Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

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Lagavulin 12 appears in the Diageo Special Releases nearly every year — but this year it has the luxury of appearing as part of Lagavulin’s 200th anniversary celebratory releases (see also its 8 year old and 25 year old).

This year’s Lag 12, aged in refill American oak hogsheads, is particularly worthwhile, rounded and balanced right from the start, which kicks off on the nose with notes of sweet barbecue smoke, plus hefty iodine and seaweed. There’s citrus notes — lemon and orange — in the mix, with a hard-to-place character that ultimately hits me as lemongrass. The palate is surprisingly restrained considering the hefty proof level, a centerpiece for briny seaweed, lemon peel, and a touch of spice. The finish retreats to a rather bitter note, which works surprisingly well with the mild sweetness and fruity notes that come before.

All told, it’s a bit of a departure from prior Lagavulin 12s, which have tended to be quite heavy on the peat, but this year’s relative quietness really lets Lagavulin’s more delicate, underlying character shine through.

115.4 proof.

A- / $135 / malts.com

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Chocolate Orange Stout and Christmas Ale

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Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery is out with two new seasonals, a nitro chocolate orange stout, and a classic Christmas ale. Let’s give both a try!

Breckenridge Brewery Chocolate Orange Stout – You might expect a nitrogen-charged stout flavored with chocolate and orange zest to be heavy, even overwhelming — but Breckenridge’s nitro choc-orange stout is anything but. Light on its feet but velvety without being overpowering, the brew lets the bittersweet cocoa notes shine the most brightly, with just a hint of citrus on the back end. The main event is nutty and malty, but could benefit from more spice to liven up an otherwise somewhat muddy middle. 6% abv. B / $12 per four-pack of 15.2 oz cans

Breckenridge Brewery Christmas Ale – Christmas ales can often be overloaded with baking spices, brown sugar, and evergreen notes to the point of undrinkability, but Breckenridge’s version plays things a bit cooler. Yes, all of the above are present in the mix, but the caramel and spice notes are tempered. The likely reason: “Unlike other holiday and winter beers on the market, Breckenridge Brewery does not add any spice to Christmas Ale, rather the spicy characteristics come from the Chinook and Mt. Hood hops.” Relatively bold on the tongue — enough to stand up to the cold weather outside — it’s got enough bitterness on the finish to counterbalance the festive notes that come before. 7.1% abv. A- / $9 per six-pack of 12 oz bottles

breckbrew.com

Review: Cragganmore Limited Edition 2016

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It’s not Christmas yet, but that most anticipated time of the year has arrived: The release of Diageo’s Special Releases, rarities from Scotland-based distilleries (some long-closed) being trickled to our shores.

This year’s batch includes 10 whiskies, all of which we have on hand for review and will cover one of each day for the next 10 days. We’ll start with the only NAS release in the lot, a special cask strength release of Cragganmore.

This malt is filled from both refill and rejuvenated American oak hogsheads and ex-sherry European oak butts. Again, no age statement.

Cragganmore is a standard-grade but often quite lovely whisky, and at barrel proof it showcases a power it doesn’t usually offer when watered down. The nose is heavy with malted cereal, moderate to heavy sherry/citrus notes, and a haunting pepper/spice note that arrives when you inhale deeply. The palate continues this thread, offering a bruisingly powerful body that features loads of sweetened cereal, billowy heather, modest vanilla, and a lick of iodine late in the game. The finish is sweet, sherried, and lasting.

Traditional to its core, this expression of Cragganmore doesn’t exactly reinvent what we’ve come to expect from Speyside — but it does showcase its core flavors with the utmost of credibility.

111.4 proof. 600 bottles released in the U.S.

B+ / $600 / malts.com

Review: Tovolo Sphere Clear Ice System

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Nothing makes a better statement in a cocktail than using a single piece of ice to chill it. Up the ante by making that a sphere instead of a cube. Up it again by ensuring the ice is crystal clear, not cloudy.

The secret of clear ice was figured out a long time ago: Water that freezes very slowly is clearer, because the trapped gasses in the water have time to escape. The home method to do this is to freeze water inside a series of coolers. The catch: This takes an insane amount of room in your freezer, and a very long time. And at the end, you still have to carve your own cubes or spheres out of the block of ice you have.

Tovolo attempts to solve all of these problems with this unique product which promises to make clear, spherical ice balls without nearly as much hassle.

