Category: Whisky Tasting Notes


Barton Distillery: 1792 Small Batch (USA: Bourbon Whiskey: 46.85% ABV)

Visual: Darkened, slightly browned gold. Mainly slow puckering comes from the spirit.

Nose: Cereals. Wisp of smoke. Shreddies. Quite dry. Slight butter. Peppery. Vanilla. Slightly dusty.

Body: Slick. Honey. Vanilla. Slight peach. Lightly waxy. Vanilla yogurt. Flower petals. Light strawberry. Toffee. Water lightens and makes more generic.

Finish: Butter. Peppery to rye crackers. Dried apricot touch. Brown bread. Slight chives. Vanilla yogurt. Water adds slight sulphur and general cereals quality.

Conclusion: This reminds me a bit of Maker’s Mark, just bigger. That is a good thing though, Makers Mark was my go to bourbon for many a year and bigger is generally welcome.

It has the same slightly rustic, peppery and cereal led character but here with extra touches that really pushes it up a notch. The mouthfeel is slick, but a bit waxy, a bit buttery, which makes everything a bit more interesting behind the more traditional vanilla and toffee flavours. There is even a wisp of sulphur adding a touch of weight. Not peat smoke, just a slightly sulphur touched dry air to the whole thing.

There are hints at fruit notes at the edge which is unusual for a bourbon. Nothing showing through strongly, just calls to rounding apricot or strawberry that adds a faint sweetness to what is a dry, cereal led whiskey.

A lot of those flavours are enhanced by the bigger mouthfeel. The slightly waxy, touch really gives grip to a slick bourbon. Despite the touch higher abv it only shows in grip and flavour, no real extra harshness. In fact, on that note, don’t add water to this, it only mutes what is an already good bourbon. In my opinion obviously, I’m not going to slap the whiskey out of your hands if you think differently.

It isn’t a must have bourbon, but feels like a posh Makers Mark and that is no bad thing. Definitely better, but still an easy drinking bourbon and worth the extra pounds it costs. I enjoy it very much.

Background: Fairly simple story for this one. I had a bourbon shaped gap in my whisky selection at the time, was perusing the whiskey selection in Waitrose and noticed this one. Was not silly money, seemed to have a good reputation, and so I grabbed a bottle. Simple. Didn’t know much about it at the time so not much else to add. Had seen IDLES live recently, my first gig for years due to the darn plague going around, so went with IDLES: Crawler as backing music. Enjoyed the gig but was a tad worried that I was pretty much the only darn person masked up. Sigh.

Starward: Ginger Beer Cask #6 (Australia Single Malt Whisky: 4 Years?: 48% ABV)

Visual: Dark copper to bronze, with reddish touches. Very slow puckering comes from the spirit.

Nose: Ginger. Menthol. Peppermint. Dessert wine. Toffee touch. Rose wine touch. Dried apricot. Rose petals. Water adds more menthol, more ginger and burnt brown sugar.

Body: Smooth front into a lightly burning strength. Sour red wine. Tannins. Butterscotch, Ginger. Vanilla. Fatty butter. Dried apricot. Apple. Water makes slightly waxy, but smoother. More ginger. Even more water brings out a strawberry touch.

Finish: Fiery ginger bread. Sweet ginger beer. Grassy. Dry oak. Tannins. Bitter red wine. A waxy remaining air. Water adds lots of ginger and fatty butter comes out. Sulphur candles air. More water makes peppery.

Conclusion: Ok, let’s get it out of the way quickly. This is, obviously, heresy, but is it tasty tasty heresy?

Well, it answer that I will first examine nearly everything else I can, because I am an evil shit. Like a lot of warmer country aged whisky this is thick and chewy, with an unusual texture, that reminds me of whisky that has been directly gas heated (from the few times I have had a chance to try whisky described as such anyway) . Anyway, this has a distinct feel that I can best describe as slightly like the fluffy feel of a steam beer, but not. I am good at this words lark honest. Despite the higher abv and being younger whisky it is fairly smooth initially, the alcohol does become noticeable fast, but never painful and easily dealt with by adding some water.

The base whisky has a rose wine air to it, with more red wine like notes around edges. Early on it feels more towards the red wine, but even a few drops of water soothes it towards the more rose style. That lighter wine touch seems to allow a lot of room for lighter, menthol like notes to roam around over everything.

