Review: Grand Macnish Black Edition Blended Scotch

grand_macnish_black_edition

That weirdly dimpled bottle belongs to Grand Macnish, a venerable — but seldom seen in the States — brand of blended Scotch whisky that hails from Glasgow. Several expressions are produced, with this newly released “Black Edition” being a non-age-statement spirit that is aged in double-charred bourbon barrels.

A little brutish on the nose, it offers a punch of raw alcohol notes, followed by a modestly malty, grainy, and lightly peaty character that builds as you breathe deeply. On the palate, both of these elements are present in ample proportions, complemented by sawdust and some honey character, the latter mostly evident on the back end. The finish isn’t entirely appealing, with a somewhat raw and tough character that comes across as a bit weedy and overbearing. Some smoky elements eventually emerge, particularly as the whisky gets some air into it. On the whole, though, there’s just not much to see here except a standard, almost workmanlike example of a basic blended whisky.

80 proof.

C+ / $25 / macduffint.co.uk

Review: Sauza 901 Silver Tequila

Sauza 901 Bottle Image

Justin Timberlake-backed 901 Tequila made a huge splash back in 2009. So huge in fact that Sauza — one of the biggest names in the business — bought the brand in 2014.

Promptly renamed “Sauza 901″ and semi-repackaged (same bottle, new label), Sauza 901 is a different product that’s made in Sauza’s own distillery.

JT is still involved with Sauza 901, but now the tequila is being positioned as a slightly higher-end alternative to Sauza’s mixtos and less expensive 100% agave brands like Hornitos. Rather than $48 a bottle for the original 901, Sauza 901 costs a mere 30 bucks. It may go without saying that Sauza 901 is going to be a different experience.

The new Sauza 901 is not a bad tequila. I’d have no qualms about whipping up a margarita with this spirit, or even sipping on it straight for a bit as I’ve been doing to write this review. But as blancos go, it isn’t going to set the world on fire. The nose is rubbery and hot with more industrial alcohol notes. Has triple distillation instead of the usual double distillation method removed too much of the character from the spirit?

The palate is heavy on the vegetal agave notes, though notes of lemon and some ripe banana bubble up from beneath. The finish is a bit oily and punchy with fuel-like notes, but that intense, black pepper-meets-greenery character hits you hard and seems to last for days. A wisp of white sugar on the finish takes things in a weirdly unexpected direction, but I can’t say it wasn’t a welcome one after what comes before.

B- / $30 / 901.com

Review: Dulce Vida Extra Anejo Tequila

dulce vida extra anejo

The arrival of a new extra anejo tequila is always cause for rejoicing, and Dulce Vida’s new bottling is no exception.

This tequila spends 5 1/2 years not in bourbon barrels but in a mix of former Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot barrels from Napa’s Rombauer winery. Crafted in the Jalisco Highlands, the tequila is fair-trade certified. The producer expects stock to last for the next two to three years.

Thoughts follow.

The nose is classic, well-aged tequila — all caramel, butterscotch, and Mexican chocolate notes. On the palate, it’s a much bolder, racier tequila than many extra anejos tend to be. Here, the agave is surprisingly pushy, offering immediate spice and black pepper notes and backed up by lots of punchy salted caramel character. Notes of rhubarb and red berries emerge, given enough time. The finish melds the two major components — racy agave and sugary caramel sauce — together, ping-ponging back and forth between the sweet and the savory. The finish is long-lasting and engaging, an exotic but approachable XO tequila that marries its seemingly disparate components together in beautiful, harmonious fashion.

100 proof.

A / $160 / dulcevidaspirits.com

Review: Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth

Carpano Antica Formula VermouthCarpano’s Antica Formula vermouth is the first lady of aromatic wines. In a world where most vermouth runs under $10 for a bottle and is tossed out during clean-up from last night’s party, the $30 or more you’ll pay for a liter of Antica Formula indicates at least someone thinks pretty highly of it.

The heritage of this spirit dates back to the late 1700s, when vermouth was invented by Antonio Benedetto Carpano — inspired by German aromatic wines. Antica Formula doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to today’s German wines, but it doesn’t take long to see why it has such a loyal following.

On its own, Antica Formula offers a complex nose of raisins, prunes, licorice, root beer, and citrus peel. The body is initially sweet, then slowly turns more and more bitter — almost to the level of an amaro — as it fades in the glass. In cocktails, this can create a dazzling complexity and, depending on how much you use, an intensity of flavor. Manhattans are gorgeous with it, the vermouth a wonderfull foil for whiskey, and Negronis take on another dimension. Rather than disappearing into a cocktail, the wine coaxes out notes of cocoa powder, dark fruits, and the spices of Christmas.

