Review: Grander Panama Rum 8 Years Old

grander rum

Grander (awkward name, admittedly) is a new brand column-distilled in Panama and bottled at 8 years old. Quite light in color, it may initially trick you into thinking this is an undercooked rum. Not so.

The nose is quite peppery, offering ample vanilla but backed up by lots of spice — both baking spices and racier black and red pepper notes. On the palate, the rum is more gentle than the nose would have you believe, with sweet butterscotch, chocolate, and lots of vanilla, all with some citrus overtones. The finish — this is slightly overproof rum — adds some alcoholic heat, but nothing you won’t be able to handle even if you’re sipping it straight. I catch some lemongrass notes from time to time here, but the overall denouement is one of flamed orange oil and a hint of bittersweet amaro.

Versatile, easygoing, and fun, this is a solid and well-rounded rum for just about any occasion.

90 proof.

A- / $37 /

Review: Available 2013 Red Blend and 2014 Pinot Grigio

Available 2013 Red Blend Bottle ShotNapa-based Taken Wine Co. imports these wines from Italy — and I have to say, “Available” is one of the worst brand names I’ve come across for any wine, much less an import.

These two wines both hail from Puglia, “the heel” of Italy. Thoughts follow.

2014 Available Pinot Grigio Puglia IGT – Somewhat bland for Pinot Grigio, there’s a mushroom quality to the wine that dulls the impact of the fruit. Otherwise, relatively traditional but simple tropical notes mingle with some mixed citrus — with grapefruit particularly notable here. A slight floral edge hits the finish. B- / $13

2013 Available Red Blend Puglia IGT – A blend of mystery grapes, this wine initially evokes vegetal, leathery notes on the nose, but in the glass this opens up a bit, and the fruit at its core makes for an interesting companion to the greener characters that are more upfront. What emerges is surprisingly balanced wine that offers sweet and savory components, with a playfully bitter finish. A pleasant surprise. B+ / $13

Review: Benromach 10 Years Old

benromach-10-year-oldWe’ve written a lot about the limited edition expressions of Speyside’s Benromach, but the expression you’re most likely to encounter is this entry level bottling, which is fairly easy to find.

Benromach is part of the Gordon & MacPhail empire, a very small operation in the north of Speyside that is unique for using a small amount of peated malt in its mash. Otherwise this 10 year old is a traditional blend of 80% bourbon casks, 20% sherry casks. The final blend is finished for a year in first-fill oloroso sherry barrels.

Benromach 10 is a gentle dram, surprisingly balanced for a whisky just a decade in cask. The nose offers ample notes of roasted grains, sweet sugar cane, and wisps of smoke. On the palate, the spirit is far more enveloping than this simple introduction might indicate, offering notes of fresh apple, banana, sugary cereal, honeycomb, and lavender. The smoke character is somewhat stronger here, leading the whisky to a powerful, almost pungent finish. A few petrol notes add a lightly industrial element to the mix — think the sweat and tears of industry, not bulk chemicals, that is.

86 proof.

B+ / $55 /

Review of Soave: 2013 Fattori and 2014 Rocca Sveva

Fattori Motto PianePutting the unavoidable Santa Margarita aside, arguably the most popular white wine in Italy is Soave, which is produced near the city of Verona in the Veneto region. 70 percent of any Soave wine must be vinified from the Garganega grape. The remainder may be Verdicchio (aka Trebbiano di Soave), and a rare few other local varieties. Contrary to popular belief, Trebbiano Toscano is now illegal to use for blending in Soave.

Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to break out a brisk white, at least to start off the day, and both of the Soave wines reviewed below are worthwhile endeavors to invest in next week.

2013 Fattori Motto Piane Soave DOC – 100% Garganega, dried for 40 days. Clean and moderately acidic, with lots of mango in it, there’s a slight, candylike bite on the palate that leads to a lightly sweet finish. Playful and fresh, with just a touch of sugar on the back. A- / $20

2014 Rocca Sveva Soave Classico DOC – 100% Garganega. Lots of melon and tropical notes on this both fruity and acidic wine. Some mineral notes add nuance, with a finish that offers bright pineapple and subtle orange blossom notes. Highly drinkable. A- / $15

Review: Blood Oath Bourbon Whiskey Pact No. 1 2015

blood oath

There is a lot of flowery script on the label of the new Blood Oath Bourbon, but there is precious little information therein.