A lot of the evident character is in the feel, as well as that lightly gassy fluffy touch mentioned before, there is a waxy sheen at the end and a sulphurous candle touch in the air and feel, heck even a kind of fatty butter touch. The quicker ageing in a hot climate really gives it some feel. On that is a lightly sweet, red and rose wine touched whisky, with some more traditional sweet vanilla and such notes as well, but a lot is in that mouthfeel.

So, ginger beer finish eh? The ginger is very evident, as you can probably tell from the main notes above. The ginger thankfully doesn’t overpower the whisky but I is very clear indeed. Lots of spicy ginger early on, with sweeter ginger beer touches mixing into that vanilla style as it integrates into the whisky, then out into a peppery spice dryness in the finish. While the ginger is clear it feels like the edges fade nicely into the whisky making it feel like a coherent whole. It doesn’t feel out of place, it stands out as a dominant element, not an alien one. It is worth noting that it is far more integrated with a drop of water, being a tad more fiery neat, but still never an issue.

So, conclusion, tasty heresy. Now I will admit I hope, tasty though it is, this doesn’t become a popular trend in whisky – a craze that the bigger distilleries copy – as I am enjoying very much here as the exception, not the norm, and also as I feel a lot of the less heavy whiskies would not cope half as well as this does with it.

As is, while I am not as crazy about it as a lot of its fans, this is definitely tasty heresy.

Background: Starward has been on my radar for a while, then Independent Spirit did a comparatively recent Starward tasting, where I got to enjoy a good chunk of their line up, It was a very good night. There, lots of people were raving about a whisky that was not in the line up though. A Starward that had been finished in Ginger Beer casks. Now that sounded like a horrible mess to me, but everyone was so enthused about it I decided, when it turned up, to give it a go and see if it was worth the hype. First thing I noticed is that it is in 50CL bottles, which is an odd choice and always makes the bottle look like it is slightly further away than it really is. The whisky was distilled 2017 and bottled 2021, so is somewhere around 3 or 4 years in age. Whisky in hot countries always seems to age very differently, and requires less time to become quality, if very different, whisky so I was confident this would not taste as young as that sounds. It is a mix of Apera (Australian Fortified wine) and red wine aged whisky, that then,as the name suggests was finished in ginger beer casks – the distilleries own ginger beer casks in fact. So lots of very different elements from a Scotch or Irish whisky there. I went with Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero as backing music, the fact this concept album was initially set in 2022 seems far too accurate these days.

Buffalo Trace: Blanton’s: Single Barrel Gold Edition (USA: Bourbon Single Cask: 51.5% ABV)

Visual: Visual: Deep, slightly bronzed, gold. Slow, thin streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Rye crackers. Peppery. Alcohol tingle evident. Warm orange creme. Subtle menthol. Warm custard. Red grapes. Water makes smoother and brings out more rye crackers.

Body: Warming. Honey. Peppery. Very mild aniseed. Peach syrup. Slightly astringent. Water adds apricot. Red grapes. Fatty butter.

Finish: Dry oak. Juicy grapes. Custard. Wholemeal crackers. Drying. Peppery. Water adds menthol. Vanilla. Slight savoury cream touch.

Conclusion: This is so rewarding, so recognisably bourbon but with tons of elements I would not normally associate with the style and the mix makes it stand out as something special.

At its base it is a slightly rye crackers tasted peppery thing. So I am guessing that there is a moderate amount of rye in the mash bill – but I could be wrong. Along with that there is some of the traditional bourbon style vanilla backing it but less so than you would imagine. It is slightly drying and astringent from the alcohol weight when taken neat, but not especially so, especially considering the over 50% abv.

Above that is a honey sweetness, along with a slight strange more custard like sweetness that seems to be there in place of the more traditional vanilla in most areas. This is still in the ballpark of bourbon expectations, it just feels like higher abv and care taken in its selection has given it a weightier, bigger expression of which the custard replacing the vanilla is the most obvious element.

What makes it really stand out is a slight sweet peach syrup note, and a sweet grapes touch – in a red grapes style that I really would not have expected considering that, with this being bourbon, it will have been aged in virgin oak, and so I cannot attribute to subtle use of sherry oak ageing like I normally would. Even more there is subtle green grapes and menthol touches that are wonderful and unexpected extra flourishes over the bourbon base. These elements are noticeable neat, but become super evident with a touch of water smoothing out the more astringent alcohol notes.

