Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve

I had wanted to try the older version of this but never had the chance. When Dalmore stopped bottling it and replaced it with the Gran Reserva, I had thought about it but the few Dalmores I had tried had not impressed me too much. Apparently, there was some consumer outcry that prompted Dalmore to bring back the famous Cigar Malt. With no age statement, but supposedly most of the malt used in this bottling is 10-15 years old and even older, the idea is the produce a rich,sherried single malt that should pair perfectly with a big, fat cigar, like a Partagas Serie D No. 4.

The new bottling is more expensive than the old bottling, as tends to be the custom, so I thought I’d try a wee sample before making the decision whether or not to seek out a bottle. Glad I did…

Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve

44% ABV, NAS

Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve
Nose: Malty and rich, caramel, biscuits, dusty leather, baked apple, citrus

Taste: Burnt brown sugar, toffee, orange zest, mild sherry oak. Well balanced but not many layers of complexity.

Finish: Fairly short, no surprises. Thin mouth coating.

Overall:  Very nice with some good flavors and balance, but at NAS and >$100 it’s probably not going to be a purchase for me. QPR not very good, but a nice sherried malt that I’m sure would pair well with a rich cigar.

Thanks to Master of Malt for the sample.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2013 “125th Anniversary”

After the 2012 LE Small Batch was named best American Whiskey by pretty much everyone, myself included (unofficially), it was obvious that the 2013 release was going to have to be good. I expected it to be great, and Mr. Rutledge didn’t let me down.

Four Roses 2013 LE SmB

51.6% ABV and sharing some real common DNA with the 2012 version, I searched far and wide for this one and had started to panic when it looked like I may not be able to secure a bottle after the initial release. I had all but given up when fate landed one in my lap.

Recipe: OBSV – 18 years (sound familiar? 2012 had a 17 year OBSV), OBSK – 13 Years (again 2012 had a 12 year OBSK), OESK – 13 years (2012 had a 12 year OESK)

After a few tastings, I have to say this needs a little time in the glass to open up, but once it does…

Nose: Everything you want. Ripe cherries, creamy vanilla and spicy oak.

Taste: More cherry and other red berries, spicy oak, caramel, vanilla, dark chocolate.

Finish: Long and the interplay of the sweet cherry and vanilla and spicy oak dances in time until it fades enough for you to reach and pour another glass.

Overall: The hardest question to answer in American whiskey in 2013 might prove to be “Which is better, the 2012 Small Batch or the 2013?”. I honestly can’t answer, but I’d spend a lot of time re-tasting both to see if I could come to a conclusion. Well done and may the awards start piling up. Buy a bottle of this without question.

Hirsch 21 Year Rye vs. Hirsch 22 Year Rye

Very excited to be able to do this one. There are some legendary old ryes out there from some legendary distilleries (specific provenance of which is under debate, so I won’t speculate here). These older ryes are obviously not being bottled much anymore and it will likely be quite some time before anything similar is available on a more than extremely limited basis. These two fit in the category and I thought I’d do them head to head since they should be similar. Both distilled in 1983, one obviously aged approximately one year longer.

Hirsch 21, 46.5% ABV
Hirsch 21
Nose: Yep. Plenty of rye spiciness along with brown sugar and oaky goodness. Cocoa, wood grain.
Taste: A little dry and astringent, lot of oak tannins, but still plenty of deep rye spice, chili powder, dark chocolate.
Finish: Long and drying, lots of oak grain and fading spices.
Hirsch 22 Rye, 46.5% ABV
Hirsch 22
Nose: More oak, rye spice is more subdued. More cocoa powder and cinnamon.
Taste: More of the same. A little more oak grain, a little less spice, more sweet cocoa notes, cinnamon.
Finish: Still long and drying, sweeter, a little bitter oak comes through but not bad.
Overall: Both of these are very good. I seem to be less sensitive to and enjoy more heavy oak influence than some of my American whiskey drinking brethren. I understand why they may be put off by it, but I am definitely not, especially when it’s balanced by some huge rye spices as in these. Both of these are fantastic and I’d love to have cases of each, but I have to give the slight edge to the 22 year. Splitting hairs, really, both are excellent. If I ever saw another bottle of either of these I would buy it without hesitation. Many thanks to a friend for the sample of the 22.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2012

Four Roses is a distillery currently well-admired by the whiskey community, and one of the reasons (besides making very good bourbon for a while now) is the quality that has come to be expected from their annual limited releases. Sadly, this is the first one I have been able to try, but I look forward to any that I can get my hands on in the future.

