Author Archives: Christopher Null

Review: Stolen “Coffee & Cigarettes” Spiced Rum

stolen coffee and cigarettes 98x300 Review: Stolen Coffee & Cigarettes Spiced RumThe name alone gives one pause. Does one want to drink cigarettes? If they’re stolen, do they taste better? To clarify things a bit, look to the quotation marks. “Stolen” is the name of the brand. “Coffee & Cigarettes” is the flavor applied. Underneath, it’s spiced rum, making this the first flavored and spiced rum we’ve reviewed.

Now this isn’t our first run-in with tobacco flavoring agents, although Stolen is careful to note its flavorings are coffee and cigarettes, not tobacco. Important distinction? Let’s find out by sipping on this Caribbean-sourced, Florida-bottled, New Zealand-owned oddity.

I’m happy to report that the primary note on the nose is coffee. It’s a little dark and husky, but this comes across more as dark roast espresso with a touch of spice than, as feared, the flavor of old coffee with cigarette butts floating in it. The body is a touch less forgiving. The smokiness builds here, driving the character forward. At first, the spirit offers more of a light brandy character than a rum-like one, though the sweetness (particularly molasses-heavy) grows with time. The smoke flavor component is far more successful than in Ivanabitch’s vodka version, presumably because the coffee and spice elements balance things out a bit. The finish manages to pull all of this together better than you’d think.

Ultimately the spirit is far more of a success than I had feared, but for most it will likely remain a curiosity that generates more questions based on its avant garde label and unique recipe than interest in actually imbibing it.

84 proof.

B / $15 / stolenrum.com

Review: 2012 Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and 2011 Trilogy

flora springs trilogy 70x300 Review: 2012 Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and 2011 TrilogyMore new releases from our friends at Napa Valley’s Flora Springs, including the 2011 vintage of its flagship wine, Trilogy, a Bordeaux style blend.

2012 Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay - Initially quite oaky, this barrel-fermented Chardonnay opens up with notes of figs, peaches, vanilla, and creme brulee. Time in glass is the friend of this wine, which starts out quite dense — you might even decant it! — as the brooding body eventually reveals more of its fruit over an hour or so. B+ / $35

2011 Flora Springs Trilogy Napa Valley - 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec. A pretty and restrained Trilogy this year offers modest currants and dried cherry notes, plus tobacco, tea leaf, and cocoa bean notes. Quite a bit of tannin is hanging out on the back end, where a bit of touch of blackberry jam awaits. Good stuff. A- / $75

florasprings.com

Tasting in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley: Wines of Bella, Truett-Hurst, Preston

On the other side of Highway 101, Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley is a sleepy alternative to the bustle of Napa and even of Sonoma proper. Here, there’s little but narrow roads winding through vineyards. No Michelin-starred restaurants out here or even so much as a gas station. If you need a snack, there’s but one “general store” (always jam-packed) from which to obtain provisions.

Getting around Dry Creek is easy and fun. A recent tour took us to three lesser-known wineries a bit off the beaten path. Thoughts follow.

Tasting Report: Dry Creek Valley

2011 Bella Hills and Benches Zinfandel / $35 / B+ / fragrant and floral; strawberry, mint, sweeter finish
2011 Bella Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel / $40 / A- / intense, big body, huge structure
2010 Bella Big River Ranch Petite Sirah / $38 / B / gravelly, tannic
2012 Bella Late Harvest Zinfandel / $25 / B+ / fun, less cloying than you’d think; easy finish
2012 Ten Acre Russian River Valley Chardonnay / $30 / B+ / Bella’s second label; some butter notes, caramel apple character
2011 Ten Acre Cummings Vineyard Pinot Noir / $55 / A / light pepper, black and blueberry; an exciting wine
2012 Truett-Hurst Swallowtail Chardonnay / $27 / A- / lovely fruit, apple and pear, butterscotch
2012 Truett-Hurst White Sheep Pinot Noir / $40 / B+ / big fruit, red pepper, vanilla
2012 Truett-Hurst Black Sheep Pinot Noir / $40 / B / more chocolate/caramel notes
2012 Truett-Hurst Bradford Mountain Zinfandel / $33 / B+ / good balance; ripe berries, raisins; peppery edge
2012 Truett-Hurst Luci Zinfandel / $33 / A- / somewhat bolder, racy
2012 Truett-Hurst Red Rooster Zinfandel / $33 / B / a little flabby
2012 Truett-Hurst Southdown Zinfandel / $33 / B+ / good balance; slightly peppery; raspberry notes
2012 Preston Madam Preston / $32 / B+ / 50% viognier, 40% rousanne, 8% grenache blanc, 2% marsanne – peachy nose, apricots, marshmallows – perfumed finish
2012 Preston Grenache Blanc / $30 / B+ / bolder, butterscotch notes
2011 Preston Barbera / $34 / B- / thin, blackberry, a bit sweaty
2011 Preston L. Preston / $36 / B+ / 50% syrah, 20% mourvedre, 16% grenache, 8% cinsault, 6% carignane – beautiful nose, classic earth and plums, lots of acid, a bit too tart on the finish
2012 Guadagni Red Table Wine (3L) / $36 / B / artisinal jug wine, blended at Preston (refills available on site); surprisingly easy but simple; plenty of fruit

