Yesterday was our first full tasting for 2015 and we wanted to make it a good one! Featured this week was the new Lost Prophet along with the three prior Orphan Barrel bottles and a couple of new and very different Longrow's.
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But first up was a very unusual single barrel cachaça from Novo Fogo that had been aged for 9 years (one of the distilleries earliest barrels) and was bottled at a cask strength of only 82 proof. Far too expensive but the temptation of something unusual got the better of me with this one! Chalk this one up to a learning experience. I really should have brought a moderately aged agricole for comparison but I did not think of it until too late. Not that it would have mattered as this was not really similar to any 9yo or so agricole I have had.
While it was reportedly aged in American oak it is not clear what the size or source of the barrels is. I suspect it is at least a standard sized bourbon barrel (it yielded 240 bottles after all) but that it was broken down, sanded and retoasted before use based on this review of the standard barrel aged version. In any case the barrel influence here seems subtle as the color is remarkably light for a 9yo spirit aged in the rainforest!
So, what does it taste like? Well, it has a moderately herbal nose, almost like a trace of anisette, and little to no alcohol on the nose. The palate has a mildly spicy flavor with little in the way of mouth feel. A bit thinner than expected. It certainly doesn't seem very "rummy" despite its origin from sugar cane juice like Rhum agricole. It tastes more like an herbal liqueur that has a long sweet finish that really grows over time. Very pleasant and easy to drink but not a bottle I would feel the need to try again. Oh well, worth a shot!
So then it was on to big bad Diageo and the Orphan Barrel series, including the newest member, Lost Prophet, a 22yo bopurbon from the Stagg (now BT) distillery. All four weigh in at or near 90 proof. First up was the 26yo Old Blowhard. This was surprisingly drinkable for me last time and this time was no different. A musty leathery wood nose with little of the varnish character I have found in something like EC23. A touch of heat and spice that quickly turns to vanilla and then fades to an herbal quality towards the back. A modest mouthfeel at most. Only in the finish does the wood stand out with a dry and slightly ashy finish although with time that finish evolves into a bit of an herbal character and maybe just a touch of sweetness. Is the cachaça messing with me a bit? Water did nothing except make it a bit more bitter all around.
Next up was Barterhouse which a had a similar but less intense nose followed by a thin but delicate sweetness on the palate. the Finish was less dry and it seemed to come off a bit more well rounded than the OB. Next was the 20yo Rhetoric which again had a similar nose but had a creamier mouthfeel with a fair amount of vanilla on the palate initially but was otherwise a bit less noteworthy than the previous two. Too bad you can't cherry pick the best elements of each!
Finally it was time to open the newcomer, Lost Prophet. Immediately different nose with less wood and less of the musty leathery thing going on. Instead it was a bit more herbal. It had a similar oily viscosity as the Rhetoric but less vanilla on the palate as the herbal note of the nose carried through the palate and into the finish. Very little heat or spice and the finish had little woody character to me.
Still not sure if I like the Lost Prophet or any of them for that matter although the decent price point of the Barterhouse continues to make that one the most interesting. I suppose the presumed heavy filtering is what is making them all taste just a tad uninspired.
Then after a brief cheese and crackers break we switched gears to the Longrow. First up was the 11yo cask strength (104.2 pf) Longrow Red finished in Cabernet barrels for 4 years. Popping the cork the first thing you get is Wham, Bam, Band-aids and Iodine, Ma'am! This is not a bad thing of course. And there was little in the way of what I would call smoke, just peat. It also tasted a bit hotter than the proof with peat and heat through the palate. The Cabernet drinkers swore there was a splash or red berry fruit at the end of the palate and start of the finish but quite honestly it escaped me. The finish was just more peat to me. A touch of water helped tame the heat a bit but the wine influence was lost on me. It was not bad but if the rest of the Longrow Red series is like this then I think one example is enough. Not enough balance for me.
Finally we plunged into both the Longrow 14yo Burgundy finish and darkness (a car apparently took out a power pole and left us without power for a couple of hours). This was also cask strength at 112.2 and was aged 11 years before an additional 3 years in 'fresh" burgundy casks. However this was quite different from the Red as the peat was clearly in a secondary role here. Nice hints of red fruit on the note interacting with the peat. The palate was definitely a bit sweeter with cherry/red fruit flavors and a touch of wood towards the end that carried into the lingering finish. A touch of water helped to further emphasize the fruit character. Much more interesting to me although others liked the blast of peat in the Longrow Red more.
So that was about it, right? Oh no! After another brief break it was time for a beer or two to wash it all down.
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We started with the newest addition from the Bell's Planet series which so far had been pretty disappointing. Mercury was no exception. Billed as a Belgian Pale Ale style the only thing they got right was that it is pale. It is also largely devoid of any flavor. We also used this opportunity to try the new Spencer Trappist Beer, also a Belgian Pale Ale style. Spencer is the ninth and newest of the monasteries to be permitted to use the trappist designation and is the only one to be located in the US (Massachusetts). Compared to the Mercury it was a huge improvement but when paired against Orval, for me an archetype of the Belgian Pale Ale, it also fell a bit short.
Next we tried Gregorius, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale from Stift Engelszell which is another recently recognized Trappist monastery brew from Austria, against another classic, the Trappistes Roquefort 8 Belgian Strong Dark Ale. The Gregorius fared much better against the TR8 but still fell short in comparison to this classic example of the style.
Then just for the hell of it as we were sitting around in the dark we decided to finish the whole thing off with a bit of 3 Taverns Heavy Bells, a bourbon barrel aged quad from a local brewery as insulation against the increasing chill! This is definitely one of the better local brews available for those who like the strong higher proof quad style of Belgian ale.
A long but enjoyable day!