Review: Four Kings Rye 2015 Craft Collaboration

four kings rye

Last year, four craft distillers got together and made a collaborative bourbon by vatting together their own craft spirits into one mega-craft bourbon called Four Kings. (Don’t go searching for a review, we didn’t sample it.) This year, the quartet is back at it but is producing a rye instead.

The four distilleries include Corsair Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee, Few Spirits in Evanston, Illinois, Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan, and Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire, Iowa. Each contributed 30 gallons of rye whiskey into the final blend of Four Kings Rye.

There’s not a lot of information about what goes into each of the four ryes, but that probably wouldn’t be of much use, anyway. What we have here seems to be a craft spirit that is fully in keeping with the exuberant style of American craft whiskeys — at least at first, anyway.

On the nose, intense cereal notes start things off, then sharp citrus, menthol, and some hospital notes. The palate offers a lot more nuance once you push past that grainy introduction, with baking spices, gingerbread, baked apples, and well-integrated wood tannins. It’s a much more elevated experience than the brash and youthful nose would indicate, with a surprising depth of flavor to offer. Give it a try.

B / $50 / no formal website

Review: Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection from SF Wine Trading

four roses private sf

Wow, another Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection offering in the space of a month and our third to date. This one hails from the San Francisco Wine Trading Company, which I bet you can guess the location of.

SF Wine Trading’s Four Roses bottling is an OESK (20% rye with a lightly spicy yeast component) bottled at the age of 9 years, 10 months. The distillery’s 2012 Single Barrel release was also an OESK release (though a bit older at 12 years in barrel), which I’ll compare to this bottling in a bit.

The SF Wine Trading release is hot and restrained on the nose, but it’s just playing its cards close to the vest. Keep sniffing and notes of cola and coffee emerge, plus the telltale vanilla and lumberyard notes. On the tongue, the whiskey envelops the palate beautifully with lots of sweetness, butterscotch and toffee notes, gentle wood (and a touch of smoke). Layers of red berry fruit, raisin, and a touch of mint. (Juleps, anyone?)

Surprisingly, it’s a considerably different whiskey than the 2012 Single Barrel, which offers more wood, restrained sweetness, and some curious earth tones. A few extra years in a barrel really can change a man, they say. No doubt: The private bottling from SF Wine Trading wins this round!

113 proof.

A / $70 / sfwtc.com

Review: Vov Zabajone Cream Liqueur

vovPrimary colors on the label. A name in quotes — “VOV” — and all caps, at that. Opaque, white bottle. What the hell is Vov?

Vov looks like something a clown would have to nurse to get through his next birthday party, but in reality, it’s an exotic Italian cream liqueur. This “traditional Italian Zabajone Cream Liqueur is made from egg yolks, sugar, and the highest quality, aged Sicilian Marsala Superiore,” per the Molinari family, which imports it to the U.S. Here’s more backstory on the stuff:

Italy’s #1 selling liqueur, VOV was created in 1845 by Gian Battista Pezziol, a confectioner and nougat specialist from Padua. Looking for a way to use the leftover egg yolks from his nougat-making process, Pezziol mixed them with Marsala wine, alcohol and sugar to make an energy drink, a popular trend at the time. He named the beverage VOV, short for “vovi,” the Venetian word for eggs. An immediate success, the drink won a silver medal in 1856. That same year, the Archduke of the Court of Vienna issued a patent with the royal double headed eagle. The spirit remained prevalent into the 20th century and was consumed by the troops during World War II for its energizing properties. VOV is the perfect substitute for modern and classic cocktails that call for a fresh egg.

How do you drink it? Warm or cold, neat or on the rocks, or in cocktails, the bottle tells us. Some people put it in coffee, I’m told. As it’s similar to an advocaat, try it in a Bombardino cocktail — half brandy or rum, half Vov. (You can add whipped cream and/or coffee if you like.)

Well, it sure does look disgusting. An opaque and milky off-white in color, the mind reels at all the negative connotations one can draw with reality and this stuff. It’s intensely sticky. Get one drop on your hands and you’ll need to scrub them. Don’t be afraid of the soap.

On the nose, it’s mainly driven by intense sugar — like a creme brulee plus some cinnamon notes — but with a sharp/sour citrus edge reminiscent of baby vomit. Notes of licorice and burnt butter bubble up in time. The body is where the egg yolk starts to really show, gooey and, indeed, intensely eggy, adding in notes of sticky sugar syrup and marshmallow, lemon peel, and a winey influence driven by the Madeira. The body isn’t as thick as you’d think, and the slight wateriness adds to an overall weak impression when served neat. The finish is absolutely mouth-coating, sickly sweet-and-sour and simply impossible to shake for a solid five to ten minutes after taking a sip.

Few people probably drink Vov like this, so I tried it with rum and ice. It’s a considerable improvement, but the funky nose seems somehow stronger and the sour aftertaste still lingers. Now I’m not a guy who’s ever enjoyed a cup of eggnog, so I can see how Vov would not exactly be my cup of tea. But still, Vov has got to be the very definition of an acquired taste.