P.S. 3000 posts! Woot!

Review: 2006 Charbay Still House Port and Distillers’ Port

charbay Distillers Port 56x300 Review: 2006 Charbay Still House Port and Distillers PortCalifornia-based Charbay doesn’t just make some amazing spirits. It has also released this impressive collection of vintage ports, both made from 2006 vintage grapes and aged 7 years before bottling. Both are 20.9% abv and bottled in 375ml bottles. Thoughts follow.

2006 Charbay Still House Port – 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Zinfandel, 10% Syrah. That adds up to 105%, but that’s what Charbay told us. Close enough, I guess. The wine is fortified with 4 year old Charbay Syrah Brandy, then aged in used French oak for 7 years. The nose features the expected raisin and dark chocolate notes, but also menthol character to back it up. The body isn’t as rounded and lush as you might expect, but the interesting touches of hazelnut, licorice, and cloves add curiosity. The finish unfortunately is on the heavy, almost sour side. B+ / $50 (375ml)

2006 Charbay Distillers’ Port – A blend of late-harvest Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with 6 year old Cabernet Franc brandy and aged for 7 years in old French oak barrels. This wine is a revelation that can stand up next to anything coming out of Portugal. Rich chocolate and coffee notes play with a sedate (and expected) raisin character on the nose, then work their way into the body. Some cinnamon pops up here, with a kind of nutty character coming along on the finish. Easy to enjoy, but layered with complexity. A / $75 (375ml)

charbay.com

Book Review: Bitter Brew

bitter brew 197x300 Book Review: Bitter BrewI really had no idea that the Busch family had gone through such a turbulent century, with the fortunes of Budweiser careening up and down. But then again, like most readers of this blog, I don’t give Budweiser a whole lot of thought, anyway.

But with Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer, author William Knoedelseder grabs you right from the start (with the ultimate fall — the company’s foreign takeover in 2008), before backtracking to 1857 when Adolphus Busch took over a small, bankrupt brewery and launched the A-B empire. While some tales, like the Busch’s obsession with and purchase of the St. Louis Cardinals, may not carry much weight with readers who are more interested in the sudsier side of things, but Knoedelseder’s gifts with the pen will keep you flipping the pages nonetheless.

One tragic oversight: No mention of Spuds MacKenzie.

A- / $13 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Henge Experimental IPA (2014)

deschutes Hop Henge 22oz 76x300 Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Henge Experimental IPA (2014)This year’s Hop Henge from Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes continues the company’s long-running experiment in “IBU escalation,” landing at 99 IBUs this time around. It doesn’t taste all that bitter. Sure, it’s got a nice slug of hops courtesy of the Cascade, Centennial, Millennium, Chinook, and one experimental variety of hops in the mix, which give it a bracing dried herb character. But it’s a curious chocolate — very dark and brooding — that turns this into something more than your usual IPA. The finish is drying and slightly fruity, with caramel apple notes.

Hop Henge has never been my favorite Deschutes bottling, but as always it proves itself to be worthy of exploration.

8.8% abv.

