify. It’s not earthy like nutmeg or clove or citrusy like ground coriander. I’ve settled on allspice and just a touch of ginger. Yes, I’m talking to myself. Over time, I notice a brown sugar note. As for the actual single malt, I’m getting malted cereal and some barley sugar (aside: if you haven’t had barley sugar before, go to your local English sweet shop and discover what you have been missing!). Just before I take a sip, I get a little bit of fresh cut grass and wintergreen. As I said earlier, this is very virgin oak forward, but there are enough notes to remind you that there is, in fact, single malt in here!

Pallet: On the entry, I’m getting a very strong spice cake vibe that carries all the way through the rest of the experience. This has opened up hugely since I popped the cork a few months back. Back then it smelled and tasted young. Now it’s a different and tastier animal all together. Let this be a lesson to never do an in-depth review until your bottle has been drained past the shoulder. OK, back to the matter at hand! The entry is creamy and has a bit of a malted cereal note to it as well. That spice cake is now more a ginger cake (like, heavy on the ginger) on the development the longer I sip this. The youthful malted cereal note rears it’s head up here, but, rather than detract from the experience, it adds to it as it gets mixed into the ginger cake notes and the oak spice. When I smack my lips to let in air, I get a little bit of citrus and some walnuts.

Finish: Pretty darn long. Ginger cake and ginger snap cookies carry right on through. The bitterness from the oak was there on the first couple of sips, but is barely detectable now. There is enough of it along with some sponge toffee on the edge of burning to counterbalance the sweetness though.

With water added

How interesting. On the nose I’m getting a bit of a rich, sweet BBQ sauce note. The sort of sauce that you would cook up at home. As I give this more time in the glass, that fades and I get more cinnamon and more fresh cherries than cherry bubblegum. The spicing gets a little earthier so I’m leaning more towards clove than allspice now. Over time, the baking spices increase on the nose. That ginger cake note is tamped down on the entry and finish and the oak becomes more prominent, but it’s not over oaked like the peated malt was. If anything, I like this balance with water better. Towards the end of the development into the finish, I get a definite dark liquorice note. Not the cheap Twizzlers candy. I’m talking the real stuff now. I don’t like liquorice, but here, it just adds on to everything I am liking about this experience. Over time, the development is more spicy ginger snaps cookie than ginger cake.

Conclusion

I’ll be very honest with you. I came into this review expecting to not like this whisky and was thinking of ways to word this in a diplomatic way that I didn’t like it. From my first few drams, I just thought it tasted too young. What a difference time has done to this bottle. I actually see my Boulder Spirits Sherry Cask bourbon shaking in the corner of my cabinet, afraid that I had found a new distillery favourite.

It’s strange how their straight up single malt didn’t collapse with water added in the way that their peated malt did. Having not tried this with water, I was really expecting the same to happen here. Once again, thankfully, I was wrong.

I would love to try their bottled in bond and, if available, cask strength expressions sometime just to see what time and a bit more (or a lot more!) abv does to the signature of this whisky. I bet I won’t be disappointed!

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Photo credit: Ryan Negley (IG: @theryannegley)

Bardstown Bourbon Fusion Series 1

The Bardstown Bourbon Company is a compelling one to me. Mostly because of their willingness to be innovative and creative, and to explore and push the boundaries. In a vast world made up of numerous methodologies and inventive capabilities when it comes to distillation, blending and finishing, it is clear, Bardstown’s goal and passion is to light up the world and create a product that can effectively stand out in a saturated whiskey climate. I respect tradition but I am not a traditionalist when it comes to whisky. I am a huge advocate of being bold and daring when it comes to the creation of whiskey and love to see those who are willing to experiment and risk being criticized for their efforts. Its important for Craft distilleries maintain modern approaches and be the visionaries in order to keep the house hold names humble and in check. Needless to say, Bardstown is well on their way to effectively doing so and being recognized as a distillery people can rely on for a quality product.

A great example of the innovative minds behind the Bardstown brand is, they have become the first distillery to develop and offer a full Napa Valley style destination and experience providing an all-inclusive look into their genius on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. A place that sits firmly atop my list to visit when go!

Okay, on to the bourbon itself. The Fusion series as I am aware, would qualify as their entry level expression. It composition is made up of 60% of their own bourbon and 40% of a sourced bourbon from a fellow Kentucky distiller. Combined in the 60% are two bourbons; one of which is aged 2 years and 3 months, carries a mash bill of 68% corn / 20% wheat / 12% malted barley, and makes up 18% of the blend; the second is aged 2 years and 1 month, carries a mash bill of 60% corn / 36% rye / 4% malted barley, and makes up 42% of the blend. The remaining 40% which is a sourced bourbon is 11 years and 7 months old and carries a mash bill of 74% corn / 18% rye / 8% malted barley.

