The Last Unicorn - Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye Unicorn Private Barrel

August 23, 2016

The Last Unicorn - Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye Unicorn Private Barrel

Trying to find funny things to say about unicorns got weird quickly.  First there were some decent memes, like this one.



Cute, self-deprecating and using an animal photo - pretty much everything a meme should be.  But then the very next link was... this.


Guess that's one way to win an argument.  Really don't know what to say here. But then... well there's just really nothing to say about this guy.


Errrr.... So yeah let's just get on to the review.


Today we're tasting a true unicorn, one of the last Smooth Ambler private barrel ryes. The "unicorn" was a local Kentucky selection (from Liquor Barn? someone pls confirm). Sadly Smooth Ambler ran out of stock for its private barrel rye program last year and this was the last release. Like all the SOAS private ryes, it's a cask strength 99% rye that's unchillfiltered and straight from the barrel. This one comes in at 119 proof. 


Tasting Notes

Nose: Mint and toffee forward on this one. It lacks the fullness of some of the epic SOAS ryes, but it's got many of the elements we're looking for. Oak, vanilla, little bit of leather and honey. It's not a particularly spicy one, and doesn't have super big richness, but still a very respectable nose.

Palate: It drinks incredibly well for a near 120 proof monster. We didn't reach for water. The mouthfeel is thin, but the flavor is very nice, adding a little pepper to the mint and honey. 

Finish: Nice lasting finish for a rye, this one leaves you with a little spirit burn that's not quite balanced by the other flavors, but all-in-all it's a good finish.


Review

MAN we're going to miss these awesome private rye barrels! There were some seriously incredible bottles in this line. Astor Wines' 9-year rye was outstanding. The Anniversary Smooth Ambler 10-Year was dynamite. And of course SmokyBeast Rye #1 was... like... duh.  Maybe it's not super surprising that the unicorn was the last barrel chosen. It's not in the same league as the others. But it's still a righteous bottle. Seeing as all these ryes come from MGP/LDI, we'd like to appeal to the whiskey Gods for more of these releases. Surely they must have more stock aging somewhere. Right??  Anyway this was a treat and we're saving the last few drams of this.  The end of an era!  Unicorn man would surely approve. Also, your argument is invalid.  SB out.


Bourbon of the Year - Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

August 17, 2016

Bourbon of the Year - Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

Perhaps it's odd to declare a bourbon of the year for 2016 right BEFORE bourbon season starts. But the fact is that we're not going to get any limited release bourbon this year. That game ended last year when retails stores started charging secondary market prices for allocated bourbon. Now all the shops we used to stalk come October are charging $700 for George T. Stagg, $1,400 for Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year, and even Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (which we've bought every year since '06) was unattainable. Sad times.

The good news is that there's a much cheaper bourbon that rivals all these guys in the taste department. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has been hiding in plain sight all these years. And what a sight it is, just look at that marvelous color!!



Now remember for malt whisky you can't always go by color because they often add caramel coloring (unless your malt specifically says "uncoloured" then assume it's been tampered with). But when a bottle says "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey" on it, you know that it's the genuine article. The regulations for "Straight Bourbon" specify no added coloring. All that delicious black coffee darkness comes from hot summers in a charred oak barrel. The fact that ECBP is not watered down to your typical 90 proof allows it to retain its incredible darkness.  But still, it has to be more than that. Perhaps they use extra char on the barrels for these batches?  In any case it's just magical looking isn't it?  #nofilters

Ok can we be totally honest here?  This stuff hit the stores a few weeks ago, but we had to wait to release this post. What were we waiting for? We'll admit it, we were hitting up all our local spots and clearing the shelves. Sorry. But chances are next year people will catch on and this stuff will be selling for $200/bottle.  Right now you can still find it for the original MSRP of around $60. And seriously... Duh.



The latest release, Batch #11, comes in at a testicular circumference-lengthening 69.7% alcohol by volume. Yup, put on your drinking hat and get ready for some one hundred thirty nine point four proof saucy sauce. Just 0.3% more and this stuff would be officially designated "hazmat".  (Yes, for whiskey nerds out there batch #6 did cross the hazmat barrier and it was awesome).  We were also able to find Batch #10 on the shelves which was a paltry 128.8 proof.  P-shaw.  



Tasting Notes

Nose:  Holy thick dripping vanilla, char, leather, tobacco, baking spices, molasses, dark chocolate, bbq. It's all there. What an incredible nose.

Palate: It's alive, man. This is not a beginner's whiskey, but if you are in the game like we are it's just everything you want it to be. Chewy-thick mouthfeel, massive spirit warmth and intensity, incredible sweetness and richness, and very well integrated between all these elements.  I'd drink this stuff all night.

