Stranahan’s Diamond Peak


Stranahan’s Diamond Peak

I decided to sample another American single malt whiskey before returning to tasting notes from my scotch cabinet.  Stranahan’s is a small batch whiskey distilled in a neighboring state, Colorado.  Stranahan’s Diamond Peak is a special bottling that is aged for at least 4 years in new charred White American Oak barrels.  It is made with local barley and water from the Rocky Mountains.

This whiskey is 47% ABV and non-chill filtered.  My tasting notes are from a Lot # 9 bottle.

On the nose, I find sweetness, primarily honey.  On second pass, I find a scent akin to lightly smoked pear.  There is also a damp oak forest element.  On the palate, the first sip is immediately sweet, with a bit of a spice prickling of the tongue.  In mid-palate, I find banana, and a little charcoal, with the spice lingering.  The finish is relatively short, pleasantly warm, and ends with a raspberry note.

This is a good young whiskey.  Similar to my recent tasting of another American single malt, there is something about it that makes it unlike most scotch, possibly the influences of the bourbon-like approach of finishing in new charred barrels?   But, do not read that comment as suggesting that I would find Stranahan’s Diamond Peak to have a profile like the Cut Spike whiskey I recently sampled.   Fundamentally, I like both of these single malt whiskeys, but I would not mistake one for the other.

The only drawback to my assessment of Stranahan’s Diamond Peak is that it costs more, around $70, than I think may be warranted for a young whiskey in a market where there are similarly young whiskeys for less, and more aged scotches for no more.

Cut Spike Single Malt Whiskey


Cut Spike Single Malt Whiskey

I am taking a little detour of late, to explore some single malt whisky that is not scotch.  I have recently put together tasting notes on a mesquite smoked single malt whiskey from Arizona, and another from India.  Today, I am venturing very close to home, tasting a single malt whiskey from right here in Nebraska, Cut Spike Single Malt Whiskey.

I had become intrigued with tasting this single malt after I heard that it had won some awards.  In particular, this whiskey won the 2014 Double Gold Award at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  In 2016, Cut Spike Single Malt Whiskey was awarded a Gold Award at the same competition.  Given that I live within 50 miles of the distillery, it was not difficult to obtain a bottle.

There is a lot that I found unique about this whiskey as I started reading.  It is made from malted barley and limestone-filtered water from the sandhills of Nebraska.  The whiskey is distilled in copper pot stills imported from Scotland.  The finish takes a bourbon-like turn as they age the whiskey for two years in new charred American oak barrels.

Cut Spike Single Malt Whiskey is bottled at 43% ABV, non-chill filtered, with no coloring added.  The bottle I sampled is from Batch #4.

On the nose, I immediately get sweetness.  I sense honey element, probably because it seems to have a little floral base.  But, overall, the nose is not easy for me to capture.  In time, I get some orange in the sweetness along with oak and just a bit of charcoal.

The first sip brings a bit of a sweet-spicy light burn, that quickly fades.  Then, I get vanilla, some floral, orange, and some oak on the back.  It is sweet throughout.  But, more of a mix and balance of flavors than I would expect in this young a whiskey.  The finish is rich and relatively short.

I really like this whiskey.  It is a fun dram with a unique profile.  I would not think that many would mistake this for a scotch in a blind tasting. But I think that many scotch drinkers would enjoy this whiskey, particularly if they have preferences that lean toward the sherry influenced single malts.

Lest you think I am too effusive because it is a local whiskey, I did a quick look and found a couple other reviews online that give Cut Spike Single Malt Whiskey a positive assessment.


A bit of reflection on my Scotch journey

After reading a humorous blog post about stereotypes and taste by Gentlemangrimm, I thought a bit about tastes and preferences for whisky.  More to the point, I thought about how my tastes for Scotch whisky have evolved over time.

Reflecting on my particular interest in single malt Scotch, I can still recall my initial introduction, at the bar in the Capital Hotel, in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1999.   I was on a work trip, having a quiet meal at the bar, and asked the bartender for something different than the usual bourbon.

A current photo of the bar, pretty much as I recall it, right where I was sitting.


That first taste, of a Glenmorangie, was enough to make me curious to discover more.  As I read about single malt Scotch, I was curious about the variety, and the highly variable opinions about what was good, or not.  My journey started with some early explorations of Glenmorangie casking variations.  Then I started branching out a bit, to others, as best I reacall initially to Glenfarclas, Highland Park and Macallan.

Relatively early in this journey, I had read somewhere that Islay single malts were particularly good.  I was in New Orleans for a conference, and found my way to a bar that had a decent selection of single malt Scotches.  I asked the bartender for a recommendation for a good Islay single malt.   I ended up with a Laphroaig.  It was quite a surprise, as I had not done much reading to fully anticipate the taste profile, and my initial reaction was that I would stay away from Islay single malts.

Over the years, I started to branch out from the Highland and Speyside distilleries.  I recall my first exposure to Talisker, and how I enjoyed the discovery of more smoke on my Scotch.  I recall that around that time I also learned about Campbeltown single malts, particularly a very nice Springbank.

Eventually, I am not exactly sure when, I once again wondered into the world of Islay single malts.  But, by this time, my tastes had evolved.  I now count various Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich single malts as some of my favorites.

Just as my initial response to Laphroaig is very divergent from my current perception, I am also enjoying going back and re-discovering some early favorites.   The experiences of my 17 year journey have helped shape my appreciation of nuances in these whiskies.  I find that my early favorites, for example Glenfarclas 17, are still one’s that I really like.  However, if I had written earlier tasting notes, I suspect that they would vary in meaningful ways from what I would write now.   My perceptions have been conditioned by the path I have walked.

