Blood Oath Pact No. 4 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

Another year, another Blood Oath bourbon release from Luxco. And another year where I find myself desperately, frantically searching for some blood oath related factoid or anecdote to help ease us into the review. You just can’t dive right in, immediately bleating on about mashbills and cask types – that fails to set any kind of mood. You what doesn’t fail to set the mood? MANOWAR!

That’s right – Manowar! As you can tell by their conservative attire and happy-go-lucky demeanor, Manowar is a longstanding heavy metal institution that’s made a name for themselves by oiling up, wearing Medieval bathing suits and singing bombastic songs about Norse gods and probably casual swordplay. I mention Manowar not because they’re big bourbon fans, though I mean, they might be. Hell, you wouldn’t catch me slathering on the baby oil, hutching up some tighty-whities and sticking my hand in mangy pelt without having a couple first. No, I mention the band, because they are rumored to have signed one of their record contracts…in blood. There’s a picture of the event, but it seemed a little off-putting to add that here right before discussing some delicious whiskey. And yeah, a contact might not be quite the same thing as an oath, but I think we can all agree that when you sign a contract in blood, that contract pretty much becomes an oath right there on the spot.

So now that we’ve gotten my yearly mention of some kind of blood oath out of the way, we can get to the whiskey. Blood Oath Pact No. 4 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is, as the name implies, the fourth pact in this limited annual series released by Luxco. This time around, the expression has been made up of three bourbons: A 12 year old bourbon and a 10 year old bourbon, and then a 9 year old bourbon that’s been finished in barrels that were toasted rather than charred. Bottled at a sanguine and body temp-ish 98.6 proof, the fourth Blood Oath once again features some fairly brilliant packaging thanks to David Cole Creative. This limited edition was a relatively large edition, with 36,000 bottles landing on those harder-to-reach shelves.

The Nose:  Quite sweet on the nose with an almost candied edge to it. Lots of honey, orange juice and a bit of orange crush soda, dusty marshmallows right out of the bag, and banana creme pie. Behind that, peanut M&M’s, Good n’ Plenty candies and just a hint of sharp rye. On the wood and spice end of things, there’s shellacked oak (and I should know as I’ve shellacked a fair amount of oak) that’s a little solvent-y along with warm cinnamon, vanilla bean, star anise, and a little nutmeg.

The Palate:  Slightly oily mouthfeel with much of the continued sweetness from the nose. There’s also some cherry cough syrup with the honey and juicy orange now. After that, I found dark chocolate, toasted grains, candied nuts, and a hint of tobacco leaf. Strong, tannic oak notes lead to the finish with vanilla bean, clove, nutmeg, star anise, and black pepper.

The Finish:  Some briefly lingering residual dark sugars give way to moderately grippy oak, fine ground pepper, clove, and star anise.

Thoughts:  This is pretty darn good, but I don’t think it’s as good as the pretty darn excellent Pact 2 and Pact 3 Blood Oaths I’ve tried. I enjoyed the sweetness of this one but felt it was missing a bit of both the mashbill and the oak. The sweet, candied profile needed a bit more balance on the nose for me. The palate fared better, but, tasting them side by side, I think I prefer the Blood Oaths when there’s a more complex blend of grains involved. This remains a beautifully packaged whiskey that’s definitely enjoyable. It also remains a fairly pricey whiskey (~$100) when one considers how big the limited edition really is.

Blood Oath Pact No. 4 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, +/-2018

49.3% ABV

Score:  85


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Plantation Five Year Old Barbados Rum – Review

The first, but definitely not last look at rum for the Casks. I’m starting on the low and  readily available end of things and (slowly) working my way up from there…

The Plantation line of rums is part of the Maison Ferrand family, a well-regarded spirits house that also includes Pierre Ferrand Cognac and Citadelle Gin among others. Maison Ferrand has not always been a this well-regarded spirits house however. In fact, according to company legend, towards the end of the 80’s, Maison Ferrand was an old, established cognac producer which had pretty much halted production and was more or less just sitting on a fair amount of maturing stock. The founder, owner and CEO of today’s Maison Ferrand, Alexandre Gabriel, met with the Ferrand family in 1989, and partnered with them in an effort to bring more of their maturing stock to market and to reimagine the brand and restart production. Gabriel accomplished this by introducing a French gin (Citadelle), and creating the Pierre Ferrand line.