Finish: Just a sublime warm finish. Not as long as a peaty malt, but plenty long for a bourbon. Resting mostly in the vanilla and tree bark department with a rising chest warmth from the insanely high percentage of alcohol you just ingested.  

Review

Well there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is that this is an incredible whiskey, absolutely everything we look for in a bourbon drinker's bourbon - cask strength, super full flavored, smooth at outrageous proof - it's got it all. The bad news is that as soon as we drop this post, you'll never see this bottle for $60 again. Not tooting our own horn here, but it's been known to happen. So gobble these up and let the hunger games begin.

Cheers/SB

Malts of Scotland - Eilean a Chuirn Lighthouse

August 4, 2016

Malts of Scotland - Eilean a Chuirn Lighthouse

We keep finding ourselves buying more of these Malts of Scotland independent bottlings. What's not to like? They are all uncolored, unfiltered, cask strength monsters. They come in the coolest squat medicinal bottles.  And they seem to have limitless supplies of super peaty Islay malts. So far so good.

The "Images of Islay" line appears to be a range of single malts from distilleries that asked Malts of Scotland for non-disclosure as to the source of the whisky. This is pretty common for distilleries like Ardbeg and Lagavulin which will agree to sell barrels to various bottlers but would prefer it not made public. This is why you rarely see an independent bottling of Lagavulin, though there are a few out there labelled anonymously. Each Images of Islay features a different Islay landmark on the label like "Cattle at Islay Graveyard" "Round Church of Bowmore" "Port Ellen Lighthouse" "Soldier's Rock", or this one, "Eilean a Chuirn Lighthouse".



In this case, the stuff is almost certainly Ardbeg. It's got the flavor profile written all over it. Also the Eilean a Chuirn lighthouse is located on the southeastern tip of Islay, with the closest distillery being Ardbeg. Also the guy in the store told us it was Ardbeg.

We want to get in touch with Malts of Scotland! We dropped a note on their 'contact us' page, but didn't hear back. If anyone knows them, please introduce us!



Tasting Notes

Nose:  Brilliant phenolic explosion on this one. Limes and bandaids, tons of tropical fruit all wrapped up in the smoke like grilled pineapple, mango, coconut, maybe just the whole palm tree. Some little bursts of skunky cactus, aloe vera, or - agave? (have we been drinking too much mezcal?? No it's there!)

Palate: Lighly oily mouthfeel on this one. Some more traditional flavors come out in the mouth - white grapes, some light oak tannins, white chocolate.

Finish: Damn is this just incredibly smooth for a cask strength (106.4 proof) whisky! Not a big bruiser of a finish at all, this is all elegance. Everything comes together nicely with the smoke carrying a brush of sweetness. That strange fruity skunk aspect remains (not using "skunk" in a bad way here, it's quite nice).

Review

This is a great straight-ahead Islay malt. Strong, smooth, smoky, and sweet without too much cask influence. Guessing this is in the 8-9 year age range and just a lovely expression of what a simple well-treated Islay malt can do.

Cheers/SB


Mezcal Vago Part II - Tio Rey

July 27, 2016

Mezcal Vago Part II - Tio Rey

Mezcal Month continues here on SmokyBeast with part two of Jake Cahill's piece on Mezcal Vago...  (we'll be back to whiskey in August!)

Alright Alright Alright. Next up for this lovely month of Mezcal madness we're continuing with the imports from Mezcal Vago. Last week we met their original mezcalero Aquilino Garcia Lopez. Today we get to meet another of Vago's sources for their excellent mezcal, Tio Rey.

Maestro Mezcalero Salomon Rey Rodriguez 
(Tio Rey)

Photo by Joanna Pinnero

Tio Rey is doing things in the most old school of ways. He is located in the region of Sola de Vega where almost all of the Mezcal is distilled on “Olla de Barro” clay pot stills. The region itself also sits at just under 5,000 ft above sea level and is quite remote. Tio Rey's family can trace its mezcal lineage back hundreds if not a thousand years. Way up in the mountains, Rey cultivates over 15 different types of agave. Which is easier than it may sound since Sola de Vega has the most agave diversity in the world! 

Photo by Joanna Pinnero


Tio Rey's palenque is on his ranch where he lives with his family. He produces solely for Mezcal Vago (he had never before produced mezcal commercially). He makes for them a Tobala en Barro and his most famous distillate the Ensamble en Barro. Ensamble means that there are numerous types of agave in the spirit. A blend if you will. Tio Rey's batch sizes are always super small. The largest I have seen to date is around four hundred liters and the smallest was only sixty-eight liters!