These all combine to give it a subtle, but impressive variety of flavour, while still delivering the expected bourbon notes very well as a base that everything else works from. It is covering a complex range, but without sacrificing what bourbon is known for best and that combination makes it probably the best bourbon I have tried. Very impressive.

Background: I’ve missed a chance to pick up some Blantons a few times before, it has a great reputation as a single cask bourbon and always vanished while I was umming and ahhing in on if I should grab a bottle. So this time when some came into Independent Spirit I grabbed a bottle right away, the Gold Edition in fact. There is a lot of information on the, very pretty indeed, bottle – everything from barrel number, rack number, warehouse and date dumped. Most of it doesn’t tell me anything as I don’t know where those places are, but it is a nice touch. Really brings out the individuality of this single barrel expression. There wasn’t a new Miracle Sound release for 2021, so for music I picked up his earlier album – Level 6 – and went with that as backing music.

St George Distillery: The English: Smokey (England: Single Malt Whisky: 43% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellowed to grain hue. Thin, slow puckering comes from the spirit.

Nose: Dry. Dusty. Smoke. Crushed rocks. Pear drops. Water adds a brown sugar backing.

Body: Vanilla toffee. Oily. Dried beef slices. Crushed rocks. Sweet lime. Water adds fudge. Slightly more chewy texture. Apples. Raisins. Buttery.

Finish: Vanilla. Ash. Smoke. Malt chocolate. Light praline. Lightly nutty. Water makes for slight sulphur and fatty butter.

Conclusion: Ok, this is much more enjoyable than the unpeated version. Mainly because, well, peat. Peat solves 76.3% of the world’s problems. As long as the problem is lack of peat.

(and the other 23.7% can be solved by more peat)

The base whisky under the peat feels just slightly more chewy than the unpeated version, especially with a drop of water. There is still some green fruit evident, a good chunk of vanilla toffee to fudge sweetness backing. Nothing stand out but a solid core to work from. The peat on top of that comes in a generally ashes, smokey and slightly dry way with a crushed rock quality to it. It feels like a lighter peat touch to an easy drinking dram rather than the more meaty, beefy and broth like of the heavier peated island and Islay whiskies.

Initially it seems ok but a bit simple, kind of like the bare minimum you would expect of a decent peated whisky. Nothing unpleasant but also nothing that really grabbed my attention. Even like this is is nicely smooth, with present peat use and a what feels like a lowland influenced base in its style.

Water make for an interesting change to that though. On the down side it adds a bit of a muggy set of sulphurous notes that don’t really fit with the smooth character but in exchange it brings in subtle notes of dark fruit that add a decent bit of complexity into the equation. It also adds a slightly fatty butter touch, if feels like that touch of water unlocks some of the advantages from this being non chilled filtered.

Water isn’t 100% a benefit to the whisky, but it does make it more interesting. This isn’t a must grab for me, but it is a huge jump up in quality from the unpeated version, and leaves me hoping that the final mini in the collection will be even better yet.

Background: Second of the three miniatures in this box set of new releases from the St George Distillery that I’m guessing will make up their main line up. This one is their peated expression, which made it instantly more interesting to me as a big peat fan. I made my “hate The English” joke last time, so that is my joke routine already wasted and depleted. Again no age statement here. After enjoying her new release recently, I went back to Laura Jane Grace’s previous solo album as music to back this – Still Alive. As before this was grabbed from Independent Spirit.

St George Distillery: The English – Original (English Single Malt Whisky: 43% ABV)

Visual: Very pale, slightly greened touch but mostly clear. Fast thick streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Viscous. Apples. Pencil shavings. Dry cake sponge. Moss. Slight neutral vodka alcohol character. Water makes slightly oily. Lighter fluid touch. More water makes lightly sulphur touched. Crushed rocks with a lick of salt.

Body: Smooth. Gentle toffee. Cake sponge. Slight cream. Mild chocolate eclair sweets. Everything done in a subtle way. Neutral alcohol character. Water adds more toffee and chocolate eclairs. More water turns to crushed rocks and apples.

Finish: Wood shavings. Fudge. Apples. Clean alcohol but smooth. Light aniseed. Water adds cake sponge. Toffee. More waters adds crushed rocks, pears and a nail varnish air.

