Review: Captain Morgan Grapefruit, Pineapple, and Coconut Rum

captain morgan flavors

Is the world crying out for more flavored rum? Captain Morgan thinks so, and as such it’s released a trio of new tiki-friendly rums, each naturally flavored and beyond-intensely sugared.

All three are bottled at 70 proof. Thoughts on each follow.

Captain Morgan Grapefruit Rum – Strong grapefruit notes on the nose, with a slight medicinal character underneath. The body is very sweet, with strong caramel overtones. This tends to wash out the natural tartness of the grapefruit and imbues it with heavy candylike notes. As the sweetness fades on the lengthy finish, there’s a vegetal echo, offering some incongruous notes of rosemary and sage. C-

Captain Morgan Pineapple Rum – Pineapple candy (or at least canned pineapple) gets the nose going, but the body is (unsurprisingly) all sugar. Imagine steeping pineapple slices in molten sugar, then bottling it with a touch of water and you’re not far from what Captain Morgan has come up with here. It’s lacking that veggie funk that the Grapefruit expression has, but it’s still far from anything identifiable as rum. C

Captain Morgan Coconut Rum – After all of that, I was scared to death to crack into this one for fear of being immediately put into a diabetic coma. I shouldn’t have fretted so much. While Captain Morgan Coconut is as sweet and saccharine as you’d expect, it’s restrained in comparison to the two fruit-flavored spirits that come before. This doesn’t straw too far from the Malibu formula, though it’s less tropical than that old coconut standby. The finish is surprisingly clean for a coconut vodka, and the caramel notes present in all of these rums actually complements the coconut flavor in a way that it fails to do in the other rums. Definitely the best of the lot. B

each $16 / captainmorgan.com

Review: Deepwells Botanical Dry Gin

deepwellsLong Island Spirits is the producer of LiV Vodka and other products — and now it’s at long last expanding into gin (after six reported years of tinkering with the recipe). Deepwells takes the triple-distilled LiV potato-based distillate and infuses it with 28 botanicals — 9 local botanicals and 19 “exotic” ones. That botanical list is exhaustive, and reads like this: almonds, apple, anise, basil, chamomile, cinnamon, coriander, cubeb berries, cucumber, elderflower, fennel, grains of paradise, grapefruit peel, honeysuckle, juniper berries, lavender, lemon peel, licorice root, lime peel, merlot leaf, nutmeg, orange peel, orris root, pansy flowers, pear, pineapple, spearmint, and watermelon.

Damn.

That is a huge list of stuff.

Watermelon? Pansy flowers? Everything you could possibly think to put into gin is here, and lots of stuff you couldn’t.

I’m pleased to report the nose smells nothing like watermelon but rather offers notes of wet earth, saddle leather, forest floor, and indistinct evergreen notes. On the palate, it’s a bit muddy, with some bitter citrus character colliding with some of the earthier elements, like orris and coriander. There’s so much gritty, earthy depth here it’s hard to appreciate some of the spirit’s more interesting characteristics — including some delicate floral notes that emerge as the finish starts to show. But ultimately this seems to be a textbook case of trying to jam too much into one bottle and ending up with a melange of flavors that just don’t seem to get along entirely well.

Maybe skip the watermelon next time?

94 proof.

B / $33 / lispirits.com

Review: Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon

duke-bourbon-bottle-shot-front-print

John Wayne wouldn’t let something as silly as being dead get in the way of drinking a good whiskey, and neither should you. Now you can drink just like John Wayne by drinking, er, the very essence of John Wayne — by swilling some Duke.

Duke Bourbon (sometimes called “The Duke,” but that’s not what the label says) is emblazoned with an iconic picture of Wayne along with his fabled nickname. Designed to celebrate everything about his Wayneness, it is said to have been formulated specifically to Wayne’s personal tastes “learned when his son, Ethan Wayne, discovered a private collection of his father’s liquor, letters and tasting notes dating back to the early 1960s.”

Read that again: John Wayne kept tasting notes, people.

Though producer Monument Valley Distillers laughably claims to be an artisan distiller “crafting small batches of superior bourbon, whiskey and brandy,” Duke is really (undisclosed) sourced bourbon from Kentucky (so not MGP) and is bottled without an age statement (and, of course, without mashbill information), but some have suggested it’s being produced by Wild Turkey (which would be unusual) and is a five to ten year old product (which would also be old for sourced whiskey). No one knows for sure, but does this whiskey have true grit?