B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Sugar Island Spiced Rum and Coconut Rum

sugar island spiced rum 102x300 Review: Sugar Island Spiced Rum and Coconut RumMade from Caribbean cane sugar and bottled in California, Sugar Island is a new kid on the flavored and spiced rum block. (The company is not making an unflavored or aged variety.) Here’s how these new offerings measure up against the competition.

Sugar Island Spiced Rum – Very strong and pungent on the nose. The character is indistinct, with somewhat harsh, rubbery notes. On the palate, heavy burnt sugar notes overwhelm with unclear, clove-and-cinnamon character backing it up. A lengthy finish brings out not more sweetness but more of that rubbery, industrial character. Caramel added. 92 proof. C-

Sugar Island Coconut Rum – Tons of sweetness on the nose. Coconut is a secondary characteristic, overpowered by simple syrup. The body is heavy, full of gravity, with a powerfully sweet finish that offers a touch of mango character to it. Not at all difficult, but it’s a sugar bomb with few parallels in this category. 42 proof. B-

each $19 / sugarislandrum.com

Review: Camus VSOP Elegance and VSOP Borderies Cognac

Here’s something you don’t see every day: A Borderies Cognac… that’s a youngish VSOP. Borderies, for those not in the know, is a small, very renowned grape-growing subregion of Cognac. Normally, Borderies bottlings are old XO expressions — which command even higher prices due to their regional pedigree. vsop camus borderies Review: Camus VSOP Elegance and VSOP Borderies CognacAnd while Camus does offer an XO Borderies, it has recently (and quietly) put out this VSOP Borderies expression, a rarity I’ve never seen before now.

It just so happens I had a fresh bottle of Camus VSOP (now known as Camus VSOP Elegance) to compare against this limited-edition Camus VSOP Borderies. Here’s how they shake out.

Camus VSOP Elegance – Recently cleaned up with strong “Elegance” labeling and more modern styling, the off-the-rack Camus VSOP bottling offers classic younger Cognac notes: oak, Christmas cake, and lingering citrus notes, tinged with cinnamon. It’s an easygoing sipper that doesn’t overly complicate things. B+ / $40

Camus VSOP Borderies – More fruit up front here, growing considerably as it gets some air to it. Cinnamon apple, apricots, even coconut and pineapple notes come across. You don’t get much of that with the standard VSOP, which keeps its cards closer to its vest. The finish only builds up the fruit component. 15,000 bottles made. A- / $57

camus.fr

Review: 5 Whiskies from Japan’s Nikka Distillery

Nikka Coffey Grain 750ml 300 389x1200 Review: 5 Whiskies from Japans Nikka Distillery

An old part of the Asahi empire, Nikka (est. 1934) suddenly finds itself part of the new guard of Japanese whiskys positively flooding into the U.S. Nikka makes a massive number of whiskys in a wide variety of styles and ages. What we present here is but a small selection of Nikka’s world, reflecting the most common Nikka expressions you’ll find in our shores today.

Thoughts follow.

Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt 12 Years Old – A classic single malt (100% malted barley from Nikka’s newer distillery) with tons to love. The nose is pretty and modern, offering well-integrated grain, oak, and nougat elements. The subtle smokiness starts to develop primarily on the palate, which offers crisp citrus notes, butterscotch, and some floral notes. Beautiful integration here, on a creamy, sexy body. Vanilla custard sticks with you for ages after a few sips. Feels far more accomplished than its 12 years of age would dictate. 90 proof. A / $120

Nikka Yoichi Single Malt 15 Years Old – Single malt, older distillery than Miyagikyo, which explains how this 15 year old whisky can be priced the same as its little brother. Quite a different spirit, the Yoichi brings a bit more smokiness, and a more rustic composition, with a racier nose and a considerably bigger smoke profile. The body offers big citrus notes, applesauce, cloves, and a chewiness driven by the barbecue-like smokiness. A fun and flavorful whisky, but it pales next to the refinement of the Miyagikyo. 90 proof. B+ / $130

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Years Old – I’m an avowed fan of the Taketsuru 12 Years Old, a pure malt (a blend of single malts from multiple distilleries), so this 17 year old expression sounds delightful right off the bat. The smoke-and-sweetness of this malt’s nose remind me of the Yoichi 15, but the body is a different animal. Here, that rusticness has faded away to reveal a satin body, mouth-filling with thick caramel, vanilla custard, and just wisps of smoke. There’s an almost lemon candy-like character around the edges that’s hard to pin down… but is quite delicious. 86 proof. A- / $150

