The production of any whisky is invariably the life’s work of multiple individuals. Being in the position to review these whiskies, particularly if you don’t enjoy them, can be an uncomfortable situation. So when PWS asked me to give my thoughts on the @YegWhiskyNights cask selection of the Boulder Peated Malt, it came with some apprehension. Sean is a friend, and an unsavoury bottle could make for some awkward interactions in the future. Thankfully, the @YegWhiskyNights cask is a fantastic example of how extra time in a cask and a higher abv can improve an already enjoyable whisky!
Boulder Spirits was founded by a Scottish-born former Air Force veteran named Alastair Brogan, who’s biggest claim to fame was a stint on Survivor: Panama. He always wanted to make whiskey in his homeland, but instead relocated to Boulder, and the rest is part of Colorado whiskey history.
The regular peated malt mash, which is 100% malted barley, is blended with the Eldorado Springs water. It is then placed into 53-gallon, virgin #3 charred American oak barrels for three years. The @YegWhiskyNights release spent an extra 12 months in the cask, and was chosen from several samples for its unique character and flavour profile.
Appearance: Orange-amber in colour. Moves easily in the glass, doesn’t really coat the sides in any noticeable way.
Nose: First thing I notice is a rich, earthy mustiness. No smoke, but almost a hint of Japanese umami. There is a clear undertone of stone fruit like ripe peaches or apricots. There is also some heat on the nose, which can be expected based on the 58.8% abv.
Palate: Surprisingly, there’s a slightly creamy mouth feel for a whisky with low viscosity. The first flavour that hits is reminiscent of flavoured cola, lots of caramel and sweet cherry. This is replaced by a oaky/nuttiness that reveals the character of this particular virgin oak barrel. Delicious.
Finish: The finish of this whisky starts to show the char of the barrel. There is a wisp of smoke now, not overpowering but clearly evident. This is followed by a spicy pepper that lingers on the tongue for a long time. Slightly drying when the pepper fades.
With water: A few drops of water in this cask strength whisky adds some subtlety. Light smoke and caramel replace the mustiness, and eases the spiciness of the pepper. I still prefer it without water.
I wrote this review over 2 nights, including a side by side comparison with the regular peated malt release. Was I supposed to drink a third of the bottle in that time? Maybe. Maybe not. But what that tells me is this whisky is an amazingly easy drinker, especially at 58.8%. It is a significant improvement over the original release, offering a greater depth of flavour and a satisfying spicy finish. I will be adding another bottle of the @YegWhiskyNights selection to my shelf before they disappear forever. Definitely backup bottle worthy. Slainte!
45% Abv Aged 4 years in Deep Charred New American Oak
Woody Creek Distillers are a new and exciting brand that will be gracing our store shelves (and home bars) very soon. They are located just west of Aspen Colorado and are very connected to their local ingredients. They have a vodka that is made from potatoes that they grow themselves. The grains that go into this bourbon are sourced from trusted Colorado farms and are then distilled on their very own custom CARL stills. The launch of Woody Creek into Alberta and Canada is being made possible by PWS Imports and there are some very unique and interesting launch events planned for the near future.
Todays spirit is their 4 year aged Colorado Straight Bourbon. They place their bourbon spirit into deeply (#3 level) charred new American oak barrels and keep it there for a minimum of 4 years. They use a mash bill of 70% Corn, 15% Rye and 15% Barley, all of which is grown in Colorado. This release has been brought down to the very drinkable abv of 45%. This is the first in a series of reviews of the Woody Creek products that will be available very soon.
In the glass: A nice darker gold colour with a touch of orange that seems to enhance light shining through it. A fairly viscous looking oiliness that coats the glass nicely. Some skinny but long struggling legs attest to the viscosity of this dram. It looks nice and inviting before even trying to find the notes.