The nose doesn’t give a lot of hints. The aroma is gentle and slightly corny with some lumberyard notes. It’s racy with alcohol but not particularly with spice — leading me to believe it’s got only a small amount of rye in the mash. On the palate, again it’s very easygoing — much more than its slightly overproof alcohol level would indicate anyway — very gentle with notes of candied almonds, dried apples, Cracker Jack, and some milk chocolate. A slight hint of smoke and a touch of mint add layers of complexity, but the finish is sweetness, a bit of baking spice, and gentle vanilla caramels.

Sure, Duke is a vanity bourbon project — God knows there are dozens of them on the market now — but I’d be remiss if I dismissed it as mere plonk served up in an overpriced bottle. I can’t weigh in on whether this resembles anything John Wayne would have actually consumed in real life — his persona seems like it would surely have preferred something more fiery and frontier-like — but if he was a man of discriminating tastes, he wouldn’t have been wrong in making this whiskey his go-to tipple.

88 proof.

A- / $30 / dukespirits.com

Swords (and Glasses) Up to the Knights of the Single Oak Project!

SingleOakLogoRecently I ventured to Frankfort, Kentucky with a handful of other spirits writers to digest Buffalo Trace’s exhaustive Single Oak Project. We tasted the five bourbons from the project most highly rated by consumers and voted for the winner. That winner… Barrel #80, whose recipe will be recreated by Buffalo Trace and commercially bottled — in 2023!

The group of tasters were all christened with knightships while we there… Kentucky, style, that is. Raise a glass to my fellow Knights of the Single Oak Project, and get ready for a damn fine whiskey to hit the shelves in a few short years! Huzzah!

Many more insights about the SOP to come… stay tuned!

More insights from my fellow knight, Sir Gary Regan

Review: Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon

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Let’s be clear: We’re drinking the bottom shelf with Ezra Brooks, a sub-$15 bourbon that got its start in the 1950s (not quite 1800 as the label would have you believe) and became part of what’s now the Missouri-based Luxco Corporation in 1993. In keeping with many ultra-cheap bespoke bourbons, Heaven Hill makes Ezra Brooks on Luxco’s behalf. This expression, colloquially known as “Ezra Brooks Black Label,” carries no age statement, but it is bottled at a slightly higher proof.

It’s not a bad whiskey. On the nose, there’s plenty of vanilla, butterscotch, and some gentle lumberyard notes. Basic and uncomplicated, but not unpleasurable. The body is soft and quite mild, with some initial notes of apple cider and a stronger vanilla character than the nose offers at first. As it develops, the apple notes fade into a more general citrus character, with a backing of baking spices, particularly cinnamon. A hint of chocolate on the back end takes things out on a slightly sweet note.

Bottom shelf it may be, but Ezra Brooks is nonetheless a well-made (if uncomplicated) bourbon that acquits itself admirably. While it may be designed for dumping into punch bowls or mixing liberally with Coke, it actually drinks just fine on its own. No shame there, folks.

90 proof.

B+ / $14 / ezrabrooks.com

Review: Russell Henry Dark Gin

RH_DarkGinAbout a year ago, the mad scientists at Craft Distillers took the last 100 cases’ worth of Russell Henry London Dry Gin they had and did a funny thing. Rather than bottle it and sell it, they put it in oak barrels (what type/provenance is unclear). After a year, the aged gin is bottled and branded as “Dark Gin.” Other than the aging, this is the same London Dry that we previously reviewed.

Barrel aging gives Russell Henry Dark Gin an exotic character all around, for better and for worse. Notes of peppermint, roses, citrus oil, and evergreen notes provide plenty of perfume on the nose. On the body, first there’s an attack of pine and juniper, followed by a surprising apple cider character. Vanilla and some marshmallow emerge, but the finish brings out wood oil and some green, slightly vegetal notes. The spirit offers lots of complexity, but the balance just doesn’t seem quite right, as if the barrel has had its way with the relatively delicate nature of the unaged gin.

91.4 proof.

B+ / $65 / craftdistillers.com

Review: Steel Reserve Alloy Series Margarita and Hard Pineapple

steel reserveI won’t belabor the introduction of these two new flavored malt beverages from Steel Reserve with a lot of bloviating. So here we go … with Steel Reserve Margarita and Steel Reserve Hard Pineapple.