All agave is one hundred percent hand harvested and dragged down to the Palenque. It's cut into pieces by axe and machete and roasted together, fermented together and distilled together for his field blends, he does not blend batches post-fermentation. The agave is roasted for only two to three days. Roasted agave is ground by hand with wooden mallets/sledgehammers. It's literally put one piece at a time on a wooden platform and pounded down by wooden hammers. I guess they feel that a donkey-pulled stone wheel is just too high tech.

Photo by Joanna Pinnero

The agave juice is fermented in one of his four vats. One of which is almost 100 years old and was carved out of one solid tree trunk from a pine tree into the shape of a giant agave filled canoe. Crazy!! He distills in a series of clay pots that hold only 45 liters each. Just for perspective, from my understanding this whole process takes about 4 times the amount of time and work as it would if he had a stone ground Tehona or if he used copper pots.

Photo by Joanna Pinnero


Tio Rey never adds a drop of water to his mezcals and all are filtered through the same sediment system as Anqilinos just before bottling. Ok so now we know how much incredibly hard work goes into these mezcals. And truly I am blown away by the tradition and lineage of both these producers.

Photo by Joanna Pinnero

Ensamble en Barro
Agave: 58% Espadin 18% Mexicano 15% Coyote 9% Arroqueno  ABV: 51.4%

Nose: Again, go for a more open glass if you can. I am drinking out of my Hicara now for this one because it was too intense out of a glencairn. Everything about this just smells more full bodies and much dirtier. In a good way. Pine needles and mushrooms with a damp smoky earth in the background. Mole chocolate and orange belle peppers. Its really interesting on the nose with a lot happening here. Smoke is subtle and deep.

Palate: There’s that burn again. Similar to the espadin this ABV is just a bit distracting at first. Once that clears out though there is a lot of fun stuff going on here. Super earthy and quite viscous. Charred cinnamon and chestnuts. Acorn squash on a grill. Blue corn tortilla and mushrooms. Cured smoked meat. Really wild stuff here.

Finish: After the burn fades, the earthiness just clings all over your palate and hangs out for quite a while. My taste buds are trying to catch their breath from the high proof but at the same time want more earthy mezcal goodness. Like when a cigar gets too damp at the end of a long smoke.

Verdict

This Ensamble is really unique. You can get all the earthiness and texture and oil from the long and arduous production process, but again its just too over powered by the proof. It abuses and pleases the palate at the same time. Like the Ike and Tina of mezcal. I love that this is such a break from the fruity and smoky sweet mezcals though. The earthiness and full bodied nature make this more of a food mezcal in my mind. Or a mezcal for a cold wet night. But if I had to drink this at proof, I might not buy another bottle. After proofing it down to 47% abv though, this becomes a much more tame beast and a really solid pour.

For both of these the abv was just too high for my liking and really got in the way of the enjoyability of them. And although I assume the gentlemen who made them would disagree with me adding water, I just cant deny the fact that bringing these down a few degrees really helped pull them together. I have had delicious high octane Mezcal that doesn't need a damn thing except my glass. These two were not in that league. However maybe this works in our favor. For the price of one bottle, we can essentially get 1 and a half bottles by proofing it down to 47 each time. There’s always a sliver lining. Love what the folks at Vago are doing and really respect their process, labor and dedication to tradition. I will certainly be revisiting these over time and exploring the rest of their line, although maybe I'll find a pour at a bar before buying a bottle in the future. It may not be what I want to reach for every night, but Vago is very good quality that should hold down at least one spot in your selection. Go for the Ensamble. Its pretty interesting. Oh and the Elote. Try the Elote. Sweet and flavorful and delicious, definitely worth the trip...


Photo by Joanna Pinnero

Till next time.

Cheers/Jake


Thanks for another awesome column, Jake!  Tune in next week as we wrap up mezcal month.
Mezcal Vago Part 1 - Mezcalero Aquilino Garcia Lopez

July 20, 2016

Mezcal Vago Part 1 - Mezcalero Aquilino Garcia Lopez

We hope you're enjoying Mezcal Month here on SmokyBeast. Here's part one of another great piece from our resident mezcal maniac Jake Cahill!
Mezcal, real, true and traditional mezcal, is not something you can talk about without mentioning where it comes from, the people who make it, and how it makes its way into our hands. Vago is a producer that should be quite familiar to Mezcal fans here in New York and quite a few other states in the country. Although the production for these guys is quite small, their reach is long and impactful.

Vago has, for lack of a more eloquent phrase, so much cool shit about them. Now we aren’t even talking about the mezcals themselves yet. I am talking about everything from how they were started as a brand, the two main palenque they work with and how long they have been doing this, how old school their operation is and all the way down to the paper they use on their labels. Too much to cover but I’ll start with a quick blurb about how the brand was started. Then go into the Mezcaleros and their operations and finally the tasting notes and verdict on a few of their most well known Mezcals.