Eggnog fans, dig right in — and let the hating begin.

35.6 proof.

D- / $27 (1 liter) / vovzabajone.com

Book Review: You Suck at Drinking

51lTM03iRBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Hey Matthew Latkiewicz — if that is your real name! — who are you to tell me I suck at drinking! Oh, you write for McSweeney’s. I suppose that gives you some McThority on the topic of the proper treatment of hooch and hooch consumption.

Kidding around aside — which is hard to do when discussing You Suck at Drinking — what we have here is a fully tongue-in-cheek, breezy little tome on the more social aspects of alcohol consumption. Latkiewicz has crafted a slim and satrical volume that addresses such key alcoholic issues as how to drink at your holiday party, how to deal with a hangover, how to drink when you’re a college student, and how to sneak drinks in public. You know, the important stuff in life.

Latkiewicz is a good writer and an opinionated one at that. He doesn’t pull punches, and he’ll call you out if your favorite tipple is shit. To say much more about the tome would be to give away too many of its jokes, but I will say that the man even puts his email address and phone number in the book, which is a ballsy thing to do when your intended audience is basically a bunch of borderline alcoholics.

Give it a spin. It’s perfect bathroom reading, if nothing else.

B+ / $11 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Book Review: The Book of Wine

51ezKYD0l1L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_If you’re a rank novice when it comes to wine — I mean, you really know absolutely nothing — then Jackson Meyer’s primer, The Book of Wine, is as good a place as any to start — short of dropping in on your local wine bar, that is.

In a breezy 220 pages, Meyer covers, as the subtitle states, “an introduction to choosing, serving, and drinking the best wines.” Best may be overstating things a bit. The book devotes more space to South Africa than to Napa and Sonoma (which are lumped together in a spare section in the “Wine Regions” chapter).

Meyer dutifully covers the basics — grape varietals, identifying flaws, what to do with a wine list (and I don’t much agree with his advice here) — enough to get you at least to a $600 question in a Jeopardy! wine category. Less can be said for his often bizarre “recommended wines” which accompany the section explaining each major varietal. I’m unclear how recommending a bottle of Penfolds Grange 1998 (1998!) is going to benefit the novice wine drinker other than make him look like a rube at his local wine merchant.

C- / $14 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Gordon & MacPhail Imperial 1995

imperial 1995This was my most prized purchase in Edinburgh, where I nabbed the last bottle from Royal Mile Whiskies. Imperial was a Speyside distillery, opened in 1897 and shuttered in 1998 (and demolished in 2013), making this one of a dwindling number of bottles still available.

Bottled in 2014, this is 19 year old Imperial, which has seen at least some time in sherry casks.

The nose is delicate, offering gentle cereal and mixed florals, all backed by easygoing, sherried, orange marmalade character. White peaches emerge on the nose with continued time in the glass. On the palate, it’s a quiet spirit that showcases roasted barley alongside nougat and marzipan, clove-studded oranges, and a soothing finish that keeps the sharp citrus notes dancing on the body. Hang on for a bit and a touch of smoky char makes an appearance as the whisky fades away.

Enjoyable and understated.

86 proof.

A- / $95 (70cl) / gordonandmacphail.com

Review: Alberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky

AlbertaRye_Bottle_HIRESAlberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky is so complicated it is typically accompanied by a flowchart explaining the convoluted method by which it is made. I’m going to try to digest this oddball Canadian rye for you… but don’t feel bad if you get lost. Really it’s all about what’s in the glass in the end.

Alberta Dark Batch starts with two ryes. One is from a pot still, aged six years in new #4 char American oak barrels. One is from a column still, aged 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels.

These two ryes are blended 50-50. This rye blend now becomes 91% of what goes into the Dark Batch bottle. The other 9%? 8% is bourbon (provenance unknown which is Old Grand Dad). 1% is sherry (provenance also unknown). Yes, it’s really 1% sherry. No, not 1% whiskey finished in a sherry barrel. Yes, real sherry. Yes, like the wine. I know.

My first encounter with Dark Batch at a recent whiskey show wasn’t a hit, but I don’t think I was prepared for the assault on the senses that Dark Batch makes, particularly when compared to some more delicate and gentle alternatives. Now, Dark Batch has grown on me at least a bit — though it’s still certainly not my favorite whisky.

Let’s start with the name. Dark Batch is right: This whisky pours a dark tea color, almost a mahogany depending on the light. On the nose, it’s exotic and complex, with notes of coffee, tree bark, evergreen needles, burnt caramel, and blackened toast. All dark, dense, earthy overtones — made even pushier thanks to its somewhat higher 90 proof.

