Laws San Luis Valley Straight Rye Whiskey

Once in a while, a person has the good fortune of running across something pleasantly unique.

This rye fits that bill, a Colorado Bottled in Bond whisky.  The Bottled in Bond designation is something that I had not paid much attention to in my whisky journey.  As I best understand it, this designation is associated with a 1897 federal act related to truth in advertising.  For a whiskey to be Bottled in Bond, it has to be from a single distillery in one year, and must be labeled regarding the distillery and bottler.  The act also requires the whiskey to be produced in the United States, and to be aged at least four years in a federally designated warehouse.

Now the details.  Laws San Luis Valley Straight Rye Whiskey is 95% rye and 5% barley and bottled at 50% ABV.  The rye mash is half malted, half raw.  The rye and barley are locally harvested heirloom grains from two farms owned by the distillers.  My bottle is from Batch #2 of the San Luis Valley rye that has been aged for 6 years in charred oak barrels.

I find the fragrance to be a citrus influenced mix of orange, honey and clove. On first sip, there is a light sweetness, orange peel, and an overall spicy character for which I have not quite settled upon the appropriate metric. It also has some general heat, but not quite the pepper notes I find in some ryes. It is clearly a rye that has the characteristic spicy profile one would expect from a 95% rye mix. It has a complex mouthfeel. The finish is long, salty, with cloves and a bit of lingering cinnamon sweetness.

I am going to enjoy trying this in my journey to find the right whisky for a Manhattan. Given my desire to limit the sweetness I have been sticking with ryes, and using more of the Perfect Manhattan mix of sweet and dry vermouth. I suspect that the character and substance of this rye would hold up well in that context.

Frankly, I am not too concerned either way, since I like this rye just fine for sipping neat. It has a bold and distinctive flavor profile that makes it stand out from the crowd.

I was fortunate enough to snag a bottle on a recent trip through Iowa. I have not seen it distributed locally. It would not surprise me if it is somewhat difficult to find given that Laws does not produce high volume batches.

Heaven’s Door Straight Rye Whiskey

I was excited to try this rye coming from the Bob Dylan line of Heaven’s Door whiskeys.  It is a non-age statement whiskey with a 46% ABV.

In reading about it ahead of time, I find that this rye currently is sourced by the MPG distillery in Indiana.  The MPG rye mash is 95% Rye, and 5% Malted Barley.  It is the foundation of many different rye distributors in the United States.  Naturally, this made me curious as to what they could do to make this one standout from the crowd.

The answer comes from their unique approach to aging and finishing the rye.  They age the rye for 6 or more years in American charred oak barrels.  The rye is then finished for six months to a year in toasted cigar barrels from Vosges, France.  These distinctively named barrels are longer and more narrow than standard barrels, which provides more surface exposure for the whiskey to acquire character from the wood. These French barrels are hand-toasted, adding another distinction in their finishing process.

On the nose I get a sense of allspice and orange rind.  The first sip is smooth, with citrus and spice, a sweet element – a little ginger and molasses – and oak. The finish is medium, spice still strong, but softens with some citrus, almost minty, notes. 

Of course, what each of us senses in our tasting notes vary widely.  What I do know is that the aging and finishing process seem to work in ways that makes this rye stand a little apart from some of the others that are based on the MPG rye mash.

It makes for a very pleasant sipping whiskey, with the more rye-spiced profile that I find appeals to my tastes. 

A small aside: The labels on the Heaven’s Door bottles feature the image of the iron gate that Dylan made in his personal welding studio.

High West Double Rye

Rye whiskey has been a bit of a focus for me in recent years.  It started back when I was introduced to Templeton Rye (which in the early days I could only obtain on drives through Iowa).  I found the spicy character and the less sweet overall profile to be appealing.

In the years since then, rye has exploded onto the American whiskey scene, and now there is a broad range of rye readily available.  Not that many years ago, I would find 3 or 4 rye whiskeys on the shelves of large volume liquor stores.  Now I can easily find at least 20 or more that vary across location. 

Like bourbon, there are some ‘rules’ for a whiskey to be labeled as a rye.  It must be comprised of at least 51 percent rye, and it must be aged for at least two years in charred new oak barrels.  It also has to be a minimum of 40 percent ABV.  The reality is that you can find whiskeys that range from the minimum 51 percent to 100 percent rye.  The lower percentage rye is often mixed with corn, producing what is more of a sweet profile, or with barley.  When the rye percentage is 90 percent or more, the resulting whiskey has a strong spice profile. 