Mezcal Vago

It all starts with a lovely age old story of two gringos wondering around Oaxaca looking for a good time. Gringo #2 gets handed a gasoline can full of Mezcal randomly in the street! He drinks it and loves it! Gringo ends up in a hospital somehow years later (unrelated to Mezcal). Gets fixed up by a beautiful local girl who is very much not a gringo. Gringo falls in love with her at first sight. Gringo gets his ass kicked for her love because she was vowed to another. She falls in love with the Gringo. Gringo goes to meet the Family! Fears for his life meeting her father. Father turns out to be an amazing and well respected distiller of Mezcal! Gringo falls in love with mezcal as well as his new bride and decides that the world should taste how good his distillate is! Mezcal Vago is born and a Gringo becomes a loved part of the family. (This is very condensed and possible slight miscalculations but I was told the story once and had a lot of mezcal when it was told to me so…)

All palenque photos courtesy of Mezcal Vago

Maestro Mezcalero Aquilino Garcia Lopez

At current time there are 2 Mezcaleros producing for Mezcal Vago and each has a very very different style and process. Aquilino is the father from the story above. He has had mezcal in his life since birth. And so has over 5 generations of his family. His great great grandfather started distilling Mezcal in the Mid 19th Century and has passed that tradition down to every generation since. He produces most of the mezcal in the Vago range including the Espadin, Mexicano, Cuixe and the Elote (which is a Maize infused mezcal, which is delicious). His Palenque is located on his ranch where he and his family live. He and his son Mateo do pretty much all of the work themselves. From the flowering and mating process of the agave, to the cultivation and care of the plants as they mature all way up to harvest time and production. 

They are located in Candelaria Yegole (same area as Rey Campero from last week), so its very fun to see just how different the hands of the Mezcalero influence final product if you do a side by side of these two producers. Aquilino and Vago are very aware of the footprint they have on the earth so they re-plant agave and nursery as often as possible and make sure nothing goes to waste. The labels on the bottles are actually made from left over agave mash which they boil and mash together and dry out into sheets of rough paper. Pretty darn resourceful! 




Mezcal Vago ESPADIN

Aquilino's Espadin is harvested between 7-12 yrs old. It's dug up and shorn with a machete, and hand cut into quarters before being roasted in an earthen pit for 3-5 days. Once roasted, it's stone ground. Fermentation happens in old 1200 liter pine vats for about a week as it is left to ferment spontaneously.  Aquilino distills the mash before it has fermented fully dry. So there is a much higher sugar content in his mash when it goes into the still.  Finally it's distilled twice on tiny copper pot stills. All the cuts are made by smell and taste. All of Aquilino’s mezcal goes through a simple sediment filtration through a tubular cellulose filter before bottling. This is the only thing that happens to the mezcal between distillation and bottling.



Tasting Notes

Nose: Holy Crap. Ok folks if you have this in a glencairn glass, do not dig your nose in too deep. Transfer this one over to a rocks glass if you can so it can really open up and not focus the aromas. The alcohol is very intense. Once its opened up though, this is really fun to smell. Roasted marshmallows, sweet potato, citrus and gunpowder with some sweet grilled pineapple coming through and just a bit of burnt rubber in the background.

Palate: Again the alcohol is super intense and dominates the first sip or two. Once my palate (and apparently thigh high skirt) adjusts, the flavors start to shine through a bit. Sweet potato comes back with the addition of anise and vanilla. There is a slight herbal character to it like pine or sage. And a distinct caramel note.

Finish: Burn baby burn! It leaves you breathing out through your mouth like you just took a bite of food that was a little to hot but you didn’t want to spit it out in front of your date. When this dissipates however there is a really nice texture. Like burn ointment after you forget to use an oven mitt. Its soothing and cooling almost minty or aloe which is needed after all that proof.

Verdict

I usually do pretty well with high proof stuff. This is by no means the highest proof Mezcal I have had and the others were beauteous. This is a bit clumsy for me and just too overwhelming at its proof. I want to like it so badly out of the bottle but I just don’t. The alcohol is too distracting from all the nice flavors trying to sneak past the burn. HOWEVER! I have never put water in my mezcal before. But I did with this guy and had a second go round at it. The water helped immensely with my enjoyment. I know they wouldn’t do it and I hate to even insult them the slightest bit. But proofing this down to about 47-48% really made this much better for me. All of the flavors were free of their chains and there is a wonderfully subtle oiliness to it that I didn’t feel at full proof. The smoke is soft and sweet and really tasty. So basically, out of the bottle this Espadin is high octane and a bit distracting. But a little bit of water and this became a very enjoyable mezcal that I will have again. Not my favorite but very good. Each batch is different too so I will have to try another one down the line and report back.

