Review: Whiskeys of Cedar Ridge – Iowa Bourbon, Wheat, Rye, Malted Rye, Single Malt

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As the first distillery in the state since Prohibition, Iowa’s Cedar Ridge makes everything from gin to rum to apple brandy. Today we look at five of the company’s whiskeys (it makes at least eight), which are all distilled on site (not sourced) but which are bottled without age statements. Cedar Ridge makes heavy use of Iowa-grown corn in its products, but not all are corn-based, and less is said about the sourcing of its other grains. (Though notably the company also makes wine, from estate-grown grapes.)

Without further ado, let’s dive into this selection of whiskeys.

Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey – A bourbon made with 75% corn, 14% rye, and 12% malted barley. Youthful on the nose, with a sharp granary and fresh corn character, it features notes of tobacco, barrel char, green pepper, and black pepper. The finish offers some caramel corn sweetness, smoky notes, and a vaguely vegetal encore. 80 proof. B- / $39

Cedar Ridge Wheat Whiskey – Made from 100% malted wheat — technically making this a single malt whiskey. Light in color and fragrant on the nose, this is a delightful spirit, gossamer thin but loaded with intense floral aromas. On the palate the grain is quite clear, but a moderate sweetness keeps things moving, leading to more notes of white flowers, honey, graham crackers, and just a hint of cinnamon. The finish is soothing and sweet enough to balance out the aromatics that come before. 80 proof. B+ / $40

Cedar Ridge Rye Whiskey – This is a “traditional” rye made with a 70% “toasted rye” mash and bottled overproof. Racy but also quite woody, its big clove and raw ginger notes lead to a rather sweet finish, with notes of cinnamon-heavy apple pie and ripe banana. The spicy notes are lingering as the finish fades, along with a rather pungent Madeira character. Interesting, flavor-forward stuff. 115.2 proof. B / $43

Cedar Ridge Malted Rye Whiskey – An unusual whiskey made of 51% malted rye, 34% rye, 12% corn, and 3% malted barley. The result is a gentler spin on rye (though this is just 43% abv if you’re comparing to the regular rye above), which takes that apple pie note and filters it through more supple notes of graham crackers, toasted marshmallow, coconut, and dried banana. Of all the whiskeys in this roundup, this one is the most refined and the most complex, a spirit that is clearly youthful and which still offers fresh granary notes up front, but which manages to round out its sharp and rough edges in style. 86 proof. A- / $40

Cedar Ridge Single Malt Whiskey – This is a classic American single malt (malted barley) release, but with few of the expected fixins. The nose is moderately woody, studded with grain, and lightly spiced. On the palate, caramel makes a surprising impact, with overtones of evergreen and a heavy chocolate note. This cocoa character lingers on the finish, giving it a dessert-like character you rarely find in domestic single malts. Well done. 80 proof. B+ / $50

crwine.com

Review: 2016 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau

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I’ve been hearing good things about the 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau releases — and can now confirm that, yes, they might be on to something.

As usual, Georges Duboeuf is first out the gate with this ultra-young, ultra-fruity wine, but the nose features a lightly bitter astringency that one doesn’t usually find in Nouveau. While the nose is candylike and jammy, the body is more refined, offering some tannin and tea leaf to complement blueberry and strawberry notes. The finish is surprisingly clean, though not without a touch of lingering bubble gum, which is a helpful way to make you forget, at least in part, the clip-art appearance of the bottle label.

