...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Single Malt Report: Blair Athol 25 year old Van Wees cask 6918

Blair Athol!  Woo hoo!

Seriously, I'm excited to try this whisky.  It'll be my second Blair Athol in five days.  Before this weekend I had tried a grand total of zero Blair Athols.  I'm also a fan of the Dutch indie bottler, Van Wees.  They've released two casks of 1988 Blair Athol, both of which are beloved by the whiskybase community.  I think I just missed out on getting this one.  Luckily for me, My Annoying Opinions bought it and I was able to get a sample of it in return for an empty bottle of Duggan's Dew.  We'll be doing simultaneous reviews again today.  And here's the link to his review!

Distillery: Blair Athol
Independent Bottler: van Wees (The Ultimate)
Age: 25 years (October 21, 1988 - February 10, 2014)
Maturation: Refill sherry butt
Cask number6918
Limited bottling: 712
Region: Highlands (Central)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

NEAT
The color is a rosy dark gold.  The nose has some musty moldy sherry that reminds me of my '70s Johnnie Walker Black Label.  There's definitely something mossy in there too, though the distillery supposedly uses only unpeated Glen Ord malt.  There's some dry tobacco and hay.  Herbal notes range from rosemary to oregano to mint.  Something vegetal peeks up, something between green peppers and cucumber.  Maybe some smoked prunes and carob, too.  It's very intense considering the ABV.  The palate is toasty, earthy, and a little smoky.  Notes of toffee, black peppercorns, and apple juice arise as well.  Big sticky sherry and a wormwood-like bitterness grow with time.  The sweetness curls up at the end.  The long and vivid finish holds rich sherry, tobacco, black coffee, and milk chocolate.  The bitterness lessens slightly and some meyer lemon sweetness arises.

WITH WATER
With just a few drops of water, the nose slips away, either tightening or closing or evaporating.  There's still some sherry in there.  Fresh basil and mint.  Maybe some floral notes.  The palate is still toasty and sherried.  Less sweet, more herbs.  Slightly soapy.  The finish is much shorter.  A slight sweetness meets a slighter bitterness.  Plenty of sherry.

This hit the spot.  I loved the busy nose and the bright & bitter palate is how I prefer sherried stuff.  Water did it no favors, so I recommend it neat.  I'm still convinced this was somehow lightly peated.  Maybe the refill cask spent its first Scottish life in Islay?  The quality of this whisky makes me wonder how many other good Blair Athol casks escaped Diageo's claws and are hiding inside independent warehouses?

Availability - Might be sold out
Pricing - was $90ish, ex-VAT, before shipping (not a bad price considering the age)
Rating - 89

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Single Malt Report: Caol Ila 12 year old 1999 Gordon & MacPhail

In contrast to yesterday's post, I don't have a dozen introductory paragraphs for this whisky.  There are too few Caol Ila reviews on this site and even fewer G&M reviews.  I must get to work on that.  This sample was obtained via a swap with My Annoying Opinions.  And guess what?  We're posting simultaneously on this same whisky bottle right now!  And......here's the link to his review.

MAO's bottle
Distillery: Caol Ila
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Series: Cask Strength Collection
Age: 12 years (August 17, 1999 - September 19, 2011)
Maturation: first fill sherry cask
Cask number305326
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 61.6%

NEAT
The color is medium gold.  In the nose, yep, definitely some sulphur up this sherry butt.  While it's there, it's not a dealbreaker since it just provides one of many elements.  There's a Fritos note, but I'm thinking that's connected to the sulphur as well.  Then there's bacon, fresh plums, honey, and nutty sherry.  Sounds like a party.  That's followed by old sweat and urine.  Sounds like a party.  On the palate, the sulphur reads as struck matches, gunpowder, and rock salt.  Then there's soil, ham, sneaker peat, chlorine, and cotton shirt.  It goes sweet → salty.  The finish has the sulphur and peat moss, chlorine and a light sweetness.  After a while, a big sherry burst erupts.

WITH WATER (approx. 46% ABV)
The nose is actually very similar and keeps its vibrancy.  Some more sherry, anise, dirt, and hay have crept in.  The sulphur note is a lot like spent paper caps.  Still has the Fritos note, which has combined with wood smoke.  Also urine.  The palate has changed a bit.  Burnt grasses and herbs.  More moss.  Same gunpowder.  Goes tart → peppery → sweet.  Lots of hay and moss in the finish, followed by sugar and gunpowder.