You put together the inner (green) silicone components, then fill with water through a hole in the top. Then you surround that with a plastic sleeve. The sleeve acts as the second cooler in the operation, slowing down the freezing process (a lot). It takes a solid 12 hours or more for the ice in the inner silicone mold to freeze. You are actually left with two spheres — the one on the bottom is a pretty cloudy mess, but the one on top is supposed to be the clear one. Results? Well, after several tests, the ice that came out was clearer than any other ice in my freezer, but nothing I’d describe as “crystal clear,” which the box (and the picture on the box) touts. Check the photo to the right to see for yourself.

While $16 isn’t going to break the bank, there are plenty of spherical molds on the market that will get you roughly the same results as this one, with considerably less hassle. Note that Tovolo also makes a cube ice version of the product, should right angles become hot in 2017.

$16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Crown Royal Vanilla Canadian Whisky

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Crown Royal continues to experiment with flavored whiskies, its latest expression being a natural whisky fit: Vanilla. The product is described as “a blend of hand-selected Crown Royal whiskies infused with the rich flavor of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla.”

If you like vanilla and you like Canadian whisky, well, you’ll love Crown Royal Vanilla, which is a “best of both worlds” experience. Mind you, it’s nothing you’ll be writing postcards about, but rather a vanilla-heavy experience that borders on marshmallow-sweet (and -flavored) at times. The heavy sugariness of the experience isn’t a deal-breaker, and given the intention of this whisky to be used as a mixer, not a sipper, it’ll fit right in with cola or another simple combo. (See below for more cocktail ideas.) Light mixed berry notes add a touch of complexity on the back end, along with some simple milk chocolate character and just the lightest hint of woody barrel char — but by and large this is a showcase for sweet vanilla syrup from start to finish. That’s not a bad thing, I suppose. All told, this is nothing that will blow your mind, but there’s nothing not to like here, either.

70 proof.

B / $26 / crownroyal.com

Below please find some recipes that Crown Royal suggests, in partnership with Hella Company and Cocktail Courier (which will deliver all the ingredients you need to make both of these in one kit). They’re both quite pungent, so feel free to work with the proportions liberally.

Crown Vanilla and Hella Cola
1.5 oz. Crown Royal Vanilla
1 oz. Hella Cola cocktail syrup
3.5 oz. club soda
whole vanilla bean*

Mix in a highball glass filled with ice. Use vanilla bean as a stirrer and leave bean in glass as if a straw. Garnish with an unsqueezed lime wedge if desired.

* yes, they mean a pod, not a whole bean

Vanilla Old Fashioned
1.5 oz. Crown Royal Vanilla
0.5 oz Woods Boiled Cider
3 dashes Hella Orange Bitters

In a double rocks glass add all ingredients, then add ice to above the level of liquid. Stir for 10 seconds. Garnish with thick orange peel if desired.

Review: 2013 Saved Red Wine

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A blend of “Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, and small amounts of other red varietals,” this is a California bottling from parts otherwise unknown. The wine is initially dialed back, but some air and time in glass reveals a denser-than-expected fruit core that showcases blackberries, blueberries, and currants. There’s a lacing of vanilla and a touch of balsamic in the mix, with a finish that echoes cake frosting (but in a good way), plus a hint of chocolate-dusted, bittersweet amaro.

The wine is also being released in conjunction with a new corkscrew designed by Saved creator Scott Campbell, who is a tattoo artist. Some deets:

Available at Shinola stores and online in time for the holidays, the solid brass corkscrew marries form and function to bring a little ceremony to the everyday act of opening a bottle of wine. With its intricate design of sigils, reflective of Scott’s tattoo style, this piece makes a perfect gift for those who appreciate design and fine wine equally. Available exclusively for holiday 2016 in Shinola stores and online at shinola.com for $125.

B+ / $16 / savedwines.com

Review: El Consuelo Tequila Reposado

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El Consuelo is a new brand just launched this year. It is one of only a few USDA-certified organic tequilas, made with Highland agave and, curiously, is aged in Cognac barrels instead of the usual bourbon barrels. We received the reposado for review, which spends six months in wood before bottling.

Heavy agave kicks off the nose; for a reposado I’d expect a more sedate herbal character, but here it’s really quite pungent, the agave showing overtones of petrol and mushroom. On the palate, again the powerful agave is front and center — it initially drinks like a blanco rather than a typical reposado — but give it some time and sweeter elements make their way to the fore. It’s nearer to the finish that notes of maple syrup, raisin, and vanilla candies finally bubble up. But the biggest surprise is saved for last, as the finish evokes a very atypical note of fresh thyme, which becomes particularly evident primarily on the nose.

All told it’s a very unusual tequila, and worth sampling at least once.