The Plantation line of rums began life in 2003 when Gabriel’s trips to the Caribbean sparked an interest in the local spirit. He began this foray by being an independent bottler, buying up stocks, transporting them back to France for finishing or further maturation, and creating a line that ranged from very accessible to very limited. In 2017, Maison Ferrand purchased Barbados’ West Indies Rum Distillery along with a 1/3 stake in Jamaica’s Long Pond Distillery. These two iconic distilleries were the first located outside of France purchased by the company, giving the Plantation line a lot of long term stability as well as the ability to sell rum to others looking for sourced and/or contracted spirit..

The Plantation Five Year Old Barbados Rum is, as its name strongly suggests, a five year old blended rum from Barbados. It’s hard to miss this on the shelf as the squat bottle covered in a loose lattice of straw or raffia has fairly awesome, if not a little yo-ho-ho stereotypical, look. This one has been aged in American oak barrels on Barbados for three to four years before being shipped all the way to France to mature for one to two more years in French Oak ex-Cognac casks.

Being new to the rum world, I’m not quite up to date on all the heated issues that serious rum fiends like to get their undies in a bundle over. Apparently, one of the more contentious subjects is the addition of sugar, flavorings, and colorings. There is very little regulation to rum and its labeling, so it’s not as easy as it should be to know exactly what’s in a bottle. Plantation seems to be, refreshingly, one of the few that openly admit and support the addition of sugar. In their case, they prefer the Cognac/Champagne term dosage. They claim a bit of sugar brightens up a rums flavor profile. As a neophyte, I don’t really have much thought on the subject past that. Obviously, I’d prefer it if booze companies would insist on being totally honest and transparent for the consumer’s sake, but there’s about as much chance of that happening as…well, there’s pretty much no fucking chance of that happening.

The Nose:  Bright and sweet, but not cloying. Lots of complex sugars; creamy caramels, light molasses, moist brown sugar, and hints of hard butterscotch candy and vanilla cream soda. Behind that, pineapple juice, raw coconut flesh, and juicy oranges. There’s a bit of dried grass in the background, and relatively subtle but sturdy oak notes, with bright, hot cinnamon, and vanilla bean.

The Palate:  Very nice, viscous mouthfeel with many of those same sugars from the nose; caramel sauce, vanilla syrup, juicy citrus, and simple syrup. Mid palate there are subtle notes of darker molasses, candied almonds, and sweet, baked plantains. The grassiness is a bit more leather-bound here, making it feel older than it is. Again, subtle, integrated oak, nicely tannic, with a handful of spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, peppercorns, and a hint of star anise

The Finish: That heady sweetness mostly fades quick leaving more citrus and oak to linger. It’s lightly peppery, with a little cinnamon, and a bit of barrel char at the last.

Thoughts:  I’m pretty sure I chose wisely in this initial jump into the rum pool. It was hard to find a single reason to be disappointed with this one. Is it sweet? Yes, appealingly so, but it manages to stop short of being overly so. But while the relatively straight-forward, non-funky flavor profile is mostly all about the complex sugar sweetness, there’s a decent balancing counterpoint of earthiness, oak, and spice. Smooth and easy drinking, the low ABV (and added sugar?) helps round off some expected sharper edges, while the mouth-watering finish makes it hard to put the glass down. While there are obviously better rums out there, it’s hard to imagine a better rum value than this one. With a price ranging from $17-$20, the Plantation 5 Year Old is a steal. Along with the Appleton Estate Signature Blend, this is a great, affordable introduction to aged rums, and a good-looking bottle that will probably grace my bar on a regular basis.