With its sherry, sulphur, and peat moss this whisky reminded me of the infamous Blackadder baby Ledaig I'd opened up last August.  This Caol Ila is twice as old as that one and, while still pretty zany, feels more pulled together.  The sherry is much brighter, that's for sure.  The palate feels flat underneath the sulphur, though water helps a little; and the finish was so-so.  Overall, while the whisky's not exactly my poison, it's still very entertaining.

Availability - Might be sold out
Pricing - whiskybase says that it was 56GBP or 70euros
Rating - 82

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Single Malt Report: Bruichladdich 'The Organic' (2013 US release)

This is the first of three consecutive simul-posts with My Annoying Opinions this week!  We'll be reviewing the same whiskies (from the same bottles) at the same time.  We'll see whose opinions are really more annoying.

Here's the link to MAO's review.



For clarity purposes, this is the vintage-less US release of Laddie's organic single malt.  They had a number of smaller Europe-only organic releases previous to this, and there's a new Scottish barley version on the shelves.  This is not that.

Two years ago, I tried this whisky and LOVED it.  It was at a rep-led official tasting and The Organic was lined up with much swankier and more critically acclaimed Bruichladdich products.  But I liked The Organic best.  It had lots of cereal and grassy notes that really hit the spot and it started my fascination with nearly oakless malts.

When compared to Benromach's Organic, Bruichladdich's Organic sits at the opposite side of the oak-driven spectrum.  Benromach's version uses virgin oak from "environmentally managed forests" and results in a thick, dessert whisky full of vanilla, wood spices, and caramel sauce.  I had thought the use of new oak would be mandatory for an official organic designation, because previously used casks would still hold remnants of non-organic fluids (bourbon, sherry, etc.) -- or so Benromach seemed to infer.  But apparently Bruichladdich has been using a mix of new and used casks in their organic malts.  The lightness or near absence of oak in The Organic seemed to show an absence of new oak.

Let's zip forward to February of this year.  Florin (a prince) and I split a bottle of The Organic.  The whisky was bottled on February 8th, 2013 and in a bit of coincidence we opened it on February 8, 2014.  I noticed two things on the canister:



Thus, they did use former bourbon casks and it did pass both EU and USDA organic regulations.  Organic purists may say, "WTF?".  I just find this situation curious because the 2014 version of 'Laddie's organic whisky (not the one I'm reviewing) is specifically called "Organic Barley", it is no longer The Organic.  Purity aside, I adored the final result of the (likely) refill casks.

You may have noticed I used the past tense in that last sentence...


Distillery: Bruichladdich
Current ownership: Remy Cointreau
Age: older than 3 years, previous editions were around 6 years old
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Mash: Chalice barley (organic)
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

NEAT
The color is a light amber.  The nose begins with pilsner and yeast.  Lots of yeasty dough, actually.  Then toasted barley, apples, followed by orange and lime peels.  Some entertaining hints of honeyed ham and Barbasol shaving cream.  The fruits grow with time as does a dusty note.  The palate is very soft.  Not a lot of there there, at first.  Gradually oats, granulated sugar, and stale soda bread develop.  Then ground black pepper and pencil wood.  It is at turns buttery and tart.  The finish has the pepper, butter, and pencil wood notes, along with a tangy tingle and mild bitterness.

WITH WATER
The nose is immediately more pungent.  Bigger fruits, including overripe peaches and nectarines.  Hints of dust, varnish, and manure.  It's also much more perfumy and sugary.  The palate feels bolder too.  More tartness, more sweetness.  Some drying tannins meet fresh stone fruits, then a soft herbal bitterness and a peppery heat.  The finish is longer and sweeter, as well.  Lots of barley and yeast, then bitter over-steeped tea.  It can be a bit acidic and buttery at times.

When I sipped this at home six months ago, I was a little disappointed by the lack of...well...everything on the palate.  While there was some cereal-ish stuff on the nose, I had trouble finding its flavors in general.  The Organic (which had the same label) I had tried two years back was aggressively bready and grassy.  But my bottle seemed to have had the volume turned down.

What it needed, of all things, was water.  Dropping the ABV down to 40-43% turned the volume back up.  While neat, the nose is good and the palate inoffensive.  But with those drops of water added, the whisky becomes enjoyable.  As a result, I've added water to my remaining bit of this whisky, dropping the ABV down to 43%.

