Spirits Review: the Glen Silver’s Special Reserve Blended Scotch Whisky

If you were to ask me, “If you were stranded on a desert island and you could only have one type of alcohol, which would it be?”, I’d probably say, “Tequila.” It’s strong, it’s warm weather-friendly, and as long as it’s 100% agave, it’s not very easy to mess up.

Glensilver

The Tasting Lab, neater than it has been in quite some time.

But hold on a second – that’s not to say that tequila is hands down my favorite spirit. There are just too many to pick from, and to me, the optimal spirit depends on the circumstances. It’s usually assumed that the desert island scenario refers to a tropical island, palm trees and all, and if that island was tropical, then yes, tequila would be my first choice. But if this were an island somewhere a little farther away from the equator, maybe in the Arctic, or even in the middle of one of the Great Lakes, tequila wouldn’t be my first choice. It would definitely have to be scotch. The peaty smokiness, the fiery black pepper tinge, and the light sweetness of scotch make it a perfect cold weather spirit, and on a slightly chilly night like last night, that’s what was on the menu.

I’m usually a fan of the brutally peaty Islay malts, but sometimes I don’t have the cash to splurge on a bottle of Laphroaig or Lagavulin. Sometimes I just want something I can drink a lot of, and not feel bad that I just drank what could have been a week’s worth of groceries. And that’s where the Glen Silver’s Special Reserve comes in. This modestly-priced blend comes in at $15.99 per bottle – even less than some of its bottom-shelf competitors. I have to admit that the low price put me off at first, but I enjoyed the 8- and 12-year scotches from Glen Silver’s, so with confidence, I removed the golden screw cap on this rather nice-looking bottle and went to work. Before I get into the taste, here’s some info on this blended whisky.

Stats

Packaging: 750ml bottle

Alcohol content: 40% (80 proof)

Price: $15.99 + tax

Aging: No age statement.

Appearance

Deep golden brown with slender but extremely slow legs.

Aroma

Sherry oak, light honey, toffee, and peat.

Taste

Neat, this whiskey was somewhat full-bodied with notes of black pepper, tar, hay, and a bit of honey sweetness. Adding a few drops of water mellows it greatly, allowing a subtle nutty taste to come through. The finish is long with lots of oak and a bit of peat. Judging solely from the price tag, I was expecting some of that distinct cheap whisk(e)y taste – that overwhelming peppery bite and vodka-like alcohol aftertaste that you get from ordering a shot of whiskey at a bar, without specifying what kind – but the Glen Silver’s Special Reserve, while not mind-blowingly complex, was smooth and tasty.

Final Thoughts

While the price is suspiciously low, the Glen Silver’s Special Reserve is one of the better blended whiskies I’ve had, including some of the higher-end, bigger-name blends. It’s smooth, but it still has that peppery, smoky edge I look for in a fuller-bodied scotch. I could happily sip a couple of glasses of this on the rocks before (or after) dinner, but since it’s so inexpensive, I wouldn’t feel bad making a Rob Roy or a Rusty Nail out of it. It’s no single malt, but the Glen Silver’s Special Reserve has definitely earned a space in my liquor cabinet.

Spirits Review: Arrogante Tequila

Tequila is what I call a polarizing spirit – people either really love it, or they hate it to the point of being terrified of it. I’ve never met anyone who was just okay with it. Bring it up in a conversation with a group of friends and, chances are, a couple of them will recoil in horror and say something like, “I can’t touch that stuff, it makes me crazy,” or make a squeamish noise like you just pulled a dead mouse out of your pocket. Some of them might talk about their “bad tequila night,” and a long story about blacking out, getting arrested, and going to the hospital might ensue.

A handsome bunch of bottles, these.

A handsome bunch of bottles, this.

I never had a “bad tequila night.” I’ve drunk too much of pretty much every other spirit at one point or another, but never tequila. But I’m not foolish enough to think that the bad nights I had with vodka, bourbon, or whatever else, were a result of whatever I was drinking, rather than how much I drank. For some reason, though, tequila is one of those things people really don’t want to give a second chance, which is a shame, because there are few things more enjoyable than sipping a glass of delicious, well-aged tequila. Last night I had the opportunity to try the blanco, reposado, and añejo offerings from Arrogante Tequila, and I was reminded of just how much I love this oft-maligned spirit.