B+ / $12 / duboeuf.com

Review: Usquaebach An Ard Ri Cask Strength

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Usquaebach’s first new release in nearly 25 years is here: Usquaebach An Ard Ri Cask Strength, a blended malt composed of more than 20 single malts (and no grain whisky), each aged 10 to 21 years, packaged in a blue glass version of its traditional flagon decanter. Says Usqy:

Carefully crafted by longstanding Usquaebach blenders, Hunter Laing and Co., the An Ard Ri is made with casks from Master Blender Stewart H. Laing’s personal collection. Mr. Laing selected from a range of Highlands whiskies, including Inchgower, Benrinnes, Craigellachie, Glengoyne, Dailuaine, Blair Athol, and Auchroisk. At 57.1% ABV, the finished product is a powerfully complex and structured, yet harmoniously smooth cask strength blend that faithfully maintains Usquaebach’s position as “King of the Blended Whiskies.” The 2,000 bottle limited release is packaged in a striking gold and blue variation of Usquaebach’s signature flagon bottle, keeping with the product’s theme of bringing ancient tradition to a modern audience.

This is a well-rounded but distinct blended malt. The nose offers some unusual notes, topping a backbone of malty grains with notes of roasted carrots, anise, pipe tobacco, and leather. The palate shows a bit more sweetness, including some molasses notes, burnt bread, coffee grounds, and a touch of torched citrus peel. The finish is modest and drying, coaxing out a bit of prune alongside notes of dried herbs.

All told, Usquaebach makes more interesting whiskies, but An Ard Ri is adept at showcasing the blender’s more savory side of the blend.

114.2 proof. 2000 bottles produced.

B / $200 / usquaebach.com

Review: Nautical American Gin

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Vertical Spirits is a new company (founded in 2015), and Nautical Gin is its first product. It’s actually made by Massachusetts-based Berkshire Mountain Distillers on behalf of Vertical, which is based in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Though billed as an “American” gin, stylistically it is harder to peg. The botanicals do hold some curious surprises, the list running thusly: juniper, coriander, Pacific kombu (a coastal vegetable), spearmint, rosehips, lemongrass, angelica root, orange peel, cinnamon, orris root, lemon peel, cubeb, allspice, elderberry, and black pepper.

Some wild stuff in there, but the nose is heaviest on juniper, with notes of mint following close behind. Hints of pepper and clove-heavy allspice mingle among them. The palate is more exotic, with a heavy herbal/juniper character, stronger anise, and lemongrass overtones. The finish is lengthy and heavy with herbs, eucalyptus, earth, and aromatics, making this a nice pick for those who like their gins squarely on the side of earthy, heavily savory botanicals.

Neat bottle.

84 proof.

B / $30 / nauticalgin.com

Review: Koloa Hawaiian Rums, Coffee Liqueur, and Ready-to-Drink Cocktails – Complete Lineup

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The tiny Hawaiian island of Kauai is home to Koloa Rum, a small operation with a surprisingly robust line of rums, a coffee liqueur, and ready-to-drink cocktails. All five rums are made from the mash of raw cane sugar, double distilled in a copper pot still, and cut with filtered water from Mount Waialeale. That said, there’s no aging or other information on how the white, gold, and dark rums differ from one another.

Here’s a look at the entire Koloa lineup of (5) rums, (1) liqueur, and (3) premixed cocktail products. Whew!

Koloa Kauai White Hawaiian Rum – Lots of vanilla, chocolate, and coconut notes give this the character of a flavored rum, with unexpected coffee notes emerging in time. Moderate sweetness gives way on the palate to notes of hazelnut and a lingering coffee note on the back end. Very easy to sip on — but not at all what I was expecting from a white rum. 80 proof. B / $27

Koloa Kauai Gold Hawaiian Rum – There’s more fruit on this one, but more astringency, too, particularly on the sharper nose. All told this rum has a more classic (and youthful) construction, with some dusky coconut husk notes and a somewhat raw, ethanol-heavy character, but on the whole it’s a passable mixer. 80 proof. B- / $27

Koloa Kauai Dark Hawaiian Rum – Heavy on notes of molasses and coffee, with chocolate overtones. Like any good dark rum, it’s built with lumbering sweetness in mind, rich and chewy and appropriately dessert-like. That said, it’s relatively light on its feet, but short on complexity. 80 proof. B / $27