I am not exactly sure where I am going with all of this, other than perhaps reflecting on part of what intrigues me about single malt Scotch.   Within the criteria that define what can be labeled as ‘Scotch’, there is an amazing diversity of styles that produce a wide range of tastes.   Moreover, they keep evolving in ways that I anticipate will keep me returning to find out what lies around the next bend.

Port Charlotte, Islay Barley


Port Charlotte, Islay Barley, Heavily Peated.  50% ABV.

The Port Charlotte, Islay Barley, is a single malt Scotch whisky from the Bruichladdich distillery.  Their peated whisky is bottled under either the Port Charlotte or the Octomore name.  The peat component of a whisky is measured by the parts per million (PPM) phenol levels.  The Octomores are have very high PPM, in the 160-250 range.  This Port Charlottle, Islay Barley whisky has a PPM of 40.  The barley is from six farms on Islay, all designated on the bottle.  It is aged in ex-bourbon barrels for 5 years.

On the nose, the smoke is clearly present, but subtle.  There are elements of pear, and apple, producing a pleasant smoke-sweet blend.  On first sip, the peat comes on initially, but again not overpowering.  I find a malty sweetness, appricots mixed with salty elements, maybe salted cashews.  On mid palate there is smoke and a tease of  cinnamon.  The finish is medium, balanced, with the peat smoke mingling with fresh fruit sweetness.

I find myself going back and forth on this whisky.  Not from bad to good, more about where I place it in the good range.  Generally, when I think of peat, my leanings are more to the slightly higher PPM offerings of Ardbeg or Laphroaig.  I may have come to this thinking of an Octomore-light type of offering, and it is not that.  But, if I set that notion aside, I find this a very pleasant whisky.  Indeed, what makes this a very good dram, is it’s balance, one where no one element dominates.   I like the dance between light peat and the natural fruit sweet elements.  Another Bruichladdich which I am happy to have in my single malt cabinet.

Dalmore 15


Dalmore 15, 40% ABV.

While it is always good to have some whisky at hand, there are times when it is particularly beneficial.  This is one of those moments, on a weekend where venturing outside is not advised due to the advancing ice storm.  The only question was which whisky I would pull out of the cabinet.  After some thought, I decided upon revisiting a Highland Scotch.  With a little exploration, I selected my bottle of Dalmore 15.

Dalmore 15 is a Highland single malt that is initially aged for 12 years in ex-bourbon casks, then is divided equally into each of three different sherry casks.  According to the Dalmore web site, the three types of sherry casks are Amoroso, Apostoles and Matusalem oloroso.  After three years, the whisky is merged again in a sherry butt for the finish.

Given both the origin and this aging process, it is not surprising that this whisky comes across rich and sweet on the nose.  The sherry comes on immediately.  As I take a second and third pass, I find a bit more nuance in the sweetness, bringing to mind raisins, plums, and a bit of a ginger-influenced spice.  On the palate, I initially find a rich, smooth, sweet sherry presentation.  There are elements of orange and raisin in the taste, and mid-palate brings some spicy notes, maybe a little nutmeg.  The sweet, rich, nature of this whisky carries into the finish.  The warmth on the finish is relatively short, perhaps reflecting in-part the lower ABV, with the sweet sherry mingling with some cinnamon and orange peel.

I think that this is a very fine whisky with a good balance of sweet and lightly-spiced sherry.  If you are a fan of the more sherried whisky, I would think that you would enjoy including a bottle of Dalmore 15 in your collection.   For my taste preferences, it is a bit more like a dessert whisky, an alternative to a nice after dinner port.

Two other observations.  First, the price on this whisky is reasonable for today’s market, giving one a better dram-per-dollar than for many with similar profiles.  Second, at 40% ABV, it will be more for those who find too much burn in standard 46% and higher cask-strength whisky.

Whiskey Del Bac, Dorado


Whiskey Del Bac, Dorado.  45% ABV.  Non-chill filtered.

A dear friend gave me a unique gift during a visit this year.  A bottle of Wiskey Del Bac from Hamilton Distillers in Tucson, Arizona.  As I near the bottom of the bottle, I am overdue in writing my tasting notes.  The bottle notes state that they malt their barley “over a velvet Mesquite fire” and mature the whisky in small batch using American oak barrels.

On the nose, the smoke comes forward immediately.  In one sense, it is a bit like my first impression of the smoke on the nose of Talisker whisky.  Yet, it is not the same smoke, there is no ambiguity regarding the mesquite origins.  On first sip, it is certainly mesquite-dominant,  quickly bringing to mind a barbeque, and probably what influences my impression of the flavor of peppered sweet-jerky.  On subsequent sips, I find semi-sweet elements, mostly vanilla, perhaps a bit of carmelization.  The finish is medium length, warm, with the mesquite smoke enveloping the other flavors.  As the smoke retreats, I find a dried cherry flavor on the back of the finish.  It is a well balanced and smooth whisky.

This is a very fun, unique whisky.  I really enjoy it.  I would not attempt to compare it to any particular single malt scotch.  The parallel I would draw is one of a good quality young whisky.  I find that the mesquite smoke imparts a flavor profile that is unique, distinct from the peated expressions I typically enjoy.

It is a whisky that I like neat.  I suspect that some have found creative ways to use this distinctive flavor profile in cocktails, but that would not be my preference.   Either way, if you like whisky and can find a bottle, I recommend giving it a try.