That said, drink it year-round.

33 proof.

A / $32 (1 liter) / specialitybrands.com

Review: The Exceptional Grain Whisky

the exceptional grainGrain whisky fans can get excited. Here’s a new blended grain whisky that’s whipped up from some really old stock — by some industry pros. Details are a bit scarce about the inaugural product from this new label — “Sutcliffe & Son” — but here’s what we do know.

[The Exceptional is a] … small batch Scotch Whisky created by Don Sutcliffe, managing director of Craft Distillers and 35-year veteran of distilled spirits marketing, in collaboration with Willie Phillips, for 23 years managing director of The Macallan. A blend of remarkable aged grain whiskies, including a barrel of 30-year-old from the Carsebridge Distillery, long since closed. Finished in first-fill sherry casks.

Big cereal notes attack the nose, with an undercurrent of sherry and citrus. As can often be the case with grain whiskies, it’s a bit tough to sink your teeth into at first, those toffee- and caramel-scented cereal notes really muscling everything else out of the way. There’s some essence of mint, jasmine, and coal dust that phases in and out while sipping this spirit, but the finish remains stuck with the granary. Drying and a touch dusty, it’s almost stark in its austerity and simplicity, until finally The Exceptional Grain lets go of its grip and releases just a hint of sweetness at the very end to soften things up. It’s an intriguing whisky, but one that takes some warming up to.

86 proof. 1500 bottles produced.

Also of note: An Exceptional Malt and Exceptional Blend are currently in the works for release this year.

B / $90 / craftdistillers.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Get Your Irish on with Flaviar’s Irish Whiskey Sample Pack

flaviarSt. Patrick’s Day is just a few weeks away, and that means the Jameson and Bushmills will be flowing freely. But there’s no need to stop there. There are dozens of high-quality Irish whiskey brands available, and St. Patty’s is the perfect excuse to try them all.

Enter Flaviar, a company that specializes in sampler packs of whiskeys, often aligned with a them. Here’s one worth checking out today: an all Irish bundle of ten different spirits from the Emerald Isle, including Redbreast 15, Uisce Beatha, Knappogue Castle 1995, and our much-beloved Green Spot. Each comes in a sampler vial — and when you’re done with the ten, you still have a whole bottle of Jameson to work your way through for the rest of the week. (Or night, we don’t judge you.)

$98 gets you the setup. Sure beats shelling out for green beer!

Tasting with Branded Spirts: Hana Gin, Motu Rum, HM Blended Scotch, and Majeste Cognac

majeste xo cognac

Treasure Island, California-based Branded Spirits recently sent us its Arctic Fox Vodka for review… then they stopped by with more — everything the company is currently producing, in fact. Originally a major exporter to China — where it once held the license to sell Heineken beer — it’s now making a bigger, broader push for the U.S. as well.

We tasted through four additional products from Branded, including a gin, rum, Scotch, and Cognac. The company promises more goodies to come, including a single malt and some vintage Cognacs, to boot.

All spirits are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Hana Gin – Triple distilled (presumably from corn, like Arctic Fox Vodka), this gin is infused with just four botanicals: Albanian juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, and lavender. The lavender note is quite fragrant up front, leading to a floral-driven nose. Juniper is big on the finish, but modest medicinal notes creep in as the finish fades. B / $20

Motu Rum – Distilled from Polynesian molasses, then rested in used French oak barrels for two months. A hint of hogo up front, with some agricole character at first. The rum sweetens out as the body builds, offering tropical and coconut notes. Quite chewy, with a lasting, slightly fruity finish. Quite unique and sophisticated for this price level. Some proceeds go to support Tongan conservation charities. A- / $20

HM The King Blended Scotch Whisky – A Highland style blend which includes some peated malt along with other Highland malts mingled with Lowland grain whisky. Leather saddle notes start off what develops into a rustic nose, with a slight smokiness and plenty of earth. The body offers honey and toffee, plus some floral elements, making for a spirit with two faces — brooding and leathery on the nose, but sweeter and gentler on the palate. Curious. B+ / $25

Majeste L’Empereur Cognac XO – A 10-plus year old Cognac sourced from Dupuy Bache-Gabrielsen in Cognac. Delightfully minty on the nose, followed by the expected raisin notes, plus hints of cloves. The body builds to a sultry, leathery note, studded with tobacco character but balanced with fruit, lots of sweetness — a bit of vanilla, with some burnt marshmallow — and a perfectly crafted finish that pushes out gingerbread, baking spice, and a bounty of those sultry raisins. Great stuff. A / $110

brandedspirits.com

Review: Kibo Junmai Sake

Kibo180MEDIAshot

Canned beer is old news. Canned sake, now that’s something else.