Cheers/Jake


Tune in next week for Mezcal Vago part II - Tio Rey!
Mezcal Month Part 1: Rey Campero!

July 12, 2016

Mezcal Month Part 1: Rey Campero!

July is Mezcal Month!!  Here's the first installment from our resident Mezcal expert, Jake Cahill, a wonderful piece about Rey Campero mezcal, a traditional Palenque in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Enjoy!

A Word About The Importer

William Scanlan is a gem. A prophet sent to us from Mayahuel herself with a great responsibility, nay pleasure to spread the word to the world about the wonders, traditions and beauty of mezcal to all of us. He is not a distiller, however he is the reason that we get access to this wonderful brand of mezcals that have been made traditionally in Mexico for a very very long time.



Rey Campero

Rey Campero is one of the few mezcals sold here in the US under the original Mexican name. Most imports are rebranded and lose valuable information about the crop and location, or "terroir", which is so important in mezcal. Rey Campero translated means “King of the Countryside”. This family has a LONG history of producing mezcal. In 1870 the family moved to a little community named Candelaria Yegole (75 Miles from Oaxaca city) and established that communities first ever Palenque (distillery). That’s over 145 years of making mezcal!!

The Brand currently sells 7 different expressions in the states. Only 2 of those are made from cultivated agave. The other 5 are all made from wild "Silvestre" agave that grow in the countryside. Each different bottling represents the name of the species of agave that's used in the mezcal: Espadin, Madre Cuishe, Cuishe, Tobala, Mexicano, Jabali and Tepextate. The plants are hand-harvested at maturity after growing anywhere from seven to eighteen years.

Process

The agave is roasted in a conical earthen pit for four to five days over a fire of fallen branches and wood found floating in the local river. It's then rested 5 days prior to milling. The milling is mule-powered (yup, mule-powered!) with the animal towing a traditional stone wheel called a Tahona around in a circle to grind out the pulp. The juice is then open-air fermented in pine vats with wild yeast. The process is completed with double distilled on hand-made copper stills and the product is bottled at full proof.

Conservation

Rey Campero is committed to the conservation and care of wild and cultivated agaves. Due to its popularity in mezcal production, the Mexicano (Rodacantha) agave is teetering on the edge of extinction. In 2013, Rey Campero planted a nursery of approximately 8,000 bulbils of the Mexicano. These 8,000 agaves were transplanted during the first rains of 2014. In 2014 Sanchez planted 10,000 additional bulbils of the same agave to be transplanted during the first rains of 2015. Then they kicked off 2015 by expanding their nursery to facilitate the planting of 5,000 more bulbils of Mexicano, 3,000 seeds of Cuishe (Karwinkski), and 1,500 seeds of Tepextate (Marmorata). They will also study the reproduction of JabalĂ­ in order to begin planting these plants in 2017. Beginning in 2017, their goal is to increase the amount of agave planted by fifteen percent every year, for the next ten years. We, not just as lovers of Mezcal but also as decent human beings, need more people doing things like this. 

Tasting Notes




Rey Campero Espadin
Varietal: Espadin cultivated 6-7 years
ABV: 48%
Produced October 2014
Bottle 1435/1678


Nose: The Nose is charged. Really aromatic. Fruity and smoky. Pineapple and white flower with the most subdued and integrated smoke. It’s characteristically very similar to sticking your nose into a glass of Alsace Gewertztraminer for all my winos out there. Its bright and tropical. Flowery and spicy. But there is this unshakable acetic smell. Like nail polish remover. In a good way though. Like how we enjoy the smell of gasoline as we fill our cars up at the station.

Palate: On the palate, the weather is exactly how the nose predicted the forecast. Super ripe tropical fruits and flowers mingle nicely while the smoke intensifies to be a bit more charred than it was on the nose. A delightful addition as opposed to a distraction (as is the case will all the best mezcal, smoke is an additional flavor but not the only one). A green note finally slips in too. Cucumber and Green Pepper. The texture is also really appealing for me too, rich and oily but light on the palate because of that fruity and ginger spicy edge. Same slight acetone/nail polish-y thing here too.

Finish: The finish is long and absolutely delicious. That oil coats your tongue and rises to the top of it as if it were separating from vinegar. Grilled pineapple with ground ginger and a neighbor grilling in the summer all linger and slowly fade off leaving my mouth feeling lonely but satisfied. Time to refill my cup and start again!



Rey Campero Mexicano
Varietal: Mexicano (wild) harvested at 10-12 years old
ABV: 48.4%
Produced October 2014
Bottle 195/954


Nose: Hell yea this smells great. Slightly green upfront with beautiful vanilla and cinnamon peaking through. Lots of baking spice coming though actually. Clove and cracked pepper. Very floral as well. Can't pin down the exact botanicals but they are delicate and pretty. Hint of soft smoke covers everything ever so slightly.