Nose: The very first thing I notice while just bringing the glass up towards my nose is a great oak note. The classic bourbon notes start showing through next. The honeyed spices show, with a slight cinnamon and toasted baking spice like allspice and nutmeg. As the spice wafts off, I find a unique note I have never found in a bourbon before, that of the taste of maltesers candies. A malt note combined with a bit of darker chocolate. I’m hungry now. Deep down I am finding almost a sage like note, one that reminds me of climbing the mountains in the interior of BC. A dried sagebrush bush that your leg brushes against and releases the aroma into the hot desert breeze. This is definitely a bourbon on the nose yet has some unique characteristics and one that begs to delve into fully on the palate.
Palate: Upon the very first touch on the tongue a small, quick flash of sweetness hits which is rapidly taken over by a nice spice. An almost chilli spice, that then turns to the allspice and nutmeg note from the nose. If you leave the liquid in your mouth and let it roll around and coat your whole mouth you get that spice building to an almost black pepper note. As soon as you let the dram subside and prepare for a swallow, the sweetness comes back strong. Spice turns to cinnamon and then to a beautiful honeyed caramel/toffee note. I still am able to pick out that subtle malt and chocolate note on the palate but it’s definitely less prominent and gets hidden behind the spice and sweetness of the build up on the palate. The finish is a long, slow and broodin. One that teases a build up of the spice again but it lingers instead of builds. That very first beautiful oak note on the nose comes shining through on the finish of this one.
This is a bourbon that I can already tell will be a fan favourite. Its classic enough in taste that most bourbon drinkers will get along nice with this bottle. There are enough unique notes to bring in and hold the attention of the most seasoned bourbon drinkers and I can see it being very versatile in its uses from neat, on the rocks as well as in cocktails. As the first entry into the Woody Creek cabinet, this whiskey makes me even more excited to dive into their other releases.
45% Abv 100% Colorado rye grain Aged 4 years in Deep Charred New American Oak
The next review in the series of Woody Creek releases fresh into Alberta is the Straight Colorado Rye Whiskey. This is made with 100% rye grain grown in Colorado and distilled in the Woody Creek custom CARL stills. It is then matured in new American Oak for a minimum of 4 years. As an industry standard you will know it’s the rye bottle you are looking at by the green coloured label. Why green was chosen as the universal colour for rye whiskies is still unknown to me but it seems to be the consensus to use green labels on bottles of rye whiskey.
In the glass: A beautiful golden amber colour while resting in the glass. A slight swirl in the glass and I wait….and wait…..and wait for the legs to start. I almost gave up on them when they start to droop. Very long to move and thin when they finally do fall down the glass. A beautiful colour and legs that make you eager to dip in and try the whiskey ASAP.
Nose: Okay, this did not at all start how I initially thought it would. I find a very nice citrus note right off the hop. Orange zest and lemon peel to a slight, almost fresh cut kiwi note. I can easily say one of the most fruit forward Rye whiskey noses I can remember. Getting my giant schnoz right into the glass I find a more grassy note coming through. Like the smell from a golf course in the summer heat drying the grass after a morning shower. God I love that nosing note. It takes me back to chipping in for birdie from about 80 yards out…..oh yeah. The whiskey…..there is a bit of that rye baking spice but it leans more towards the cinnamon and almost toffee thats been melted down and worked on in the front window of an old timey candy shop. A very bright and inviting nose on this one. I wasn’t expecting the fruit forwardness but am very intrigued and pleased by it. There is zero heat on the nostrils and my mouth is very saliva heavy wanting to sip it right now!
Palate: Is this a juice? Did someone switch out my whiskey with some fruit juice? I kid, but the fruit forwardness is still there upon the first burst of flavour in the mouth. A sweet fruit blend of raisins and apples. It turns slightly after holding it in the mouth for a touch into a vanilla orange slice and a bit of the rye spice begins to show up for the first time. A pinch of pepper brings the mouth to attention while the vanilla note continues to evolve into a sweeter, butter toffee creaminess. That orange peel note comes back from the nose and lingers in the back of the mouth right as you swallow. I do notice that the apparent oiliness from the legs are there as this coats the entire mouth very nicely. The finish isn’t long by any means but it is beautiful. The bit of pepper mixed with a mandarin orange oil note sticks around the longest. As in the nose there is barely any notice of the ABV at all and definitely not any heat other than the slight pepper note on the palate.