Koloa Kauai Spice Hawaiian Rum – Yes, it’s “spice,” not “spiced.” Said to be a response to other “oversweetened spiced rums,” but Koloa’s rendition feels amply sweet to me, studded with cinnamon, cloves, honey, cola, and tons of vanilla. It comes together a lot like a Vanilla Coke, or perhaps a Vanilla Diet Coke, with lightly artificial overtones on an otherwise rousing, somewhat fiery finish. Surprisingly, it’s overproof, not under, making it a solid mixer, for sure. 88 proof. B+ / $27

Koloa Kauai Coconut Hawaiian Rum – Heavy coconut, as expected, here backed with a touch of banana (particularly on the finish), and vanilla milkshake notes. Unctuous and rolling on the palate, it’s got ample (but not overblown) sweetness, hints of pineapple, and — as you’d expect (and desire) — plenty of coconut. As good as any other coconut rum out there. 80 proof. A- / $27

Koloa Hawaiian Kauai Coffee Liqueur – This is a collaboration with Kauai Coffee Company, and it’s a robust and lightly-sweetened but otherwise quite pure expression of coffee in classically alcoholic form. The finish finds a surprise in some slightly peppery notes, with nutty and dark chocolate overtones. The whole affair comes together quite beautifully and with sophistication. 68 proof. A- / $27

Koloa Hawaiian Mai Tai Cocktail – Gatorade-green in color, this offers a pungent, overwhelming almond character on the nose, then segues to a vague tropical character with lemon/lime overtones. Somewhat bitter on the finish, the citrus notes veer toward notes of bitter lime zest. 34 proof. C+ / $15 (1 liter)

Koloa Hawaiian Rum Punch – Grapefruit and pineapple are heavy here, with a squeeze of lemon and a touch of vanilla. It’s a credible punch, but quite light on its feet, with a light nuttiness that lingers on the finish. Perfectly sippable, though it’s quite low in alcohol, making it feel a bit frivolous. 20 proof. B / $15 (1 liter)

Koloa Hawaiian Pineapple Passion Rum Cocktail – Another simple punch, this one punching up the fruit component with a stronger pineapple and passion fruit character, giving it a slightly floral edge. What you think of when you imagine a drink with an umbrella in it, it’s a slurp-’em-down beverage that will offend no one, though I think the standard Rum Punch is a bit better balanced. 20 proof. B / $15 (1 liter)

koloarum.com

Review: 2015 Matchbook Old Heads Chardonnay Dunnigan Hills

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Matchbook’s latest Chardonnay, born in the heat of Yolo County, California, is dubbed “Old Heads” because it is aged for 8 months in barrels previously used for an older vintage of the wine. So, older bodies, too. The used barrels give this wine a softer — and much-needed — attack, offering gentle floral notes on the nose and a plump fruitiness on the tongue. Notes of lemon and pear find a counterpart in a light pineapple note, with gentle vanilla notes emerging more as the wine warms up. An outstanding value.

A- / $15 / crewwines.com

Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Single Malt 14 Years Old and 18 Years Old

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Tullamore D.E.W.’s 14 Year Old and 18 Year Old Single Malt expressions aren’t new — but they are new to the U.S., having launched here only in the last few weeks. These are distinctly different from traditional Tullamore releases, which are primarily composed of blends, and include finishing in four different types of barrels.

Says the D.E.W.:

Intensely rich and smooth Irish whiskeys, both Tullamore D.E.W. single malts are characterized by their rare, four cask recipe, which sees the whiskey finished in Bourbon, Oloroso Sherry, Port and Madeira casks [for up to 6 months]. Thanks to triple distillation, which is mainly unique to Irish whiskey, the malts are particularly smooth with a character quite distinct from other single malt whiskeys.

Let’s give them both a taste. Both are bottled at 82.6 proof.