Conclusion: This needs water, not because it is harsh, as it is not (though there is a kind of neutral alcohol sheen to the whole thing, it is just a smooth alcohol sheen if that makes sense?). It does however definitely need water. Not too much water though. Adding more than just a gentle pour turns this into a slightly gritty rocks thing that loses most of the better notes. I am, however, getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, with the sweet spot of water this is a gentle, very gentle, toffee and fudge thing with a slightly creamy flavour – though without the associated weight. There are slightly heavier chocolate eclair hard sweet notes, but by slightly I do mean slightly, neat it was so light as to feel almost vanishing which is why it needed water so badly. Water actually makes it that tiny touch heavier and makes the so very slightly heavier flavours stand out more. So yes, add a drop of water to this to get it to open up.

Some of the apple and pear notes I remember from the very young spirit of the Chapter 6 release actually manage to still survive through to this expression, but not much.

Overall it is not exactly impressive. Neat it has some clean alcohol sheen and light flavours, too much water and it gets a bit gritty. At its best it is gentle and easygoing, but even with the extra flavour the water brings out it is not as interesting as a well developed smooth lowland which seems its direct competitor.

It is ok, but there are so many other gentle drinking whiskies that give so much more for the experience that I cannot recommend this one.

Background: Last time I ran into the St George Distillery they were using the name “The English Whisky Company”, now they are just listing it as “The English”. Which means every time they make a crap whisky I can now use the “I hate the English” joke. Anyway, this has no age statement but I did notes on their Chapter 6 whisky back in 2012 so I’m guessing they have at least 10 year whisky lying around. I am also fairly sure than is not youngest whisky they used in this from the notes. This was part of a three pack of miniatures grabbed from Independent Spirit, which had this along with a peated take and a rum finished one. Will be trying those another day. Was chatting with friends again while doing these notes so no backing music this time.

Buffalo Trace: Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye (USA: Straight Rye Whiskey: 64.5% ABV)

Visual: Bright orange gold. Fast thick streaks from the spirit.

Nose: Very peppery and rye crackers touched. Stewed apple touches. Vanilla. Sour dough.

Body: Honey. Peppery. Rye spiciness. Quickly becomes tingling. Pumpkin and pumpkin spice. Oily. Water adds a strawberry touch. Slight grapes. Lots of oily charring. Orange cream touch.

Finish: Dried mango. Oily character. Smoke touch. Tobacco. Chewy. Pumpkin. Water adds tropical fruit.

Conclusion: Another very, very strong whiskey, but this handles the abv so much better than the George T Stagg before it. There is still the spice and the rye, even more so with this being a straight rye, but it manages to make room for more evident fruit notes to round it out. The mix of the spice and fruit manages to come together in a lovely synergy of pumpkin and pumpkin spice among the heavier charring and peppery notes.

Even though it does work as a whiskey neat, I will say a drop of water, and just a drop is needed, and really brings out the character. This big oily charring character comes out, with the oiliness really helping to balance the charred style, and under this thick heavy character you find more subtle notes poking their way through.

It is dark, oily, and while stealing the word dank from beer notes would be the wrong term, it calls a similar set of imagery to mind. The oiliness can however express itself as oily grape notes or even occasionally adding an oily strawberry character into the mix.

Later on an orange cream note comes out – while this is not part of the Van Winkle mash bill set it seems that orange character is still hard to avoid. Not that I am complaining. While this is very impressive, the abv of this still numbs things for me. I just don’t have a system that can handle this abv and still notice the subtleties that this may hold even with a drop or so of water to help break it up. However, even taking it as is, I’m feeling so many hints around the dark, spicy core that I feel that people who can handle the abv will appreciate more. If it wasn’t for the nature of the tasting, I would have experimented with water more but I wasn’t confident I could use the available water and not drown it.

Another utterly fascinating one, still not 100% for me as that abv is punishing but there is so much going on I very much enjoyed its massive weight of character despite that.

Background: One more time – So, it has been about a year and half since Independent Spirit did one of their whisky tastings. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on right now, probably something small and unimportant. So they opened with this – a six USA whiskey, predominately bourbon, rare as hell set of a tasting. Joking aside, I was nervous about going, due to, well covid and not wanting to be a virus spreader, but it was held in the well ventilated, covered back area of Wolf Saloon, which had a decent amount of room as well, so I thought I would give it a go as part of my attempt to return to being social in this new world. Of the six whiskeys I had already done notes on two, and this was the sixth and final whisky of the evening. This, a straight rye, was the first non bourbon of the evening and with its huge abv the second that I had to add water to in order to manage to appreciated. Chris from Independent Spirit did give a lovely amount of info on the naming background of each whiskey, but I will admit due to alcohol I have forgot most of the fine details. Thomas H Handy was the creator of a famous rye cocktail in New Orleans called the Sazerac and this is named after him basically.