This again, as I have stated, was a surprise for me. A very pleasant and welcome surprise. I do tend to enjoy a lot of rye whiskey I get to try, and this one may be one of the most unique and sippable rye bottles I have tried. The initial high fruit content and lack of any heat makes me want to get into the Cask Strength version as soon as these bottles are available. It will be a nice pour to sit with and watch the game, or to keep you going through the ever earlier Canadian winter nights. You can’t go wrong with including this bottle on your shelf. I have a feeling it will be reached for far more than others currently sitting there.
59.5% Abv Aged 4 years in Deep Charred New American Oak
After a few of the Woody Creek lower ABV sippers, I am proud to introduce one of the “Big Boys” in the form of the cask strength version of their bourbon. This is one I was very excited to have the opportunity to review as I loved the 90 proof version expression. Again the mashbill used is 70% corn, 15% rye and 15% malted barley. I found that the malt really showed well in the lower abv version and am eager to see how the extra proof on this will play out with the maltiness.
In the glass: A deep orange oil colour. Medium oiliness in the legs. Some fall quicker than others but none disappear at all. Just swirling the glass to check colour and legs and so I can catch a whiff on the nose.
Nose: This nose was much heavier than any of the lower abv bottles that were previously reviewed. Although there are some similarities to the 90 proof expression, there are some subtle differences as well. The initial nosing is one of oranges and sweet toffee and vanilla. Getting further into it, more classic bourbon notes appear. Cinnamon and clove along with honeyed vanilla and a slight, dark cherry. What I pick up next I was not expecting at all…a bit of nuttiness but sweeter. There it is…peanut brittle. This for me has always been more of a Christmas treat than any other time of the year and I just recently saw freshly made peanut brittle on sale in a small shop. A touch of apple skin appears upon the deepest inhales. This nose is inviting while also showing there may be a slight bite behind it. Its not overwhelming in any way but it does hold your attention.
Palate: There it is! A bit of a bite from the unadulterated proof of this whiskey hits straight away. It brings with it a nice punch of flavour as well. I like that the heaviness of the first sip is countered with sweetness from the get go. A nice honeyed toffee sweetness. A little bit of fruit shows up next. Orange cloves and apple cinnamon all together. Fruity spices lend some weight in the mouth. That maltiness that I found and loved from the 90 proof version is still there but maybe not as prominent. The chocolate note doesn’t show up with it either. Just a nice weighty malt note that holds with it a bit of the spice. Upon the first swallow that cinnamon spice kicks up a notch but all it does is make my mouth water even more. Oak tannins from the new American oak come through on the finish with black pepper and more vanilla. This holds on for a decently long time and is quite nice. The hint of peanut from the nose only starts to show a bit after swallowing and letting the finish brood for a bit. It’s a nice added touch that again I didn’t find much of at all at the lower abv.
What’s exceptional about this bottle is that while the higher proof brings with it more spice and heat, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this will be a sippable bourbon that can please any fan of the genre. It will stand up to ice or water drops and will be amazing in a rocks glass. Its classic enough to hold onto bourbon fans and unique enough that it won’t be boring to anyone. I can’t wait for these to be unleashed on the public and start hearing the way people take to it.
Let’s take a break from the core range today and take a look at a Woody Creek special release. Wheated bourbons, aside from the Weller releases (if you can find them in your state/province) and Makers Mark, were a rare sight up until a few years ago. That has now begun to change. Alongside four grain bourbons (some with oats instead of wheat), craft distilleries are leading the charge here and the expressions offer something different from the mainstream bottlings…like this one!
