A big thanks to Aaron at Ro-Bro who kindly sent me a review sample of the 2016 limited release (8000 bottles) of cask-strength bourbon from Angel’s Envy. (See my review of last year’s release here.)
This has become an annual tradition for me. I get a package in the mail around the time the leaves start to turn – a precious 100ml bottle of the current year’s release of Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon. It’s always an intense burnished copper/gold color, and it smells like the fires of Hell burning up a Portuguese wine-making town. At 62.3% ABV, this year’s release is no different. A seven (ish) year-old Kentucky Bourbon (sourced from at least two – probably more – Kentucky distilleries) finished in ruby port casks, the barrels chosen for the annual cask-strength release are carefully selected from maturing stock by Wes and Kyle Henderson.
You can look forward to 2020 or so, when we might start seeing whisky from Angel’s Envy distilled at their new distillery in Louisville, Kentucky.
The estimated retail price for this is $179, up 20 bucks from the 2015 release, which shows just how insane the premium whisky category has become of late. The only people considering this purchase are already die-hard Angel’s Envy fans (and who don’t need my review), or those flush with more money than they know what to do with. If you’re in the latter category, feel free to buy me a bottle too! 😉
Nose: Approach with caution. At this proof, it will crawl right up your nose and burn your sinuses! Furniture lacquer, blueberry jam, espresso, bright red candied apples, black cherry lozenges, and black pepper. Deep, dark, and pungent.
Palate: An initial wave of cassis is burned out by a gout of hellfire that anesthetizes the tongue (you’d think I’d be used to cask strength whiskies by now…) Under anesthesia, the taste buds can make out blackberry preserves, toffee, espresso, charcoal, and a rough, oaky sweetness.
Finish: Medium-short, but confused. Upfront there is bitter charcoal and charred toast, which fades quickly into tannic red grape skins. Quite dry.
With Water: A big splash of water helps quench the fires, and allows me to detect a few additional notes: marshmallow, mixed berries, and licorice on the palate. Water is nearly a necessity here to make it drinkable, but you might brave a first sip or two without, to get the full blast of concentrated 124 proof flavor.
Overall: As usual, Angel’s Envy cask strength brings a wealth of intense flavor at a tongue-searing proof. You pay for the robust, dense flavors of berries and complex caramelized sugars in dead taste buds and the inability to smell for a few hours after. By all means, proof it down, but you might as well experience the full force of the 124.6 proof that you paid for. And paid well, I should add, at around $180. For that kind of money, this can only be a special-edition splurge.
In my experience, which is only a couple years now in this realm, the higher the alcohol content, the more it tends to take away from the enjoyment of nosing, tasting and judging the finish.
I would agree, except that when I think of some prime cask-strength whiskies I’ve had, like Aberlour a’bunadh, the finish can be long and redolent of the high notes (sherry, in a’bunadh’s case) found on the palate, usually in conjunction with higher-than-normal barrel tannin / dryness.
I agree that most cask strength single malts retain their nosing, taste, and finish notes. But I ordered a 2oz pour of Booker’s one time, and at 64% ABV, it was wsy too hot and boozy. I ended up ruining it trying to mellow it with water. Seems to me you wrote about a similar experience, Nathan.
Yup! I always try to “brave” a cask-strength whisky at full strength to see how powerfully concentrated its flavors are. Then I usually chicken out after a sip or two and add water to proof it down. Adding water makes it drinkable, and often allows you to detect aromas/flavors that you couldn’t before… but it always reduces that awesome concentration of flavor. That’s why I like to try it both ways. 🙂
Don’t know why my first reply came through as Anonymous! Anyway. ..l do like trying cask strength. Though seldom can afford it!
So how does it compare to the 2015?
It’s of equal quality, but with different characteristics (I found the 2015 to have a lot of fresh, bright fruit, while the 2016 has more jam and dark berry flavors). Since the 2016 is $20 more per bottle, the relative price-quality ratio has gone down. In other words, if you thought the 2015 was just barely worth the money, then you’ll think the 2016 isn’t quite worth the money anymore.
Better question is how do I find a bottle? I am trying to get this as a gift and the stores I’ve called do not have a bottle. The places I’ve found online will not ship it to IL. 🙁
Yes, finding limited edition whiskies these days can be tough (or even impossible). Living in a state with restrictive liquor shipping (or retail) laws makes it even harder. All I can say is, good luck! 🙁