Bar Review: Pagan Idol, San Francisco

025

For years, San Franciscans have had one primary spot for tiki drinks: Smuggler’s Cove. Now a new temple to rum and tropical fruit juices has opened: Pagan Idol.

Pagan Idol is part of the Future Bars group, which owns Rickhouse, Bourbon & Branch, and other high-end bars. Pagan Idol fits right in, taking the tiki theme to its hilt.

Step inside and you enter a shipwreck-themed front room, complete with LCD underwater scenes playing out in the “portholes.” Step up a small staircase and you’re onto the “forbidden island,” complete with spooky totems, a starlit sky, and a flowing, LED volcano.

The focus is of course on drinks, and Pagan Idol has all the classics and then some — many spun with a slight twist. Maybe Grog is a twist on Navy Grog, mixing up three rums, lime, spices, and a rock candy stick into a dangerously drinkable cocktail with a racy edge. The Witch Doctor is served in a classic tiki mug — rum, lime, passion fruit, spices, egg white, and “ancient curse.” Heavy on the spice, the egg white turns it into a sort of pirate slushie.

Banana Life is a fun drink that focuses on, yes, bananas, and is even garnished with plantain chips. As an alternative to a dull banana daiquiri, it’s a nice little concoction. Of course, you can’t go wrong with Pagan Idol’s Mai Tai — nicely heavy on the almond orgeat, with strong orange notes thanks to a good slug of triple sec.

Naturally, Pagan Idol has plenty of “bowl” drinks for groups, and you’ll find many, many people partaking of giant troughs of rum and juice, complete with floating flowers or set on fire. Never have I seen so many grown men walking around with oversized straws… and such big smiles on their faces.

paganidol.com

Review: 2014 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Aged in Bourbon Barrels

RMPS Bourbon Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon  750ml Bottle ShotWhiskey goes into wine barrels, that’s the way it’s always been. Wine into whiskey barrels? Not something that you see. Ever, I mean.

Well, this Private Selection bottling from Robert Mondavi just does that, taking cabernet sauvignon and aging it not in new oak but in used Kentucky bourbon casks. Nutty idea, eh? Let’s see how well this works.

The results here are, well, exactly what you would expect. The nose blends the traditional cabernet-currant notes with vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon, plus some scorched wood tidbits. The body is a cacophonous experience to say the least: cherry cola, intense vanilla, chocolate syrup, smashed raisins. There’s a hugely sweet rush (as you would expect) that is immediately off-putting, the chocolate-cherry note becoming almost overpowering until a brown sugar sweetness overpowers everything else.

The finish is saccharine and quite a bit overbearing. This lightens up as the wine opens up in the glass, but not nearly enough. Even after an hour of trying to figure out the impetus behind this wine, I wasn’t much further along from where I started. Is this a wine specifically built for whiskey fans? I can understand it conceptually, but by palate says no.

C+ / $14 / robertmondaviprivateselection.com

Review: 2012 Cheval des Andes Mendoza

cheval de andes

Sunday is World Malbec Day, so why not celebrate with one of the most refined expressions you’ll find — from its spiritual home in Argentina?

Cheval des Andes is a joint venture between Chateau Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux and Terrazas de los Andes in Argentina. For 2012, the wine is 66% malbec, 26% cabernet sauvignon, and 8% petit verdot — kind of a red Bordeaux turned inside out.

Supple and restrained, the nose of the wine balances ripe fruit with gentle earth and spice. The body is rich — on the sweet side but balanced well enough — showcasing blueberries, some cherry, and elements of tobacco and leather showing on the moderate finish. This is a wine with depth, but its tannins are restrained and supple, making for some remarkably easy enjoyment.

A- / $95 / chevaldesandes.com

Review: Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished Moonshine

Popcorn Barrel Finished - TransparentPopcorn Sutton fans take note: A limited edition, barrel-finished version of the company’s moonshine is now arriving. This expression ages Popcorn’s white whiskey in a new oak barrel with a #3 char. No length of aging is stated, but the company does note that it includes no caramel color or grain neutral spirit added. You might expect otherwise, though, given the intense brown color of the resulting whiskey.