As I hinted above, this version of The Organic has been discontinued for a Scottish Organic Barley bottling.  Until recently, I would have said this was a damned tragedy.  Now, I don't feel strongly about it.  You don't have to hate yourself if you miss out on this, but if you find it at its original price it's not the worst thing to split amongst friends.

Availability - A couple dozen US retailers
Pricing - $55-$75
Rating - 84 with water (high 70s without)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Notes from a tasting: Peatin' Meetin' Whiskies at Home, Part 1

I did not drink at Peatin' Meetin' last weekend.  Well, I drank water because it's Summer and I was on site for over seven hours.  But no whisky for me.  With the event in Pasadena and my home (and my wife and my 3 month old daughter) 32 miles south, I had no interest in driving home peated to the gills.  But the event was great and the food was excellent.

And I grabbed thirteen whisky samples to go.


I'm gradually(?) tasting these here in the comfort of home, in a controlled setting.  For the samples that are 0.5oz, I won't be providing a numerical rating.  Instead I'll give a general grade range.  I have a few that are 1.0oz or more, and those might get a rating.  We'll see.

Here's the list of samples, with names being added in each post:

1. Balvenie 17 year old Islay Cask (OB, 43% ABV)
2. Loch Lomond Peated, green label (OB, 46% ABV)
3. Bowmore 16 year old 1990 Sherry Cask (OB, 53.8% ABV)
4. Laphroaig 13 year old 1994 (Cadenhead, 54.7% ABV)
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.



The first four, from the comfort of home!

1. Balvenie 17 year old Islay Cask (OB, 43% ABV)
not the 'Peated Cask' from four years back, but the original 'Islay Cask' from ten years ago.
Nose -- Starts in Speyside: Peaches, Oranges, and Vanilla.  Then gradually shifts.  Citronella candles, anise, plaster, ashes, and lots of soil.
Palate -- Lots of dirt, roots, and bark.  It gradually grows sweeter.  Then there are hints of flowers and lemon.  A bitterness builds that feels more woody and resinous than herbal.
Finish -- Both sweet and bitter.  Cigarette ashes.

Grade Range: B-/B
I love herbal bitterness in my whisky, but woody bitterness is often due to cask problems.  I learned that lesson harshly with my own whisky barrel.  Without all of that resin, this would have been a B+.

2. Loch Lomond Peated, green label (OB, 46% ABV)
why not, right?
Nose -- Quite Finlaggan-esque, very young and very skunky.  Garbage on a hot day, rotting lettuce, notebook paper.  Also some cotton candy, apple skins, toasty grains, and peat moss.
Palate -- Much softer than the nose. Wormwood bitterness and a peatin' that gets sweeter with time.  But the two biggest notes are wood smoke and burnt marshmallows.
Finish -- Wood smoke and a little bit of sugar.

Grade Range: D+/C-
The nose is a hot mess, but the palate is good enough that I would drink this again.  Or at least I'd drink this before I'd drink The Fin, again.

3. Bowmore 16 year old 1990 Sherry Cask (OB, 53.8% ABV)
the casks were ex-olorosos
Nose -- Smoked sherry, tar, moss, and baking chocolate.  Then cigarettes, rotting apples, and dried grass clippings.  With water, it gets grassier and mossier.
Palate -- Hot.  Now the sherry is burnt.  Ashes, burnt peanuts.  Some sweet orange stuff.  With water, it gets grassier and bitterer.  The smoke and sweets remain.
Finish -- Sherry, ashes, maybe lavender?  No change with water.

Grade Range: B-
The nose is a B+, easily.  But the palate is oddly bland, though water helps a little.

4. Laphroaig 13 year old 1994 (Cadenhead, 54.7% ABV)
from a single ex-bourbon hogshead; I'd hoped to get a bigger sample but this bottle went quickly
Nose -- A real softie. Saline nasal spray. Cigarettes in strawberry ice cream.  Leather, hay, armpits, and dusty book pages.
Palate -- Sugared-up peat moss.  Smoke and a good bitterness that develops with air.  Vanilla and a peppery zing.  Hints of sweet citrus.
Finish -- Lemon-lime fizzy, peat smoke, vanilla.

Grade Range: B-/B
Mild and light, it's the politest bourbon cask Laphroaig I've tried.  While nothing is technically wrong with it, there's not a whole lot to recommend.  It falls short of the official 10yo CS batches (including 005).