How I was I drinking it? I’ve actually been enjoying the hell out of this neat in a Glencairn glass or over ice in a tumbler. It also makes a wonderful, bright, citrus-y dark rum daiquiri (see below). I’m guessing it would be a very good choice for Tiki drinks calling for dark rum. The oak and spice make it a fun rum to play with in other brown spirit cocktails as well.

Plantation Five Year Old Barbados Rum, Blended Rum, Barbados, +/-2017

40% ABV

Dark Rum Daiquiri (by way of Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Simon Difford)

  • 2 1/2 oz aged rum
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup or Demerara syrup
  • Shake it with some ice, strain it into a glass, do something creative with a bit lime peel for a garnish.

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Claxton’s 2006 Linkwood 11 Year Old – Review

Sincere thanks to Raj and Glass Revolution Imports for the sample.

Here we have a case of the very old and the very young. Representing the old, Speyside’s Linkwood distillery traces its history back to 1821, when it was built by a man named Peter Brown. The distillery stayed with the Brown family until the late 1890’s when other investors came on board to create the Linkwood Glenlivet Distillery Company. In 1933, the company was sold to Scottish Malt Distillers, which was shortly after sold to Distillers Company Limited. Distillers Company Ltd. of course went through several business-y permutations over the years and, more or less, is known today as Diageo.

Today’s Linkwood is quite different from ye olde Linkwood of yore. In 1971, a new distillery was built next to the old one. The two plants then became known as Linkwood A and Linkwood B. In 1985, Linkwood A (the old one) was mothballed, firing up sporadically between 1990 and 1996 when it closed for good. Between 2011 and 2013, Linkwood A was finally torn down, with its two stills moved over to Linkwood B. Today, as part of Diageo, Linkwood is a top-20 producer in terms of capacity, with nearly all its output is used in blends. The distillery has long had a reputation of being an excellent blender’s malt, and therefore doesn’t really get out much on its own. Other than a small handful of official releases and the occasional independent bottling, you just don’t see it around a lot, which, given its excellent reputation, seems a shame.

Representing the young part of this review is the new independent bottler named Claxton’s which was founded just a couple of years ago in 2016. Based in the town of Ripon which is north of Leeds, the location of the greatest live rock and roll recording in human history, Claxton’s is a small, family owned bottler that has quickly made a bit of name for itself. Their bottles have only recently reached US shores thanks to Glass Revolution Imports. This Claxton’s 2006 Linkwood 11 Year Old was released in the fall of 2017. It was aged in a ex-bourbon hogshead and has been bottled non-chill filtered with no added color. No added color…hell, this one barely has any color at all. Even at 11 years old, this is a surprisingly pale malt…

The Nose:  A fresh, distillate-forward nose. Lots of complex honey, floral and on the lighter side, with lemon curd, Pink Lady apples, and hint of butterscotch. There are nice toasted barley notes here, as well as crisp, green, slightly herbaceous untoasted barley notes. Subtle bready notes as well – think buttered English muffin with drizzled with honey. The oak is mostly subdued, clean damp boards, with vanilla bean and a little allspice. A couple of drops of water plays up the herbal, grassy spirit character, but also amps up some youthful heat.

The Palate:  Really nice, viscous mouthfeel. More fruit and sugar notes on the palate; cotton candy, honey crisp apples, orange blossom honey and peach lambic. Candied almonds and pecans, toasted grain, and cocoa nibs lead to more oak and spice than the nose. Slightly tannic, sanded oak with vanilla bean, clove, and allspice. Adding a bit of water brings out more peppery, sharply tannic wood notes.

The Finish:  The finish brings it all back together – herbal honey and grain, spiced fruit, lightly grippy wood, and a subtle burnt sugar bitterness.