What do we know about this new bottling? It is sourced bourbon — and not only is the distillery unstated, the state in which it is produced is unstated. (The whiskey is ultimately bottled in Missouri and distributed by the company that makes Ezra Brooks.) Creator/scientist John E. Rempe isn’t the first guy to have this idea, but he says this bespoke bottling is a limited release that will “never be produced again.” Bload Oath Pact No. 2, if there is one, will be a different whiskey altogether.

Pact No. 1 is said to be a blend of three whiskeys: a 6 year old wheated bourbon, a 7 year high rye bourbon, and a 12 year old mystery bourbon. This is aged (at least in part) in barrels with a lighter, #3 char. Otherwise there’s no production information included.

It’s a very gentle whiskey on the nose — as lighter char bourbons often are — with simple vanilla, caramel, and sweet corn on the nose, plus a touch of baking spice to add nuance. On the palate, it is again surprisingly gentle and easygoing considering its proof level. More of those sugar-forward dessert components come to the fore, along with some raisin notes and heavier baking spices, including distinct gingerbread notes. The body is light and floral at times, not at all heavy or over-wooded, making for an easy sipper. The finish is slightly peppery and a bit drying, though the sweetness is sustained until the end.

Ultimately there is plenty to like here, but the mysterious origins and rather high price — which would be steep even for a whiskey that was entirely 12 years old — might understandably be a bit of a turnoff.

98.6 proof. 15,000 barrels made.

A- / $90 /

Review: Patron Citronge Mango Liqueur

patron citronge

Patron’s third installment in the Citronge lineup turns to our friend the mango for its core flavor component after Orange and Lime. Is Patron getting too out-there? Too cute?

Turns out mango works pretty well in a sweet liqueur, and it gives a margarita an interesting spin vs. orange-standard triple sec.

The nose is heavy tropical mango to be sure, tinged a bit with peach notes. As with other Patron Citronge products, the body evokes some herbal notes that are evocative of tequila’s agave core, which give the fruit core a bit of a chili-dusted character. Rest assured, this is a heavily sweetened liqueur, and the sugar component is intense. A touch will go a long way toward brightening up a cocktail — but the mango note will hit the strongest on the nose, that sugar going a long way toward drowning out everything else.

10 bucks says Citronge Pineapple is next.

70 proof.

B / $20 /

Review: Plantation Rum Lineup (2015) – 3 Stars White, Original Dark, Barbados 5 Years Old, Extra Old 20th Anniversary, Old Reserve 2001, and Pineapple

Plantation 20 Anniv XO NEW - LOPlantation Rum is actually part of the French company Cognac Ferrand, and it produces over a dozen rums that are sourced from plantations all over the Caribbean and beyond. Some of these rums we’ve reviewed before, but today we’re taking a deep dive into six of the company’s offerings, including its first foray into a flavored product.

Let’s dive in!

Plantation 3 Stars White Rum (2015) – Made from a blend of various rums, filtered to clear. A clean white rum, it’s free of most of the petrol overtones that are endemic with so many whites. Here notes of banana and some coconut give this rum a lot of fruit and ample depth — which makes sense because some of the rum that makes up this expression is up to 12 years old. Very easygoing and highly mixable. 82.4 proof. A- / $17 (1 liter)

Plantation Original Dark Rum (2015) – Aged Trinidad stock. Funky on the nose — overly so — with bizarre hogo notes of green olives and feta cheese. A nutty, coffee-focused character emerges as the rum opens up on the palate, but it’s constrained by those herbal, bitter, funky flavors that really start to interfere with the big picture over time. 80 proof. B- / $17

Plantation Grande Reserve Rum Barbados 5 Years Old – Self-explanatory provenance here, in a rum that is light in color but long on character. A restrained nose offers hints of brown sugar, banana, and fresh apple, but keeps it in check. On the palate, huge coconut notes emerge, plus more banana and some pineapple notes. Fruit from start to finish: If you want the perfect rum for a pina colada, this is your guy. A huge bargain. 80 proof. A- / $16

Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary (2015) – The “XO” bottling of Plantation comprises old stock finished in ex-Cognac barrels. A brooding sophisticate next to the fruitier style of many of Plantation’s offerings, the XO features dense leather, tobacco, dark chocolate, and coffee notes before giving way to darker fruit notes — prune, plum, and blackberry. Some tropical emerge with time, but they struggle to get through the brooding, almost fireside character. That’s not a bad thing. This is complex, old, and quite enchanting rum at its finest. 80 proof. A / $43