Buffalo Trace: George T Stagg (USA: Bourbon Whiskey: 65.2% ABV)

Visual: A darker bronzed gold, with more orange gold hints. Thin slow puckering comes from the spirit.

Nose: Heavy. Rye crackers. Wisp of smoke. Dry. Dry treacle. Touch. Chilli seed. Paprika. Burnt brown sugar.

Body: Thick, Oily. Gets fiery quickly. Strawberry touch. Very drying. Water adds a tiny touch more of the strawberry, Quite oily. Almost a hop oil feel but not flavour. Brown bread.

Finish: Oily. Charred touch. Spicy. Chilli seeds. Nutmeg. Mulled spice. Touch of greenery. A touch of water adds tannins and fatty notes.

Conclusion: Unsurprisingly for the abv, this is freaking massive. It has a fiery touch, which, again is not unexpected, but there is a lot more than that. When you sip it rapidly evaporates, drying and desiccating your mouth, and leaves behind a real chilli seed spicy tingling character that fires up that now sensitive tongue.

Neat it is so very harsh, with a treacle character that still comes across as very dry and spicy. So, for the first time in this tasting session’s notes I added water, and boy did it make it a lot more manageable. Now it has an oily thick feel that allows it to very mildly sooth your mouth to manage the heavy spice and burning, and so you can finally appreciate that wide spice expression more fully.

With this just a drop of water this still has really heavy, dark and charred notes, but no longer harshly so. It has as more neutral, savoury bready character at the base to work from, oiliness for the grip and the spice doing the main show. There is even an almost smoke touch, but not in a traditional peaty way, just an edge note from the spice. There are now even hints of softer notes at the edges, nothing I could quite get a grip on though. Possibly they would develop with more water, or if I had a better handle on the high abv but as it was they were just hints of more that may be there but I could not really describe.

It is formidable and challenging. In a way it feels like the Islay of bourbons. Not in direct flavour, peat or Island character but in that it has those challenging, heavy flavours that take time to get used to and are definitely an acquired taste.

More intriguing than enjoyable for me, but I can see the appeal for others.

Background: So, it has been about a year and half since Independent Spirit did one of their whisky tastings. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on right now, probably something small and unimportant. So they opened with this – a six USA whiskey, predominately bourbon, rare as hell set of a tasting. Joking aside, I was nervous about going, due to, well covid and not wanting to be a virus spreader, but it was held in the well ventilated, covered back area of Wolf Saloon, which had a decent amount of room as well, so I thought I would give it a go as part of my attempt to return to being social in this new world. Of the six whiskeys I had already done notes on two, and this was the fifth whisky of the evening. While not a straight rye, this apparently has a moderate amount of rye to it, making it the first bourbon to have a different mash load of the evening – with the various Van Winkles and the Weller all starting from the same mash load out. While most of the bourbons I had neat as bourbon often doesn’t take water well, this was the first one where I had to add a drop as it was too massive for me neat. Chris from Independent Spirit did give a lovely amount of info on the naming background of each whiskey, but I will admit due to alcohol I have forgot most of the fine details. Basically George T Stagg was a big name, so the whiskey is named after him.

Buffalo Trace: Old Rip Van Winkle: 10 Year (USA: Bourbon Whiskey: 53.5% ABV)

Visual: Bright orange gold, in an almost lucozade style in the light. Fast thick steaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Touch of smoke. Lots of varied breakfast cereals. Shreddies. Maize cereals. Moderate rye crackers and peppery character. Brown bread. Crushed leaves. Brown sugar. Thick and slightly musty.

Body: Thick and warming. Oily. Vanilla. Dry oak. Treacle touch. Heavy. Buttery. Fudge. Brown bread. Orange cream.

Finish; Tannins and astringent. Peppery. Toffee and vanilla. Dry fudge. Buttery and slightly fatty.