This Woody Creek Wheated Colorado Bourbon has a mashbill of 70% corn, 15% wheat and 15% and has been aged for six years in new American oak. It is bottled at a healthy 47% abv.
Nose: The first thing that hit me straight away was the lack of a dusty grain note that I get on most wheated bourbons. It’s not that it isn’t there, but it’s just lurking in the background. What I do get is the sweetness that I normally find in this type bourbon. Werthers original candies for sure, but also a little bit of the sponge toffee filling in a Cadbury’s Crunchie bar. In that way, it’s sort of like a bourbon matured single grain scotch. Again, this being a bourbon, I would expect to see a cherry fruitiness, but instead I’m getting strawberries and a hint of blackberries as well. In terms of the spicing, I get the traditional cinnamon and a little bit of allspice. I’m expecting nutmeg and/or cloves to show up on the palate. I’m really not getting an awful lot of oak here. As I nose this over time, I am getting more of that grain note, like sweet feed that horses love, but should not really get too much of.
Palate: With all of that sweetness on the nose, coupled with the lack of rye in the mash, I was expecting this to be overly sweet the whole way through the experience. That is initially the case, but this whiskey has some surprises in store for me. The entry is quite sweet for starters. The vanilla custard note alone really coats the front of my mouth right from the get go and that continues through the development as well. Between the entry and the development, I get that Crunchie bar toffee note again mixed with red berries and peaches, this time slightly cooked down. What really surprises me is how spicy this bourbon is on the palate. It’s not super spicy, but certainly more so than any other wheated bourbon I have had. It’s almost effervescent on the tongue. Underneath that spice is more of that grain forward note that I usually see in wheaters. The back end of the development sees some nutmeg start to creep in as well as a touch of clove. I am getting some oak, but again, not a lot. I love the balance all the way through.
Finish: The early part of the finish has quite a bit of character. The oak and dark baking spices carry over from the development and are joined by a heavy hint of dark chocolate. That Crunchie bar vibe sticks around as well. It’s slightly drying, but not overly so. As the finish progresses to a medium/long length, it becomes more oak forward, but there is enough chocolate and toffee to prevent it from acquiring that wet oak feeling that can be a bit of a put off for me.
With water added…
I’m getting much more of the dusty grain bin note as well as some faint vanilla, which I was missing entirely on the nose without water added. I’m getting some light sponge toffee, but this is lacking that Crunchie bar vibe that I was digging earlier. Definitely more oak here as well. That subtle fruitiness has also faded. The entry still has that vanilla custard, but it is tinged with orange now and slightly sour. The development is just as spicy, if not more so than without water, and more oak forward. It’s not quite as sweet either. When I smack my lips to let in some air, I get a bit of roasted peanut now. The baking spices stick around for a lot longer on the finish and the dark chocolate has morphed into a cocoa powder note that I really love. This note actually pairs better with the oak at the backend of the finish than the notes I get without water being added.
As Sean Kincaid has noted in the first three Woody Creek reviews, this is a surprising set of whiskies thus far. They take what you might be expecting from a traditional bourbon and American rye and throw you a couple of curveballs to keep you interested. To me, this is the definition of the craft distillery ethos. Take what you already know from drinking “mainstream” whiskey and give you something familiar, but also slightly new. Still to come is the cask strength rye. You definitely will want to tune in for that.
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%.
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.
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!
When whisky drinkers think of peated single malt whisky, they immediately think of the Isle of Islay. Although the most iconic peated single malt brands call that island their home, there is a whole world of peated whisky out there to explore. And not just in Scotland. Almost every whisky producing nation has it’s take on peat, it seems.
For those who are newer to the world of whisky, the basic difference between peated and un-peated malt is the burning of peat bricks (literally chunks of dried peat from bogs) when the malted barley is being dried. The smoke from the burning peat gets introduced into the barley. The phenols infused into the barley from the peat smoke gives peated malt it’s distinct smell and taste. Typical notes introduced as a result of this process include iodine, tar, ash and smoke.