B / $46 / elconsuelotequila.com

Tasting Report: Wines of the Petaluma Gap, 2016

Draw a line eastward from Bodega Bay to Sonoma, and another one parallel to that about 10 miles to the south. Congratulations, you’ve just outlined, roughly, the Petaluma Gap, a much-discussed region of Sonoma County (plus a bit of Marin County) that is heralded particularly for its colder-climate pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. The “gap” itself is a break in the mountains that surround this region, creating a canyon of sorts through which the cold Pacific breeze can blow, all the way to the San Pablo Bay.

Recently the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance put together a tasting of wines grown exclusively from grapes grown in this small region. You’ll find some familiar names in the tasting report below, along with some you’ve probably never heard of.

Brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: Petaluma Gap Wines, 2016 Releases

2013 Agnitio Wines Pinot Noir Sun Chase Vineyard / C+ / rather vegetal, bitter edges
2014 Agnitio Wines Pinot Noir Sun Chase Vineyard / A- / more floral, still dense with dried fruits
2013 Agnitio Wines Chardonnay Sun Chase Vineyard / B / earthy, but quite buttery at times
2014 Black Kite Cellars Chardonnay Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / fairly classic, lots of aromatics
2013 Black Kite Cellars Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / some antiseptic notes on the nose; body is rich and bold, ample cherry
2013 Brooks Note Winery Pinot Noir Marin County / B+ / acidic, quite tart, restrained fruit
2014 Brooks Note Winery Pinot Noir Marin County / A- / also very tart, but nicely focused with overtones of tea leaf amidst bolder fruit
2012 Clouds Rest Vineyards Allure Chardonnay / A- / strong fruit notes fade into a butter and spice character
2011 Clouds Rest Vineyards Femme Fatale Pinot Noir / A- / aromatic, spicy, bold cherry notes
2008 Clouds Rest Vineyards Pinot Noir (Reserve) / A- / very big, heavy spice, cloves and cinnamon, plus dried fruits; long finish
2013 Fogline Vineyards Pinot Noir Fogline Neighbors / A- / fruity, lively with lots of acidity
2013 Fogline Vineyards Pinot Noir Hillside Block / A- / similar, tending more toward a baking spice note
2013 Keller Estate Pinot Noir La Cruz Vineyard / B+ / a bit dusty, but solid berry underpinnings
2013 Keller Estate Rotie / B / 93% syrah; very aromatic, licorice notes on a big big body
2012 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve / B / lots of aromatics, dense finish is lackluster
2012 La Rochelle Wines Pinot Noir El Coro Vineyard / B / lots of aromatics, almost ethereal in body; some earthy overtones mar the finish
2013 La Rochelle Wines Pinot Meunier Parliament Hills Vineyard / A- / lots of acidity, plus some cocoa character, curious
2013 Loxton Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / B+ / spicy, bold raisin bread note
2014 Loxton Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / A- / chewy and balanced
2013 Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / B+ / big and mouth-filling with coffee and chocolate notes, still tannic; try in 3-4 years
2014 Pfendler Vineyards Pinot Noir / A- / bold and rich in style; dark fruit, chocolate notes
2013 Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah Rodgers Creek Vineyard / B / meaty, a classic Rhone syrah style; very bold, lasting finish
2012 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / very fruit forward, quite acidic with a flick of licorice and dark chocolate
2013 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / quite similar; a bit more punch
2014 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / slightly bigger herbal character
2014 WALT Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / C+ / licorice nose; somewhat flabby body; very bitter finish
2014 Waxwing Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard / B- / modest, simple but quite bitter edges
2013 Waxwing Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard / C+ / very very dry; dusty to an extreme

Review: Glenfiddich Experimental Series #1 IPA Cask Finish

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Even old guard Glenfiddich can’t stay away from the fun of experimental whiskymaking. In fact the distillery is launching a whole line of experimental spirits called the Experimental Series which revolve around unusual cask finishes. First out of the gate: an India Pale Ale cask finish.

This isn’t a partnership with a major brewery. Rather, the distillery worked closely with a local Speyside craft brewery to craft a custom IPA, then aged it in its own used whisky casks,. Those casks were then emptied and used to finish already mature Glenfiddich. There’s no age statement for the initial aging run, but the whisky ultimately spends 12 weeks in the IPA barrels.

This is the first of what will likely be a significant series of releases from Glenfiddich. While we wait for what’s coming down the pipe, let’s take a taste of what GF has cooked up with its IPA Cask Finish.

