GSN Review: Plantation Jamaica Xaymaca Special Dry Rum

With Xaymaca Special Dry, Plantation revives the quintessential Jamaican-style, 100% pot still rums of the 19th century with an expression of intense flavors that reveal the traditional, legendary “Rum Funk” locally called “Hogo,” an Anglicization of the French term  “Haut Goût” (high taste).

“With Xaymaca Special Dry, I wanted to dive into the iconic culture that is unique to Jamaican rum. I wanted to work with these complex flavors of overripe exotic fruits with an almost “animal intensity”. We can still find certain white rums with this famous “rum funk”. I think, however, that this great terroir expresses itself perfectly in an aged rum. That is why we are launching Xaymaca Special Dry, which is a tribute to this ancestral culture of rum” explains Alexandre Gabriel, Master Blender and creator of Plantation Rum.

Xaymaca evokes the name given to the island by its first inhabitants, the Arawaks. With its latest investment in the Caribbean, Plantation now owns a third of the mythical “Long Pond” and “Clarendon” Jamaican distilleries. Xaymaca Special Dry is a blend of rums distilled in the old John Dore pot still at Long Pond and the Vendome at Clarendon. The idea is to boldly assert the powerful and expressive character of these rums. Thanks to these exceptional production tools, Alexandre Gabriel made his dream of blending a 100% pot still Jamaican rum a reality. “The access to these 2 emblematic distilleries with their retort stills, which look like ancient pachyderms, is the realization of dream. It allowed me to dive into this ancestral tradition and create a rum that I had wanted for a long time.”

Plantation Jamaica Xaymaca Special Dry Rum (86 proof)
Visual: Gold.
Nose: Rich and funky vanilla bean, pineapple, green apple, dark cherry.  Quite a lot of high fruity notes.
Taste: Smooth entry with a lovely oak char channeling the distillate into a round, yet fruity flavor. More than a touch of the pineapple comes forward, but tempered by a dryness of that dark cherry essence I detected on the nose.
Finish: Medium long and by this time, most of the vanilla and toffee have gone, leaving a quick, dry and fruit leather finish.
Overall: Yet another winner from Gabriel and Plantation. They can do no wrong, and this rum is another welcome addition to the bartender’s and rum lovers’ arsenals.
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: Plantation Rum

GSN Review: Heaven Hill 27-Year-Old Barrel Proof Whiskey

Heaven Hill Distillery recently announced the release of their 27-Year-Old Barrel Proof Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a bottling produced at Old Heaven Hill Springs Distillery before it was destroyed by fire in 1996. Only 41 barrels produced in 1989 and 1990 were included in this limited release. 

“As stewards of the Bourbon movement we take pride in the perseverance that is a hallmark of Heaven Hill’s 83-year history,” said President Max L. Shapira. “We remain committed to an enduring legacy of quality and patience, just as we have since 1935.”


Selected from limited remaining stocks of pre-fire barrels, this whiskey has been monitored and allowed to age for 27 years. All but five of the barrels in this small batch were aged on the first and second floors, where increased humidity and evaporation caused the proof to drop. When all 41 barrels were mingled for bottling, the natural barrel proof was an unusually low 94.7 proof (47.35% abv).

This ultra-premium Bourbon will be released in an elegant, tall 750ml bottle placed in a custom wooden box bearing two H’s on each side signifying the Heaven Hill name. The bottle is secured in the box with magnetic closure and sits in a blue satin-lined base. The distiller’s notes label features hand-written bottle numbers, distiller tasting notes, and DSP-KY-31, denoting the Old Heaven Hill Springs Distillery. The one-time release of Heaven Hill 27-Year-Old Barrel Proof Small Batch Bourbon, shipping late fall 2018, will be available in limited markets for a suggested retail price of $399.

Heaven Hill 27-Year-Old Barrel Proof Whiskey (94.7 proof)
Visual: Copper orange.
Nose: Deep oak notes with a fair amount of char. Rich saddle leather, roasted corn, along with some rye spice and fresh-baked cornbread.
Taste: Interestingly, the depth of flavor is much lighter than expected. An almost shy whiskey that has a feminine softness to it. No need to water this down, it is perfectly balanced at nearly 95 proof. As time wears on, more caramel and toffee notes emerge.
Finish: Medium long. The fade is measured and unanimous amongst the flavors. After several minutes, a slight cinnamon edge leaves the palate feeling fresh and ready for another snifter.
Overall: A special sipper for sure. You won’t find many whiskies nearly three decades in age in the first place, let alone ones that achieve this kind of balance. An outstanding spirit from Heaven Hill.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Heaven Hill

GSN Review: Redwood Empire American Whiskey

Northern California has long been a bastion for explorers, trailblazers and scofflaws drawn to its rugged beauty, brooding intrigue and boundless possibility. A hotbed of illegal distillation during prohibition, Northern California bootleggers set up clandestine stills everywhere imaginable. Prohibition agents even discovered a still hidden within the hollowed out base of a giant redwood, and padlocked the tree with a sign that said, ‘Closed for one year in violation of the National Prohibition Act.’