Thoughts:  Deceptively good and intriguingly complex. The pale color and relatively young age had me thinking this would be perhaps an edgy youngster. The nose initially confirmed some of that suspicion with its strongish distillate quality, but it was also very smooth and refined. The palate was a bit more lively and brash, but still had a surprisingly lush richness to it. While there’s a bit of a disconnect between the nose and palate, the finish integrated everything nicely – the herbal grain, floral honey, complex fruit and subtle oak influence. To be honest, this was so easy drinking and enjoyable at strength, I almost forgot to add a little water – it really does not need it. A very nice single cask bottling from a distillery I wish we saw more of on its own. Definitely Recommended.

Claxton’s 2006 Linkwood 11 Year Old, Speyside, IB, +/-2017

52.8% ABV

Score:  86


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Cotswolds Dry Gin, Batch #01/2017 – Review

Here in Minneapolis, an April 15th snowstorm dumped around a foot of the frozen white stuff on us, pretty much crushing the souls of those who long for spring and summer. Just between you and me, I’d be fine with Winter being a year-round endeavor, but that’s not a popular position to take, so I try to keep that under my hat. That said, I’m happy to report that, a month or so later, we’re plunging headlong into 90 degree days. I’m excited to see some things grow out of the ground and to have the color green dominate the landscape for at least a few months. So, in the spirit of Spring finally springing, here’s another look at a spirit that’s so well-suited for the warmer months…gin.

The Cotswolds Dry Gin was, predictably, the first product released by the Cotswolds Distillery, with the first round being released in the Fall of 2014. As with their single malt, Cotswolds is relatively transparent and open about their gin’s process and ingredients, giving those of us who are interested in such minutia, a glimpse into what makes their product unique. Their Dry Gin is more or less in the London dry style of gins, but has a slightly more “artisan” feel about it compared to ubiquitous, mass-produced London dry gins like Beefeater or Tanqueray. Cotswolds begins with a wheat-based, neutral grain spirit (NGS) from Hayman’s. You may well ask, “as a craft distiller, why aren’t they making their own NGS?” And I may well answer, “I don’t know, go ask them yourself!” Or I might answer by saying there are several reasons why a smaller distillery might opt to use someone else’s base spirit. One, it’s expensive. Getting a distillate up to NGS’s 95-96% abv range is a costly, intensive process, and many smaller producers probably feel it’s more cost-effective to source the stuff. Two, by definition, neutral grain spirit is supposed to be…well, neutral. When distilled to such a high proof, a great deal of flavor has been stripped out, providing rectifiers and blenders a relatively blank canvas to work with. So, I suppose that smaller distilleries, even ones seeking to express some kind of terroir, might consider the payoff from making their own NGS is not worth the effort. Not having ever sampled this kind of neutral grain spirits, I cannot speak to the differences between, say, a wheat based one and a corn-based one, but there are those who insist those subtle differences make a difference.*

Ok, enough about neutral grain spirits already. Once Cotswolds gets the high-proof stuff in their hands, they begin the flavoring process. Their Dry Gin uses nine botanicals, starting with Juniper, Angelica Root and Coriander seed, which are macerated for a period of time before the other ingredients are added. They opt for fresh lime peels and grapefruit zest instead of the more commonly used dried because of the more flavorful oils found in the fresh fruit. The remaining four botanicals used are cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, bay leaf, and locally produced lavender. The distillery claims to use ten times the amount of botanicals most other gin producers use. Once distilled, Cotswolds adds only water to lower the proof, making theirs a “single-shot” gin as opposed to a “multi-shot” gin which has more NGS added after distillation to reach the flavor profile, and is then proofed down with water. Multi-shot production is another production method more commonly associated with the large-scale production brands like Beefeater. Lastly, Cotswolds Dry Gin is non-chill-filtered, which means the final product hasn’t lost any flavor in a vain effort to always appear as clear as possible. Once you add a little water or ice to this one, you get a very pleasant, cloudy, absinthe-like “louche.”