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 Years Old – Lots of grain on this older expression of Taketsuru, which is surprising. The nose initially feels hot, heavy with old wood character. The body is equally laden with heavy woodiness, a tannic and tough spirit that just feels “too old” — almost sour at times with past-its-prime cherry, burnt cocoa beans, and charcoal notes. Not at all my favorite of this lineup. 86 proof. B- / $180

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – This is a huge departure from the above, a grain whisky (corn, barley, wheat) made in a continuous still instead of a pot still. It’s what blended whisky is blended with, but this is a 100% grain whisky, with no single malt added. Sharp on the nose, with lemon notes, vanilla, and strong menthol character. The body is surprisingly easygoing, a fruity whiskey with notes of hazelnuts, coffee bean, sea salt, and modest smokiness. There’s a lot going on here, that menthol character bringing it all into (for the most part) balance. Worth exploring, and it’s a bargain compared to the rest of the Nikka stable. 90 proof. B+ / $70

nikka.com

Review: St. Elder Elderflower Liqueur

st elder  hires bt 361x1200 Review: St. Elder Elderflower LiqueurElderflower, the flower that makes that inimitably peachy-lychee-pineapply flavor, has had a huge run lately, largely thanks to the premium liqueur St. Germain. Naturally, competition has followed from indie upstarts, including this liqueur from St. Elder. It’s made not in France but in Massachusetts and bottled not in a Deco masterpiece but in something that looks like it was designed for malt liquor. It’s also almost half the price… so is it worthwhile as a budget alternative to St. G? Read on…

The color is bright gold, as expected, and the nose is loaded with tropicality. It’s particularly heavy on pineapple, with sharper, lychee notes coming along behind. The body is creamier, almost like a pineapple upside-down cake, with caramel notes in the mid-palate. The finish is sharp and vaguely floral, with those tropical notes coming on strong again. It’s quite similar to St. Germain in the end, the most notable difference being the addition of 5% more alcohol to St. Elder, which makes this expression slightly punchier.

Good thing or bad thing? It doesn’t seem to matter much: St. Elder may not be as refined on the outside, but what’s in the bottle is a big winner.

40 proof.

A / $18 / st-elder.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #3

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ImpEx Beverages imports The Exclusive Malts, a series of independently-bottled Scotch whiskys that are, well, pretty darn exclusive. Primarily cask strength bottlings produced in very limited editions (most have just a few hundred bottles drawn from a single cask available), these are rarities that single malt fans will definitely want to try and seek out.

Thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Laphroaig 2005 8 Years Old - Everything you’re expecting from a cask-strength Laphroaig indie, all salty seaweed, cloves, orange oil, and iodine. The peat is restrained and kicks in mainly on the finish. This expression doesn’t reinvent Laphroaig’s well-worn wheel, but brings it home in style. 111.8 proof. A- / $85

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 2003 10 Years Old – Sourced from an unnamed distillery in Speyside. Who could it be, given this description? The nose is restrained, barely hinting at what’s inside. Crack things open and get ready for a punch to the throat: Shockingly sweet syrup, candied apples and pears, fresh honeycomb, and just hints of its underlying grain. A drop of water helps to tame the sugary finish, bringing out some malty notes. 112.6 proof. B+ / $90

The Exclusive Malts Craigellachie 2000 12 Years Old – Craigellachie is a small distillery that’s in the same village as Macallan in the north of Speyside. It makes very few official bottlings, so your best chance to try it is in independent bottlings like this. Hints of smoke on the nose, with menthol and some orange notes. The body is big and round, full of well-oaked grains, light citrus, even some tropical notes. Not overly complex, but a solid sipper at just 12 years old. Well balanced even at cask strength. 111.6 proof. A- /  $105

The Exclusive Malts Mortlach 18 Years Old - Classic Mortlach, sharp, well-oaked, and fruity with spiced pear notes on the nose. The body is austere and refined, with light mint notes, orange flower honey, and a grainy, malty back end. Relatively simple in composition, but engaging and easy to enjoy as is. 108.6 proof. B+ / $130