Kibo, made in Japan and imported by Oregon’s SakeOne, is released in memory of the 2011 earthquake that devastated Japan and the Suisen Shuzo in which this sake is made. Rising from the rubble, Suisen Shuzo is now exporting Kibo (the name translates as “hope”) to the U.S. — its first ever product for our country.

The choice of a can is unique and intriguing; Kibo is designed for outdoor festivals and the like, for party-goers tired of the usual beer and wine options.

As for what’s inside that can, it’s a largely traditional example of Junmai sake, heavy with melon overtones, somewhat earthy and mushroomy as the palate expands, and lightly sweet on the finish. It’s pleasant enough for sipping while you’re watching Arctic Monkeys jam and you’re grooving with the masses, but Kibo doesn’t even pretend to offer the refinement of a more elegant sake. Totally worth 6 bucks.

15.5% abv.

B / $6 (180ml can) / sakeone.com

Review: Mezcal Amaras

mezcal amarasThis new brand of mezcal hails from San Juan del Rio in Oaxaca. It’s a blanco made in a decidedly traditional style. To wit:

This traditional mezcal is made from Espadín agave plants grown on the hills surrounding San Juan del Rio, which are harvested at their optimum maturity by Jimadores, and roasted for 5 days in conical stone ovens over sustainable Holm Oak logs. Next, the agave hearts are ground on a horse drawn Egyptian mill, which creates an extract that naturally ferments in open pine containers for up to 13 days.  Finally, the liquid is slowly distilled twice in copper pot stills, a process which removes impurities, refines the character of the mezcal, and produces a soft, smooth flavor with a slightly smoked, citric aroma.

Amaras (“you will love”) is a bit more smoked than that description would indicate, but it does indeed have a citrusy, barbecue-like aroma that pushes right along as the palate gets a grip. Notes of pineapple, honeycomb, and melon make for some interesting appetizers before the smoky body really begins to dig in. It isn’t overbearing or particularly harsh, but it does offer a sizable amount of campfire flavors. Notes of Mexican chocolate build on the finish if you give it time, adding a layer of complexity to an otherwise fairly straightforward but extremely well-made mezcal.

82 proof. Reviewed: Lot #1 (2014), bottle 147/3300.

A- / $50 / mezcalamores.com

Review: Hermitage Brewing Company Belgian Blonde, Hermit Ale, and Boysenberry Sour

Hermitage Brewing Company Belgian-Style Blonde

Three limited release beers from our friends in San Jose at Hermitage Brewing Company. Thoughts follow.

Hermitage Brewing Company Belgian-Style Blonde – A chewy, malty brew, this Belgian blonde is drier than most beers of this style, offering restrained notes of fresh barley, just a touch of dried fruit, and gentle hops on the back end. The finish is leaner than I’d like — while it offers a crisp and mostly refreshing conclusion, it fades away too fast to leave much of an impression. 6% abv. B / $NA (22 oz. bottle)

Hermitage Brewing Barrel Aged Hermit Ale – An old-school pale ale inspired by a late 19th century style of beer (akin to a strong ale), aged in bourbon barrels for 6 months. Thick and brooding, this intensely bitter ale offers notes of tree bark, licorice, and burnt toast before turning to a slightly sweet, somewhat pruny body. The finish is lasting and mildly syrupy, offering light vanilla notes driven by the bourbon barrels mingled with a lasting bitter edge. It grows on you. 7% abv. B+ / $NA (500ml bottle)

Hermitage Brewing Boysenberry American Sour Ale – This sour, boysenberry-infused beer spends two years in California wine barrels before bottling. Indeed, it tastes like a lot like a young wine, huge with tart fruit, but tempered with a yeasty fizz and intense notes of sour fruit candies — think mouth-puckering raspberry and strawberry sours. More instantly drinkable than many sour beers — in an old-school soda fountain kind of way, with quite the punchy pop on the backside. 6.5% abv. B / $NA (750ml bottle)

hermitagebrewing.com