The Nose:  I don’t really think of a gin being lush and rounded, but the nose on this is very lush and rounded. Lots of citrus upfront, juicy lime, pulpy grapefruit, a bit of key lime, and pithy navel orange. All that citrus is balanced by earthy notes of soft juniper and green pinecones – though the juniper is not the dominant player here. The Angelica root and coriander add to the herbaceous side of things, with the lavender and cardamom adding a subtle, soft floral layer over it all.

The Palate:  Straight, this has a slightly weighty, creamy mouthfeel. The bright, fresh citrus notes pick right up from the nose – mostly sugared lime slices and orange peels, with the grapefruit being a bit more subdued. There’s a little more juniper influence here, but it’s still coming in a close second to all that citrus. Stronger notes of cardamom join the Angelica root and coriander, again helping to balance it all. Black pepper begins to make an appearance towards to finish along with a faint, welcome hint of Eucalyptus oil.

The Finish:  Ah, there’s the black pepper! Along with the earthier spices and juniper, the pepper creates a long mouth-watering finish.

Thoughts:  Fairly tremendous stuff. While this has roots in the london Dry style, its citrus-forward, herbaceous flavor profile truly set it apart. The citrus is bright, fresh and complex, while the Juniper, Angelica root, and coriander make for an earthy counterpoint. This progresses quite nicely, with the pepper and bay leaf making late appearances to keep one wanting more. The flavors are bold, yet balanced and complex, making this feel like a spirit that does not necessarily need to be in a cocktail to be thoroughly enjoyed. Hell, I enjoyed this a few times just neat in a glass. Of course, that same quality also meant that I found it a bit more challenging to use in cocktails. At around $35-$45, this definitely carries a “craft spirit” price tag, but it is also a clearly superior spirit to those less expensive, more ubiquitous gins.

As gin is usually a cocktail spirit, here’s how I thought this one held up in a trio of classic drinks…

In a Gin & Tonic:  This makes pretty terrific G&T’s. While perhaps not quite as crisp and sharp as ones made with more juniper forward gins, this is more complex than I usually think of this drink being. The citrus and juniper handle the sweetness well while the herbal notes compliment the bitter quinine, giving it a subtle, peppery kick.

In a Martini:  Admittedly, Martini’s are not my favorite cocktails. The Cotswold’s Dry Gin makes a pretty stunning Martini. The citrus and juniper come through cleanly with the vermouth amping up the herbal notes to make a lush, complex drink. It’s doesn’t hurt that the unfiltered “louche” makes it nice to look at as well.

In a Negroni:   Thanks to its flavor profile, this works pretty well in a Negroni, but also needs a little tweaking past the usual 1:1:1 recipe. The complexity makes it a little harder to balance the three ingredients. I found cutting back on the Campari a bit, and upping the gin helped balance all the citrus notes and let the more herbal side of the Cotswolds play with the vermouth more noticeably.

Cotswolds Dry Gin, Batch #01/2017, +/- 2017

46% ABV

If you’re interested in reading more about neutral grain spirits, and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be interested in reading more about Neutral grain spirits, I found this article very helpful.


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Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky – 2014 Odyssey Barley, Batch #2 – Review

*Sincere thanks to Cotswolds Distillery for the sample.

Founded in 2014 by a former financier, Cotswolds Distillery is located in one of the UK’s wonderfully named “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.” The Cotswolds District is full of rolling hills and charming looking villages built with the distinctive, honey-toned Cotswold stone, an oolitic Jurassic Limestone known to be the most pompous and rudely dismissive of all Jurassic Limestones. From the beginning, it seems apparent that this venture has been well-funded and dedicated to taking its time to do things traditionally and with great expertise. To help get it off the ground the distillery enlisted two Scotch industry veterans, Harry Cockburn, a former Bowmore master distiller, and the late, legendary Dr. Jim Swan.