Rye whiskey was very common prior to prohibition, and then fell out of favor to the more easily distilled, and sweeter, corn-based bourbons.  From what I have read, rye is a more complicated grain to distill than corn which also contributed to the change.  For many years, much of the rye distilled in the United States came from one contract distillery, Midwest Grain Products (MGP) in Indiana. Indeed, much of today’s distilled rye originates at this distillery or the Alberta Distillers in Alberta, Canada.  That is not to suggest that all of the rye whiskey that share a common distillery origin are similar in taste.  The different rye brands use different percentage and blends of rye, varying aging times and processes, and specialized barrels for finishing to create a fun variety of rye whiskey today.  There is also an increase in new smaller distilleries that are producing their own rye. 

High West Double Rye is a particularly interesting whiskey in this environment.  It is a blend of two-year old rye sourced from the MGP distillery and a 4 to 7 year-aged rye that is produced at their Utah-based distillery.  When they first produced this whiskey, they used a 16 year-old rye blend, that was over one-third corn based, to mix with the MSG rye.  That bottling was replaced in 2018 with a mix that now uses the locally distilled rye mixed in some unspecified proportions with the MSG sourced rye.  The MSG contribution is 95% rye, and the locally distilled is 80% rye, with the balance being malted barley.  This produces a complex non-age statement rye bottled at 46% ABV. 

The bottle I am sampling comes from the newer batches, #20J29. I doubt one can find the older mix on the shelves any longer. The high percentage of rye in the High West Double Rye produces a whiskey that lands more on the spicy end of the range.  On the nose I get a little cinnamon, apple and nutmeg.  On the palate the cinnamon and nutmeg are joined with clove and little earthy element.  The finish is medium, with a little more heat than expected at the ABV, with a toasted note to complement the cinnamon and clove that lingers for a time.

I really do enjoy this rye.  The moderately spicy rye profile appeals to my palate. This is a smooth easy drinking rye whiskey that is moderately priced.

Old Hell Roaring

This tasting note is a bit of a turn in my usual stroll through single malt Scotch and American single malt whiskey. I have spent a little time exploring a Rye now and the, but I think this is my first review of a bourbon.  I have been enjoying discovering less well known whisky, ones I cannot often find in local shops.  I came across this one on the Flaviar web site, and the reviews intrigued me, so I had a bottle delivered.

Old Hell Roaring is a double barreled straight Bourbon whisky produced by Crooked Water Spirits in Minneapolis, MN.  It is bottled at 45% ABV.  It is distilled at the Yahara Bay Distillery in Madison, WI using the recipe developed by Crooked Water Founder and CEO, Heather Manley.  It is then finished at Crooked Water Spirits a combination of new oak barrels and a secondary maturation in new oak barrels prepared using a proprietary toasting and smoking process.

On the nose, my first sensation is of molasses and oak.  On a later pass, I pick up a bit of caramel.

My initial sip brings a modest sweetness, like a peach cobbler with spicy vanilla undertones.  On the back end there is the sensation of a lightly smoked crème brule.

The finish is very pleasurable, long, spicy and warm.  As the spicy element fades, there is dry end with a whisp of smoke and tea.

Overall, this bourbon delivers a rich and refined flavor profile.  With the caution that I am not well-versed in the full range of bourbons, I find it more to my liking than many I have sampled.  Old Hell Roaring is certainly a whisky that I will add to my cabinet.  A decision made all the easier by a price point of under $60 and supporting a women owned and operated business.  I should add, the labeling illustration on the bottle is superb.

According to the Crooked Water website, Old Hell Roaring has recently fared well in national and international spirit competitions:

Silver – 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition

Silver – 2018 Los Angeles International Spirits Competition

Silver – 2018 New York International Spirits Competition

Silver – 2018 American Craft Spirits Association

A little more information about Crooked Water Spirits from their website:

“Owner and CEO, Heather Manley, created Crooked Water Spirits in 2013 based off an infatuation for spirits and love for growing idiosyncratic brands that radiate life, values and passion. Born and raised in Minnesota, Heather intends to create a line of uniquely finished spirits (bourbon, vodka and gin) utilizing Midwest grains and botanicals for distribution in Minnesota. The 1st MN Woman-Owned Bourbon to market.”

Bunnahabhain Toiteach a Dhà

According to the Bunnahabhain website, Toiteach a Dhà is Scots Gaelic for ‘Smoky Two’. Apparently the ‘two’ part of the name comes from Toiteach a Dhà, pronounced ‘Toch-ach ah-ghaa’ as a successor to Bunnahabhain’s earlier Toiteach bottling.

This single malt Scotch is matured in a combination of ex-Bourbon & Oloroso Sherry casks. 

It is a non-aged statement whisky is bottled at 46.3 % ABV, non-chill filtered, no color added.  The variation from the usual Bunnahabhain profile is adding more smoke with increased use of peated malted barley.

On the nose the peat and smoke are immediately present.  Not to the level and intensity of some of their Islay neighbors, nor Talisker.  It is a subtle smokiness.  Following the smoke, there are spice notes, and hints of oak. 

On first sip, there is heat, a bit of the edge of a young whisky. The palate opens gradually to bring the sweet sherry elements, balanced with oak, and then lingering pepper.  I find a bit of a smoked meat sensation from this mix of flavors. 

I found this whisky to have a medium to long finish.  It is a very balanced dram, a mix of the smoke and sherry, with a little spicy, peppery, heat that brings a drier end than one might anticipate from a Bunnahabhain.

Since I have been drinking more American whiskey lately, I have been sampling drams that are similar in aging to Toiteach a Dhà.  In this context, the youth is not a detriment.  It is a really fun variation off of the classic Bunnahabhain 12, a younger and smokier offspring.

I do not attempt to attach scores to my tasting notes, but this is certainly a fun young Scotch that I would recommend to anyone who would like a subtle balance of light smoke and sherry, with just enough spice and pepper to catch your attention.

I seem to be not alone in my assessment.  Bunnahabhain Toiteach a Dhà was the category winner for Islay Single Malt, No Age Statement in the 2020 World Whiskies Awards.

Wanderback Batch No. 1

4RAn1x8GR1CMqwhSzGSjegWanderback Batch No. 1

I recently read about the Wanderback Whiskey in Oregon and decided that I had better find a way to get a bottle of their single malt whiskey.  While living in Nebraska means there are few local options for accessing small batch whiskey, it does happen to be one of the few states to where whiskey may be shipped legally.  After a bit of searching from leads on the website, I found a source for a bottle of Wanderback Batch No. 1.

Wanderback Batch No. 1 is the product of a collaboration between Wanderback Whiskey and the Westland Distillery in Seattle.  Batch No. 1 was distilled at the Westland Distillery using a combination of four barley malts (88% of which is local Washington Pale malt).  At the Wanderback Whiskey facility in Hood River, Oregon, Batch No. 1 was aged a minimum of three years in toasted/charred American oak barrels, and then blended and bottled at 45% ABV.

The result is a golden honey colored whiskey that is a delight to sip.  On the nose, I sense a whisp of smoke, along with spices and fruit.  On the palate, there is a toffee base with mild spice and hints of chocolate.  An undercurrent of smoke adds to the very pleasing balance of this whisky.  The finish is moderately long, dry, with the spice and smoke lingering.

This is an excellent whiskey, perfect for sipping neat.

I am impressed with what is being done with some relatively youthful American single malts, and I would certainly place Wanderback’s Batch No. 1 among the best I have had the pleasure to sample.  I appear to not be alone in my assessment, as this whiskey was the winner of a 2018 double gold medal from The American Distilling Institute.

What is discouraging is that this is a limited production bottling (a little over 2,000 bottles), so Wanderback Batch No. 1 will not occupy a permanent spot in the whisky/whiskey cabinet.  But, the encouraging news is that Wanderback has already produced Batch No. 2 & No. 3.  The Wanderback approach to fine whiskey production is to create new variations in the expression of each release.

I look forward to having the opportunity to sample and post my notes on the next two Wanderback offerings.  If they are anything like the first, it will be a fun journey.

P.S.  Both Wanderback Batch No. 2 and Wanderback Batch No. 3 have been ordered and are due to arrive early in 2020.


Westland 2018 Peat Week

2018 Peat Week

Westland 2018 Peat Week

Contrary to my earlier observation, the combination my enjoyment of diversity in whiskey and curiosity put me on the path to seek out a bottle of the 2018 Westland Distillery Peat Week whiskey.  Mind you, my prior thought about seeking a new limited-edition bottling was not from a taste perspective, rather it reflected simple economics of choice between two very pleasing alternatives of Westland Distillery bottlings.