From the Four Roses website:

Our Master Distiller has hand selected four remarkable Bourbons from our 10 distinct Bourbon recipes to become our Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch for 2012. The four Bourbons, perfectly aged between 11 and 17 years have been artfully mingled at barrel strength to create mellow flavors of orange peel and ripe red raspberries that melt into balanced tones of dark chocolate and caramel custard.  These four Bourbons are married into one of the most alluring spirits we’ve ever made. Available September 2012.


Tasting Notes

  • Nose: Creamy vanilla and citrus with hints of all spice, nutmeg and rich pipe tobacco.
  • Palate: Orange peel and ripe red raspberries, dark chocolate and caramel custard.
  • Finish: Mellow finish with wisps of soft cedar and vanilla.


  • OBSV -17 years

  • OBSV – 11 years

  • OBSK – 12 years

  • OESK – 12 years

Here’s my go at this one:

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2012

55.7% ABV

Four Roses LE SmB 2012

Nose:  Cinnamon and hot rye spices at first (whoa ABV!), slowly back in for loads of citrus, dark cherries, vanilla, soft wood grain and tobacco in a dusty humidor.

Taste: Extremely complex, waves of flavor, ripe berries, grapefruit, orange, lemon, cinnamon, chili peppers coated in oil, and finally some toffee, caramel and vanilla. Just a hint of oak but remarkably not much given the age.

Finish: Here the wood grain comes out a touch more but it’s wonderfully balanced with lingering cherry, spice and vanilla.

This is certainly among the best bourbon I have tasted. It’s actually one of the best whiskies I’ve tasted. Such complexity and with so much balance. I was particularly astonished at how perfectly harmonious the wood grain was with all the other sweet and savory notes from nose to finish.

I don’t give out grades or scores, typically, but this deserves to be at the top of anyone’s wish list. Thanks to a twitter friend for the sample, I tried to get my hands on a bottle of this but it sold out quickly and I don’t think any of it reached Nevada at all.

Balcones Texas Single Malt

Probably the hottest small or “craft” distillery in the U.S. right now, Balcones in Waco, Texas is definitely one that is making its mark globally. Having recently won numerous awards for both its products and for the distillery in general, Balcones is poised to have the eyes of the entire whisky world on it over the next few years.

An insane amount of praise and publicity doesn’t typically go to a small, five-year old distillery without there being some quality product involved, so I have been keen to try anything from Balcones for a while. Muchas gracias to a retailer friend for sending me a bottle of this gem from out-of-state. Balcones has yet to make it to Nevada but with any luck they will soon (I hope).

It’s worth spending some time on Balcones’ recently revamped website as the stories and the videos are all worth watching. Here’s a little on their story:

Just five years ago, Balcones was little more than an idea fueled by a ruthless drive to create something new, something genuine, something worthwhile – a Texas whisky tradition. It all started with an old welding shop under a bridge. We hammered and welded our own stills, and sawed and nailed on that little shack to build the distillery that we use to this day. Since then, we have released seven unique spirits of which we are very proud and won 40 national and international awards from the world’s top judges and critics. We don’t just make whisky in Texas. We make Texas whisky.

Our commitment to hand crafting our spirits extends into the design and layout of the distillery and the engineering and construction of equipment. The benefits of building and installing our own equipment became clear to us as we put together our distillery. By building our own condensers, wash stills, heat exchangers, hot liquor tank, etc. we were able to build exactly the equipment we wanted to use to make spirits. We became extremely familiar with the tools of our trade. The equipment itself is one more level of the distilling process that we get to craft with our own hands.

We are very proud to not only taste spirit we made as it ages and matures, but to also work everyday with equipment that was painstakingly and lovingly made.

Craft distilleries are popping up everywhere. Half the time these ventures are initiated by business men who see a market opportunity. Balcones is the realization of a distiller’s dream, not simply an ambitious attempt to fill a profitable niche.

Let’s dig in to the first Single Malt Whisky from Texas I have heard of.

Balcones Single Malt

Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky

NAS, 53% ABV, Batch SM12-10 (bottled 12/31/2012)

Color: Dusty Dark Gold

Nose: Warm buttered banana bread, malty biscuits, ripe figs and raisins, some cinnamon, honey, citrus and maybe even a hint of mesquite fire? Truly a wonderful, complex nose. I could nose this forever and not even take a sip. Ok, fine, I”ll take a sip…

Palate: Wow, it’s like a good, complex Highland single malt with some hot, cinnamon almost bourbon-like influence in there. Plenty of sweet malty and honey goodness, more banana bread, a hint of orange and some nuttiness comes through as well – walnuts and pecans.

Finish: Really long and a lot of buttered, cinnamon-sugar toast, oak and walnuts.