Cotswolds is refreshingly upfront and open about their sources and their production processes. They’re committed to using only barley that’s grown in the Cotswolds region. The locally grown barley is then malted off-site at Warminster Maltings, LTD. which claims to be the UK’s oldest working maltings. Warminster also does things the old-fashioned way, they still hand-turn and floor-malt all their barley, providing a range of grains for both craft brewing and craft distilling.

Along with their locally sourced ingredients, Cotswold’s fermentation and distillation processes have some out-of-the-ordinary aspects as well. To produce their wash, they uses two strains of yeast and a relatively long fermentation time. Most Scotch distilleries use a fermentation time of that falls somewhere in the range of 48 to 80 hours. Shorter fermentation times are very cost-effective but longer fermentation times are where some truly incredible magic happens. Thanks to a lot of fascinating and overwhelmingly complicated chemistry involving things like autolysis, Lactobacilli, and the Ehrlich Pathway, long fermentation times produce a more complex spirit with a wider range of esters which are responsible for variety of fruity notes in an alcohol.* Dr. Swan helped Cotswolds establish a fermentation time of slightly over 90 hours. The distillery also sets itself apart once the second distilling starts, by cutting from the heads/foreshots to the hearts relatively early in the process, and then cutting from the hearts to the tails/feints rather early as well. When a second distillation starts, the initial spirit, the heads or foreshots, is a harsh, even poisonous alcohol. The heart of the run is when the spirit has the most potable, flavorful ethanol. The tails or feints mark the end of the run, when the liquid becomes hot enough to give off some heavier, unwanted flavors. As distillation progresses, the distiller will run off the heads to be used later, then will make their “cut,” keeping the hearts, and later will cut again to the tails which are also run off to be used later. Cotswolds’ early cut times, in theory, would indicate a fruity, ester-y spirit that’s potentially fairly light.

The Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky – 2014 Odyssey Barley, Batch #2, is the second batch of two that made up the largest release yet for the distillery. The Odyssey Barley part of the name refers to the variety of high-yield, hearty, locally grown barley used. The whisky was aged for a little over three years in a combination of first-fill, ex-bourbon barrels, and re-charred American oak red wine casks.

The Nose:  Definitely a young whisky, though not as rough and hot as one would expect. There’s a taut complexity here and an initially thin sweetness. Floral, almost herbal honey, dried fruitcake fruits, slightly under-ripe stone fruit and pithy orange. Crisp barley notes, both toasted and green, along with almond extract and the snap of damp linen on the line. Not surprisingly, there isn’t much oak, just a subtle hint of sanded boards with a bit of clove, young ginger, and dried vanilla bean.

The Palate:  Hottish, but with a nice oily mouthfeel. This becomes more expressively sweet as it opens up in the glass. Dark sugars and red fruits abound along with spiced orange, weaving their way throughout the palate. There’s also Jordan almonds and bittersweet chocolate, with subtler hints of malt syrup and vanilla. Stronger oak notes than the nose, slightly edgy and tannic, with allspice berries, clove and vanilla bean

The Finish:  A bit of burnt sugar, roasted almonds, ginger, clove and the subtle suggestion of dry, charcoal-y wood smoke(?!)

Thoughts:  While this is young, slightly edgy and hot…that’s to be expected, right? It’s also very drinkable, complex and full of promise. It seems to show off the grain and the distillate more than the oak, which at this point I’d think is exactly what one would want. Initially, it seemed very young and closed off, but with a bit of time in the glass, it opened up and became much more expressive. The subtle green earthiness of the nose compliments the sweeter notes and hiding behind the heat of the palate are some wonderfully rich dark fruit and cocoa bean notes. The palate, I think, is what really won me over with its mouthfeel and vibrant flavor profile. This is an impressive new distillery, and they’re making impressive new whisky, definitely one to keep an eye on. Recommended.

Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky – 2014 Odyssey Barley, Batch #2, +/- 2017

46% ABV

Score:  84

* That’s obviously a pretty gross simplification of the whole thing. If you’d like to learn more about what happens during the fermentation process, and let’s be honest here, who wouldn’t want to learn more about what happens during the fermentation process, I highly recommend starting with these two excellent articles from Chemistry of the Cocktail and Whisky Science. 