On the palate, even more oddities are in store for you, starting with distinct sherry notes — surprising, considering it’s just the 1 percent. I guess that was enough. There’s more coffee character, plus some red raspberry fruit — particularly evident as the finish approaches, taking the whiskey into sweeter and sweeter territory. This lingers for a considerable amount of time, growing in pungency to the point where it evokes notes of prune juice. As it fades, it coats the palate in an almost medicinal way — which isn’t such a great thing as you finish your glass, but hey, at least I haven’t had to cough all evening.

90 proof.

B- / $30 / albertarye.com

Review: Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Natural Wheat and Weissbier-Radler NA

HefeWeizen 0.33 Liter (11.2 Oz) Bottle (TIF)What, has Drinkhacker gone soft? Another non-alcoholic beer review? I promise, we review what we get. We even review water from time to time, after all. Here’s a look at two newly available ones from Munich-based Paulaner, a bold hefeweizen and a non-alcoholic “weissbier-radler.”

Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Natural Wheat – Aka “Naturtrüb” if you want to get your Deutsch on. This isn’t your girlfriend’s hefeweizen but rather a burlier, chewier, and more hoppy style of the classic wheat brew. As the light bitter elements fade the beer evokes notes of lemon, grapefruit, and tropical notes. The finish offers more cereal, with a bit of almond character to it. Hefeweizen is never my go-to beer style, but Paulaner really does a stand-up job with this “natural” expression. 5.5% abv. B+ / $2 per 16.9 oz. bottle

Paulaner Weissbier-Radler Non-Alcoholic – “With lemon juice.” This is basically a shandy in a bottle, but in lieu of lemonade it tastes like something akin to lemon marmalade has been added to the mix. Incredibly sweet, there’s no beer character here at all, but rather a sticky, sweet-and-sour combination of flavors that come across like something your kids would probably enjoy. I understand when folks can’t drink, but there’s no reason to punish them for it. D- / $9 per six-pack

paulaner.com

Review: Wines of Kendall-Jackson and Jackson Estate, 2015 Releases

KENDALLJACKSONIt’s time to look at Kendall-Jackson’s latest releases, including a new pinot gris from the Vintner’s Reserve line and three releases from the more limited Jackson Estate collection. Thoughts follow.

2014 Kendall-Jackson Pinot Gris California Vintner’s Reserve – A simple wine, uncomplicated but loaded with melon character, creme brulee, and a touch of bitter anise on the back end. Hints of blue cheese and cured meats make for a curious (and not unpleasant) antipasti experience at times. Best with food. B / $11

2013 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley – A big, hairy, classic K-J Chardonnay, full of butter and nuts and brown sugar dripping off of a little essence of roasted meats. Stylistically, it’s love it or hate it, but for me it’s simply too far down the yellow (and I mean yellow) brick road. B- / $28

2013 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – Atypical pinot for Anderson Valley, with a density that’s more representative of southern California. Cola and coffee and black pepper on the nose are engaging, but the body veers toward hefty jam notes — some blueberry and some cherry — which tend to drown out the nuances. This wine grows on you with time (and air), though, its fruitier core ultimately settling into an engaging groove. B+ / $30

2012 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – A straightforward, “hot climate” Cabernet, offering an herbal entry that leads to blueberry, raspberry, and some juicy currants. Somewhat thin, the palate wears out pretty quickly as the wine fades out to a finish that’s a touch too bitter, though overall the impact is relatively innocuous. Think of it as a solid, but not altogether memorable, “house wine.” B / $36

kj.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Tennessee Whiskey

jack daniels

Say what you want about JD, but the company’s Single Barrel releases, which debuted in 1997, really did play a role in bringing ultra-premium whiskey to the masses. Today, JD Single Barrel remains on the top shelf of many a back bar, and collectors snap up the bottles — reasonably priced but each a unique slice of Lynchburg, Tennessee — sometimes loading up on dozens of different expressions. As with black label, the whiskey is bottled with no age statement — but the company says only 1 out of 100 barrels of JD go into the Single Barrel program.

Each bottle of JD Single Barrel will be a bit different of course, but this one makes quite a nice impression and stands as a marked improvement over standard grade black label Jack Daniel’s. It’s sharp at first… (At 94 proof this is a lot closer to the JD that Frank Sinatra must have enjoyed in his day. Jack was sold at 90 proof until 1987 and has been diluted twice since then, down to the current 80 proof.) But give it a little time (and perhaps some water) to open up and it really shows its charms.

The nose offers rich toffee and caramel notes touched with cinnamon, really amazing depth here, with just a touch of charcoal to add some smokiness. The body pumps things up further, layering on notes of orange peel, cloves, and gentle dusty lumber notes. The ultimate impact isn’t exactly complex, but it is well balanced and features a wealth of happily integrated flavors. The finish is moderately long and soothing, blending sweet and spice together in a wholly satisfying way that ultimately shows, hell, this is why so many people love Jack Daniel’s.

Reviewed: Rick L-14, Barrel M-5425, Bottled 9-23-14. 94 proof.

A- / $45 / jackdaniels.com