Palate: The palate is round and supple yet really exciting. Its hard to focus on one thing at a time because there is so much happening. Its like a bunch of really great jazz musicians jamming but for very short bursts of time. A little trumpet, then you catch a second of the bass just before the sax lays into a roll but all the while you hear the drums laying down the beat in the background. It’s a pleasant chaos of lavender and rose pedal, campfire and chocolate. Green pepper and olive oil. The flavors AND texture of clove being ever present. It all swirls around in a confused but happy balance.

Finish: The finish is long and quite dry. The oiliness from the palate dissipates fast and the dryness really takes over. Spicy and woody. A great but abrupt halt from all the madness of flavors from the palate. Very interesting. Like an episode of LOST, it kinda leaves you hanging and wanting more. Really like this Mezcal. Quality and super interesting. 




Rey Campero Tobala
Varietal: Tobala 13yrs (Wild) harvested at 6,000 ft in San Pedro Martir
ABV: 48.5%
Bottle 61/893


Nose: Now we are talking about some aromatic robust goodness. The nose is filled with spices and tropical fruit. Mango and pineapple smash together with a burning campfire. Oh its like smelling Puerco Al Pastor down the street. When that roasted pineapple juice drip’s down the cooked meat. Dee-lish!

Palate: Big and complex. The leading force here is the tropical fruits again, but some baked apple pie comes in. Salted caramels and clove and paprika. Smoked paprika! Great balance of smoke and florals. White peach. Really beautiful and full bodied on the palate. Texture coats and helps add nuance to the flavors big time. That slight bit of acetone that I get from their Espadin creeps back in a bit towards the end here. But in a good way.

Finish: Oily and coating at first and then dries off leaving this lingering smoked fruit hanging around for quite some time. This is the more full bodied of the three which is funny because the Tobala agave is way smaller than either Espadin or Mexicano. All that concentration of flavors and power in such a small package. This is the one you want if you’re eating with your Mezcal. Damn good.

Review

All of these Mezcals are bottles I would happily buy again. You can start with Espadin and work your way up from there, but I would rather spend the extra $40 dollars or so to get any of the wild agave expressions. When I get that soft elegant touch from the Mexicano or the bold and wild flavors from the Tobala, there's no doubt it was worth digging a touch further into my pocket.

Dixeebe and Cheers!  /Jake
James MacArthur's Fine Malt Selection Caol Ila 14 Year

June 30, 2016

James MacArthur's Fine Malt Selection Caol Ila 14 Year

For a weekend in the country with friends and family we wanted a nice lightly peated malt for porch-top sipping at sunset. Digging through our bunker for something interesting, we found this independent bottling of Caol Ila from James MacArthur.

We couldn't find a lot of information about James MacArthur other than that they were founded in 1982 and produce uncolored and un-chill-filtered (yay!) limited release private case bottles.  This Caol Ila is from the lower proof line (43%) which seemed appropriate for our summer drinking plans, and comes from a sherry cask. Peated malt matured in sherry has always been a favorite. So far so good. 


Caol Ila is perhaps not as esteemed as some of their Islay neighbors like Laphoaig, Lagavulin, or Ardbeg, however they're one of our favorites. Perhaps it's this lack of acclaim that makes it a bit easier to track down interesting expressions and older releases. We picked this one up a few years ago for around $50. These independent bottlings of Caol Ila are pretty easy to come by if you keep an eye out and always fun to experiment with.



Tasting Notes

Nose: Simple and pleasant nose dominated by ocean scents. Sea air, mossy rocks, and light waves of peat. There's some sweet citrus - lemon meringue perhaps, and some vegetal notes like putty and hay. Very mellow nose with just the right amount of peat for sipping neat.

Palate: Very nice balance here with a mid-thick mouth-feel leaving a nice oil on the tongue. The peat fits in nicely with the sweetness and spirit warmth. More tropical fruits come out like a hint of mango and peach, and also some nice complexity of vanilla, white chocolate, and a little spice.

Finish: Mid-length finish, it's still a peater, but it's extremely smooth and leaves just a brush of smoke on the throat with honey and lemons lingering on the tongue.





Review

This was a totally pleasant if not altogether remarkable malt. We'd buy this bottle again. It's a great Islay for people who aren't committed peat junkies like us. You can pass this around to your relatives without worrying about scalding their palates with an assault of ashtray Islay goodness. It has enough age to show maturity, enough sherry to bring forward a good sweet balance to the smoke, and a very solid mouth-feel and finish to complete the package.  Should you go hunting after this bottle to the ends of the earth? No. Should you pick it up if you happen to see it around? Yes.

Happy Drinking!  Cheers/SB

Lagavulin Feis Ile 2013

June 21, 2016

Lagavulin Feis Ile 2013

For the past two weeks we've been sipping some highly indulgent bottles, limited edition releases from Islay's annual spring festival Feis Ile. Caol Ila's 2015 Feis Ile bottle was a real treat, combining grace and fire with a powerful seventeen year cask strength offering. Lagavulin's 24-year Feis Ile release was simply mind-blowing, combining huge gentle peat smoke warmth with an incredibly sophisticated and elegant flavor profile.

This week, our friend Al Pop came to town to see the Belmont Stakes. I took him and his son Brock to Koreatown for some Bibimbap. And of course he had a whiskey surprise up his sleeve - Lagavulin Feis Ile 2013. Sweet! So why not continue our Feis Ile reviews and dive in. 



Tasting Notes

Nose: Distinctly sweeter than the 2015, it's starts with leather, smoke, and honey. Vegetal aromas follow like okra or fresh cut green beans. Then it tails off with pink peppercorns and rock salt. It's actually quite similar to the 2015 overall but with a more sweet fruit-forward character.

Palate: OMG Yum!  (ok perhaps that was less than professional, but damn this is good). It's got a huge mouth feel with some signature Lagavulin elements. The smoke and sea air are there. The little pops of citrus and melon. The old men's club stuff like creaky leather and tobacco are here big time. It's definitely got more punch than the 24 year, which is kind of awesome.

Finish: Extremely well balanced finish with lingering smoke, strawberry jam, and tobacco.



Head to Head with Lagavulin Feis Ile 2015

What a privilege to be able to taste these two beauties head to head. They're both just top top quality malts. The 2013 is sweeter, but also has more heat with a little spirit burn. The 2015 is pure elegance with perfect balance and no burn at all. But there's also something nice about the younger bottle, it's got more of the fire, a stronger finish, and definitely a more rounded taste with the additional sherry influence. We'd have to go with the 2015 as the winner, but these are both gems.

Cheers/SB


Continuing our vicarious trip to Islay - Caol Ila Feis Ile 2015!!!

June 3, 2016

Continuing our vicarious trip to Islay - Caol Ila Feis Ile 2015!!!

We've been sobbing ourselves to sleep thinking about how we're missing ANOTHER Feis Ile - the annual spring festival in Islay, Scotland where all our favorite distilleries celebrate another year with music, food, and malt malt malt.  One day we'll get there!!

Oh well, we are consoling ourselves by popping open some gems that have been patiently waiting on the shelf at SmokyBeast headquarters.  Last week we corked the mighty Lagavulin Feis Ile 2015, a truly magnificent 24-year old beauty that set the bar just impossibly high for what a subtle old smoky beast can deliver.  Today we're sampling the sister bottle, Caol Ila's 2015 Feis Ile release.


Caol Ila's offering, hand picked by distillery manager David Wood, is younger than Lagavulin's release. It's a seventeen year expression distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2015. It's cask strength, bottled at a whopping 57.3 ABV. It's triple matured, barreled in American oak, Moscatel (Spanish sherry) casks, and finally in "old oak puncheons". We're not sure what that last one means except that they're old and a puncheon is a very large barrel. They're about 150 gallons or three times the size of a standard whisky barrel.  Are the "American Oak" ex-bourbon barrels? Is it possible that they took these bourbon casks and some sherry casks and dumped them together into the large puncheons for additional aging?  Unclear, but that would make sense... In any case, we love Caol Ila 18, with the only gripe being that it's proofed down to 43%. So if this is similar juice at cask strength then let's get this party started.




Tasting Notes

Nose:  Wow again this nose is extremely delicate. First we get salted cashew nuts. Then cologne. Then sea air. Meyer lemons start to emerge with some tangy citrus notes. Then it wraps up sweet like that gooey honeyed crust on a lemon cake. The smoke is like a dark canvas on which all these flavors sit, definitely not in your face, but ever present.

Palate: Very subtle palate.  Are you kidding me, this is 114.6 proof????  That has to be a typo. But no, the flavor is there. Still, damn, it's just so smooth. We've maybe never tasted an Islay malt this smooth at this high a proof. You'd be crazy to add water. The palate pulls you right in with some lovely wood and leather notes, more of that gooey lemon cake, and a delightful mouth feel that's just a perfect thickness.

Finish: It's not a barn-burner. The finish just has great balance with the smoke fading slowly into some honeyed cough drops, pears, and lemons. There's absolutely no bite, just none, even upon freshly opening the bottle, the first sip is incredibly smooth out of the gate.