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George Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to MGP Ingredients and Gregory White PR for the sample.

The “Repeal” part of the George Remus Repeal Reserve refers to the repeal of Prohibition. The George Remus part refers of course to George Remus, the legendary, infamous bootlegger and murderer who made a huge fortune during the early part of Prohibition. By the time Repeal Day on December 5th, 1933 rolled around, Remus had pretty much lost all his money, spent far too little time in prison for a heinous crime, and had re-invented himself as an innocuous straight businessman.

Repeal Day marks the end of a colossal American social blunder. The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution repealed Prohibition’s 18th Amendment to the U.S Constitution. Today, the date has provided alcohol marketers another wonderful opportunity to romanticize an odd, occasionally violent and tragic bygone era in hopes of selling more alcohol. Ironically, there are now probably more than a few people waking up feeling miserable on the Day After Repeal Day wondering if repealing the prohibition was such a good idea in the first place.

The George Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the second bourbon released by MGP Ingredients’ George Remus brand. The first, the George Remus Straight Bourbon Whiskey, is the standard widely available bottling, while the Repeal Reserve is a more limited edition. First released at the end of 2017, this one consists of three different bourbons, a “medley” as the company calls it. Half is made up of 2005 distilled bourbon made with MGP’s 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley mashbill. Another 35% is made up of 2006 distilled bourbon with the same mashbill. The remaining 15% is a 2006 distilled bourbon made with their high rye mashbill which is 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. Some quick math would suggest that this one is made up of 11 and 12 year old bourbons. While that may well be the case, none of the official literature mentions “11 years old” or “12 years old,” instead just focusing on the year distilled. While I do find that a bit odd, I’m going to operate on the assumption that the Remus Repeal Reserve is that old because I just really don’t want to be that cynical or conspiratorial.

The Nose:  A very solid, rich nose. Warm caramel sauce, sticky figs, and orange blossom honey, along with ripe green apples and juicy tangerines. Beyond that, there’s sweet corn and vanilla ice cream, fresh-baked rye bread and a few candied nuts tossed about. The oak is strong but well-integrated – polished boards with vanilla bean, cinnamon candies, and a bit of coolish mint.

The Palate:  Fairly dry and quickly spicy. Some of the sweeter elements from the nose are still around but they’re less sugared – the caramel is now a little burnt, and the fruit a little under-ripe. The rye is much more prevalent here, toasted grain with a sharp herbal, minty quality. Nutty toffee notes and bitter baker’s chocolate lead to more complex oak notes, nicely tannic, with strong cinnamon, clove, ginger and fine ground pepper.

The Finish:  Long and spicy. Brown sugars and vanilla bean fade and leave lots of cinnamon, oak, and slightly menthol-ish mint to fade more slowly.

Thoughts:  Very good. This is well-put-together stuff with a complex and robust flavor profile. It does strike me as more grain forward and vibrant than I’d expect from a 11-12 year old bourbon, but this works that grain and vibrancy well. The palate in particular is pleasingly rugged with the strong rye notes and heady bit of oak and spice. I really love this over ice – that oak and spice holds up well and a more pronounced fruitiness comes out. As per usual, I think the $75 price tag is steep for this, but clearly I’ve lost touch with the market as I say that pretty much every review, don’t I? It’s no secret that MGP makes really good whiskey, here’s another really good example. Recommended.

George Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey, +/- 2017

47% ABV

Score:  87


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Minnesota Spirits Fest 2018

Minnesota was perhaps a little late to join the swell of craft distilleries in this country. It wasn’t until 2011, when legislation passed significantly lowering the fee to open a distillery, that the state’s own craft spirits boom finally got its fuse lit. It was about time, too as Minnesota has quite a bit to offer a homegrown distillery. With an abundance of different grains, oak for barrels, botanicals, and fruits, it’s a state full of natural resources just begging to be made into booze. Fast forward to 2018, and it seems as if the scene has reached a moment of stability; products have been developed, and are on the shelves of stores and bars, cocktail rooms are open and hopping, and some long-term goals are actually in sight or have even been met.