Arrogante Tequila is distilled from 100% blue agave from the Jalisco highlands, using a process which, according to the manufacturer, is devoid of shortcuts. The agave is harvested, slowly baked in stone ovens called “hornos,” and fermented for 3-4 days. It is then distilled twice, and while the blanco is ready to go at that point, the reposado and añejo tequilas are then aged in used bourbon barrels. The name comes from the pride that results from producing such a tasty spirit – as their website explains it, “We’re so proud of the quality of our tequila, we called it Arrogante!” Anyway, without further ado, here are my thoughts on the line.

Stats

Packaging: 750ml bottle or 6-pack of 50ml minis

Proof: 40% alcohol (80 proof)

Price: $47.99-$58.99 + tax

Aging: Blanco: n/a; Reposado: 6 months; Añejo: 18 months.

Appearance

Blanco Reposado Añejo
Clear with medium-thin, moderately paced legs and medium viscosity. Pale caramel tint. Nice viscosity with clinging, slow legs. Nice caramel hue with ultra-clingy legs. Whisky-like in appearance.

Aroma

Blanco Reposado Añejo
Floral yet very clean nose, with just a hint of peppery alcohol. A bit more pepper and smoke on the nose, but not enough to totally cover up the earthiness of the agave. Lots of oak on the nose, along with some caramel or butterscotch, but still with some agave character.

Taste

Blanco Reposado Añejo
Super smooth and slightly smoky with a little bit of pepper and a lasting, subtle agave finish. This is among the smoother blancos I’ve tasted – not the most complex spirit, but a very enjoyable one. This is a no-frills blanco that tastes good on its own, but would really make a margarita shine. Soft and very slightly sweet up front. Much woodier than the blanco with some spicy pepper on the tip of the tongue. Long oaky, smoky finish. This is not your typical reposado; it’s not as fresh tasting as a lot of the others and has a lot more woodiness. This is a great sipper, though if you absolutely must mix it, it would be delicious in a cocktail. Smooth and a buttery; not a lot of sweetness to speak of, but lots of smoke and a little minerality on the finish. No burn whatsoever. Much sterner tasting than the reposado; not sweet, but smoother overall. This is the one that had me sitting back in my chair and wistfully staring into my empty glass, wishing I had more.

Final Thoughts

"The Tasting Lab," as I like to call it. It's not a lab. It's my desk.

“The Tasting Lab,” as I like to call it. It’s not a lab. It’s my desk.

Each one of the Arrogante Tequilas I tried really exemplified its respective style, yet each also carried some of its own unique character. They’re complex enough to impress a tequila aficionado (particularly the reposado and añejo), yet smooth enough to act as an inviting “gateway” tequila for someone who isn’t too familiar with the good stuff. As with any high-quality tequila, to shoot it would be a waste; slow down, sip it, and enjoy.

Spirits Review: Industry Standard Vodka

Let me start this review by saying that before this past year or so, I wasn’t overly fond of vodka. More accurately, I hated, feared, and avoided it at all costs. My first experience with this spirit was all-too-typical – I drank way, way, way too much of it when it was mixed with a terrible combination of other ingredients, which I will not mention here. This experience kept me far away from vodka for several years, until, as luck would have it, I found a job at Stone Ridge Wine & Spirits.

Since then, vodka and I have reconciled. In the last year, I’ve tried quite a few vodkas, ranging from the classics, like Absolut, Ketel One, and Stolichnaya, to slightly more obscure brands like Tito’s, Sobieski, and Russian Standard, to the ultra-small-batch, boutique vodkas, like Tuthilltown Spirits‘ Indigenous, Harvest Spirits‘ Core, and the subject of today’s review, Industry City Distillery’s Industry Standard.

I won’t go too much into this vodka’s background, since its creators did such a great job of detailing it on their beautifully designed website, but I will say that it is distilled in Brooklyn, New York from American-grown sugar beets. I’ve heard of vodka being made with wheat, rye, corn, potatoes, and even apples, but this is the first I’ve heard of sugar beet vodka, so for me, this was a must-try.

