Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by Santa Fe Spirits. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy links towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
The American desert southwest isn’t the first place one thinks about when it comes to whiskey. Typically, one is inclined to think of mists, fog, wetlands and the like. But don’t sell the desert short.
Out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, comes Colkegan single malt mesquite smoked whiskey. Santa Fe Spirits founder and owner Colin Keegan began his distillery in 2010. Moving to the desert from England, Keegan wanted to produce single malt whiskey on the apple orchard land he and his wife, Suzette, purchased. Using malted barley and the unique addition of malted mesquite, Colkegan whiskeys are cask aged in various barrel types. Here, I’m reviewing three: Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey, Colkegan Apple Brandy Cask Finish, and Colkegan Cask Strength Single Malt. Each are quite unique and have some wonderful tastes and essences, though the Cask Strength, with its high ABV, disappoints a little overall.
The distillery is also at 7,000 ft. above sea-level, a far cry from the Scottish coastal lands with their constant humidities. Keegan claims that the changes in temperature and humidity have a positive impact on the whiskeys. The three whiskeys are all made from malted barley, about a third of which is smoked with mesquite, and all three whiskeys are aged three or more years in both new and previously used barrels.
It’s the mesquite used in smoking some of the barley that sets these whiskeys apart from other American brands, and makes them–perhaps–jealous rivals of their Scotch cousins from Islay, where peat is used to encourage similar, though more subdued, flavors.
Tasting Notes: Colkegan Apple Brandy Cask Single Malt Whiskey
Vital Stats: 46% ABV, mash bill 100% malted barley, lightly mesquite smoked first in aged barrels and then transferred to apple brandy barrels. $69.99 per 750 ml bottle.
Appearance: Light amber, pale golden.
Nose: Ginger and spiced apple or pear, with a hint and backing of vanilla.
Palate: The familiar smokey, “peaty” nature of the mesquite is noticeable immediately, though it has a smoked meats suggestion to it. This is followed by pear and apple notes wrapped around a whisper of vanilla and some ginger. The spicy character, while not unpleasant, does linger on the palate.
Tasting Notes: Colkegan Cask Strength Single Malt Whiskey
Appearance: Light amber, pale golden.
Nose: Slight astringency on the nose with light aromas of ginger, honey and some alcohol. Mesquite belies itself on the nose, but it is there.
Palate: The astringency on the nose does give way, but the alcohol is immediately noticeable on the palate. On the approach, there is vanilla and honey, but that quickly gives way and there is a lack of balance in flavors on the evolution. The mesquite and high ABV then dominate on the tongue, leaving little room for the lighter notes of pear, ginger, vanilla and honey.
Tasting Notes: Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey
Appearance: Slightly less pale than the previous iterations, this amber and honey colored whiskey, is less pale gold and more light amber.
Nose: Honeysuckle and vanilla predominate when aerated just a bit, with hints of lavender and ginger.
Palate: The honey and vanilla on the nose follow through on the approach followed by a touch of butterscotch and this whiskey is also a bit more smooth than its siblings above. There is ginger and spice on the evolution and the finish, and mesquite comes strongly into play on the finish as well.
I’m not sold on the use of mesquite as an agent of smokiness in whiskey. Its tastes and smells overpower just a bit more than I’d prefer. The Cask Strength Single Malt simply tasted too much of the smoke and the alcohol. That said, the latter two Colkegan bottles are very fine tasting whiskeys that I find myself really enjoying, with the Apple Brandy Cask iteration as my first preference among the three. There are definitely subtle fruit and honey, candy and spice flavors here worth exploring.
Mark Storer is a writer and certified sommelier in the Puget Sound region. He contributes to a number of publications including Discoverwashingtonwine.com, Washington Tasting Room, the University of Washington, Tacoma and many others. While Mark has tasted, written about and reviewed wines from the Mexican border to the Canadian border,...