As I destruct everything Bardstown has blended here, it looks like they are combining some youthful bourbons to add some liveliness and edginess with an elder bourbon that can act as a back board, providing stability to the pour. The two different Bardstown mash bills are interesting as they have taken a decently high rye – bourbon which should bring a lot of spiciness to the table and a high wheat – bourbon to potentially tame it and provide some softness especially considering the 11 year bourbon is also a rye – bourbon. In my opinion, I might have gone a little higher with the Wheat – bourbon to increase the potential for softening the back of the palate where the pepper like spiciness usually lies the heaviest and adding a nice creamy sweetness to the fore palate. That being said… I am no expert so who am I to tell the experts what to do!

ABV – 49.45% / Age – 2 – 11 years / Mash – See above / Region – Kentucky Bourbon / Cask – New American Charred Oak

Time to taste the Bourbon!

Nose

A very soft nose with subtle notes of vanilla sweetness, wet leather and very light fruitiness. Honestly, very pleasant but not a ton there to unpack.

Palate

On entry, there isn’t a lot of present but quickly uncovers a little vanilla, brown sugar and tart cherry similar to that of a cherry simple syrup made with a demerara sugar. Now brace yourself because the palate drastically changes toward the back and into the finish with a punch of pure pepper which is what that 38% rye – bourbon is bringing to the table.

Finish

The finish is dry, oaky with pepper for days with a bit of bitter black tea. It is fairly lengthy but mainly because of the peppery spice.

Overall, its a perplexing pour. Youthful with a mix of distinguished behaviors coming from the elder bourbon. Not very complex but not a lot of Distiller’s entry bourbons are. I am curious to see how it performs in cocktails because I think that spiciness will provide some interesting character to classics like a Manhattan or Sour. The price is a little up there but what everyone needs to consider is that this is a craft distillery still in the infancy stages, and it is not cheap to build and run a world class facility so just like we support local boutiques, we pay a bit more to support the passion and potential Bardstown Bourbon Company represents.

This bourbon isn’t going to please everyone, but what does? I would recommend it because I believe in the brand. I have been closely watching Bardstown release all kinds of interesting expressions over the last while and to date, have only tried a couple different expressions myself, thanks to some samples from good friends. Its unfortunately not available in Canada which I really hopes changes in the future because I would really love to dive further into their products. Until then, samples will have to do!

  • Review by Steven Shaw

Talisker 15 Year (2019 Diageo Special Release)

Diageo’s “Rare by Nature” 2019 special release. “Limited” to 42000 bottles worldwide and sounding like very few made it to Canada. “Natural Cask strength” at 57.3% abv. Matured fully in freshly charred American oak hogsheads and comes in a tin with beautiful art prints of oysters and seaweed as found near the distillery around the Isle of Skye.

Nose

While it has the typical notes of spice and herbs and brine that Talisker is known and loved for, the smoke is rather faint on the initial nose. Digging deeper though, the smoke starts to present itself more firmly but the drill sergeant here seems to be the sweetness. As a mixture of flame melted and burnt sugar hits the top of my sinuses, a faint citrus fruit note poke it’s way through. Citrus like orange peels, and a freshly peeled peach. The high ABV doesn’t really show up too much on the nose which I like as it allows a lot of time searching around for ever changing notes without tickling those nostrils with high alcohol.

Palate

Immediately rich and clingy in the mouth. Spices and herbs literally fighting their way to the tongue. A touch of the smoke clears the way. A nice campfire style smoke. A second sip and the sweetness shines through. Salted caramel without the crunch and a touch of the citrus arrives again. Lemon rind and brown sugar dance together, muddling the high ABV which is present, but not obnoxious at all. Maritime brine and seaweed round of the profile but again, that sweetness is surprising refreshing.

Finish

Not the longest finish and medium in length. Starts heavy on cinnamon and smoke and the “tongue tingle” copyright… sticking around for a bit as the finish fades from salty spiced smoke to more fruit and burnt sugar sweetness again.

Talisker for me is always a fairly consistently, decent to great distillery with very few misses, with a lot of releases I have really enjoyed over the years. This one particularly, while not as typical as some other releases, really impressed with its subtle differences. That sweetness is such a welcoming surprise, as I previously mentioned, which offers a beautifully balanced and complimentary quality to those maritime and peat notes Talisker has become known for. If you can find this bottle and like this style of whisky, do not hesitate to buy one. 

Outside of my recommendation to purchase this Talisker release, I have some other advice to share….

Please always wear socks when Steve asks you to come help him with a few photos, just encase he asks you to walk through waist high snow banks! I learnt my lesson.

  • Review by Sean Kincaid