Each year, the Good Spirits News offices receive hundreds of products sent to us unsolicited for review. While many are good, some are average, and a few are poor, what we always hope for is a product that is 1) true to its style, 2) exceptionally well crafted and 3) creative.
The following are the various products that garnered GSN ratings ranging from an A- to an A++ during this calendar year. All are highly recommended and well worth seeking out.
Unsurprisingly, American whiskies dominated the field, while other worldwide whiskies also made inroads into the fastest growing segment of the spirits industry.
Donna Rosa Rabarbaro
Riga Black Balsam Bitter
Hine Rare, Homage & Antique Cognac
Pierre Ferrand Renegade Barrel No. 1 Cognac
Pierre Ferrand Renegade Barrel No. 2 Eau-de-vie
Cocktail Subscription Box
Shaker & Spoon Cocktail Club Subscription Boxes
Bols 100% Malt Spirit
Gin – American
Battle Standard American Dry Navy Strength Gin
Rogue Spirits Gin
Gin – Flavored
Beefeater Pink Gin
Luxardo Sour Cherry Gin
Gin – Irish
Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin
Tequila & Mezcal Jarritos Glasses
Bacardi Añejo Cuatro, Reserva Ocho & Gran Reserva Diez Rums
Don Q Double Aged Vermouth Cask Finish Rum
Plantation Jamaica Xaymaca Special Dry Rum
Rum – Flavored
Hue-Hue Coffee Rum
Shochu – Flavored
Syrups & Bitters
Curious No. 1 Cocktail Elixir
RAFT Botanicals Cocktail Syrups & Bitters
RAFT Botanicals Cranberry Five Spice Cocktail Syrup
La Valdotaine Amaro Dente di Leone & Verney Vermouth
Little City Vermouth
Vodka – Flavored
Whiskey – American
Bare Knuckle Bourbon, Rye & Wheat Whiskies
Basil Hayden’s 10 Year Old Bourbon Whiskey
Basil Hayden’s Two by Two Rye
Booker’s Batch 2018-02 “Backyard BBQ”
Booker’s “Kathleen’s Batch” Bourbon
Brewers Batch No. 2 Virginia-Highland Whisky
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch No. C918
FEW American Whiskey
Heaven’s Door American Whiskeys
Heaven Hill 27-Year-Old Barrel Proof Whiskey
J.H. Cutter Whisky
Knob Creek Cask Rye Whiskey
Knob Creek Twice Barreled Rye
Little Book Whiskey: Noe Simple Task
Lock Stock & Barrel 18-Year Straight Rye Whiskey
Maker’s Mark Private Select & Cask Strength
McKenzie Bottled in Bond Bourbon Whiskey
McKenzie Single Barrel Bourbon – Lucky Hare Collaboration
Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Fall 2018 Edition
Parker’s Heritage Collection 12th Edition Whiskey
Redwood Empire American Whiskey
Rogue Spirits Whiskies
Tommyrotter Triple Barrel American Whiskey
Westland Garryana 2018, Edition 3|1 Whiskey
WhistlePig The Boss Hog V: The Spirit of Mauve
Whiskey – Flavored
Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye Whiskey
Whisky – French
Brenne French Single Malt Whisky
Whiskey – Irish
Egan’s Fortitude Irish Whiskey
Egan’s Legacy Reserve Irish Whiskey
Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye Irish Whiskey
Powers Three Swallow Irish Whiskey
Tipperary Boutique Distillery Whiskey
The Tyrconnell 15 Year Old Madeira Cask Finish
Whisky – Japanese
Nikka Whiskey From The Barrel
Whisky – Scotch
Glenfiddich Fire & Cane
The Glenlivet Code
Highland Park’s The DARK Whisky
Highland Park Valknut Whisky
Laphroaig Cairdeas Fino Cask
Scotch is a whisky that has a wide variety of styles and flavors, which I unfortunately don’t have the time to get into here. But, this is what you need to know. There are five regions in Scotland which produce whiskies: Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside; and there are five styles of Scotch: blended grain, blended malt, blended Scotch, single grain and single malt.
GSN has reviewed several Scotches over the years including: Aberlour, Auchentoshan, BenRiach, Bowmore, Cutty Sark, Glendronach, Glenrothes, Glen Garioch, Laphroaig, Monkey Shoulder, Pig’s Nose and Sheep Dip.
If you’re looking to try a Scotch cocktail, GSN recommends the classic, Blood and Sand.
