GSN Year in Review 2018 Edition: The Best of the Best

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.

Amaro Montenegro
Baltamaro Amaros
Cerasum Aperitivo
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

Colina Colada

Bacardi Añejo Cuatro, Reserva Ocho & Gran Reserva Diez Rums
Bumbu Rum
Don Q Double Aged Vermouth Cask Finish Rum
Owney’s Rum
Plantation Jamaica Xaymaca Special Dry Rum

Rum – Flavored
Hue-Hue Coffee Rum

HeavenSake Sake

Shochu – Flavored
Rihei Ginger

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

Nemiroff Vodka

Vodka – Flavored
Nemiroff Vodka

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
Glenmorangie Signet
Glenmorangie Spios
Highland Park’s The DARK Whisky
Highland Park Valknut Whisky
Laphroaig Cairdeas Fino Cask

GSN Review: The Macallan 10 Year Old Whisky


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

GSN Backbar Review: January 5-9, 2015

indexCampari 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.indexBack 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.

indexPhiladelphia’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.

indexUntil 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.

indexCampari 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.

indexSingle 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

GSN Review: Highland Park Dark Origins

HP-Dark-Origins-bottle-pack-70cl-1000One 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

GSN Review: anCnoc Whiskey

ancnoc-12anCnoc (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

GSN Review: Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky

NikkaCoffe-Grain_750mlNikka 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

GSN Review: Flaviar Spirits Club

flaviar_image-620x350Over the years I’ve discovered that one of the best ways to learn about spirits is at home.  You can take your time savoring and discovering the differences between different styles and brands of each of the six main spirits: brandies, whiskies, rums, gins, vodkas and tequilas.  The only real issue is financial.  Go out to the local liquor store and try to buy five different bottles of spirit that aren’t hangover inducing crap for under $50.  It’s impossible.

What if I were to tell you that you and two friends could try five different top shelf spirits for less than $50?  What if every month there was a new package delivered to your door containing five new spirits to try ranging from hard to find Japanese whiskies to Highland scotches and more?  Each delivered with a guide on tasting notes, info on the distilleries and how to host a tasting party.  Sound too good to be true?  It isn’t.  Check it out below and begin your “spiritual” journey of discovery.

For more information go to: Flaviar

GSN Review: Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition

152885The original Cutty Sark is a British Clipper ship built in 1869.  Amazingly enough, despite a century and a half of English wars and a recent damaging fire, the ship is still in existence.  A popular tourist attraction, it can be visited in London, England where it is dry docked.  The ship was built in Scotland quite near the distillery where it’s namesake whisky has been produced since 1923.  The word “cutty sark” is Scots and is a type of short skirt worn by Nannie Dee, a fictional witch created by Robert Burns in his famous 1791 poem, “Tam o’ Shanter”.  The ship and the whisky obviously share a lot of history.

This latest entry into the Edrington Groups’ Speyside portfolio, seeks to capture some of the mystique of prohibition era alcohol, as well as exhibit a more robust character.  I think they’ve done quite well.

Cutty Sark Prohibition (100 proof)
Visual: Light gold.
Nose: Light honey sweetness, with a subtle floral scent.
Taste: Initially, quite delicate, sweet and ever so slightly smokey.  The higher proof brings out more body and vanilla oakiness upon the second sip.
Finish: Fairly long with lingering notes of caramel, dark honey, sea salt, oakwood, and some fresh peppercorn.
Overall: A solid blended scotch that has more character than many on the market.  I appreciated the higher proof which brought out a lot of “chewiness” and heft.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: HoldFastSipSteady

GSN Review: Bowmore Devil’s Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky

bowmore_10_devils_caskThe Bowmore Distillery, located on the island of Islay was established in 1779. They use locally grown and floor malted barley, along imported malted and unmalted barley along with water from River Laggan to make their whiskies.
They have a huge range of ages and expressions (over 20), but this latest was inspired by a devilish tale.

“Legend has it that the devil once visited the church in Bowmore. Now if you’ve ever seen it, you’ll know that the church is circular, built that way (so it’s said) so there would be no corner in which the devil could hide. The local congregation spotted the devil and chased him down through the village, into the gates of Bowmore Distillery.”

Whether the story is true or not, this 10-year-old, first fill sherry cask aged, high-proof whisky is a mouthful.