Tullamore D.E.W. Single Malt 14 Years Old – Malty but rounded, with notes of fresh grain, brown butter, and some applesauce on the nose. The palate is heavily bourbon-cask influenced, with rolling notes of caramel that lead the way to a lightly wine-influenced character late in the game. The finish finds Tullamore 14 at its most enigmatic, surfacing gentle florals, white pepper, and a touch of burnt rubber. All told, this drinks heavily like a relatively young single malt Scotch (which shouldn’t be surprising), fresh and enjoyable but often anonymous and lacking a specific direction. Nothing not to like here, though. B / $70

Tullamore D.E.W. Single Malt 18 Years Old – This expression grabs hold of you much more quickly, starting with a racier, spicier nose that evokes sherry and Madeira, bolder pepper notes, fragrant florals, and a sharp orange peel character. The heavier aromatics find their way into palate, which showcases much more of that Madeira character, with old red wine notes balanced by exotic rhubarb, incense, tangerine, and green banana. Sharper throughout and longer on the finish, the whiskey offers a power you don’t often see in Irish, but which is wholly welcome. A- / $110  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

tullamoredew.com

Review: Zumbida Mango Aguas Frescas

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Looks like we now have not one but two “hard” Mexican frescas available in bottled form. Following in the footsteps of Hard Frescos comes Zumbida, which is not the same as Zumba, but will make your body move just the same.

Zumbida is made by MillerCoors, not in Mexico but in Milwaukee. It’s a malt beverage with flavoring added — mango, in this case. (No other flavors are available so far.) As such, I’m not clear what distinguishes this from a “hard soda” or any other fruity malt beverage. There is some Spanish on the label, at least.

Anyway, the taste is fine — fruity, a little funky with that vegetal malt liquorness, and quite effervescent. Imagine an Orange Crush with a lightly tropical spin and you’ve got the flavor down — it’s not quite mango, but not straight citrus, either. Could I drink one of these on the beach in Cozumel? I could. But would I drink one on the beach in Cozumel? I would not.

4.2% abv.

B- / $9 per six-pack / zumbida.com

Review: Bully Boy Estate Gin

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We’ve written about a number of products from Boston-based Bully Boy Distillers. Today we turn our attention to the company’s gin, a unique offering in the world of this juniper-infused spirit.

First, some details from the company:

We start with a base of neutral grain and apple brandy, which we make from distilled hard cider fermented at Stormalong Cidery. We then add standard botanicals such as Albanian Juniper, Coriander, and lemon, and more unique botanicals like local Juniperus Virginiana, Hibiscus, Pink Peppercorn, and a few others we like to keep secret. The end result is a bouquet of aromas and flavors that are both exotic and firmly rooted in New England.

The nose is immediately exotic, offering notes of modest juniper, crisp apple, and a smattering of mixed herbs and floral elements. On the palate, ample juniper again leads the way to some unexpected flavors, including lemongrass, pepper, tobacco leaf, and dried flowers. There’s just a hint of sweetness here, taking the form of light honey notes, which are particularly present on the lasting and lightly herbal finish.

All told, this is a well balanced gin, and it’s one with extra versatility thanks to its hefty 47% abv, letting it find an easy home in a martini or a more complex cocktail.

94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1

A- / $30 / bullyboydistillers.com

Review: Beaujolais Wines of Georges DuBoeuf, 2015 Vintage

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Georges DuBoeuf is an icon of France’s Beaujolais, and every year around this time the winery’s new releases hit the market. Today we look at six of them, including two offerings from DuBoeuf’s Domaine selection — smaller producers owned by the winery and still bottled under their own labels.