Couldn't help going back for another splash on this one. The smoke and power actually come out as the bottle opens up. This is surprising, usually cask strength whiskies can be harsh at first and then open up smooth. This one almost reverses it with a very smooth entry and then more fire and smoke coming out while it opens up in the glass. This is not a bad thing. The power and flavor increase as well and the whole experience is very welcome. The finish particularly gets longer and more satisfying with a big wad of peat smoke rolling around your mouth many minutes after the last sip is gone.


Review

Caol Ila is quickly becoming one of our favorite malts. It's got all the beautiful beastly smoke of the big boys like Ardbeg and Laphroaig, but while those brands can sometimes be overly phenolic and have some of that "ashtray" quality, Caol Ila has kind of signature warmth and smoothness. It's probably the most like Lagavulin in that respect, which is still our all time favorite.

We were so ready to be let down by this bottle. Last week's review of the Lagavulin 24 year was absolutely mind blowing. This one is not nearly as old, coming in at a paltry seventeen years old. And, well, it's not Lagavulin. But it's really just damn good. It's got everything we look for in an Islay malt. Balance, warmth, smoothness, big smoke (after another dram it's definitely smokier than the Lag), a hefty sense of a seaside campfire with salty ocean spray mixing with rich smoke, and delicious sweetness mixing in. A superb treat. We've had thirty year old cask strength Caol Ila's before, and they're awesome, but this may well be the best expression we've tasted yet from this fantastic distillery.

Another dream dram here which makes us both happy and doubly sad we still haven't made the mecca to Islay.  Next year my friend, in the Hebrides!
The Long Awaited Pop of that Lagavulin Feis Ile 2015

May 20, 2016

The Long Awaited Pop of that Lagavulin Feis Ile 2015

Ever have a best friend that you've never met, never spoken to, never emailed or texted?  That's how we feel about Thomas and Ansgar Speller, fellow bloggers who write WhiskySpeller about their travels and tastings around the world. How did the Spellers capture such favor? Well they know the key to a beasts heart: vintage Lagavulin. Thomas and Ansgar went to last year's Feis Ile (Islay's annual spring festival) and sent us a bottle of Lagauvlin's limited release Feis Ile 2015.



Feis Ile happens the last week of May. All week long, one day is dedicated to a specific Islay distillery. They open their doors with tours, parties, music and tastings. Malt whisky fanatics from all over the world come to celebrate the beauty that is Islay. It's also become tradition for each distillery to offer a limited release festival bottling. These are small batch releases of casks hand-picked by the distillery managers. They're often served up uncolored, at cask strength, and have some special characteristics like age or maturation. If that doesn't make your eyes light up, then we're just not speaking the same language.


We haven't been to Islay yet. It's in the cards, but with a 4.5 year old at home it's not so easy to hop over for a week of sipping malt, sleeping in a charming B&B, and watching the waves at Port Ellen. Just writing about it brings a tear to my eye. We'll get there. 

That's why when our bottle from last year's festival arrived, we were excited. Excited doesn't even really cover it. Ecstatic? Giddy? Something like that. As you know if you're a fan of SmokyBeast, Lagavulin is our first and still greatest love when it comes to whisky. And we'd never tasted one of their special limited release Feis Ile bottlings.


The 2015 Feis Ile bottle was a very special run, even by Feis Ile standards. Iain McArthur, Lag's legendary warehouse manager of 40 years, chose extra aged casks for a twenty-four year release that came in at a whopping 59.9% ABV. This will be the oldest, and the strongest Lag we've ever tasted.  in summary: Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy!!!!!

We were so excited that we let the bottle sit on our shelf and gazed longingly at it for almost a whole year. It was like an unspoken pact that we would save it for a special occasion. Well almost a year later, with Feis Ile 2016 coming up next week, this seemed like as good an occasion as any.  



Tasting Notes

Nose: The peat is so subtle in the nose here it's all rose petals and heath and lavender. There's a healthy punch of saddle leather and expensive men's cologne. It tails off with a little more smoke, and some melons - cantaloupes and honeydew.

Palate: It opens up and shows its Islay roots in the palate with a big thick mouthfeel of peat and honey. More melons, apricots.  It's so integrated, the peat and the spirit and the sweetness are all wrapped up into a perfect balance.

Finish: Compared to the cask strength 12-year this is a very subtle finish. It's not a fire-breather by any means. The tongue is coated in honey and the smoke rests at the top of the palate drifting up into the nostrils.

Conclusion

It's just superb. At almost 120 proof we expected this to be a ripper, but it's just the opposite. It's a super mellow well balanced whiskey that hits all the right notes. It pulls you in with sweetness and florals before rewarding you with the desired smoke. We felt this one was just perfect with about two eyedropper drops of water (room temperature spring water of course) per ounce. The tiny bit of water opens it up beautifully and it's just a killer dram. Real desert island stuff here, probably in the top ten malts we've reviewed on the site.  A big SmokyBeast "A"!