Bowmore Devil’s Cask (113.8 proof)
Visual: Dark golden brown.
Nose: Wood smoke, and a sweet maltiness.
Taste: Thick, rich and intensely flavorful.  In spite of the high-proof, the sherry tempers things down.  There’s an almost dessert-like aspect to this whiskey which goes against intuition.  The smoke typical of an Islay is held in check, but welcomes you on the initial tasting.
Finish: Long, long, long.  There is a lot going on here which runs the gamut from ginger spice and clove to sherry wine fruitiness.  A whisky that keeps on giving and encourages contemplation.
Overall: Another excellent expression from Bowmore.  Grab a bottle of this while you can.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Bowmore

GSN: Backbar Review – November 11-15, 2013

cw sutcliffeDon Sutcliffe, managing director of California-based Craft Distillers, and Willie Phillips, former managing director of The Macallan, have collaborated on a new series of Scotch whiskies. To be known as The Exceptional by Sutcliffe & Son, the line is debuting this month with a whisky called The Exceptional Grain, made from a blend of barrels from the Loch Lomond, North British and Carsebridge distilleries, married in first-fill Sherry casks. The first release is 1,500 bottles, retailing at $100 apiece, with availability through Craft Distillers in all major U.S. markets. Two more whiskies, The Exceptional Malt and The Exceptional Blend, are slated to appear in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

indexRussia’s RSG Trading is launching its super-premium Russian Diamond vodka brand in the U.S. Handled by DUN Beverage Partners, Russian Diamond ($24.99 a 750-ml.) is hitting New Jersey (distributed by Allied Beverage) and several New England states (distributed by M.S. Walker) this fall ahead of a national rollout next spring. Targeted toward young professional consumers, the Russian import is presented in a diamond-cut package with an Italian velvet label featuring textured metallic lettering.

indexTrinidad-based Angostura will introduce the first installment in a new series of limited-edition rums early next year. The new entry, Angostura No. 1 ($49.99 a 750-ml.), will hit the California, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Texas markets beginning in late January. A blend of 10-12-year-old rums matured in first-fill Bourbon casks, Angostura No. 1 is being released in a batch of 9,600 bottles worldwide.

indexBrown-Forman is launching its Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select into additional U.S. markets through the end of this year. Previously available only in global duty free and Tennessee, the ultra-premium offering will now also be offered in the Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Francisco and New Jersey markets, priced at $165 a 750-ml. The 90-proof whiskey is aged in specially designed “Sinatra barrels,” which feature grooves to allow for more barrel-liquid contact.

All information courtesy of Shanken News Daily

GSN Review: Auchentoshan Scotch Whiskies

It’s always a learning curve trying to figure out how to properly pronounce scotch distilleries’ names.  FYI, Auchentoshan Distillery is pronounced Aw-khen-tosh-an and translates into “the corner of the field”.  One of five distilleries in the Scottish Lowlands, it is located on the outskirts of Clydebank in Dunbartonshire in the west of Scotland.

Auchentoshan create single malt whiskies, but what you may not be aware of is that their scotches are triple distilled.  Very unusual, since that practice is usually reserved for Irish whiskies.  They also use unpeated malt, and age in used bourbon and sherry barrels, giving their product an extra touch of sweetness, which definitely comes through in each of the following whiskies.

Auchentoshan Classic (80 proof) – Very light straw-like color.  Light waft of peat smoke, lemon citrus, cinnamon bread, sun-dried tomato nose.
Flavor is medium sweet with malted barley, very light smokiness, sugar cube, yeasty bread dough and orange oil.  Very drinkable and pleasant.  GSN Rating: B

Auchentoshan 12 Year Old (80 proof) – Warm amber color.  The nose is withdrawn and hesitant.  Very little in the way of enticement.  However, the initial taste is quite smooth and balanced with a lingering smokey and warming heat.  Flavor has notes of hazelnuts, cinnamon sugar, vanilla creme, marshmallow and white pepper.  The finish is medium long and slightly spicy.  GSN Rating: B+

Auchentoshan Three Wood (86 proof) – Dark golden orange color.  The nose is smokey and super sweet with very deep vanilla and sherry character.  As time goes on an aged honey quality comes out with just the slightest hint of pineapple.  Elegant and nuanced with various layers of wood coming in delicate waves.  Mouthfeel is thick and rich with a somewhat viscous honey-like quality.  The finish is buttery without being cloying.  Really a fine spirit that is in the character of an aged rum. GSN Rating: A-

More information about Auchentoshan is available at: