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 Wanderback.com 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.

Ardbeg An Oa

Ardbeg An OaArdbeg An Oa, 46.6% ABV, NAS.

Ardbeg An Oa is the new addition to Ardbeg’s core line of whisky … Ardbeg 10, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan.  I was intrigued to see what they could add to this most satisfying trio.  This newest edition is matured in Pedro Ximénes sherry casks and ex-bourbon barrels, which were then married in ex-French oak vatting casks.

I found the nose to be a little subdued compared to the other Ardbegs.  Not bad, just no one dominant notes that immediately capture the senses.  It has that characteristic mix of sweet and peat, starting with caramel, brine and smoke.  It is an appealing blend of aromas, and after some moments I find a bit of banana as well.

On the palate, first the smoke and peat, but with sweet cinnamon spice, orange and a warmth … not quite peppery, but some heat does set in.  A bit of sweetened brine, peat and smoke linger. I find some of the classic Ardbeg notes to these tastes, but clearly less aggressive on the smoke and peat, and more of the sherry-sweet elements. In that sense, it reminds me some of the Ardbeg Dark Cove profile.

The finish is mild, but it has a way of lingering.  I find subtle elements of licorice and cloves, honey, and smoke.  It all comes together in a very appealing blend.

This is a fun whisky, maybe a great first one for anyone initially venturing in to sample Islay whisky, and particularly, Ardbeg single malts.  It certainly has the core elements, but with a mix that brings more sweet and less peat … it takes your hand and gently walks you into the Ardbeg neighborhood.

I would not hesitate to buy this again, particularly now that the price has settled in close to what they are asking for Ardbeg 10.  I am still much more likely to seek a dram of Ardbeg 10 and their other core offerings, but Ardbeg An Oa brings a new dimension that some may well prefer.

Ardbeg Kelpie, Committee Release

Ardbeg KelpieArdbeg Kelpie, Committee Release, 51.7% ABV.

Ardbeg Kelpie was the Committee Release in 2017.  Like other recent Committee Releases, this is a variation in maturation processes.  Ardbeg Kelpie was matured in casks made from virgin Black Sea oak and the traditional bourbon casks.

The nose hints at the Ardbeg origins. I get a little peat, smoke, and iodine.  Adding a drop of water brings out a sweet, fruit, coconut dimension.

On the palate, I find bacon, dark chocolate and pepper.  In ways, it reminds me of a smoked barbeque with a sweet sauce – maybe a bit caramelized.  As the light smoke recedes, flavors of cloves, olives and salt emerge.  The extra alcohol volume is apparent.

The finish has a nice medium to long duration.  Early I sense a mix of sweet, chocolate and toffee, with salt and a buttery feel. At the end, there is more pepper, smoke and cloves.

Overall, a pleasant dram that has a foundation of Ardbeg elements.  I suspect that there are some who do not like these types of variations off of the core expressions of Ardbeg.  I do wonder if the general release of Ardberg Kelpie at 46% ABV will come across as well.

I like having this bottle in my collection, a fun side trip from the foundational Ardbeg scotches.  I will enjoy it, while it lasts.  When it is finished, I would not likely buy another.  Like most Committee Releases, it comes at a somewhat inflated price.  Affordable enough for a one time exploration, but when I can get another bottle of Ardbeg 10, or even Ardbeg Correyverckan, for less of an investment – the choice is easy.

Westland American Oak

Westland OakIt has been too long since I last added an observation.  A bit of an overload at work consumed much of my spare time.  Fortunately, I did not stop sampling a variety of single malt scotch and American whiskey.  Now, I just need to catch up on my reflections on whisky and whiskey sampled.

I am going to start with Westland American Oak single malt whiskey.  I have previously written about Westland’s peated whiskey.  Westland is a Seattle based distillery which was recently purchased by the French spirits group Remy Cointreau (they also count Bruichladdich among their holdings). In their brief 7 years of production, Westland whiskeys have gathered a good number of recognitions and awards.  In 2016 the distillery was selected as “Craft Producer of the Year” by the Icons of Whisky.

One of the elements that I enjoy about Westland is the depth of information that they provide about their various bottlings.  Westland American Oak is distilled distilled using 100% malted barley – a blend of five different malts (from Washington, Wisconsin and Great Britain).  It is matured in American oak and first fill bourbon casks.

Westland American Oak is non-aged statement, but has a minimum of three years maturation.  It is non-chill filtered and no coloring has been added.  The whiskey is bottled at 46% ABV.

For a young whiskey, I am impressed by the complex nose.  I find a blend of vanilla, barley, toffee and just a bit of a coffee element.

On the palate I find a slightly sweet mix of vanilla, caramel, oak, and some spice.  It is smoother than I expected for a young whiskey, reminding me of how others have also succeeded in creating well balanced whisky aged 3-5 years (e.g., Kilchoman). Overall, a whiskey that has mild smoke and more pronounced spicy, sweet, and vanilla profiles.

The medium length finish has a modest warmth, with elements of pepper, oak and caramel.

It is, for me, the best American single malt whiskey that I have yet to sample.  I find the overall quality and the nose, palate and finish to be on par with many of the younger non-aged statement single malt Scotches.  Add to that a price point that is better than you find with the comparable Scotch, it is destined to be a whiskey that I will enjoy more frequently.

It seems that others hold similarly positive assessments of the Westland American Oak whiskey.  It was recently designated at the “Best Single Malt\Vatted Malt Whiskey” by the 2018 Drammie Award.  This whiskey was also awarded “Best in Class/Gold Medal” by the Whiskies of the World Awards competition in 2017.