The Exclusive Malts Longmorn 1985 28 Years Old – Beautiful stuff. Almost bourbon-like on the nose, with heavy vanilla and caramel, toasted coconut, and some banana. The body ups the ante with sweet-and-silky honey, nougat, butterscotch, and dried fruits. Wonderful balance of sweet stuff, malty notes, and gentle spices, with a lush body and a long finish. 103.2 proof. A / $250

The Exclusive Malts The Exclusive Blend 1991 21 Years Old – A blend of single malts and single grain whiskys, all distilled in 1991 and matured in ex-sherry casks. What an oddity. Some funky, leathery, tobacco-laden, Band-Aid notes on the nose lead you into a body that hits you with sweet smoke, big malt character, heather, and tar. Kind of a mess, and sorely lacking in some much-needed fruitiness to give this odd blend some charm. 92 proof. B / $100

impexbev.com

Review: The Arran Malt 12 Years Old Cask Strength Batch #2

Arran 12 cask strength 140x300 Review: The Arran Malt 12 Years Old Cask Strength Batch #2Batch #2 of  this rarity, a cask strength bottling of Arran 12 Years Old, was crafted from 17 first-fill sherry butts and 4 second-fill sherry hogsheads. There can’t be much of this to go around. In fact, as I type this, Arran is already on Batch #3 according to its website.

The nose is hot, but pretty. Nougat, malty — almost bread-like — with dense orange and spiced apple notes after. On the palate, the orange character takes on some raisin, marshmallow, and marzipan. Though it’s only 107.2 proof — many cask strength bottlings are far higher in alcohol — it really benefits from a few drops of water, soothing the heat and bringing out the more enchanting, dessert-like components of the malt — with even a touch of chocolate that you don’t find when sipping it sans water.

Fun stuff from the only distillery on the Isle of Arran.

107.2 proof.

A- / $68 / arranwhisky.com

Review: Tamdhu Single Malt Whisky 10 Years Old

Tamdhu 10 Year Old 525x663 Review: Tamdhu Single Malt Whisky 10 Years Old

Shuttered from 2010 to 2013, Tamdhu, one of Speyside’s founding distilleries, is back in operation. Primarily known for its contributions to blended Scotch, the distillery is now producing more single malts, and this 10 year old expression (obviously made from stock that predates the distillery’s current ownership) would be released is the first volley of Tamdhu’s relaunch.

Tamdhu is matured  fully in sherry casks. (A limited edition expression of Tamdhu 10 that’s matured only in first-fill sherry casks is also available; check the label closely to see which one you’re buying.)

It’s easy to see why Tamdhu works well in blends like The Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark: In Tamdhu 10 you get a little bit of everything that makes Scotch great. The nose is lightly woody and lightly peated, with undertones of nuts. A general, rustic alcohol-vapor vibe tends to linger, however.

Through its moderate body, Tamdhu again shines as an easier malt, offering hazelnuts, dates, raisins, and a deeper orange character, infused with spicy, mulled wine notes. Sedate and malty, it ultimately offers a finish that is at once pleasant, drinkable, and decidedly modest.

86 proof.

B+ / $58 / tamdhu.com

Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Irish Whiskey

Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Limited Edition 525x525 Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Irish Whiskey

Tullamore D.E.W. (nee Tullamore Dew) continues its march upmarket with the release of Phoenix, one of its fanciest bottlings released to date.

This expression is launched in commemoration of the first-ever air disaster, a hot-air balloon fire in 1785 that took place in the town of Tullamore and subsequently burned down most of the town (the recovery is the phoenix in question). This is a classic blended Irish whiskey bottled with no age statement. A blend of pure pot still, malt whiskey, and grain whiskey, it is non-chill filtered and is finished in Oloroso sherry casks. This first edition of what is planned to be an annual release comprises 30,000 bottles.

Quite a delight, Phoenix is a creamy, nutty whiskey that takes the easy nature of Irish and gives it more body and more gravitas. Almonds are the prominent note here, wrapped up in a nougat character that closely resembles a Mars Almond bar. (Sadly not on the market any more.) The sherry is really just hinted at here. While many a sherry-finished whiskey will wallop you over the head with juicy orange character, here it’s appropriately understated, racy with baking spices, spiced nuts, and orange notes on the finish. The higher proof adds body and complexity. Easily the best thing from Tullamore to date, and actually a great value considering the quality on display here.