Steel Reserve Alloy Series Margarita – Kryptonite green in color and, I have to presume, in flavor. Vaguely lime flavored, then blended with crushed up cough drops and topped off with rubbing alcohol. The slight fizz helps to mask some of its roughness, but that’s only marginally effective. D+

Steel Reserve Alloy Series Hard Pineapple – Gatorade yellow in color and every bit as horrifying as you’re expecting. I actually did a spit take on my first sip, and subsequent attempts to consume this monstrosity weren’t much better. Pineapple candy is the character at the start, sure, but from there it’s a combination of lemon-lime zest and what I can only describe as the flavor expired, off-brand mouthwash. No me gusta! F

8% abv.

about $2 per 24 oz. can / steelreserve.com

Review: 2013 Bridlewood Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon

Bridlewood 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso RoblesThis Gallo-owned winery focuses on very affordable bottlings primarily from central California vineyards. Thoughts on two wines from the newly-released 2013 vintage follow.

2013 Bridlewood Pinot Noir Monterey County – Rather dense, with some pruny notes on the nose. Quite fruit-forward, this pinot offers notes of intense jam, roasted meat, some root beer character, and some lumberyard underpinnings. Surprisingly tough, it drinks more like a syrah — bit with a slightly bitter edge on the finish. B- / $13

2013 Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – Inky and dense, with licorice overtones on the nose. Lots of wood on the body make this an imposing wine from the get-go, but it does manage to settle down with time to reveal more nuanced fruit — at least in the form of dried plums, raisins, and other firmer, grippier berries. Sweeter, with cocoa notes, on the finish. B / $14

bridlewoodwinery.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – French Oak Bourbons

French Oak Experiment 2015

In Bourbon country, American oak reigns. It’s long been tradition that America’s greatest whiskey is aged in American wood. Anything else and you’re lookin’ for trouble.

In keeping with its long history of experimentation, Buffalo Trace kicked tradition out of the rickhouse for this latest round of its experimental whiskeys. As the names imply, these Bourbons are aged not in American oak but in French oak. More specifically, one whiskey was aged in a full barrel made entirely of French oak. A second whiskey was aged in a hybrid barrel made with American oak staves and French oak heads.

Both are ten years old, made with BT’s low-rye recipe. Here’s some additional production information:

Ten years ago, Buffalo Trace embarked on another French oak experiment, but this time endeavoring one step further – creating two different barrel types, one made entirely of French oak, and another using French oak heads, but American white oak staves. The barrels were both constructed with Buffalo Trace’s exact specifications as far as size, stave drying, and charring. The barrel staves were air-dried for six months and the barrels were charred for 55 seconds. Both of these experimental barrels were filled with the same bourbon recipe, known as Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #1. After 10 years of aging, these two bourbons have been bottled as part of Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Experimental Collection, and referred to as 100% French Oak Barrel Aged Bourbon and French Oak Barrel Head Aged Bourbon.

Both are 90 proof. Here’s what you can expect if you try them…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 10 Year Old 100% French Oak Barrel Aged Bourbon – Soft and very fruity on the nose, with notes of peaches, apricot, and citrus. Rather buttery on the body, with plenty of fruit — namely apple and apricot — to back it up. You’d be hard-pressed to find a gentler bourbon anywhere; this expression is all kid gloves and a quiet stroll through the orchard. Punchy lumberyard is wholly absent; there’s really just a bare hint of oak’s telltale vanilla here to remind you of its wood regimen at all. B+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 10 Year Old French Oak Barrel Head Aged Bourbon – Clearly punchier and more traditional in structure — and actually a quite good whiskey all around. A nice level of baking spice hits the nose, which melds well with its sweet apple pie aromas. On the body, the fruit is still there, but it’s well tempered by more traditional notes of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves, and a little raisin character. This all works wonderfully (and unsurprisingly) well together, making for a bourbon that has grip and presence alongside uniqueness and restraint. A

each $46 (375ml) / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Liber & Co. Real Grenadine

LIBER001_12543Remember Liber & Co.’s nifty Spiced Tonic syrup? Now the company’s back with another offering: a real grenadine.

Grenadine is historically an intensely tart syrup made from pomegranates (making it deep red in color) and sugar. In recent years grenadine has turned into nothing more than red corn syrup, making it completely useless as a balancing agent in cocktails. That might be fine for a Shirley Temple, but for proper cocktails, grenadine should be both sweet and sour — in addition to adding a splash of color to the drink.

Liber’s Grenadine — much like other artisan grenadines on the market — is pungent on the nose with pomegranate and sour cherry notes. On the tongue, it comes across with some plum-like notes and a slight earthiness, almost floral at times (due, perhaps, to the use of orange flower water in the recipe) and vanilla-touched at others. The color is deep red, with an exotic violet or lavender hue to it, depending on the light, which does indeed an an element of mysticism to anything you pour it into.

B+ / $7 per 8.5 oz. bottle / liberandcompany.com