The Macallan estate lies in an area of great natural beauty; its scale and diversity unique among distilleries and managed in harmony with the beautiful landscape. The estate covers 390 acres (158 hectares), of which some 90 acres are sown in the spring with their own exclusive Minstrel barley variety to make The Macallan. The river Spey, one of Scotland’s most famous salmon rivers, borders the estate to the south and south-east.
The Macallan’s curiously small spirit stills are the smallest on Speyside. Their unique size and shape give the spirit maximum contact with the copper, helping to concentrate the ‘new make’ spirit and provide the viscosity and flavors characteristic of The Macallan. There are fourteen of these curiously small stills, crafted from copper, each holding an initial ‘charge’ of 3,900 litres. These stills are so famous that they have appeared on the back of a Bank of Scotland £10 banknote!
The Macallan 10 Year Old (80 proof)
Visual: Medium-light gold.
Nose: Rich, malty expressiveness with a slight smoky toast. Young leather, hay, and a hint of wild honey.
Taste: Smooth, mild and laid back. There is a slight fruitiness, but the lasting impression is of soft malt. A quite reticent and sleepy Speyside whisky.
Finish: Medium long with a few lingering notes of barrel and baked bread.
Overall: An extremely easy-going Scotch that is a perfect entry-level whisky for those just beginning their exploration. Fine in all respects.
GSN Rating: B+
For more information go to: The Macallan
Campari America has expanded its bitter liqueurs stable with the addition of its Italian parent company’s Averna and Braulio brands, as well as Cinzano 1757 vermouth. Averna (58 proof, $30 a 750-ml.) and Braulio (42 proof, $35) are Amaro herb-based bitter liqueurs. Averna is available nationally while Braulio will initially be distributed in New York, California and Illinois. Cinzano 1757, a new small-batch vermouth paying homage to the Cinzano brand’s founding in that year, is based on the traditional Cinzano Rosso recipe and enriched with an infusion of specially-selected herbs. The 32-proof 1757 is in national distribution, retailing at $30 a 1-liter.Back Bar Project LLC has released a special edition Crème de Rose liqueur under the label Speed Rack Black Rose ($34.99). Produced by France’s Giffard and Bigallet Liqueurs, the new offering was created in partnership with the Speed Rack all-female bartending competition, and net proceeds will support breast cancer research and education. The 20%-abv liqueur’s formula includes Moroccan Rosa Damascena petals macerated in neutral beet spirit with sugar and water added. The label features Speed Rack’s black-and-pink logo. Black Rose is available in all Speed Rack competition markets, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Texas, California, Washington and Colorado, among others.
Philadelphia’s Dock Street Spirits has launched Vicio Mezcal, a new artisanal mezcal made with 100% agave. Priced at around $45 a 750-ml., Vicio is currently distributed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Vicio Mezcal marks the first entry in Dock Street’s craft spirits lineup.
Until now, no major Canadian whisky distillery has ever released a single barrel whisky. Crown Royal became Canada’s first major brand to do so. Each hand-selected barrel is bottled at a healthy 51.5% abv. Coffey Rye begins with a high-rye mash bill rather than a single grain. It is distilled to low abv in an ancient copper Coffey still that was brought in from the defunct Waterloo distillery. Master blender Andrew MacKay leaves the Coffey Rye spirit in virgin oak bourbon barrels for seven years. Rollout began in late November, in Texas, where liquor stores snapped up the first 519 barrels. Each barrel is exclusive to a single retailer. While there are no barrel numbers on the labels, if you are looking for a particular batch, a medallion around the neck of each bottle notes the retail outlet it was bottled for. Distribution will expand to include 14 states beginning in February. The suggested retail price for Crown Royal Single Barrel Whisky (the label says “Hand Selected Barrel”) is $55.
Campari America has extended its Skyy Infusions vodka range with the launch of Texas Grapefruit and Pacific Blueberry flavors. Made with natural ingredients, both 70-proof offerings will be available nationwide in 50-ml., 750-ml., 1-liter and 1.75-liter formats, priced at around $18.49 a 750-ml.
Single malt Scotch distiller Balblair is set to release four new vintages in the U.S. Rolling out this month, the new additions include Balblair 2003 and 1983, which are aged in American oak ex-Bourbon barrels, and Balblair 1999 and 1990, which are both matured in American oak ex-Bourbon barrels, with an addition of Spanish oak Sherry butts. Balblair 2003, 1999, 1990 and 1983 will be available across key U.S. markets, priced at $70, $90, $140 and $330, respectively.