Today, 84 years since that hollowed out Redwood was padlocked, Redwood Empire was established with a commitment to craft distinctive whiskeys inspired by the rugged landscape and enduring spirit of its
Northern California home. Redwood Empire’s state-of-the-art distillery was built from the ground up on the site of a former apple processing plant in rustic west Sonoma County, California. At its centerpiece is an innovative, continuous micro-column still custom-built by Headframe Stills of Butte, Montana.

Dubbed the ‘finicky diva’ by Head Distiller, Jeff Duckhorn, this highly versatile and unique still is central to the production of Redwood Empire’s whiskeys. Head Distiller Jeff Duckhorn joined Redwood Empire’s parent company, Purple Wine + Spirits, in 2011 initially as a cost accountant. However it was Jeff’s impressive knowledge and enthusiasm for craft brewing compelled proprietor, Derek Benham, to include him as part of the original distillery planning team. Eager to follow his passion and expand his role, Jeff accepted the position of Assistant Distiller in early 2015 and was mentored under former Head Distiller, Matt McCann, and consulting distiller, Justin Aden. In January 2016, when his aptitude proved well on-par with his artistry, Jeff was promoted to Head Distiller where he championed Redwood Empire’s uncommon rye-bourbon blend and the further expansion of the distillery.

Redwood Empire’s proprietary blend of house-distilled and port barrel-rested rye whiskeys includes mature stocks of four, five and eleven-year-old bourbon aged in classic, high-char American oak casks. Rye-forward and 90-proof, its full body is complemented by subtle, spicy notes and an indulgent vanilla-caramel finish.

Redwood Empire American Whiskey (90 proof)
Visual: Medium orange-gold.
Nose: Welcoming rye spice overlaid with oak char and light malt sweetness.
Taste: Immediate bourbon-like character that soon passes into a toasty even-tempered rye character. Very smooth, easy-going and quaffable.
Finish: Medium long with the rye character leading the finale.
Overall: An excellent whiskey that works equally well on its own or used in classic cocktails. Try it in an old-fashioned or Manhattan. It’s a GSN office favorite.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Graton Distilling

GSN Alert: World Sake Day – October 1st

October 1st is World Sake Day and heralds the beginning of the sake making season in Japan.  A wonderfully varied beverage with many styles, sake is a perfect way to toast the beginning of the autumnal season.

Sake is not an easy beverage to make, and there are many, many styles.  What you should know is that the highest classification is Junmai which is pure and unadulterated, similar to what you want in a 100% blue agave tequila.  You don’t get additional flavorings, colorings or alcohol added into the mix, which indicates a less than stellar product.  Low end sakes are the ones served hot to cover up their inadequacies.  Junmai Ginjo is made from rice that has been polished to such a high degree that it loses 45% of it’s outer covering, leaving only the heart of the rice.  This is then fermented not only using yeast, but also a proprietary domesticated fungus called Koji (Aspergillus oryzae).  Sounds weird, but this combination is so efficient at turning rice sugars into alcohol, that you end up with an initial alcohol level of 14-20%.  So, kudos for fungus!

GSN Review: Garryana 2018, Edition 3|1 Whiskey

In its quest to express the unique terroir of Westland’s Pacific Northwest origins, Westland Distillery’s ambitious Garryana series relies on the limited supply of the very rare Quercus garryana, a species of white oak that imparts a distinctive flavor profile to single malt whiskey. With the September release of Garryana 2018, Edition 3|1, Westland reveals how supply fluctuations can challenge the distilling team to evolve the series in new directions.

Unlike the previous two editions, which married ratios of full-term matured Garry oak casks to traditional oak casks, the limited supply of Garry oak forced Master Distiller Matt Hofmann and Blender Shane Armstrong to employ a series of vattings and casks finishes for this year’s edition. The resulting whiskey features component whiskies that are each matured in a combination of casks, producing a complex integrated flavor profile. With a mash bill of 5-malt, Washington Select and heavily peated, the whiskey was aged in Garry oak, New American oak, 1st fill ex-bourbon, 1st fill ex-Port and refill ex-Westland casks.

“Each year, we must begin with assessing what is available to us, and then be open to following a path that the cask and the whiskies reveal,” explains Hofmann. “Because we cannot rely on a formula, we must be inventive in the ways we work with the supply in order to end up with a whiskey we are proud of.”

Garryana 2018, Edition 3|1 (112 proof)
Visual: Copper.
Nose: Loads of toffee, and surprisingly, a banana-like ester that gives this a tropical nose. Quite unique.
Taste: Less peated than I expected, which isn’t a bad thing at all. It allows the malt to shine with a hearty and semi-spicy chew. The flavor is round and full, with a tannic sizzle on the far back palate.  Aggressive and wood-forward.
Finish: Long with some darker, molasses and toffee notes finishing the journey. Curiously, there is also a cigar-like tobacco taste that lingers for quite a while.
Overall: Definitely a lot going on here. Unlike any whiskey on the market ever.  Worth checking out if you can manage to procure a bottle.  This one won’t last long with collectors scooping it up.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Westland Distillery

GSN Review: Glenfiddich Fire & Cane

Recently, Glenfiddich launched the fourth concept in its Experimental Series with Glenfiddich Fire & Cane, a peated whisky finished in rum casks.

