A belated update: NWC July Tasting of American Whiskies

Ok, so it has been quite a long time since my last update or review and I am just now trying to do a little catch-up. In my defense, though, I spent most of the last 10 weeks teaching kids to play golf at the Nike Summer Golf Camps at my course; that meant standing out in the sun, in 100+ temperatures, with a good dose of humidity to top it off, for the best part of 7 hours a day, four days a week. Don’t get me wrong, it was a blast – the kids were fun (for the most part) and seemed to enjoy the camps, but by day’s end I was worn out and not really ready to sit down at the computer!

And then, naturally, what does anyone do after four straight days of golf camp? I went out to play golf myself each Friday, in the sun, the heat, and the humidity, as well as having my regular Sunday morning golf game, too……as you can see, it was a strenuous, challenging summer that was not particularly conducive to posting on the NWC site!


But summer camps are over so let’s get back to the whisky, which is why were here after all!


Our most recent Newcomers Whisky Club event was held this past July – I told you I was late! For this meeting we took a slight divergence from the world of Scotch to try some American Whiskies, with the emphasis on exploring the emerging “craft distilling” movement. Everyone knows about the Big Boys of American Bourbon, the ubiquitous Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Makers Mark whiskies, but lurking in the shadows cast by these global behemoths is an explosion of new, unique and quite creative whiskey-makers who go beyond basic bourbon, creating their own identities and bringing to the glass a wide variety of styles that are starting to put their imprint on the concept of American Whiskey.

The line-up for our New American Whiskies tasting started with Larceny, a “wheated” Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey from the quite large and “not-so-craft” Heaven Hill distillery. My plan was to start the tasting with a wheated bourbon to show how this style can be very different to the corn/rye-based Bourbons, and I tried to find a small distillery, “craft,” wheated bourbon, but searching the local retail stores didn’t provide any options so I went with one that is from a large distillery but is perhaps not as well-known to our members.

Our next whisky was a “traditional” bourbon produced by Ascendant Spirits out of Buellton, CA. Sold under the label Breaker Bourbon Whiskey, this is (as far as I can tell) a sourced bourbon, most likely from our friends in Indiana. Although the Ascendant Spirits website provides a rather full description of their distillery, their equipment and experience, the timing of the distillery’s creation and the release of this bourbon still suggest its origin as a sourced whisky. That being said, the bourbon is quite good, if somewhat mainstream, showing all the expected bourbon notes you’d expect.

From there, things really started to get interesting! Next up was a bourbon whisky from Robert and Sonat Birnecker, the husband and wife team behind the Koval Distillery in Chicago. Founded in 2008, Koval produces organic spirits and often putting a singular twist on their products. And, all the Koval offerings are single barrel bottlings, so there is a lot to explore! Interestingly, the Koval Bourbon Whiskey we tasted actually uses Millet as one of the component grains. Millets are small seed grasses commonly raised as crops in many arid, hot climates such as India and sub-Saharan Africa. In the US, one of the most common uses for millet is…….bird seed! When tasted, the Koval bourbon was distinct, showing its traditional bourbon heritage with some sweet vanilla, brown sugar and soft berry fruit notes, but it also revealed a uniqueness on the nose and palate that has to be attributed to the millet component. Quite surprising and surprisingly good!

Heading back to the west coast and to Seattle, we tasted a very good Westland American Single Malt Whiskey from the Westland Distillery. Using pale malt from Washington, other specialty malts from the Pacific Northwest and Belgian brewer’s yeast, the Westland Single Malt has a recognizably Scotch-ish profile, yet maintains its individuality. I’ve been a fan of Westland since I first tasted their whiskies, and re-visiting this one reaffirmed that they are making plain-old good whiskey.

Just a bit down the road in Portland is the Clear Creek Distillery, which produces McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey. Clear Creek uniquely produces the raw spirit in single distillation runs. Made with 100% peated Scottish malt and aged in barrels made from Oregon oak, the peat smoke notes are very vivid, yet there is a very nice balance between the peat and the soft fruits, delicate grassy and malty sweet notes. Well worth a try if you have the opportunity (and like peated whiskies)!

Continuing our journey south from Portland and into California, our next whiskey was the Old Potrero Single Malt Straight Rye Whiskey from Anchor Distilling Company in San Francisco, CA. Anchor Distilling is sister company to Anchor Brewing, producer of Anchor Steam beer. This rye whiskey is quite good, full-bodied, sweet and floral, with big spice notes and a great finish.

Perhaps THE most inventive distillery in the US, the Corsair Artisan Distillery in Nashville produces some of the most unusual, sometimes very curious, whiskies on the planet…..as proof, consider that they produce a Quinoa, a Buckwheat, and a Smoked Oak whisky, plus numerous other experimental releases. For this tasting we tried their Ryemageddon American Rye Whiskey that is made from a combination of malted rye and chocolate (highly roasted) rye. Big, bold and very definitely RYE – huge floral and spice notes, the chocolate malt also makes an impression. Really a fun whiskey!

There is quite a story behind our final whiskey of the evening – if you want the details, click on the link to read the book insert. Our tasting ended with a Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky, Batch SM15-3, Bottled 3.10.2015. Balcones Distilling, out of Waco, TX, was founded in 2007 by Chip Tate, who set out to create a “Texas whisky identity,” not to simply create a Texas bourbon. Along the way Chip and Balcones garnered worldwide recognition for the unique, high quality whiskies they produced. The Texas Single Malt  Big, expressive flavors full of cereals, wood spices, marzipan, creamy toffee, and with a rich body, the Balcones Single Malt is definitely its own whisky, and would be highly recommended, if not for the way that Chip was forced out of the company he founded by his business partners.


So, there you have it! It was a great line-up of some very good, and certainly some very unique “New American” whiskies. Cheers!


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