On the nose, Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished Moonshine offers the traditional notes of a very young bourbon or other American whiskey — heavy wood influence, modest vanilla, and a touch of charred popcorn. Sweetness persists beneath all of this, more molasses than the cane sugar of straight Popcorn Sutton.

The body is in line with expectations, a mix of dusky charcoal notes, pure sugar, vanilla cream, and buttered popcorn. This all comes together more effectively than you’d expect, though the finish has a lot of that chalky, soot-laden character, indicating youth. At the same time, Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished isn’t particularly rustic, its sweetness managing to smooth out the experience enough to at least make the spirit wholly approachable, if not exactly elevated.

Remember, of course, this is still moonshine — just moonshine that’s been given a taste of the “real” whiskey lifestyle.

92 proof.

B / $50 / popcornsutton.com

Review: Brora 37 Years Old Limited Edition 2015

Brora 37 (Medium)

Our final (final final) bottling in the Diageo Special Editions, this 37 year old Brora, from the northern Highlands of Scotland, is the oldest (of 14 releases) of Brora ever bottled in this series, following a series of 35 year old expressions. Distilled in 1977, it has been aged fully in refill American oak hogsheads.

Brora has long been my favorite in the Diageo Special Editions, and the last few years’ releases of 35 year old bottlings have been second to none in Scotch whisky.

At 37 years of age, though, something seems lacking. The nose offers a familiar mix of honey and citrus, yet comes off a bit astringent, with a heavily perfumed element on the back end. The body is more successful, with gently peat layered atop notes of honey buns, crisp apple, blood orange, and toffee. Yet, there’s something the slightest bit off here, the flavor profile being pulled in a few too many directions, and the finish taking things in a slightly vegetal bent.

I enjoyed the whisky immensely, but it’s a step back from some of the most recent, stellar Broras we’ve seen. Not exactly a tragedy, but perhaps it’s a triple when you were hoping for another home run.

100.8 proof. 2976 bottles produced.

A- / $1800 / malts.com

Review: Pittyvaich 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2015

Pittyvaich 25

Why don’t you know anything about Pittyvaich? Because the Speyside distillery was built in 1975 and torn down in 1993. As Diageo notes, this Special Edition release, distilled in 1989, survived longer than the distillery itself did.

Aged in refill American oak and first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, this is classic non-sherried Speyside from start to finish. On the nose, it’s surprisingly racy, its golden hues offering up gentle malt, heather, warm honey, butterscotch, and gentle vanilla.

In keeping with the luscious nose, the body is fairly hot yet quite well rounded, its oily, honey-dripping body showcasing a variety of treasures. Mild citrus, almonds, a smattering of baking spice — all come together quite beautifully to present themselves atop an enchantingly sweet palate, with a lingering finish that recalls Sauternes, honey syrup, and a slight dusting of cinnamon. Balanced just right, it showcases an achingly gorgeous sweetness without ever becoming cloying. It may not be incredibly complex, but its intensive focus on a handful of key, nicely harmonized flavors elevate this malt considerably.

A highlight of the 2015 Specials, at a “mere” $350, it’s also one of the best bargains in this year’s lineup.

99.8 proof. 5922 bottles produced.

A / $350 / malts.com

Review: Dalwhinnie 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2015

 

Dalwhinnie 25

When we covered the 2015 Diageo Special Releases, we were bummed to receive samples of only 6 of the 9 malts released this year. Then, out of the blue, the final three in the series showed up on the doorstep. At last, we are able to present our coverage of the late 2015 releases from Dalwhinnie, Pittyvaich, and Brora.

Let’s start with Dalwhinnie 25, made at the highest and coldest distillery in Scotland. Distilled in 1989 and aged for 25 years in refill American oak hogsheads.

A bit salty and sweaty on the nose, its aroma is actually a little off-putting, with seaweed and animal feed notes where you wouldn’t expect to find them. The body is more appealing, but still green and on the maritime side: Salty, slightly oxidized, with lingering notes of almond, green apple, lemon peel, chamomile, and a bit of petrol.

The finish is short but relatively clean, heavily perfumed but also loaded with some roasted grain notes. All told it drinks like a younger malt, enjoyable enough but not a real standout.

97.6 proof. 5916 bottles produced.

B / $500 / malts.com