Conclusion: This is heavy. Now the alcohol is doing a lot of the work in making it so, with a more dry character up front, but then allowing the fattier, oilier notes to come through after. There is a lot about the mouthfeel and texture that it doing the heavy lifting here to make seem very different to the other Van Winkles.

It is still slightly peppery, but initially it has none of those orange notes I usually associate with the Van Winkles. Instead, behind the fatty character is a mix of brown bread and lots of breakfast cereals into a sturdy toffee and fudge character. Still quite dry in how it is delivered, thick of body and very heavy.

Like this it is very much about the feel for me rather than the flavour. The oils, the thickness, the fatty character that is all what makes it interesting. The flavours are not unusual, but that feel really works what can be done with the abv.

Finally, late on after some time to air, the orange cream notes do finally make an appearance. It seems no amount of abv can fully hide this Van Winkle note for too long.

Not a favourite of mine, but a stand out for being different from the usual Van Winkle fare.

Background: So, writing this for the second time, it has been about a year and half since Independent Spirit did one of their whisky tastings. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on right now, probably something small and unimportant. So they opened with this – a six USA whiskey, predominately bourbon, rare as hell set of a tasting. Joking aside, I was nervous about going, due to, well covid and not wanting to be a virus spreader, but it was held in the well ventilated, covered back area of Wolf Saloon, which had a decent amount of room as well, so I thought I would give it a go as part of my attempt to return to being social in this new world. Of the six whiskeys I had already done notes on two, and this was the third whisky of the evening and the only Van Winkle of the set I had not tried yet. Chris from Independent Spirit did give a lovely amount of info the background of each whiskey, but I will admit due to alcohol I have forgot most of the fine details. This is a wheated bourbon, and each of the Van Winkles use the same mash load. After trying this I had Pappy Van Winkle 15 again for the first time in years – this time I found a softness of mushy cooked apples and pear notes, and some tropical fruit I had not found before, making it a smoother thing than I remembered before.

Buffalo Trace: W L Weller Special Reserve (USA: Bourbon Whiskey: 45% ABV)

Visual: Very bright gold, almost lucozade bright. Very fast thick streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Peppery spice. Rye crackers. Orange sorbet. Honey. Cream. Light milk.

Body: Honey. Honey nut cornflakes. Wheaty thickness. Lightly peppery. Smooth, but with a grip. Toffee to toffee liqueur. Cream. Orange cream. Oily. Sap. Apple notes over time.

Finish: Slight sulphur. Honey nut cornflakes. Touch of smoke. Wheat flakes. Peppery. Vanilla. Charred oak. Toffee liqueur. Grapes. Menthol and sap mix.

Conclusion: The first impressions I got from this was of a lot of spice – mainly a mix of peppery character and a touch of rye crackers. Which is more what I would have expected from a rye heavy whisky than a wheated bourbon like this. It reminds me of the Van Winkle range (for a reason that turned out not to be a coincidence as I note in the background below), even having that slight orange note to it.

That spice I mentioned is there for the whole whiskey, but it is far from the whole story. It is smooth, yet with a slightly fluffy grip that in some ways reminds me of the soft grip you get from a weissebier. I would say it makes sense but I have not encountered this in any other wheated bourbon, so I think it is just a coincidence.

Flavour wise it has a soft toffee to toffee liqueur set of notes underneath, a gentle slightly milky feel and sweeter flavours under the spice front notes. The ahem wheaty feel and pepper character makes it never completely smooth, but the toffee cream touch to the core does make it a lot smoother than most of its similar contemporaries and calls to the impressions of a far smoother whiskey.

Now, as discussed in the background, it has a lot of reason for tasting kind of similar to the Van Winkles, especially in that orange touch, but it has a lot of differences apart from that smoother character. It has a slight menthol touch that makes it fresh, and lots of honey assisting the sweetness. While it starts spice and rye, the longer you take to sip it the smoother and smoother it will get, with more vanilla, honey and finally even apple coming out for a more soothing end to the dram.

It is basically a smoother, slightly more toffee take on the Van Winkle style, but that description doesn’t do it justice. There are touches from grapes, to that creamy note. I actually mildly prefer it to a good chunk of the Winkle range. It is not as forthright, but smoother and with that character of its own that makes it distinctive.