Fire & Cane is inspired by the early innovation of Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman, who ran peated spirit through the Glenfiddich stills for the first time in 2003, birthing the concept. Fire & Cane marries smoky whisky with non-peated whisky that had been maturing side-by-side in bourbon casks, highlighting Glenfiddich’s sweet and fruity signature style. Then, taking it a step further, Kinsman finished the married whisky in Latin rum casks, sourced from various South American countries, for three months to produce a surprising and unexpected overlay of flavors with added caramel toffee sweetness.

“This new single malt truly encapsulates the spirit of experimentation. We started with a question – what would happen if we did something with peat that we had not done before? The answer is an unconventional and unexpected whisky, one that is truly surprising,” said Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman. “It’s a bold combination, which I’m sure will appeal and intrigue single malt enthusiasts as well as those looking to try something new and different.”

Glenfiddich Experimental Series combines the brand’s passion for pushing Scotch whisky boundaries while unlocking new possibilities in the true spirit of experimentation. Past releases in the series include the Glenfiddich India Pale Ale Cask Finish, Glenfiddich Project XX and Glenfiddich Winter Storm.

Glenfiddich Fire & Cane (86 proof)
Visual: Gold.
Nose: Medium smoke and light malt fruitiness. Dry, crisp and autumnal.
Taste: Nicely sweet, with a semi-honeyed entry. A raisin-like fruit character goes on at length turning into prune and baking spice. The smoke keeps everything from going off in too much of a fruity direction.
Finish: Long with a light patina of smoke and dried fruit.
Overall: A successful experiment!  The rum casks impart a novel edge to the Glenfiddich standard.  We especially enjoyed this served neat on a cool evening.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Glenfiddich

GSN Presents: How Well Do You Know Your Whiskey?

Whiskey is a universal spirit, enjoyed by everyone—from the Irish to the Japanese and back around to the United States. Even fictional characters love whiskey (think Don Draper and Ron Burgundy). But just how much do you know about this iconic spirit of the world? It’s quite common (even among connoisseurs) to misjudge a whiskey. So, just what is the difference between a whiskey and a scotch? Where is bourbon made? And is it spelled whiskey or whisky?

Whiskey & Geography

To call a whiskey a whiskey is not enough in itself to determine exactly what you’re drinking. Whiskey is simply a category that encompasses all the different types of whiskies. The biggest telltale sign is geography.

Let’s first examine Scotch whisky (or simply, scotch). Scotch is a type of whiskey that is only distilled in Scotland. Note the omission of the “e” when we refer to Scotch as Scotch whisky. This is not a typo but rather a cultural difference in the etymology of the word. Scots (along with Canadians and Japanese) spell whisky without the “e”.

Bourbon is the fastest growing spirit in the US—probably because it’s made right here in the states. Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is distilled only in the US, and more specifically, in Kentucky. However, there’s a common misconception about bourbon that we need to clear up.  Most people think that all bourbon is made in Kentucky. While a large percentage of bourbon (nearly 95%) is distilled in Kentucky, there are other states that distill bourbon (and the quality is on par with anything Kentucky-made).

There’s another type of American whiskey that we need to discuss—Tennessee whiskey. Tennessee whiskey, on the contrary, must be made and aged in the Volunteer State. Tennessee whiskey and bourbon are actually very similar whiskies: both have a composition of at least 51% corn and both are aged in new white oak barrels. The slight difference between the two is that Tennessee whiskey is maple charcoal filtered before being filled into casks for aging.

Rye is another type of whiskey. Its main ingredient can be guessed by its namesake. This style can be made either in the US or Canada.

Of course, Irish whiskey is whiskey that hails from Ireland.

Whiskey & Its Ingredients

Another defining attribute of a whiskey are the ingredients (or the mash bill). There are several laws (specifically here in the US) that govern what certain styles of whiskey must be made from. To simplify things, remember the rule of 51. Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey must contain at least 51% corn. Rye whiskey must contain at least 51% rye.

A few Scottish whiskies (don’t forget to drop the “e” when it’s distilled in Scotland) also have restrictions on the ingredients they can be made with. A malt whisky is made only from malted barley while a blended whisky contains a mixture of different grains (barley, wheat).

Where To Get Started

It’s a lot of information to take in, as any whiskey connoisseur can attest to. However, trying each different type of whiskey and reflecting on each individual nuance can give you a greater appreciation for this popular spirit. And we have a few suggestions (courtesy of GSN) to get you started: try this single malt whiskey from Stranahan’s, a bourbon from Gentleman Jack, or a rye whiskey from Knob Creek. They are all excellent, and each has its own pleasures.  As Mark Twain said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

Article by Devin Mills – Distilling Craft