The strength of this peated signature in the malt is directly related to the amount of time the malt is exposed to peat smoke. For example, Laphroaig exposes their malted barley to 15-30 hours of peat smoke. Some go higher. The standard measure of how “peated” the barley has become is its phenol parts per million, or ppm.
Different distilleries have different takes on peated single malt. Some distilleries take a great deal of pride in making the most peated single malt possible such as Bruichladdich and their Octomore series. Many of their releases are 150+ ppm. Most of the major Islay distilleries are in the 30-50 ppm range.
Boulder Spirits has taken a different approach. Rather than creating a heavily peated whisky, they keep their peated level quite low by mixing low ppm peated malt (35 ppm or so) with non-peated malt. The result is a whisky that has an earthy, rather than medicinal flavour. For those who have shied away from peated single malt in the last, this serves as a gentle introduction to what the genre has to offer.
The Boulder Spirits American Single Malt – Peated Malt was matured for at least three years in a #3 char virgin American oak barrel before being bottled at 46%.
Nose: This is a lovely intersection between peat and virgin oak. If I was forced to make a comparison between this and an Islay distillery, I would say it’s closest to Ardbeg. Much less peated of course! A faint whiff of Montreal smoked meat and campfire ash from the previous night. It’s ever so slightly briney. From my recent trip to Salt Spring Island, BC, we took several walks through cedar-rich forests. I’m getting that smell here too. As this sits in the glass for longer, some fresh herbal notes come up. Mostly Italian parsley and a bit of cilantro. There’s enough sweetness and spice to balance things out. A surprising hint of dark cherry lurks in the background. Some sponge toffee and a little bit of vanilla is in there too. For spices, I’m getting cinnamon and a little bit of allspice. Before I take a sip, some orange zest presents itself. The more time you give this in the glass, the more the notes of the virgin oak come to the fore. If you want the peat, drink it sooner! Otherwise, give it time! Speaking of time, it’s time to take a sip!
Pallet: The entry is rich and creamy. Dark toffee, dark chocolate, slices of lemon peel. It’s just a tad ashy. Some grilled cherries and rich vanilla. That cherry note becomes a little more sour as the entry transitions into the development. The volume on the orange and lemon zest gets turned up during the development along with the spices from the oak, but the sweet notes from the entry tame them just enough. Towards the back end of the development, this gets a little drier, but not overly so. After several sips, a peppercorn steak sauce note tingles the tongue along with a little bit of crushed red chilies. I’m getting something different with each sip.
Finish: Quite a long finish. It’s slightly drying and bitter from the oak and near-burnt sponge toffee. Some of the dryness is counterbalanced by the citrus which is fading from the development. Some old leather, a bit of ash and that cedar forest note come on at the end.
With water added…
I’m not so fond of the nose with a few drops of water. It’s a little too oak forward and swamps all of those other notes that make this whisky so unique. This sentiment carries forward through to the entry and, particularly, the development. It’s just too heavily oaked for my taste. For the first time, the youthfulness of this whisky is starting to rear it head. The finish is much the same.
This is definitely a better whisky without water added. Sipped neat and given some time, this is another reminder for the “age is everything” cohort that that adage simply does not ring true. For lovers of scotch, the addition of exclusive virgin oak barrel maturation introduces notes that come both from the single malt and bourbon worlds, creating a hybrid that can be found nowhere else at the moment.
If you have always been shy of peat, this is the perfect whisky to finally take that plunge. It’s not going to slap you across the face and even has some notes commonly associated with bourbons, if that’s the realm you’re coming from.
