Author Archives: Christopher Null

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2014

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Wet weather didn’t stop the masses from crowding onto the San Francisco Belle this year, a rite of passage for Bay Area whisky lovers attending the annual Whiskies of the World Expo. Lots of great stuff on tap this year, particularly from independent Scotch bottlers. Without further ado…

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World San Francisco 2014

Bourbon and American Whiskey

Balcones Brimstone / B+ / made from smoked corn; intriguing but a lot like sitting porchside in Santa Fe
Balcones Texas Single Malt / B / rough and tumble, fiery, with big grain character
Black Saddle 12 Years Old Bourbon / B+ / long black and blueberry notes; unusually fruity
Calumet Farm Bourbon / B / straightforward; tough to get into
Corsair Old Punk Whiskey / B+ / a pumpkin spice-flavored whiskey; curious; tastes like Thanksgiving, of course
High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram / B+ / Rendezvous Rye finished in Port barrels; a bit heave with the fruity, Port-laden finish
High West The Barreled Boulevardier  / B / a barrel-aged cocktail from HW; a little heavy on the Gran Classico for my tastes
High West “mystery whiskey” 12 Years Old / A / a hush-hush grain whiskey, aged 12; surprisingly good stuff, watch this space…
Lexington Finest Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey / B+ / heavy with sweetness, but drinkable
Lost Spirits Seascape II / B+ / second round with this peated whiskey finished in white wine barrels; brooding but restrained
Lost Spirits Umami / A- / a crazy concoction made with 100ppm peat and salty seawater; difficult to describe in just a few sips… review hopefully forthcoming

Scotch

Arran Bourbon Premium Single Cask 1996 / A- / lush and rounded, malty with good fruit
Balblair 1975 Vintage / A / a standout; big, silky, and malty; soothing finish
Blackadder Bruichladdich 21 Years Old Raw Cask / A / a top pick of the show; unfiltered Bruichladdich aged in a first-use charred cask, very unusual for Scotch (you can even see chunks of charred wood floating in the bottle); intense, chewy fruit and nuts; a marvel
Duncan Taylor Octave MacDuff 1998 14 Years Old / A- / great balance
Duncan Taylor Octave Miltonduff 2005 7 Years Old / A- / lots of sherry and nougat, with huge floral notes; another surprisingly good, young spirit
Duncan Taylor Black Bull Kyloe / B+ / not bad for a five year old blended whisky; nice mouthfeel, cherry fruit, plums on the back
Duncan Taylor Dimensions North British 1978 34 Years Old / A- / a single-grain whisky; still has its grainy funk showing a bit; caramel up front with a biting finish
Duncan Taylor Bunnahabhain 1991 21 Years Old / A / gorgeous honey and spice on this
Exclusive Malts Bowmore 2001 12 Years Old / B+ / big peat, rush of Madeira notes
Exclusive Malts Glencadam 1991 21 Years Old / B+ / smoldering, hay and heather
Exclusive Malts North Highland 1996 17 Years Old / A- / chew and rich, with raisins and plums
Glenmorangie Companta / B / Glenmorangie’s latest, finished in Burgundy and fortified Cote du Rhone casks; sounds like a lot of work for a pretty boring spirit that doesn’t have much balance
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban / B- / finished in ruby port casks; snoozer, missing the port altogether this time around
Gordan & MacPhail Mortlach 16 Years Old / A- / chewy malt and cookies
Gordan & MacPhail Scapa 10 Years Old / A- / good balance of nougat and cereal
Highland Park 18 Years Old / A / for old time’s sake… still got it
Old Pulteney 30 Years Old / A – / solid, a sunny dram
Silver Seal 16 Years Old Speyside / B+ / straightforward, lots of nougat
Silver Seal 20 Years Old Speyside / A- / an improvement, sedate with a little cereal to balance things

World Whiskies 

Amrut Fusion / B+ / barley from Scotland and India; a little minty, smoky too; shortish finish
Amrut Intermediate Sherry / A- / lots of spice, some menthol; for those who like their whiskeys huge
Canadian Club Small Batch Classic 12 Years Old / B / why not? some spice, lots of wood
Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask Single Malt Whisky / A- / chewy, great balance
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky / A- / lovely but strong with citrus notes
Sullivan’s Cove Double Cask / A- / muted on the nose, lots of malt
Sulivan’s Cove French Cask / A / a top pick, worthy of the praise being heaped on it; quite fruity and sweet, but gorgeous

Review: Starr African Rum

starr african rum 525x525 Review: Starr African Rum

The strikingly-bottled Starr African Rum hails from Mauritius, home to Penny Blue and Pink Pigeon, the only other African rums I’m familiar with.

At first blush, this is a fairly typical white rum. The nose is lightly woody, with notes of coconut, black tea, and caramel. Slightly unusual, but nothing insane. The body really punches things up. Here a more fruity, tangerine-heavy character takes hold, along with a big herbal component. Think anise, cloves, and cardamom. Lots of depth, and it gets more intriguing as it opens up in the glass, the finish folding everything together nicely into an almost punch-like package.

I like it better and better, the more I sip on it.

80 proof. Fair trade certified.

A- / $30 / africanrum.com

Review: Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon

2014 LimitedEdition Front 525x777 Review: Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon

Four Roses’ 2014 Single Barrel bottling sneaked up on me, a sample appearing out of the blue for us to review.

This year’s whiskey is made from Four Rose’s OESF mashbill — the “lower,” 20% rye mashbill — which has spent 11 years in barrel. OESF is a rarity — In some seven years I’ve never reviewed any Bourbon from 4R that even had it as a component (aside from blends that don’t release their constituent makeups). Bottled at a range of 108.3 to 127.6 proof, depending on the barrel you get, it’s hotter than last year’s awesome release. (My sample was about 120 proof.)