Each annual Peat Week celebration at Westland Distillery in Seattle is marked by a release of a new limited-edition bottling.  The 2018 release is 50% ABV and is aged 3 to 5 years.  Like their prior release, this Peat Week offering was aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and new American oak casks.  It is designed to deliver more peat to the palate than the standard Westland Peated offering.  This is accomplished by using  a heavily-peated distiller’s malt, sourced from Scotland, that provides a higher phenol content.

Like with the 2017 limited-edition, the nose on the 2018 Peat Week is indeed peaty.  However, peat is not overpowering and it is accompanied by scents of sweet fruity elements – peach and banana.

As would be anticipated from the nose, the peat is quickly present on the palate. The smoke and ash merges with sweet notes reminiscent of banana and pear, along with some earthy, nutty, component. Imagine a pot of toasted steel cut oats, cooked over an open camp fire, with some fruit blended in for taste.  I could easily repeat my overall taste assessment of the 2017 bottling … a delicate blend of sweet and smoke, which strikes favorite elements in whiskey for me.  While I am not sipping them side-by-side, I think the banana and nutty, elements in the 2018 bottling bring an complement to the peat that is more appealing to my preferences.

The finish is not particularly long, but it strikes a good balance of the peat with the sweet, nutty, character. The smoke and ash linger with some modest heat.

I did open a Westland Peated for a side-by-side comparison of nose, palate, and finish with the 2018 Peat Week.  It is readily apparent that these two whiskeys are from the same distillery bloodline.  The extra peat in the limited-edition is a given, but the distinct flavor profiles of the sweet elements bring another dimension.  I find a bit more spice element in Westland Peated.

Will I pursue more of the Westland Distillery Peat Week limited-edition bottlings?  Despite the extra cost – particularly associated with geting it here to Nebraska – the answer is most likely ‘yes’.  Too much fun in the discovery of what the next expression might bring.

A fun whiskey, if you can find it.



Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey

This is an American single malt whiskey produced in the Santa Fe Spirits Distillery at Tesuque, New Mexico.  It is distilled from 100% malted barley and bottled at 46% ABV.  In contrast to scotch, the barley is dried with mesquite rather than peat.  It is double pot-distilled, and aged in oak casks in the high desert of Southwest.  Typical of American single malts, this is a non-age statement whiskey, but is relatively young from what I could determine (possibly somewhere from 2-4 years).

On the nose, the mesquite influenced smoke is readily apparent, but not as predominant as I had anticipated. The smoke is clearly distinct from any you would associate with whiskey or Scotches where the barley is peat dried.  A barbecue-like smoke mingling with sweet toffee, vanilla and some savory herbal elements.

The mesquite smoke is present on first sip, but more as a complement to the other flavors than as a primary note.  I find sweet notes of chocolate, vanilla, salted caramel as well as some earthy fruit sensations.  There is a bit of warmth, perhaps delicately peppered.  I am struck by the balance, maybe because I like a bit of smoke, and the way in which the mesquite lightly permeates the flavors.

The finish is medium, with a bit of raspberry, toffee and smoke.  Again, the mesquite smoke is always present, but not dominant.

I  like both the taste profile and the price of this whiskey. Some of the reviews that have been written suggest that it might be popular with those who like Islay single malts. While Colkegan brings some Scotch-like barley malted character, it tosses a curve with the mesquite smoke.  I find Westland Peated Single Malt, which uses peat in the drying process, to be an American whiskey that is much closer to Scotch whisky.  What I like here is the distinct profile of scent and flavor of Colkegan that is well balanced, but more like a distant cousin of Scotch.  In addition, it is a very affordable whiskey, currently selling for a little over $60 a bottle.

If you enjoy whiskeys with a bit of smoke, I suspect you would find this an interesting dram.

I should note that I am not alone in my assessment of Colkegan as a desirable American whiskey.  The Santa Fe Spirits website lists the following awards:

  • 2017 Silver Medal American Distilling Institute
  • 2017 Bronze Medal American Craft Spirits Association
  • 2016 Gold Medal Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival
  • 2016 Silver Medal Whiskies of the World Awards
  • 2016 Bronze Medal San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2015 Gold Medal Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival
  • 2015 Gold Medal from American Distiller’s Institute
  • 2014 Silver Medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2014 Gold Medal for the Telluride Colorado Distillery Tasting
  • 2013 Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival – Silver

Balvenie Peat Week 14

8oSzY5u8RK6UkzmPTwlLxQBalvenie Peat Week 14

This Peat Week bottling is the product of Balvenie’s practice of making a peated version of their whisky one week each year.  This whisky is aged in American oak barrels for fourteen years and bottled at a unique 48.3% ABV.