Plantation Rum Old Reserve 2001 Jamaica – An update on the 2000 line, this single-vintage rum is pushy and funky, a cousin of the Original Dark above, writ small. It’s intense and funky, but light on its feet, folding fruit into a base that offers a heavily vegetal and pungent character. Slightly smoky, with hospital notes, it’s certainly not a rum for beginners, though one can see how it might find a home in a less fruit-forward cocktail like a Zombie or even a powerful update to a Hemingway Daiquiri. 84 proof. B / $40

Plantation Artisinal Infusion Original Dark Pineapple Rum – A pineapple-infused version of the Original Dark above. You’ll smell it right away from the second the bottle is cracked open — big, sugary pineapple notes that absolutely take over the whole affair. There’s an argument that perhaps the nose should do that — but for my money I’d rather take the more nuanced Barbados 5 Year Old (at half the price, mind you) and use that as the base for any fruity cocktails I was making. All in all, here we see juicy pineapple meet a dusting of brown sugar — and that’s really the end of the story. 80 proof. B / $43

Review: Paul Masson Grande Amber VS Brandy

Paul-Masson-VS-BrandyDon’t be fooled: The VS in Paul Masson’s Grande Amber VS doesn’t stand for very superior or very special, as it does in France. It stands for very smooth, as noted in tiny type underneath.

Yes, Paul Masson has come a long way since Orson Welles’ day, but it’s still an avowed budget brand. Brandy like this remains its most notable product (a VSOP is also sold), made from unknown grapes, aged three years in barrel, and likely colored within an inch of its life with caramel.

With all that said, for the price, this is not a bad product. I used this brandy to make a punch, but on its own it isn’t at all unpalatable. The nose has an alcoholic punch to it, but loads up caramel, vanilla, milk chocolate, and brown sugar notes, too. On the palate, the caramel-vanilla combo gives up a bit of time to notes of baked apples, raisin, and some cloves. The finish is a bit medicinal, though Paul Masson tries to cover that up with sugary fruit notes. It’s not entirely successful, but let’s give them points for trying…

80 proof.

B- / $10 /

Review: Chivas Regal 18 Years Old Ultimate Cask Collection First Fill American Oak Finish

Chivas_closeup_3-4 Etiquette_Q

That’s a bit of a mouthful for a blended Scotch, but hear them out: With the Ultimate Cask Collection, the venerable Chivas Regal is launching a series of limited edition whiskies that “reinterpret the brand’s celebrated Chivas 18 expression.”

Chivas 18, a storied blend stuffed with single malts from across the island, is well-worn ground. What could possibly be done to reinvent this sweet, grainy, well-honeyed old guard blend?

Let’s start with a barrel finish: For this first of three editions of the Ultimate Cask Collection (the next two will arrive in 18 month intervals), the whisky is rested in first fill American Oak casks (though no length of time is specified). Second is the proof. Chivas calls it “special strength.” You may call it 96 proof (compare to Chivas 18 at a standard 80 proof). Naturally, this will be available only at travel retail.

Looking at these two whiskies side by side, a close familiar resemblance is palpable. If you enjoy Chivas in any form, the Chivas UCCFFAOF should be up your alley. The nose is richer and more powerful than the standard bottling, offering more powerful toffee, caramel, and pure vanilla notes. It promises depth, and the body follows through, building on the elements in the nose with notes of malted chocolate balls, chocolate oranges, burnt marshmallow, and other dessert-like notes. Some more classic fruit character emerges with time — baked apple, a touch of banana — but the sweeter notes remain the focus. Thankfully, the Ultimate bottling keeps the sugar in check, and it never becomes cloying. Rather, the whisky engages from start to finish with a lush and enveloping richness that keeps itself balanced instead of blown out.


96 proof.

A- / $126 (1 liter) /

Review: NV Honeyvine White Wine with Natural Honey

HoneyvineFirst off, know that Honeyvine — which blends honey with unstated, nonvintage white wine — is not nearly as bad as you expect it to be. In fact, it’s quite refreshing, a summery white with a touch of sweetness, not unlike a milder orange muscat or even some riesling.

The honey is present both on the body and the nose, with citrus overtones and some lemon/lime character, too. To be sure, it’s a sweet operator and not something you want to serve at dinner, but it works as a cocktail base — think sangria or spritzers — or on its own, served very cold (or even on the rocks).

Given the problems common with most modern honey-based wines or meads, it’s nice to finally see something that uses honey but gives it some much needed balance.

B / $13 /