Norbert is a guy who’s been around for ages in the whisky world, and has started his own company to host tastings and have stands at festivals a few years ago. He is mostly known for his enthusiasm about American whisky (without an e, since we’re in Europe and that’s how you spell it here, according to him).
With COVID-19, all whisky festivals and tastings have been cancelled and most companies have taken refuge in the online world of Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams.
This tasting was no exception. Seven American whiskies were tasted on August 20th, of which I will review 6 here. The seventh will follow in a little while, which I will go over in more detail, since I bought (and shared) a bottle of it.
Hiram Walker Imperial, 4 years old, American Blended Whiskey, 43%, +/- 1971
Initially sharp, but mellows down to a rather sweet whiskey. A fairly spicy scent follows that. Warming with dying embers, some honey.
Very old fashioned. Some pure bourbon sweetness with not much ‘design’ to it. Pretty dry and even a bit of card-board. A whiff of white and black pepper, with some honey.
The finish is dry, corky, with hints of old apple. Virtually no modern sweetness, and therefore a lot more character. Quite short with some treacle.
We started off with an oldie, bottled almost 50 years ago. This whisky is from a weird time in American whisky, when people were looking for lighter styles and vodka was gaining ground on this ‘old fashioned’ drink. So, an American blended whisky is generally vodka with some whisky mixed into it.
So far, I’ve not dabbled in this style all that much, but I was positively surprised by it. It had more flavor than I expected of an American blend. I wonder what the mixing ratios are, and how much of that flavor would hold up if it was made today. Bourbon was different, 50+ years ago, like Scotch was different. All in all, a pretty solid start.
Hermitage Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 4 years old, 40%, bottled in 1976
Quite an intense nose, with a lot of oak notes. Menthol, burnt oak, almonds. Maybe even some marzipan. A whiff of licorice.
The palate is a lot lighter with even some acidity. Slightly sour, a lot more corn than before. Sweet and sour, with sharpness from the oak.
The finish is a bit contrasting, going full force against the sweetness. Some bitterness, some acidity, licorice. The sweetness does survive though.
Another oldie followed. Obviously there is more focus on the corn since there is significantly more in here, so a sweeter drink too. Although the sweetness supposedly is more from the oak than from the corn, as Norbert said.
The hints of Marzipan and licorice hold up this whisky, although the contrasting finish make it a bit weird. For a bourbon from this long ago, I would have expected a little bit more depth. Although, again, this is from the time where bourbon was anything but popular.
Town Branch Rye, 100 proof, 50%
A lot warmer, more modern, more thick. Syrupy, with balls. Quite fierce, with lots of oak and baking spices. Cinnamon, charcoal, bitter wood notes. Candy canes.
The palate is quite sweet, very much bourbon like, with some rye spiciness. Not a lot though. Candy cane, cinnamon. A touch of acidity with heat form the alcohol.
The finish is a lot lighter and more spicy. Quite long with menthol and a lot of oak.
This is a far more modern whisky, with more thickness, a bit more oomph too. The combination of spicy rye, oak notes and a candy sweetness make for a dangerously drinkable whisky. The surprising note of acidity on the palate was nice to contrast the sweetness.
Quite a lovely dram, this. I wouldn’t mind going through a bottle of this stuff. I think the 100 proof really helps this whisky.
Sagamore Spirit Rye, Port Finish batch 1C, 50.5%
Initially it’s pretty intense, but it mellows down after while. There’s a lot of sweetness, Fairly straight forward with a lot of corn, and a lot of oaky sweetness.
There’s a LOT of sweetness on the palate, with quite some spices after that. The port dryness adds to the rye dryness, but the sweetness doesn’t really work for me. Stewed red fruits, jam, with spices that don’t belong.
The finish is, again, insanely dry, with heat from the oak and alcohol, with white pepper.
Throughout this whisky there are some hints of menthol, pine and solvent. These do give it some complexity and try to balance the port casks.
To say we’re getting into strange waters is an understatement. I have a strenuous relation with port matured whiskies in the best of situations, but to add the port sweetness on top of the sweetness of an American whisky is asking too much from me.
Honestly, I really, really dislike this whisky. I’m not sure what they’re going for here, but it absolutely doesn’t work for me.
Side note: They’re talking about a finish in European and American Port Barrels. If that refers to the oak’s provenance, fine. If that refers to where the port came from, it’s weird, because ‘port’ made anywhere else than a small region in Portugal can’t be called that. Not sure how that holds up in International law though.
Clyde May’s Special Reserve, Alabama Style Whiskey, 110 proof – yellow label, 55%
Granola bars, popcorn, caramel, corn syrup, vanilla, some rancio. Some dryness and heat from the oak, a whiff of chili. A whiff of a deep fryer too…
Caramel covered popcorn, caramel apples. A whiff of cayenne dusting. It gets more dry after some swimming, becomes quite a bit hotter, with more chili pepper and oak too.
Insanely dry, cayenne pepper, mellows quickly. The finish is rather short, with most focus going towards the ABV.
It’s quite young and especially on the finish that’s noticeable. Or, at least, it comes across as a young whisky, but it’s actually 6 to 7 years old.
The ‘Alabama style’ refers to a natural essence of apple being added during bottling. While this makes it not-whisky in my book, it’s not a ‘bad’ thing. Bourbon and apple work quite well together.
However, this is one of those products that I like to taste, but I wouldn’t go through a bottle all too quickly.
Blood Oath Pact No. 4, Lux Row Distillers, 49.3%, bottled in 2018
Very dry, once more. Very classical with a lot of vanilla like sweetness, corn syrup. A lot of attention to the baking spices, resulting in a very old fashioned whiskey.
The palate is quite dry, but not very intense. Some bitterness because of the long time in wood. Some woody heat resulting in chili heat.
The finish mellows very quickly, with oak and corn. Some caramel, stewed fruits. Milk chocolate too.
This is a considerably older whisky than what came before, with this being a mix of 10 and 12 year old bourbons.
As steady readers of MaltFascination know, I love the bitter notes that I found here and this one is a lot more mature and old fashioned because of these.
All in all, a very good whisky, which should not be too surprising with this clocking in at € 170 in Europe. Expensive stuff, but these bottlings are popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
With that we didn’t come to the end of the tasting. After the Blood Oath we had a Yellowstone Limited Release 2019. A 50.5% bourbon at 9 years old. I absolutely loved that one and bought a bottle before I even said I loved it in the tasting. Tastings notes to that will follow, based on more extensive trying.