All information courtesy of Shanken News Daily
One would think that Highland Park whisky originates in the Highlands of Scotland. But, one would be wrong. In fact, the distillery is the northernmost located in the Orkney Islands. Highland Park also malts their own barley using a mix of local peat and heather. They have a small, but solid portfolio of aged whiskies. The latest is a tribute to a man many suppose founded the distillery, or at the very least smuggled it past the constant surveillance of excisemen. It is his portrait which is given artistic license as a mysterious hooded character on the bottle’s container.
His name was Magnus Eunson, and the following story about him made an appearance in an early tome about the whiskey trade “Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom” by Alfred Barnard written in 1887.
“Hearing that the Church was to be searched for whisky by a new party of excisemen, Eunson had all the kegs removed to his house, placed in the middle of an empty room and covered with a clean white cloth. As the officers approached after their unsuccessful search in the church, Eunson gathered all his people, including the maidservants, round the whisky, which, with its covering of white, under which a coffin lid had been placed, looked like a (funeral) bier. Eunson knelt at the head with the Bible in his hand and the others with their psalm books. As the door opened they set up a wail for the dead, and Eunson made a sign to the officers that it was a death and one of the attendants whispered “smallpox”. Immediately the officer and his men made off as fast as they could and left the smuggler for some time in peace.”
Highland Park Dark Origins (93.6 proof)
Visual: Yellowed gold.
Nose: Mild smokiness with a hefty dose of malted barley.
Taste: Quite smooth for such a high-proof. The initial impression is of sweet roasted grain, but is soon followed by a dose of smoke. The two flavors play tag over a few minutes, until the game fades leaving a dusky memory.
Finish: Medium long with a defined balance of malt and peat.
Overall: Slightly smokier than a blended whisky, but the same approachability. Perfect for a chilly Autumnal evening’s enjoyment.
GSN Rating: A-
For more information go to: Highland Park
anCnoc (pronounced a-nock) means “the hill”, which is entirely appropriate considering that the Knockdhu distillery is built on a hill. Founded in 1893 by John Morrison and conveniently near the Banff rail line, it also is an ideal location due the rich bounty of barley and peat. It is peat that makes its presence known in these two new whiskies. Both are named for types of spades used in cutting and forming peat blocks used in malting. A Flaughter spade is used to remove the topmost and more intense peat. The Rutter spade is then used to cut the peat to size and separate the blocks.
Knockdhu has a broad range of whiskies, but these were the two sent for review.
anCnoc Rutter (92 proof)
Visual: Very pale gold.
Nose: A good deal of smoke on the nose with creosote, bonfire and smouldering peat.
Taste: Lightly sweet with a modest amount of smokey flavor. Certainly a bit of branch water will open this up and bring out some more lemon citrus and caramel. But, it’s certainly fine on its own as a bracing Scotch.
Finish: Quite long with a lot of lingering sweetness and a penumbra of peat smoke.
Overall: Very nice and extremely well-balanced.
GSN Rating: A-
anCnoc Flaughter (92 proof)
Visual: Very pale gold.
Nose: Lots of thick and intense smoke. The malt nose stays in the background.
Taste: A deeply rich and sweeter whisky than the Rutter. The smoke is slightly more prominent on the palate, but is by no means distracting from the flavor of the distillate.
Finish: More sweetness from the malted barley comes through than smokiness. However, both of them see-saw back and forth as time goes on.
Overall: A somewhat sweeter and viscous Scotch than the Rutter, but obviously siblings.
GSN Rating: A-
For more information go to: AnCnoc
Nikka can lay claim to being the first Japanese whiskey distillery. Founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, the Yoichi distillery produced some of the world’s finest spirits. With this initial success, the company now has four separate distilleries in Japan and another in Scotland, along with several bottling and aging facilities.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky is made at the Miyagikyo plant in Sendai, using a still imported from Scotland in 1963. The base grain is corn, which adds a bourbon-like sensibility the flavor profile. If you were thinking that it is flavored with coffee beans, you’d be wrong. The Coffey in the name refers to the type of column still created by Irishman Aeneas Coffey, who ironically could not get the Irish to embrace his revolutionary product back in 1830. So, he took his invention elsewhere and now it is employed in virtually every distillery in the world (including pot still holdout Ireland).
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky (90 proof)
Visual: Pale yellow gold.
Nose: Warm, elegant, and slightly fruity.
Taste: Quite smooth and restrained, yet delivers a rich and perfectly aged flavor. Notes of vanilla, honey, cinnamon, raspberries and black tea.
Finish: Spicy and masculine, yet there’s an underlying sense of spun sugar and sweet corn.
Overall: Somehow they’ve captured summer in a bottle. Very well done and a testament to the Nikka company’s devotion to creating high quality products.
GSN Rating: A
For more information go to: Anchor Distilling