One of the really fun aspects of this bottling is the packaging provided by Balvenie.  The container provides a wealth of information and detail on Balvenie’s use of Highland Peat and how that differs from whiskies that use Islay Peat.

Here are images of some of the detail provided:


Highland Peat is said to have a more earthy campfire type peat. It has less Phenol than than Islay Peat, and thus would be expected to have less medicinal iodine influences.

The nose on this brings the comfortably familiar elements associated with this quality Speyside whisky.  I sense honey, pear and citrus with a very subtle tease of peat.  More sweet floral and citrus than peat.

On the palate, the first impression is honey, orange marmalade, and an oak wood vanilla.  A bit of nutmeg-like spice arrives before the peat. The peat is subdued, not as salty, more earthy than Islay whisky expressions. The peat/smoke infuses the sweet Balvenie flavor profile, but more as an enhancement than a primary element. It makes me think of something sweet, like an orange, that has been lightly smoked, but not grilled.

The finish is medium, honey and citrus elements that taper to a lingering peat.  I sense the earthy peat here more than on the palate, and certainly more than on the nose.

This is a great whisky that blends the Speyside sweetness of Balvenie with a nuanced peat element.  It would be a mistake to think of it as equivalent to the peaty expressions of Islay scotch, or even to Highland peaty scotches. If your preferences lean toward Islay and other heavily peated scotches, and you wanted to sample a Speyside whisky, this might be a more intriguing variation – introducing a lightly peated expression.  I also think it would be fun to do a bit of a comparison with some of the Highland peaty scotches.

This is a great addition to my single malt scotch collection.  It is a bottle that will likely have a short half-life in my Scotch cabinet.  And, each time I sample it, I will recall the pleasure of working with the colleagues who gave me a bottle of this unique whisky.

It has also pointed me in the direction of my next tasting note.  I have a Balvenie 15 at a similar 47.8% ABV, which would help me more directly experience how the extra peat has influenced the Balvenie character.  I also have a Balvenie 17 Peated Cask bottling, at a lower 43% ABV that was not distilled with extra peat influence, but was matured in heavily peated casks.  I anticipate a fun adventure ahead.


Westland 2017 Peat Week

Westland Peat Week 2017

Westland 2017 Peat Week

Westland Distillery holds an annual Peat Week celebration, marked by a release of a limited-edition bottling.  In the fourth annual Peat Week celebration Westland produced three bottle labels for the 2017 release, Phenostrus (The Demon of the Bog), Mistress Miasma (The Vixen of Vapor) and Spinther (The Man of Fire). I was able to obtain a bottle with the Phenostrus – Demon of the Blog label.

The 2017 Peat Week is bottled at cask strength, 54.4% ABV. Like most American single malts, this is a relatively young whiskey, been aged three to five years.  Westland matured this whiskey in new American oak and ex-bourbon casks.

I was a bit surprised at first impression, anticipating overpowering smoke. The initial approach on the nose is a sweet aroma with fruit and floral notes that accompany peat and smoke that become more prominent. The combination makes me think of charred fruit on the grill.

On the palate, the peat is immediately present, gradually joined by subtle sweet elements – perhaps vanilla, caramel, honey – and a bit of spice. It is a delicate blend of sweet and smoke, which strikes favorite elements in my whisky tastes.

The finish is medium in length, maintaining the blend of sweet with smoke and peat, with a little cinnamon-like spice in the background. There is some heat, but not as much as one might anticipate with a cask strength bottling.

I really do enjoy this whiskey. The profile is unique, the peat is much like some to the non-Islay Scotches, but the sweet elements are a bit more reminiscent of bourbons. As much as enjoyed this bottling, I would not be likely to buy another, although I would greatly enjoy one day visiting the Westland distillery for one of their peat week events.

Not surprisingly, the overall profile is close to that of the Westland Peated American Single Malt Whiskey. I will need to revisit my most recent acquisition of their core peated offering, as I best recall from my earlier samplings, the main difference is the greater prominence of the peat in this special release. But, likely due to the limited edition and special edition expenses, this Peat Week version is close to double the price of the core Westland Peated whiskey.  So the choice seems simple enough, two bottles of Westland Peated American Single Malt Whiskey, or one of a special Peat Week release.