110 proof.

A / $55 / tullamoredew.com

Tasting the Sweet White Wines of the Roussillon Region

HERITAGE DU TEMPS SINGLA 2005 115x300 Tasting the Sweet White Wines of the Roussillon RegionRoussillon is southern France’s answer to Sauternes. This small part of the Languedoc region, nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees mountains, specializes in sweet dessert wines, made much in the same style of the more famous — and much more expensive — brethren to the north.

These wines, known as Vins Doux Naturels in their sweetened state, come from a number of sub-districts and are made with a variety of grape varietals. (The most noteworthy wines from this area are the well-regarded wines from the tiny Banyuls region, though these are closer to Port.) You’ll note the “Ambre” designation on some of the wines below. “Ambre” means that a wine from this region has been aged for at least two years in an oxidative container (like a large oak vat) before bottling, similar to Tawny Port. This can give the wine a much deeper, golden color.

And by the way, the district isn’t just promoting their value as an alternative to pricier stickies — it’s also got cocktails you can check out using Roussillon as a base.

Today we look at three selections from the Roussillon region, all fortified whites. Thoughts follow.

2006 Chateau Les Pins Rivesaltes Ambre – A blend of 25% White Grenache, 25% Malvasia, and 50% Macabeu grapes. Aromatic and perfumy, almost like an Alsatian wine. The body initially hits you with honey, then spins into an orange/lemon character before finishing with notes of cereal, something that’s almost like a granola. Refreshing, and different enough to make experiencing worthwhile over other white dessert wines. 16% abv. B+ / $15

2011 Chateau Les Pins Muscat de Rivesaltes -  50% Muscat Petit Grains and 50% Muscat Alexandrie grapes. Typical of Muscat, with a nose of peaches and marshmallow cream. On the tongue, more aromatics develop, with a perfumed white flower character that balances the fruit. The result is fresh and fragrant, a more pure expression of the vine than the almost malty/bready character that comes along in the Ambre. 16% abv. A- / $15

2006 Domaine Singla Heritage du Temps Ambre – A much different experience than the Les Pins, this 100% Macabeu wine has the intensity of a lighter sherry, crossed with a Madeira. The nose offers the distinct, old-wine sharpness of Madeira, with hints of floral aromatics and some sweetness beneath. On the palate, you’ll find more of a honey character backed with chewy nougat, nuts, and that sour cherry finish that again recalls Madeira. Not bad, but hardly the crowd-pleaser that the (cheaper) Muscat de Riversaltes is. B / $56

winesofroussillon.com

Review: Hangar 24 Barrel Roll No. 03 Pugacehev’s Cobra

hangar 24 barrel roll Pagachevs cobra 265x300 Review: Hangar 24 Barrel Roll No. 03 Pugacehevs CobraA Russian Imperial Stout brewed with maple syrup and aged in bourbon barrels for eight months, Hangar 24′s latest barrel-aged brew is indeed, as promised, “an assault on your senses.”

They mean that in a good way, but at first, Pugachev’s Cobra, now in its third release (it comes out every December), is a little jarring. Of course, at 13.8% alcohol, a beer will do that to you.

Give it time to settle down a bit and this Barrel Roll bottling becomes quite the charmer. Smooth coffee notes (not ultra-bitter), rounded out by just a touch of that maple flavor, give this a delightful dessert-like feeling at the start. Cocoa notes come along in short order, as the malty core starts to build. On the finish, it’s fruitier than you’d think, with notes of raisin, plum, and blackberry, all shrouded in vanilla syrup driven by the bourbon barrel (and that monumental body).

This isn’t a beer you’re going to crack open and guzzle, but by the fireside — which is where I’m enjoying it — it’s quite a little delight.

A- / $20 per 750ml bottle / hangar24brewery.com

Book Review: The New York Times Book of Wine

nyt book of wine 203x300 Book Review: The New York Times Book of WineIf you want to learn about wine… like really learn about wine, you might think a mammoth tome like The New York Times Book of Wine would be a good place to start. Sure sounds legit. Alas, TNYTBOW is not that kind of place. As with many a book of this ilk (the kind with a newspaper name in the title), it’s not a book written with any specific goal in mind, but rather a loosely cobbled-together collection of previously published stories wrapped around a single topic. In this case, wine.