Nestled just east of the Rocky Mountains and a short drive northwest from Denver, Colorado lies the city of Boulder, where I was born. The backdrop is breathtaking and actually served as the opening scene for The Shining. It’s a hiking and nature lover’s paradise, home to Colorado University, is a burgeoning tech hub and has a thriving research community, particularly in the field of meteorology, my profession.
My parents came to Boulder by way of Libya, where they were working as ex-pats at the time. My dad as a teacher at Benghazi University and my mom as a secretary. They met on the tennis court and got married shortly after. In 1969, Gaddafi came to power and my parents fled to the USA, settling in Boulder shortly after.
Just as my parents came to Boulder seeking a new life, so did Boulder Spirit’s owner Alastair Brogan. After wearing a few career hats, he took the plunge and came to Boulder, along with his family and a copper pot still. Over the last few years, his distillery has been making waves both in the media and among bourbon and single malt enthusiasts alike.
In their bourbon expressions, they have been turning heads with their unique mashbill of 51% corn, 5% rye and a whopping 44% malted barley. This mashbill has led to their whisky’s unique flavour profile and sits between a traditional bourbon and a single malt. It’s really unlike anything out there and is a terrific gateway for single malt drinkers who want to dip their toes into the world of bourbon.
Sitting in the glass today is the Boulder Spirits Sherry Cask finished bourbon. This was aged for 2-3 years in #3 char virgin American oak barrels before being finished for at least six months in ex-Oloroso sherry European oak casks. This is bottled at a very healthy 47% or 94 proof.
Nose: This has such a unique nose. The high barley content gives me those malted cereal notes that I love in young Scotch and Irish whiskey. On the traditional bourbon/virgin oak side of things, I get lots of sponge toffee and a hint of cherry. The sherry cask finish has definitely pushed that to the background. The combination of European and American oak gives me a very Christmas cake vibe. Cinnamon and allspice predominately, but also a touch of nutmeg, ground clove and even ginger. After some time in the glass, a very rich vanilla bubbles to the surface. Plums and raisins from the sherry cask finish round this off. The nose is promising a lot of what the pallet will hopefully offer.
Pallet: The entry can only be described as a gooey cinnamon bun with raisins and a generous slathering of icing. Counterbalancing all this rich sweetness is the virgin oak, which makes it’s presence felt straight away. The oak influence usually doesn’t make itself known until the development, but that’s not the case here. This is mostly dark toffee and deeply toasted peanuts. For it’s age, this is very oily and mouth coating right from the start. The oak spice from both casks again helps to cut through the sweetness during the development. Smacking my lips to let in air gives me more toasted peanuts and a little bit of orange zest. As the development progresses , I get cooked down plums and even some dark chocolate.
Finish: This is surprisingly long for it’s age. Fading oak spice and dark chocolate predominantly, but that orange zest introduced during the development carries through the finish and counteracts the drying sensation of the oak.
With water added…
The nose becomes spicier with quite a bit of citrus mixed in. It’s drowning out quite a few notes that I got without water though. More than anything it’s transformed the nose into a slightly more traditional bourbon. The entry and development are much more oak forward. The increased oak influence from the ex-Oloroso casks makes for a spicier and drier development and reminds me far more of a sherry cask finished scotch than a bourbon. The finish is longer and a little more bitter with water.
If you are a fan of sherry matured or finished Scotch, you’ll be a big fan of this with water. If you love bourbon, I would probably recommend that you sip this neat. But, by all means, do try both. They deliver quite different experiences.
Let’s talk value. In Alberta, which is the only place in Canada this can be found at the moment, you’re looking at a price point of about $85 CAD. This may sound expensive, but you should consider two things. First, Boulder Spirits, like most craft distilleries, are not a high volume operation. Costs are higher. Also, good quality ex-sherry casks don’t come cheap these days.
Ultimately, if you decide to purchase this, you’re buying into an experience that really can’t be found anywhere else in bourbon today, which is a fascinating intersection between an ex-sherry cask finish and a unique high barley mashbill. Trust me, it’s worth the plunge!