Okay, so far Laphroaig probably edges the Balvenie for first place and the Loch Lomond sits comfortably in dead last.  Let's see what happens in next weekend's Part 2...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Single Malt Report: Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, batch 93

Another sample from WhiskyJoe!
Yes 'm.  I'm the third blogger to review a Stranahan's batch in a week's time.

Bourbonguy reviewed batch 95
Smokypeat reviewed batch 116
Smokypeat liked his, Bourbonguy not so much.

There was a lot of great word of mouth (courtesy of Jim Murray and Whisky Advocate) about Stranahan's a few years ago, but the whiskey wasn't being sold in California.  In fact, back then my easiest method to buy it was via European retailers, which is silly.  Anyway, my brother-in-law lives near Boulder and I've been looking forward to visiting the distillery, and maybe even purchasing a bottle in the meantime.  But that would be a blind purchase, something I'm not crazy about doing, even to support a small business...

...but wait, it's no longer a just small business.  In 2010, Stranahan's was purchased by Proximo Spirits, the folks who also sling Cuervo, Three Olives, Ron Matusalem, Kraken, Boodles, 1800, Hanger 1, and more.  According to Wikuhpeediuh, Proximo increased Stranahan's production by 150% after their takeover.  The actual production quantity remains small because it's a small distillery.  So it's still micro, though its ownership is macro.

The batch I'm reviewing today was bottled in August 2010, four months before the takeover.  I'm limiting my intro here because of the plentitude of notes...

Distillery: Stranahan's
Ownership: Proximo Spirits
Region: Denver, CO, USA
Type: Single Malt
Batch: 93
Bottled: 8/15/10
Age: a range of 2 to 5 year old whiskies, thus two years old
Mashbill: four types of Colorado barley
Maturation: new American oak
Alcohol by volume: 47%

I opened my sample (obtained via a swap with WhiskyJoe) a couple days ago with quite some optimism.  But I was immediately struck by a number of issues in the whiskey that turned me off.  Some air helped things out...

Day 1 (sampled neatly) --

The color is a medium gold.  Acetate hits first in the nose, reminding me of budget-priced high-grain Irish blends.  Then comes high-VOC paint, banana peels, and toffee.  Had to give it ten minutes of air before I could continue.  Then came new oak char.  Then orange peels, vanilla, cotton candy, angel food cake, and walnuts.  The toffee returns, but with a floral note in tow.  Bananas show in the palate as well.  It's very sugary, but grows sourer and tangier with time.  Notes of vanilla merengue, Peeps, caramel, and Mallow Mars-type "marshmallow" filling.  The long finish brings with it barrel char, vanilla beans, and banana candy.

I was very thankful that some air opened up the nose.  The palate was still vague and plain.  And the banana notes were a big turnoff.  I have serious issues with banana candy.  But, my wife had a sip and she thought it was okay.  So I saved the second half of the sample for the next day:

Day 2 --

NEAT
Ah, the acetate thing is softer in the nose, where it's more like glue.  It's quiet though.  Maltier notes are showing up now.  It's still very candied -- cotton candy and cinnamon candy.  There's some baking spices, caramel, toffee, and floral notes.  Lots of sweetness in the palate again, sometimes granulated sugar, sometimes Nutrasweet.  There's some pepper and tangy lemons; toasted coconut meets a light bitterness.  After some time, carpet and cardboard notes arise.  The finish is remarkably long, tangy and very peppery.  No banana candy!

WITH WATER
The nose is still sugary.  Whipped cream, creamsicles, caramel, and cinnamon.  But be careful with the water because it nearly kills this one off.  The palate has a nice bitterness to it, met by walnuts, toasty oak, and citric acid.  The finish has been silenced.  Now it's mostly acid and tannins.

The extra air and oxygen space in the sample bottle improved things considerably.  I do not recommend water with this batch, especially because it kills off the best part: the finish.



In the comment section of Smokypeat's review, Rob Dietrich provided some info about the whiskey.  He mentions that there's a mix of 2, 3, 4, and 5 year old barrels within.  My skills are not so sharp as to discern the difference between 2 and 3 year old stuff.  But, two and five?  Maybe.  I'll try to create a humiliating blind taste test some day...

Anyway, there's a lot of very young spirit in this batch.  This is a familiar tune.  The recent growth of new small American distilleries has resulted in an lake of young bottled spirit.  It's born of necessity, investors require revenue so producers put what they have on the market.  The fault in that approach is a brand can be destroyed by premature products.  Young whisk(e)y isn't necessarily bad, but there's very little of it that's reliably good.  As I just wrote on Facebook, I'm looking forward to what the market will look like in ten years.  Who will be still around?  The key isn't for a company to sell someone one bottle.  That customer needs to return for a second and third.  Marketing will nab the first sale, quality will win every bottle after that.