On the nose, it’s definitely malty, bourbon-casked Glenfiddich, but it comes with a clear beer influence as well — moderately hoppy, with citrus (but not sherry) overtones. The palate is malty at first, showcasing traditional notes of cereal, light caramel and vanilla notes, heather, and a touch of spice… but while you’re grasping for that lattermost note the IPA finish kicks in. A slug of hops followed by some bitter orange peel immediately connotes IPA, The finish is decidedly beer-like, bittersweet and herbal at times, but also kicking out a chocolate character that is decidedly unique.

All told, I really love this expression — and am shocked at how generally affordable and available it is. Can’t wait to see what’s next in the series.

86 proof.

A- / $70 / glenfiddich.com

Bar Review: The Oakwood, Vancouver B.C.

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Vancouver’s Oakwood is a Canadian Bistro by name, featuring a decent-sized restaurant serving Canadian classics next to a roaring fire. But across the aisle is a bar that’s worthy of your time in its own right.

We picked an auspicious time to visit, as Oakwood’s former bartender recently left and was just replaced by a new fellow, Robert, who’s dismantling the current drinks menu and replacing it with new libations.

We tried one of these new cocktails on the day it was designed — the Exuberant Gaucho, a mix of anejo tequila, Campari, creme de cacao, and cold brew coffee. It’s the dash of chili-infused vodka that gives it the exuberance — and we went back and forth with the bartender on whether one dash or two was the best version. (Our ultimate vote: One dash, plus some chocolate bitters.)

The only cocktail Robert says he plans to keep on the list is the Shrubbery, a complex mix of grilled pineapple-infused tequila, Aperol, pineapple bark shrub, lime juice, pineapple-jalapeno bitters, and a smoked chili salt rim. An easy crowd pleaser that offers an amazing balance among its various flavors, it fires on all cylinders right from the start and goes down incredibly easy.

Keep an eye on the place come January when the new menu should be revealed!

theoakwood.ca

Review: Jefferson’s Reserve Old Rum Cask Finish Bourbon

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Jefferson’s latest release is this special edition, which takes standard, fully-matured Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon and finishes it in Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum barrels.

The barrels themselves have a compelling history — they held bourbon for four years, then held Gosling’s for 16 years, then were sent back to Jefferson’s for this experiment, in which he dumped the eight-year old, straight Kentucky whiskey. The bourbon aged for 15 additional months in these barrels before bottling.

So, fun stuff from the get-go, and sure enough it’s a knockout of a whiskey.

The nose is loaded with molasses notes, brown sugar, tons of baking spice, some coconut husk, and only a smattering of wood. If I didn’t know any better, from the nose I’d probably have guessed this was a well-aged rum instead of a whiskey.

The palate belies the bourbonness of the spirit, melding caramel corn with a big injection of sweet caramel, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, and layers of chocolate sauce — both sweet milk and bittersweet dark. The rush of sweetness isn’t overpowering, but rather fades easily into its lightly wooded, vanilla-focused finish.

This is one whiskey that’s hard to put down. I’d snap it up on sight before it’s all gone.

90.2 proof.

A / $80 / jeffersonsbourbon.com

Review: Morocco’s Ouled Thaleb 2013 Signature and 2012 Aït Souala

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Quick, what’s the wine hot spot of the Arab world? Morocco, it turns out, where Domaine Ouled Thaleb is the country’s oldest working winery. Ouled Thaleb has been pushing into the States of late, and recently the company began exporting two new blends to our shores. Curious how Moroccan wine — here represented by a pair of blends that mix together both oddball varietals and better-known international grapes — fares? Read on.

2013 Ouled Thaleb Signature – 50% marselan, 35% petit verdot, 15% carmenere. (Marselan is a cross of cabernet sauvignon and grenache.) Rustic but well-rounded, this blend offers a core of dark fruits alongside a significant earthiness, loading up notes of leather and tar, with a finish that echoes violets and some balsamic notes. A mixed bag, but for the most part it’s approachable and engaging. B / $28

2012 Ouled Thaleb Aït Souala – 50% arinarnoa, 25% tannat, 25% malbec. This is a much more approachable wine (arinarnoa is a cross of merlot and petit verdot), starting with heady, aromatic aromas of cloves, baking spice, and ginger — but cut with some tarry character — that then moves into a lush, fruit-forward body. Raisins, plum, and raspberries all mingle with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and a gentle touch of leather. The finish is very lightly sweet, but that sweetness integrates well with all the fruit and spice that comes before. A very versatile wine, I could drink this with just about anything. A- / $24

nomadicdistribution.com