Which makes the timing of the recent Minnesota Spirits Fest event pretty spot on. Sixteen distilleries set up shop in the Museum of Russian Art and poured spirits and cocktails to a sold-out, presumably thirsty crowd of 300. This great event was put on by the Minnesota Distillers Guild and was sponsored by the very active, enthusiastic, and presumably very thirsty local chapter of Women Who Whiskey. The space, an old church transformed into a museum, was a novel, possibly brave choice from an art conservation standpoint, and gave the event a rather luxurious feel. I will not write at length about the basement gallery, but will say that for a good 30 minutes, I was so truly captivated by the Matryoshka exhibit that I didn’t drink a thing.

Outside of that, however, I spent a fair amount of time drinking. My overall impression of the spirits on offer was one of high quality and successful experimentation. There was a lot of local-ness happening, and not just because the stills are located in state. Those natural resources I mentioned earlier are definitely living up to their boozy potential. Rather than rambling on and on, and getting overly verbose and long-winded and garrulous, I’m just going to mention, in no particular order, a few of the many highlights of the evening…

  • Isanti Spirits‘ Tilted Cedars Gin is always a pleasure, as is their Rye and Sunken Bobber Bourbon. Isanti’s Rick Schneider was excited to point out that his bourbon is now a straight bourbon and both whiskeys are being matured only in full-sized barrels.
  • Dampfwerk Distillery’s absolutely beautiful bottles are full of relatively fresh interpretations of old world brandies and liqueurs, including the standout Helgolander, a medicinal German-style bitter, and the surprising Rabbit in the Rye, a spiced, herbal treat built on a sourced Tennessee whiskey base.
  • Twin Spirits Distillery’s Mamma’s Moonshine is a fairly novel spirit distilled from honey that offered a clean, subtle, smooth take on its base ingredient. Very exciting to learn that owner and distiller Michelle Winchester has been experimenting with several different woods with which to age this one.
  • Du Nord Craft Spirits’ Fitzgerald Gin is their flavorful, macerated take on the London dry style. I also had the chance to try a nearly straight-from-the-barrel, un-labeled bourbon that was pretty damn bold and heralded good things to come as did the news that owner and head distiller Chris Montana is planning on experimenting with some very unusual grains in the near future.
  • I’ll refrain from making any “holy spirit” type jokes…

    Far North Spirits has been a consistent leader in this nascent movement. Along with their excellent estate-grown, grain to glass gins and ryes, they have just bottled their first bourbon, the Bødalen, a vibrant, high-rye balancing act of good distillate and youthful oak.

  • Duluth’s Vikre Distillery has a trio of really good, really interesting gins lead by their Boreal Cedar Gin. They also have Emily Vikre, their co-founder and “arbiter of taste.” In addition to presiding over the many spirits made at Vikre, Emily has created a line of blended whiskey called Honor Brand. The first release, Hay & Sunshine, is an interesting, well-put-together mix of bourbon, Scotch, and Rye.
  • The Brother Justus Whiskey Company is named after a Benedictine monk who reputedly lived in Stearns County, MN during Prohibition and helped many a farmer-turned-moonshiner make their stills. This newish distillery has been flying under the radar and has only surfaced very recently. Their Minnesota-grown single malt spirit was surprisingly, pleasantly, sweet and smooth.

All in all, this was an excellent event, a perfect snapshot of where craft distilling is at in the state. It was obviously good to see so many people enthusiastic about home-grown spirits. It was also great to see the camaraderie between the distilleries; there’s a lot of mutual support and admiration happening which can only benefit the scene. I’m definitely looking forward to this becoming an ever-evolving, yearly showcase.