If you want to learn about Gary Vaynerchuk’s past, or you want seafood recipes, or you’re interested in comments on pairing oysters with red wine, you’ve come to the right place: This is a seemingly random anthology of stories that all do get around to mentioning wine at least at some point.

There are plenty of the expected kinds of pieces you read about in newspaper wine columns these days: Don’t serve your wine too cold, don’t serve your wine too hot, drink more Lagrein, maybe boxed wine isn’t so bad, that kind of thing. There’s a whole chapter of missives on Port, Madeira, and grape-based spirits like Cognac. (Filling a daily newspaper column with wine coverage for 30 years must not be easy.)

Of course, it’s all a bit random. Alongside insightful but well-trodden pieces on stuff like the ancient history of wine you’ll find gag dispatches to giggle over. For every deep dive into why vine pruning is important you’ll find an inscrutable piece of self-love that begins along the lines of “I was sitting at my desk in Paris one day when…” And you’ll even find book reviews of other wine books! Now that’s meta.

Reading TNYTBOW is a lot like reading the paper: The individual pieces are very short (often just a couple of pages), and the whole affair is seemingly designed so you’ll keep this book beside the toilet. That’s not to say that the book is slight or useless. Given that this monster tome comprises 592 pages of old newspaper clippings, it’s perhaps to be expected that there is plenty of good material here, but plenty of chaff too. Just like the wine world, I suppose.

B / $17 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Taildragger Rums

taildragger rums 525x350 Review: Taildragger Rums

American rum is on the rise, and the latest expressions include this trio from Tailwinds Distilling in Plainfield, Illinois. Tailwind makes Taildragger from pricey first-boil molasses from Louisiana (rather than cheap 5th-boil blackstrap), which is distilled in a 100 gallon pot still with a six-plate column.

Taildragger is not carbon filtered nor chill filtered, which is why it retains a lot of its raw cane character. It’s a rum, as distiller Toby Beall puts it, which is “a truly American hand-crafted rum just like you would have found in our early colonies.”

Thoughts follow.

Taildragger Rum White - (Not “White Rum” mind you, but Rum White!) Unaged and “meant to stand out,” it is as promised a fairly agricole-style rum on the nose, with notes of oily tar and some light coconut character behind it. The body brings out more charm. Here, stronger vanilla notes play with some tropical character, although the rustic, fuel-like tones remain evident, just more in the back seat. A solid example of this style, though fans of more traditionally filtered and aged rums may find its more savory characteristics too overpowering. 80 proof. B / $30

Taildragger Rum Amber – Aged in ex-American rye barrels for one year. Banana and light vanilla notes temper the agricole base, but it’s still there, off in the distance. Despite the light gold color, the oak has done quite a number on the palate here, giving this rum more intense vanilla and caramel notes, with ripe banana and whipped cream coming through on the finish. The body feels creamier too, but maybe that’s just my brain messing with me. 80 proof. B+ / $35

Taildragger Coffee-Flavored Rum – Huge, bittersweet coffee character on the nose, it really overpowers almost any sense of rum here. Over time, this develops in the glass, giving the spirit’s coffee-ground core a slightly tropical, fruity back-end. There is a somewhat brooding, almost smoky quality to it, which doesn’t quite mesh perfectly well with the fruity notes. Coffee lovers will rejoice. 60 proof. B / $ 29

tailwindsdistilling.com

Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New Orleans

Ah, New Orleans… it’s not just the home of some of the best food in the world, it’s also the birthplace — a spiritual birthplace in some cases — of some of the most classic cocktails ever invented.

I had the good fortune to travel through Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, on the eve of Mardi Gras recently, with a specific goal of seeing how these classics measure up to more modern fare. Whenever possible, I went straight to the source where the cocktail was first created.

Without further ado, here’s a rundown of some of NOLA’s biggest and most noteworthy cocktails… recipes included. (Note: I skipped the Grasshopper, reportedly invented here at Tujagues’. Next time, I promise.)