Stranahan's has already been around for ten years.  So they're doing something right, aside from getting a major buyer.  They release their products in small batches, so there will be variation.  This particular batch doesn't inspire me to run out a buy a bottle.  But it didn't scare me off.  I'd love to see a five-year old whisky from them someday.

Availability - Colorado, New York, and (possibly) California
Pricing - $50-$60
Rating - 78 (up from 70 on day 1)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Balcones True Blue Cask Strength Corn Whisky, batch TB13-3

Okay, one last Balcones big fella before I move onto another American distillery.  This time I have an actual bottle:

Balcones True Blue Cask Strength Corn Whisky
When my friend Daniel gave me his bottle (Thank you, Tetris!), it was more than 90% full.  He had no further use for it.  Could that be be foreshadowing...?

One might ask why is True Blue not labelled "bourbon"?  Bourbon whiskey needs to have a mashbill that's over 51% corn.  Corn whiskey's mashbill needs to be over 80% corn.  So technically there's an overlap north of 80% (Buffalo Trace's low-rye bourbon mashbill floats around there).  From a marketing standpoint, bourbon is selling like crazy while "corn whiskey" tends to ring of moonshine.  People are buying oceans of Elijah Craig bourbon, but Georgia Moon corn whiskey, not so much.  So there's something else going on that's keeping Balcones from calling it True Blue Bourbon.  And that something is oak.  Bourbon must be aged in brand new American oak barrels.  Corn whiskey can be matured in used barrels.  According to Balcones's Brand Ambassador Winston Edwards, True Blue is indeed aged in "used charred casks".

(.......and please see the comment section below for the Federal Regulations subpart that renders much of the above paragraph pointless......Winston Edwards, if you ever read this please weigh in!)

Similar to bourbon, rye, and wheat whiskies, corn whiskey can have the Straight (2 years or older, one distillery) or Bottled in Bond (4+ years, 100 proof, and aged in a bonded warehouse) designations.  True Blue has neither of these designations, so I'm thinking this is a young spirit.

(The usual disclaimer regarding American whiskies: If I have my facts confused, someone please let me know.  Thanks!)

Distillery: Balcones
Region: Waco, TX, USA
Type: Corn Whisky
Batch: TB13-3
Age: ??? (bottled May 30, 2013)
Mashbill: 100% Hopi blue corn (Atole)
Maturation: used charred casks
Alcohol by volume: 57.2%

These notes are the result of three separate tastings:

NEAT
Its color looks a lot like an oloroso sherry (unlike that glass full of sunshine in the pic up top).  The nose leads with corn syrup, maple syrup, mint, and vanilla ice cream.  Sometimes the mint reads more like basil candy.  There are also notes of creamed corn, Bowmore FWP lavender, caramel candy, and lemon-scented cleaning solvent.  It's very desserty and smells as if it's going to be an enormous bourbon.  But then the palate shifts gears.  Twigs and branches floating in caramel.  Barrel char and black pepper.  Toasted nuts and honey butter.  It's both very very tannic and muted in tone at the same time.  The finish grows sweeter.  It's slightly minty and corny and has some length to it.  But it's mostly oak: pulp and plain caramel.

WITH WATER (approx. 35-40% ABV)
The nose has changed.  Candy corn, licorice, peanut brittle, and mothballs.  And then the tree-related stuff: bark chips, pine needles, toasted staves.  The palate is salty and oaky with a green wood resinous bitterness.  Its sweetness is only momentary.  The bitterness grows in the finish.  Some corn and caramel show up.

The nose is very good, bursting with character.  The palate is flat, flat as the I-40 in north Texas.  It's fascinating that refill casks were used because the tannins in this whisky stomp down everything else.  Adding water shows off the nose from a different angle, but again the palate nearly vanishes.  Whatever you do, DO NOT try this as a highball; of which the best I can say is that it's reminiscent of cold bubbly burnt corn cob.

To clarify, this is not bad whisky.  I could nose this all day.  But its palate leaves a lot to be desired; part of that might be the nature of a whisky devoid of a flavoring grain like rye or wheat, but most of it has to do with an overabundance of muting tannins.  All (or most) of Balcones's products are known for their big wood, but this is the first one where the oak really doesn't work for me.