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Macon-Villages – Brisk and acidic, this wine is loaded with lemon and grapefruit notes, delving from there into a lightly herbal character, plus some light notes of brown sugar. The finish is heavy with slate notes, and lightly bittersweet, which dials back the impact of the finish a bit. B+ / $20

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Pouilly-Fuisse – Lovely fruit and light mineral notes find balance here atop a moderate to bold body that offers distinct buttery notes. Relatively California-esque in style, it builds to a vanilla-scented crescendo. The finish is a bit too brooding making it a bit overpowering on its own, but it does stand up well to food. B / $35

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages – The focus is squarely on fruit here, but it’s dialed back unlike, say, a Beaujolais Nouveau’s brash and overpowering jamminess. Light cherry and currant meld with fresher, juicier strawberry notes, dusted with a bit of lavender and a touch of orange peel. A solid wine at a great value. A- / $13

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Fleurie – Youthful, with a simple structure that focuses on dried plums, violets, and overtones of saddle leather. The body is fine but nothing special, round and a bit flabby with a gumminess that tends to stick to the sides of the mouth. B- / $22

2015 Emile Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse – A fine Pouilly-Fuisse, offering ample minerality, to the point of light saltiness, plus overtones of melon and hints of roasted meats. Notes of slate and bouqeut garni alternate on the finish, which give the wine an uncommon complexity. B+ / $40

2015 Domaine les Chenevieres Macon-Villages – A gorgeous wine, loaded with notes of lemon, quince, and tangerine, and layered with alternating notes of brown butter, baking spice, and a hint of woody vanilla. A perfectly balanced body kicks out floral notes and a touch of white pepper from time to time, all beautiful accompaniments to the fruit-forward main event. Beautiful on its own but a standout with lighter fare. A / $22

duboeuf.com

Review: Martell Blue Swift

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Finishing Cognac is officially a thing. Hot on the heels of Bache-Gabrielsen’s new oak-finished Cognac comes this spin from major Cognac house Martell, a VSOP Cognac that is finished in previously used Kentucky bourbon casks. No word on the length of the finishing, but Martell does say this:

Martell Cognac’s latest offering represents the essence of the curious and audacious spirit of founder Jean Martell. Engraved on the bottle, Martell’s iconic swift emblem is significant as legend has it, Jean Martell was guided by the flight of a swift on his original journey from the island of Jersey to Charente, while the bird is famous for flying exceptionally long distances, crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice a year. A tribute to the shared history between Martell and the United States, Martell Blue Swift joins the core lineup along with Martell VS, Martell VSOP, Martell Cordon Bleu, and Martell XO.

Blue Swift is a rousing success that shows how Cognac and bourbon can work beautifully together. The color of the spirit is bourbon-dark, much deeper in hue than any standard VSOP you’ll encounter. On the nose, there’s lots going on, the traditional raisin-plum notes of brandy mingling nicely with oaky whiskey notes, layering in some cinnamon, flamed banana, and a touch of almond.

The palate follows that up with aplomb. A relatively light body gives way to lush fruit, touched with oak. Currants and vanilla, figs and cocoa, hints of peppermint and gingerbread — they all come together into a surprisingly cohesive whole that showcases the best of both the brandy and bourbon worlds. The finish is light on its feet, not at all heavy, cloying, or otherwise overblown. Rather, it’s slightly drying and quite clean, its toasty wood notes lingering while echoing hints of fruity raisin.

It’s lovely in its own right, but I’m particularly hard-pressed to think of a better Cognac at this price point. Stock up!

80 proof.

A / $50 / martell.com

Review: Magic Hat Belgo Sutra Quadrupel (2016)

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Magic Hat’s latest limited/seasonal is the latest installment of its monster of a Belgian-style dark ale, a quadrupel that is brewed with figs and dates to really pump up the intensity of the brew. The results are fascinating, if not entirely approachable at first. The beer drinks with sweet and bitter in relative balance, but the gummy body tends to overwhelm the palate. The eastern fruit character comes through clearly, but the finish sticks to the mouth and refuses to let go. Those looking for a Port-like dessert experience have found it here; for me, it can often run too far afield.

Belgo Sutra sales benefit the Vermont non-profit and HIV testing center Vermont CARES.

8.2% abv. Now available in bottles.

B / $NA per 22 oz. bottle / magichat.net