Background: I’m going to be copy pasting the bulk of this over the next few notes, so apologies if it becomes repetitive but a lot of the info will be the same – So, it has been about a year and half since Independent Spirit did one of their whisky tastings. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on right now, probably something small and unimportant. So they opened with this – a six USA whiskey, predominately bourbon, rare as hell set of a tasting. Joking aside, I was nervous about going, due to, well covid and not wanting to be a virus spreader, but it was held in the well ventilated, covered back area of Wolf Saloon, which had a decent amount of room as well, so I thought I would give it a go as part of my attempt to return to being social in this new world. Of the six whiskeys I had already done notes on two, and this was the first and allegedly easiest to find whisky of the evening. Well I guess it is easier, just that does not mean easy. Chris from Independent Spirit did give a lovely amount of info the background of each whiskey, but I will admit due to alcohol I have forgot most of the fine details. This is a wheated bourbon, and uses the same mash load as the three Van Winkles that came after it. Apparently the main difference is that each barrel is sampled and select ones chosen for the Van Winkle range, the rest for this cheaper but still expensive on the aftermarket bottling.

Bushmills: Caribbean Rum Cask Finish (Irish Blended Whiskey: 40% ABV)

Visual: Clear gold. Fast, thick streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Noticeable alcohol. Spicy. Dark rum. Sugar cane. Strawberry. Rhubarb touch. Cake sponge. Water makes cleaner.

Body: Smooth. Light lemon cakes. Dry grain alcohol. Strawberry. Red raspberries. Toffee. Sweet, dark rum. Vanilla. Water makes smoother. Adds grapes. Soft lime. Cherries. Brown sugar.

Finish: Alcoholic jelly touch. Red fruit medley. Dry rum. Brown sugar. Treacle touch. Alcohol air in general. Water makes burnt brown sugar. More clear rum. Dry rice.

Conclusion: This is rum finished, rather than fully aged in a rum cask like the Travel Exclusive Steamship edition. This is a blended whisky with grain whiskey in it unlike that Single Malt Steamship, and the classic 12 Year Caribbean Rum finish travel exclusive Bushmills. It is a no age statement whisky, similar to the Steamship but unlike the 12 year.

So, with all that said, you would expect the Steamship Rum edition to be superior and probably closer to the classic 12 year right? Yet, somehow it is not. Which is a long way around saying that this blended rum cask finish is pretty cool.

So, let’s get the bad side out of the way first. I’m not sure how much grain whiskey was used in this, but the neutral, rough grain kind of spirit is evident here. Not a great look, especially in the finish where it hangs around. Water mutes that but also takes down the vibrancy of the whisky a bit. So, the choice, especially for the aroma, is slight grain alcohol tingle or a more muted character.

That said, this feels pretty joyous despite its flaws. There are light citrus notes that are familiar to the Bushmills spirit that are evident there – lemon and lime notes particularly make a show. Now these citrus notes are by far not the main show, this is very much about the rum finish, but it does show one of the reasons I prefer this over the fully rum aged version – it gives more room for the native Bushmills character to show alongside the unusual ageing and give more complexity and range to the whiskey.

The rum is very present but not overwhelmingly dominant, showing as a mix of red fruit, rum itself obviously, and burnt sugar. Lovely and vibrant, yet the base Bushmills character gives that fresh contrast and make it pretty smooth overall despite the grain rough edges.

So, to no surprise, the 12 year old single malt Caribbean rum finish that now only exists in my idealised memories of it, is better than this. However, this, nearly 20 years on, is still slightly cheaper than that was – and we have had a long time of whiskey getting more expensive in the mean time. It is a heck of a lot easier to get than that was and , oh yes, this still exists – unlike that one.

So, go in expecting the grain edges, a slight rice in the finish and accepting it won’t be a classic and you will find a fun rum finished Bushmills. One that will do as a stand in while I plead for them to pull their damn finger out and remake the proper 12 year single malt take again. It is far from perfect, but a decent price point for a fun dram, so it does the job for me.

Background: Ok, this one has some background indeed, as has been hinted at in the main notes. The travel exclusive 12 Year Caribbean Rum Cask Finish Bushmills Single Malt was one of my first real great whiskeys I tried. So, since that was only available for a short time, I have spent the years since trying to find something similar. So, when I found this, a blended no age statement Bushmills, with that cask finish, at Independent Spirit I had to grab it and give it a try. Since it was calling back to a more innocent age I went with The Eels: Beautiful Freak as music. Loved that album and hadn’t listened to it for a while.

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