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

Review: Limoncello di Capri

LimoncellodiCapriMolinari produces this limoncello on the island of Capri using local lemons as well as those from Sorrento. I can’t verify whether this is, as the bottle claims, “the original limoncello,” though there’s a story that dates to the early 1900s that says it was invented by one Vincenza Canale, an ancestor of the Molinari clan. The brand does at least own limoncello.com, so that’s something, too.

As limoncello goes, it’s heavy on sweetness, but a little thin on the body. The nose offers a brisk lemon peel flavor, but it just doesn’t carry through to the finish. It barely makes it to the palate, really. The sugar overpowers the fruity element, limiting the lemon to more of a Life Savers character. That’s not really such a bad thing, but that acidic sourness of lemon isn’t as bracing here as it is in other limoncellos, which means the finish isn’t nearly as clean as it should be. A great limoncello leaves behind a fresh, springtime character. This one feels like a summer ice cream social. Dial back the sugar a bit and we just might have something special here.

68 proof.

B / $23 / limoncello.com

Review: 2013 J Vineyards Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

RRVPinotNoirProduct220x680Two new wines from our friends at J Vineyards, located in Sonoma County, California. Thoughts follow.

2013 J Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Rich, currant-laced fruit pops beautifully in this well-crafted Pinot Noir, offering notes of slightly sweetened tea up front and coffee bean and chocolate on the back end. Touches of cloves round out a wine that sounds dense but is actually quite light on its feet. An easy sipper, it also pairs well with food. A- / $40

2013 J Vineyards Chardonnay Russian River Valley – Initially on the meaty side, this wine settles down to reveal more caramel notes, laced with applesauce and quince. Dense and chewy, it’s a big wine that wears the Russian River right on its sleeve, but ultimately reveals more charm than you’d think. B / $28

jwine.com

Review: Bittermilk Mixers No. 5 and 6

bittermilk 5

Two new Bittermilk mixers for your approval. As always, these are non-alcoholic syrups and tonics that make high-end mixology embarassingly easy. Thoughts follow.

Bittermilk No. 5 Charred Grapefruit Tonic – Made with lemon and lime juice, cane sugar, charred grapefruit peel, cinchona bark, and Bulla Bay sea salt. Designed as a mixer with vodka and soda water (all three in even proportions). This has a nice mix of sweet, sour, salt, and bitter, all in one package. The sweet is what comes through the strongest, though — I might use this in somewhat lower proportions than the packaging advises. Better yet, skip the vodka and mix this with rum or even whiskey. I used it to make a cocktail with aged rum, mango lemonade, and the tonic (roughly 1:2:1) and it was a huge, punch-like hit. A- / $15 (17 oz.)

Bittermilk No. 6 Oaxacan Old Fashioned – Quite a departure from Bittermilk’s other products. Made with can sugar, raisins, lemon peel, cocoa, chiles, spices, and cinchona bark. Designed to be mixed with mezcal, 1 part mixer to 4 parts spirit, it’s dark and chunky, with solids floating in it. This is an intriguing one, but probably as an acquired taste as straight mezcal is. Sweet and chocolaty with a distinct raisin punch, the mixer adds a complexity to mezcal without masking its unmistakable smokiness. It’s not a cocktail I’d drink every day — and the solids settle out much too quickly — but it’s a fun diversion on a Friday night. B / $15 (8.5 oz.)

bittermilk.com

Review: Bear Republic Apex Special IPA (2015)

apex ipaAh, another fine seasonal release from our NorCal neighbors at Bear Republic. Apex, an Imperial IPA, isn’t made every year, but 2015 marks two years in a row that it has. Each year the beer’s profile changes, reflecting seasonal varieties of hops available and new strains that are developed. Apex is a beer that is intended to be “forward looking.” For this 2015 release, Apex — the name connoting the pinnacle of beermaking — includes Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, Chinook, Simcoe, Citra, El Dorado, Azacca, and Lemondrop hops. Some familiar names in there, and some obscurities, too.

If you like bold, piney IPAs, this is one to miss. Take the crispness of Racer 5 and weed out some of its burlier, almost lumber-like elements and what you have left is Apex. Intensely bitter, it melds evergreen notes with grapefruit and orange peel, lingering notes of roasted grains, and some surprising floral character on the finish. As it lingers, a touch of mushroom on the back end takes you back to the earth.

Gorgeous from start to finish.

8.25% abv.

A / $NA (22 oz. bottle) / bearrepublic.com

Review: Merlet Cognac Selection Saint-Sauvant Assemblage No. 1

merlet

Cognac’s Merlet is back with another new brandy, Selection St. Sauvant, a limited-edition blend that is made… well, we’ll let Merlet do the talking:

“Assemblage N°1” (Blend N°1) was bottled in 2013. This delicate cognac is a marriage of “eaux-de-vie” from the Petite Champagne and Grande Champagne aged over 10 years as well as from the Fins bois (1992 and 2001) and from the Petite Champagne (1993). The alcohol strength is then slowly reduced to allow a perfect balance of flavors. This cognac is unique and produced as a limited edition.

Quite fruity on the nose, the Cognac offers notes of peaches, tropical fruits, vanilla extract, and intensely perfumed aromatics. The body is immediately engaging, offering deep fruit notes atop quite a bit of bite, and a growing nutty character that emerges more clearly as the finish reaches its climax. The extra alcohol here is evident throughout, giving this brandy a headiness and punch that more gentler, lower-proof brandies simply don’t provide. But it’s the aromatics that lend a special character to St. Sauvant, melding gentle wood notes with clove-studded oranges, apricots with chocolate sauce. It’s a bit punchy from start to finish, but fun stuff, through and through.

90.4 proof. Less than 800 bottles available in the U.S.

A- / $100 / merlet.fr