Stats

Packaging: 750ml bottle

Proof: 40% alcohol (80 proof)

Price: $37.99 + tax

Appearance

As with pretty much any other vodka, Industry Standard is perfectly clear. A quick swirl coats the glass and produces slowly descending legs. Worth mentioning is the bottle, which looks like it should be used for lab chemicals rather than vodka.

At first glance, this looked a bit like a warning label.

At first glance, this looked a bit like a warning label.

Aroma

You have probably never had a vodka that smells like Industry Standard. This vodka exhibits a candy-like nose with hints of butterscotch and vanilla bean, with just enough of an alcohol burn on the finish to remind you of what you’re about to drink.

Taste

The first sip is remarkably smooth – almost so smooth that you could mistake it for water, if not for the pepper that begins building on the tongue after a few seconds. Following the pepper are lasting notes of vanilla and fresh fennel, which finally give way to a clean, mineral finish. I find that a lot of different vodkas just taste like, well, vodka, and only for a second, and then they’re gone, almost as if you’d never taken a sip in the first place. This vodka’s viscosity allows for its flavors to hang on a bit longer than a lot of its peers, making it a perfect slow sipper.

Final Thoughts

If you really like vodka, you should definitely try Industry Standard. If you don’t really like vodka, you should try Industry Standard. I’ve had vodkas that were smooth, delicious, and even some that were unique, but I’ve never had one that was this complex. As for how to serve it, I have to agree with the recommendation on the bottle – “Try it neat.”

Our next installation of “let’s drink the things you’ve been scared of since college” will be a triple review of the Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo offerings from Arrogante Tequila.

Spirits Review: Palmetto Apple Pie Moonshine

Have you ever had a drink and thought, “Man, this is so delicious that I feel like writing about it?” Maybe? Not really? Well coming from a cigar reviewing background, I definitely have, but after a few drinks, it’s difficult to get motivated enough to sit at the keyboard for however long it takes you to churn out a detailed description of what you just drank. But in the case of the Palmetto Apple Pie Moonshine, I was impressed enough to take some notes.

Taken from the Palmetto Moonshine Facebook page.

Mason jars: the only way to package moonshine.

Before I get started with this review, though, here’s a little background information on Palmetto Moonshine. According to their website, the Palmetto Moonshine was founded in Anderson, South Carolina in 2010 by the Boggs brothers, Trey and Bryan, though they didn’t start making moonshine until the state legalized it in 2011. Their moonshine, which is available in several different flavors, is crafted using 100- to 200-year-old recipes shared by retired moonshiners, and is packaged in mason jars (just as it should be). And so, without further ado, here’s my take on the Palmetto Apple Pie Moonshine.

Stats

Packaging: 750ml mason jar

Proof: 22.5% alcohol (45 proof)

Price: $26.99 + tax

Aging: <1 year.

Appearance

As with the rest of the flavors, Palmetto Apple Pie Moonshine comes in a mason jar. This particular flavor has a fairly murky looking golden brown color, and at the bottom of the jar is a cinnamon stick and a nice amount of sediment. A good shake gives this moonshine the appearance of spiced apple cider.

Aroma

When served chilled, this moonshine didn’t have much of a smell, though you could definitely pick up the apple spice on the nose. At room temperature, the cinnamon and clove notes are a little more noticeable and the alcohol burn is just barely detectable, though at 45 proof, it’s not enough to be at all harsh.

Taste

The first sip delivers pronounced baking spice notes – cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg – along with a buttery note that reminded me distinctly of pie crust (this buttery flavor becomes a lot more exaggerated when the moonshine is drunk at room temperature). The apple flavor trails behind the baking spice, and is followed by a little bit of classic corn whiskey bite. The finish is fairly clean with a little bit of residual baking spice. It’s moderately sweet, though not candy-like.

Final Thoughts

As evidenced by the fact that it disappeared too quickly for me to take a decent picture of the jar (the above photo was borrowed from Palmetto Moonshine’s Facebook page), this stuff is dangerously delicious, though at 45 proof, you have to put in an effort to really overdo it. I imagine this would go very well on the rocks with a little bit of bourbon, and I imagine it would be delicious heated up, though I didn’t have the forethought to save some for either purpose. I highly recommend this moonshine, and I look forward to trying the other flavors.