Overall: Wow. I was blown away. For an NAS (I’m assuming pretty young) single malt this is pretty rich and complex. Shows what hot Waco summers can do aging spirit in a mix of small and large barrels. This may be the best American single malt I have tasted.

It’s definitely a single malt profile but tastes unlike anything I have tried coming out of Scotland or anywhere else. At 53% this is surprisingly drinkable and balanced. A splash of water does add some creaminess and a little fruit but I would encourage trying it both ways as it is very drinkable neat.

Cheers to Chip Tate and the rest of the gang at Balcones. I should have some samples of the True Blue and the Brimstone soon and can’t wait to try them. If the rest of Balcones lineup is anywhere near as good as the Single Malt, all the awards recently bestowed upon them are well deserved.

St. Patrick’s Day: Tasting Redbreast 12 Year

I haven’t formally tasted or reviewed much Irish Whiskey, and have really only drank a few expressions from Jameson and Powers in the past, so I’ve been excited to branch out to some more complex Irish malts. Redbreast 12, and the newer “cask strength” version of Redbreast 12, has had all the rave and hype coming out of the Irish single pot still world, so, it being St. Paddy’s day and all, about time I give it a go. Thanks to my friends at Master of Malt for doing samples of this stunner in their “Drinks by the Dram” offering.

Redbreast 12 Years Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

3cl sample from Master of Malt, 40% ABV

From the Redbreast website:

Full of aroma and flavour, Redbreast 12 Year Old benefits from a strong contribution from distillates which have matured in Oloroso sherry casks, giving it its trademark Christmas cake character.

NOSE A complex spicy and fruity aroma with toasted wood notes evident.

TASTE Full flavoured and complex; a harmonious balance of spicy, creamy, fruity, sherry and toasted notes.

FINISH Satisfyingly long, the complex flavours linger on the palate.

Here’s my findings on this wonderful Irish dram:

Color: Rich Pot O’Gold (couldn’t resist)

Nose: Wow, stunning and complex. Rich Sherry oak, raisins, citrus, cold tea, wet tobacco leaf, almonds

Palate: Big, oily mouth feel, this is only 40%? More Sherry and spice, ripe fruits, honey, ginger, a little wood grain and liquorice.

Finish: Long, oily and deeply satisfying. Vanilla, Honey, oak and spice.

Verdict: Wow, wow, wow. At this price, I think around $42 for a bottle in the U.S., this would give almost any single malt Scotch at the same price point a good lesson in complexity and balance. No sign of a flawed cask anywhere, almost like a perfect balance between a sherried malt and a good honey vanilla highland malt. Definitely buy a bottle soon before they start inching up the price.


Glenmorangie Artein

After enjoying the previous Glenmorangie Private Edition release, the mildly-peated Finealta, I was very intrigued when I caught wind of Dr. Bill Lumsden’s next experimental release, the wine-finished Artein. I like Italian red wine. I like Glenmorangie. Why wouldn’t they work together?

The inspiration for this release came from Dr. Lumsden’s interest in stone (Artein = Gaelic for “stone”), and its influence on the taste of whisky through its presence and influence on the water source. As it reads on the Glenmorange website:

A Monumental Whisky, Born of Stone.

While crafting Glenmorangie Artein Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation, was intrigued by the influence of stone in the natural ingredients of the whisky, especially considering the material’s special significance to us.

This relationship begins with the Hilton of Cadboll Stone, an ancient monument that is the whisky’s inspiration. But of no less importance is the layer upon layer of limestone that filters our Tarlogie Spring water, giving Artein its fruity aromas and layers of complexity. Or the rocky Tuscan hillsides which concentrate the flavours in vines that will, in turn, add complexity to the ‘Super Tuscan’ casks in which we extra mature our precious spirit.

The result is a whisky with a richness and depth that echoes the extraordinary legacy of stone.

I’ll buy the reason for the intrigue, but I’m more interested in how this Super Tuscan wine finish changes the character of the Glenmorangie spirit we’ve come to enjoy.

Artein 1

Glenmorange Artein

46% ABV, Non Chill-Filtered

Color: Rose-tinted copper

Nose: Dried flowers in a wet stone basement, citrus, raspberry and the typical Glenmorangie mint.

Palate: The slightly hot malty, minty citrus character of the Glenmorangie original filter through the lens of earthy red wine. Plums, tart cherries, red berries.

Finish: Zesty but really nice. The citrus and berry fade out over a sip of coffee while walking barefoot over a layer of damp topsoil drying out from a brief afternoon shower.

Verdict: Definitely had to taste a few times before I “got” it. Gets better with each re-acquaintance.  It’s unusual but very nice, very different from Finealta for obvious reasons, but very well done Dr. Lumsden and the whole Glenmo team.