A Crop of Spring Whiskey
Raindrops on roses and a few of our favorite new 2019 whiskies
I love a pretty spring blossom as much as anyone, but even better than the season’s horticultural extravaganza is all the new whisk(e)y that crops up this time of year. And hey, unlike the blossoms, they don’t make me sneeze! With a bounty hailing from a few continents (and even Texas), there’s a lot to pick from this season.
Here are some of the best ones brought to me by the whiskey fairies:
47% ABV, $35
Pronounced “lee-jent”, the buzziest release of the season is the first project to bridge the two halves of the Beam and Suntory companies. The liquid was produced at Jim Beam according to straight bourbon rules (new oak, mash bill, age requirement, etc.) by Master Distiller Fred Noe and finished in a variety of wine and sherry casks that undergo additional aging at the Beam warehouses. Then Suntory Master Blender Shinji Fukuyo tasted dozens of different barrel selections and used a very precise and meticulous process to arrive at the flavor profile for the final blend. Considering such a relatively low price tag, this artful collaboration is major bang for your Buck (or any other cocktail or highball or ice cube) to serve at your pleasure. I like the way it starts out in very classic Jim Beam bourbon smoky-leatheriness, but with a nuttier richness on the mid palate and tangy sweetness in the finish.
New York Distilling Co. Ragtime Rye Bottled In Bond
100 proof, $50
The Williamsburg, Brooklyn distillery’s first official Empire Rye (rye whiskey aged and bottled in NY state using at least 75% state-grown grains), is finally here! Produced according to bottled-in-bond requirements (100 proof and matured in a federally bonded warehouse for at least 4 years), 75% rye is joined by 13% corn, and 12% malted barley—all non-GMO—and grown by Pedersen Family Farm in Seneca Castle, NY. Founder and distiller Allen Katz says the project took seven years to come to fruition. The wait paid off with balanced spiciness that’s both peppery and sweet, pleasant grassiness, malty cocoa (think Whoppers candy) and a well-polished finish that brings a bit of heat. It’s practically begging to be mixed with some vermouth and bitters for a Manhattan!
Glenrothes Soleo Collection
The Speyside Scotch distillery is known for its vintage releases, so I was intrigued to taste this new collection of non-chill filtered age statement 10 year, 12 year, 18 year and an NAS called “Whisky Maker’s Cut”, all aged in “sherry-seasoned casks”. According to a company press release, the decision to forego its vintage releases marks a “new chapter” in the distillery’s 140 year history.
The 10 year (40% ABV, $45) is extremely delicate—I’d even say it’s fragile—with flavors of cantaloupe and mild citrus and a honeyed finish that leaves the palate like it’s trying not to wake something from a nap. I honestly can’t see myself reaching for it much except on warmer days as a highball whisky, although the flavors are so subtle I fear even plain water bubbles might overpower it.
The 12 year (40% ABV, $55) is more like it, with fuller body on the mid-palate, candied orange peel and a bittersweet walnut and chocolate finish. I still yearn for a bit more complexity here, but this one heads in a more resolved direction and would make an excellent intro Scotch for anyone who suffers from that dreaded “all Scotch is smoky” syndrome.
The 18 year (43% ABV, $130) is really fun. The flavors remind me of those delicious ginger-chocolate shortbread biscuits one can only find in the UK, but here with a hit of pistachio thrown in, and a lengthy, satisfying finish.
The Whisky Maker’s Cut (48.8% ABV, $75) makes a terrific case for non age statement whisky, as I feel it’s the best of the bunch. I appreciate the spiciness from the cask selection, and this expression offers the most complexity of fruit flavors--kumquat, grapefruit, lemon, blood orange and a hint of pear--with almond butter and icing sugar offset by more ginger spiciness in the finish.
$80, 46% ABV
Jackelope? Antelabbit? Bourbon-rye mix? Rye-bourbon mix? Why obsess over what it is, although if you must know, it’s a limited edition blend of two straight bourbons and a straight rye—one bourbon is 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt; the other 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% barley malt; the rye 95% rye, 5% barley malt—all sourced from MGP, and all a minimum of 10 years old. The use of mature whiskey adds body and a creamy weight to the sipping experience, with a hint of jasmine green tea, sharp baking spices and puffed barley breakfast cereal elements rounding it out.
$30, 46% ABV
What sets this whiskey apart is that the majority of bourbon is produced in column or continuous stills. Pot stills are typically associated with Scotch style and Irish whiskey. While not entirely unique to American whiskey, using these particular four grains in the mash bill--roasted blue corn, malted barley, wheat and rye (the latter 2 grown in Texas)--adds to the flavor experience and lends its own, artsy spin. The resulting whiskey by the 2019 Texas Distillery of the Year in the NY International Spirits Competition is more on the roasty-toasty bent for a bourbon, with Cracker Jack sweetness (including the caramel peanuts) and root beer spiciness.
125.9 proof, $80
In the spirit of last year’s “Kathleen’s Batch”, here is another Booker’s limited batch named for an influential woman in the Booker Noe story—Teresa Wittemer, longtime member of the Beam Quality Control department responsible for maintaining the consistency in flavor of Booker’s Bourbon. With an age statement of exactly 6 years, 3 months, and 1 day, this release has a surprisingly exotic fruity tea note to it, along with the signature sweet corn cereal and leathery layers of a classic Booker’s.
44.4% ABV, $45
As part of the Corby Northern Border Collection from Ontario distillery Hiram Walker (via Hotaling & Co.), Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore has reproduced a whisky style that was popular in 19th century Canada. The recipe is based on an 1830s bottling by Toronto Gooderham & Worts distillery, which was originally founded by grain merchants James Worts and William Gooderham. The flavor and texture of the whisky is reconstructed by distilling 100% locally sourced corn, rye, barley, wheat and oats separately and blending them together in the same style as the original. Because both virgin and ex-bourbon casks are used to mature the whiskies, there is a distinctly woodsy pinecone element on the palate, but that’s nicely complimented by sweet, malty breakfast cereal flavors and a hint of cherry cola.
40% ABV, $45
Yes, you did just see a pig flying past your window on a unicorn. I am recommending a honey whiskey. Catskills, NY-based beekeeper Claire Marin, a founding member of the Women’s Cocktail Collective, has created a whiskey sweetened with her own raw wildflower honey. The sweetness is used for good purposes—to lend only a subtle sweet texture to the whiskey (sourced for now, with plans for releasing her own distillate in future), allowing the whiskey’s natural flavors to come to the fore—not to mask its whiskey-ness. In fact, had I not known beforehand this was a honeyed whiskey I would only have remarked that the rye finishes with a slight floral sweetness, complimenting the richer grain and spice notes. For once, here’s a sweeter spectrum whiskey that isn’t made for people to “learn” to drink whiskey, but for seasoned whiskey drinkers to shed their prejudices and sip whiskey with pride. In addition, proceeds from the sale of the bottles go toward pollinator programs to help save bee populations. Sweet! For more on #savethebees, please click here.