Sazerac047 300x225 Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New Orleans
1 tsp. Absinthe liqueur (preferably Herbsaint)
1 1/2 to 2 oz. Rye Whiskey (preferably Old Overholt)
1 sugar cube
several dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Coat the inside of a cocktail glass with the Herbsaint and pour out the excess. Shake the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I’ve covered this classic before. It’s one of my favorite drinks. It’s also the official drink of New Orleans, invented here in the 1850s. The Sazerac at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Bar — as iconic a place to order one as you can find — isn’t the best I’ve had. Sweet and spicy, it was way too warm and — more importantly — absent of nearly any absinthe flavor, the quintessential part of the cocktail, in my opinion. Today the Roosevelt is better known for its Ramos Gin Fizz, another NOLA classic.

040 300x225 Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New OrleansVieux Carre
3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz Cognac
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

On the rocks with a lemon twist.

This is very close to the recipe that the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar — where this drink was invented — uses today. (Most others omit the Benedictine.) A powerful, bittersweet cocktail, the Vieux Carre (the French name for the French Quarter) makes for a near-perfect digestif, all the better while sitting at the Carousel… which actually rotates 4 times an hour as you sip your beverage.

032 300x225 Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New OrleansFrench 75
1.5 oz cognac
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp simple syrup
Champagne

Briefly hake the first three ingredients and strain into a tulip glass. Top with Champagne and a lemon twist.

This is the recipe used at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar. Arnaud’s didn’t invent the French 75 — but it’s become an iconic drink in NOLA either way. (It’s also one of the most refined, service-oriented bars in town.) I really love this cocktail, but there are myriad ways to make it… many of which use gin instead of cognac.

062 225x300 Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New OrleansHurricane
2 oz light rum
2 oz dark rum
2 oz passion fruit juice
2 oz pineapple juice
2 tsp lime juice
1 tablespoon grenadine

Mix in a Hurricane glass (what else) and serve on the rocks with an orange slice and a cherry.

OK, that’s a legit Hurricane, and as with many Tiki-style drinks, recipes vary far and wide. Just reading that recipe makes my yearn for the beach. Sadly, you won’t get that cocktail anywhere in New Orleans, especially not at Pat O’Brien’s, where it was invented. Sadly, this bar, just steps from Bourbon Street, is now focused on pushing out huge quantities of crude, Frankenhurricanes in plastic cups (see photo), designed to get you sloshed on the cheap. Pat-O’s, as it’s known, doesn’t even pretend any more, listing the official recipe of this Kool-Aid-like concoction in the brochure it places on the bar here as such:

Pat O’Brien’s World Famous Hurricane
4 oz. Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Rum
4 oz. Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Mix

A souvenir glass is 3 bucks. Popcorn is free, though!

Fortunately you can still make a good Hurricane for yourself… at home.

071 300x225 Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New OrleansDoctor’s Orders
2 oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon
1/2 oz white creme de cacao
a few dashes Benedictine

Shake over ice and strain into a coupe.

And now for something new. Bartending legend Chris McMillan made me this cocktail at Kingfish on my last night in NOLA, asking what I liked to drink and whipping this up on a whim. (The measurements are estimates on my part.) This chocolatey-vanilla-honey drink hits on all cylinders, and it’s almost embarrassingly easy to make. Give it a go in your home bar and take the credit.

Review: Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky

glen garioch virgin oak 242x300 Review: Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Single Malt WhiskyLike its sister distillery Auchentoshan, Highlands-based Glen Garioch is releasing a “Virgin Oak” expression aged not in ex-bourbon casks but in fresh, newly charred white oak barrels that haven’t seen a drop of whiskey before — a first-ever for Glen Garioch, which has been operating since 1797. As with the Auchie, this expression is bottled without an age statement and is non-chill filtered.

An interesting nose offers lots of fruit: ripe apples, orange zest, alongside some hospital notes. Hints of grainy cereal pervade the back-end, and raw wood character develops with time in the glass. On the palate, it’s a moderately intense spirit, with deep notes of cedar wood, baking spice (particularly cloves), and roasted grains. The finish is especially redolent with slightly smoky, dried grains, a toasty blend of tree bark and oatmeal that is surprisingly enticing (and much better than the Auchentoshan rendition of this same spirit).

96 proof. 1038 bottles allocated to U.S.

B+ / $110 / glengarioch.com