For what it's worth, here's how I rank the Balcones stuff I've tried:
1.  Texas Single Malt (batch 12-4)
2.  Rumble (batch R12-3)
3.  Rumble Cask Reserve (NYC Edition)
4.  Brimstone (dunno the batch)
5.  True Blue Cask Strength (batch TB13-3)

I'm in the middle of some blending experiments to see if I can turn this thing into that killer bourbon I found in the nose.  If I'm successful, I will report back.  If not, I'll only reveal the epic failures.

Okay, in the next review, I'll get the hell out of Texas.

Availability - All batches are scarce right now
Pricing - $60ish?
Rating - 76

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Not Technically Whisky Report: Balcones Rumble Cask Reserve, NYC Edition

On Tuesday I reviewed the Balcones Rumble, a spirit first distilled from Texas honey, figs, and turbinado sugar and then aged in "small" casks.  A pleasant surprise, Rumble not only makes for a pleasant drink, but throws some entertaining curveballs with its fig eau-de-vie moments.

In that post, I forgot to mention two elements that may factor into Rumble's quality.  Firstly, batch variation.  Balcones runs a relatively small operation so unlike big whisk(e)y factories they don't have the luxury of too much tinkering, blending, or disposing in order to adjust inconsistent batches.  Batch R12-3 may have been one of the very good ones.  I could have been lucky.  Secondly, alcohol content.  Rumble is bottled at 47%abv, which means that it's much less watered down than most rums and brandies, which are often bottled at 40%.  Those extra points may have helped influence the liquor's great texture and potent character.

So, what if there was a more limited batch released at a much higher ABV?


The Balcones Rumble Cask Reserve, NYC Edition, is just that thing.  Now, this isn't exactly the cask strength version of the Rumble.  As per Josh's interview with Chip Tate, on The Coopered Tot, the Reserve receives additional maturation time in barrels larger than the ones used for the original aging.


Thanks again to Whisky Joe for sending the Reserve to me in a sample swap!

Distillery: Balcones
Region: Waco, TX, USA
Type: Not Whisky
Batch: NYC Edition
Age: ???
Distilled from: Texas wildflower honey, mission figs, and turbinado sugar
Maturation: "small oak barrels"  (possibly 20 liter barrels)
Alcohol by volume: 58.1%

NEAT
The color is dark gold mingling with medium brown.  The nose is intensely woody (sap and bark).  Then there's furniture polish, caramel, corn syrup, and lots of vanilla.  In fact it's not too far from bourbon.  Then a burst of Bee Sting Honey 'n Habanero Pepper Sauce (I didn't know this stuff was still on the market. Oh, the memories...).  Towards the end there's a little bit of peanuts and a lot of hazelnuts.  On the palate, one could mistake this for bourbon.  Or maybe bourbon with a little rum added.  And by that I mean vanilla, caramel, corn syrup, oak pulp, and sugar.  When the big ethyl heat subsides there's a wallop of sugar.  Then dried figs and raisins.  The honey & pepper combo edges in, along with some salt.  There's also something oddly (young) armagnac-like floating around; a combo of wood spice, caramel, and dried fruit.  It finishes with lots of honey, vanilla, and caramel.  Rummy.  Sometimes almost smoky.

WITH WATER
The nose has caramel, sawdust, subtle lemon, and a little bit of malt.  The palate is sweet but very drying and tannic.  I wrote "rum" down twice in my notes, including "vanilla rum".  A bitterness begins to show, though I'm not sure if it's from the wood or spirit.  It finishes with vanilla frosting, butter, and molasses.

This is schizophrenic stuff.  Sometimes it's a bourbon.  Sometimes a rum.  Then there's baby armagnac.  There was even something malty in the nose.  I'll bet it would be a fun stumper in a blind tasting.  And I do mean fun.  It's still entertaining and tasty.  It's just all over the place compared to its softer Rumble brother.  I tried to reduce it to 47%abv to see if I could find the regular Rumble in there, but the Reserve didn't hold water too well.  In fact, I recommend just taking it hot rather than hydrating it.

The Reserve can be very sweet.  Rum fans may not have an issue with that, but scotch fans might.  Personally, I would pick the regular Rumble over the Reserve, as the 47%abv version has less oak, less sugar, and more of the fig brandy.

(For a different take on this same Reserve batch, see The Coopered Tot's review.)

Availability - All batches are scarce right now
Pricing - $60-$80
Rating - 79