Very fruity on the nose (as the low-rye mash is known for), this is one of the gentlest bottlings of Four Roses Single Barrel that I’ve encountered. Think caramel apples, with a dusting of apple pie spices — cinnamon and some cloves. On the body, that caramel is positively poured over the spirit, with gentle vanilla and chocolate-covered-cherries rounding things out. Give it time in glass and quiet sawdust notes emerge, but only ever so slightly — and to a far less extent than any Single Barrel bottling going back to 2009. This is liquid dessert that goes down far too easily than its hefty alcohol level would indicate. Another gorgeous, if wholly unexpected and unusual, winner from Jim Rutledge and Four Roses.

5000 bottles made. Available mid-June 2014.

A / $80 / fourrosesbourbon.com

Review: Vodka DSP CA 162 – Straight and Flavored

vodka dsp 162 straight 525x347 Review: Vodka DSP CA 162   Straight and Flavored

In 2010, California-based Craft Distillers sold its highly-regarded Hangar One Vodka line to Proximo Spirits. (You may not have even realized this, but now you know.) At the time, Craft signed a strict non-compete agreeing not to make vodka for three years. Well, the three years are up, and Craft is now back at work with some vodkas which incorporate flavors that might sound a bit familiar.

No frills here, and that’s by design to keep the focus on what’s in the bottle; the brand name refers to an old federal designation for the distillery. The scientifically-named spirits are distilled in the company’s copper cognac still from a wheat base, and the flavored vodkas are made with real macerated fruits. They’re filtered, but these spirits do still have a slight yellow tint to them. All of the botanicals are grown in the rare-fruit orchards of John Kirkpatrick in the San Joaquin Valley.

Each vodka is 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Vodka DSP CA 162 Straight - This vodka takes the wheat-base spirit and blends it with vodka made from wine grapes (riesling and viognier). You can smell the pot still character right from the start. Mineral notes play with a bit of grainy character, marshmallow, and nougat on the nose. The body is silky with a pungent character common to grape-based vodkas, balanced by modest sweetness and, curiously, some stronger cereal notes on the finish. You’re left with a character that is, surprisingly, not unlike a white whiskey or a blanche cognac. B

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Hystrix – Flavored with Malaysian limes and their leaves. Brisk lime character on the nose, like candied lime peel. Bracing on the body, with crisp lime balanced with the right amount of sweetness. The lasting finish really brings out the leaf component, with just the right of grassiness poured over the tart body. The old Kaffir Lime vodka was always the most popular Hangar One flavor (at least in my experience in the field), and the company hasn’t strayed far from a successful formula. Big win here. A

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Medica var. Sarcodactylis - Flavored with Buddha’s Hand citrons. The aromatics are somewhat muddier than my memory of the crisp Hangar One Buddha’s Hand, but otherwise it’s very aromatic and unusual — almost perfumed — on the nose. The body has a creaminess to it — like lemon meringue pie — with a vaguely tropical character going on. Herbal notes or rosemary and sage emerge over time, particularly on the nose. A-

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Reticulata var. Sunshine – Flavored with tangerine and tangelo. A pretty orange nose recalls mild mandarines, but the body pumps it up with a brightness that almost hits a Tang-like quality. Sweet but not sugary, this is probably the most “modern” vodka in the lineup, but it’s also the most approachable on its own. Cosmo lovers would be calling this vodka all night long, but I doubt many cosmopolitan drinkers could pronounce the name. A-

each $38 / craftdistillers.com

Review: 2bar Spirits Bourbon

2bar bourbon 525x656 Review: 2bar Spirits Bourbon

Seattle-based 2bar Spirits has extended its line of craft hooch with a new, “100% local” bourbon. Regarding its creation, distiller Nathan Kaiser says, “I can’t disclose exact percentages, but it has significantly more malt, and much less wheat than a typical wheated bourbon mashbill.  Barrel entry proof is significantly lower than normal, between 113 and 116 proof.  Our barrels are currently all 15 gallons with a #3 char.  This batch was aged for just over 9 months.” The mash is 95% Washington grain and 5% Oregon grain.

That’s a lot of unusual characteristics for a bourbon, so how does it come across in the finished product?

Pretty darn good for a young craft spirit. The nose is young and a bit grainy, which is to be expected from a spirit of this age (or lack thereof). Along with the cereal, there are ample notes of brown butter, vanilla, and cherries, plus a healthy slug of wood. The body isn’t too far off base: A healthy amount of cereal and popcorn finds balance in toffee notes, butterscotch, and a dusting of Asian spices. The finish is heavy with lumberyard notes, but not overwhelming with sawdust like many small barrel spirits can be. On the whole: Solid craft Bourbon, and much better than most entries into this burgeoning field.

Reviewed: Batch #4. 100 proof.

B+ / $50 / 2barspirits.com

Re-Review: Botran Reserva Rum

botran 15 reserva 300x200 Re Review: Botran Reserva RumHere’s a fresh look at Guatemala’s Botran rum and its Reserva bottling, which we last considered in 2010.

This solera-aged rum goes through a range of barrel types — American whiskey, sherry, and Port — and is composed of rums aged 5 to 14 years old. That makes for lots of complexity, with the nose exuding coffee, dark chocolate, and vanilla notes. The body offers coconut, rich coffee, tobacco leaf, and a charred, almost burnt sugar finish. There’s lots of depth here, and the full package is quite rich and brooding. Good stuff.

80 proof.

A- / $24 / ronesdeguatemala.com

Tasting Report: Blue Chip Wineries of Paso Robles, 2014

Paso Robles, in central California, is a wine region that has never gotten much respect. Sandwiched between high-profile Napa/Sonoma to the north; the well-regarded Santa Barbara (Sideways) region to the south; and the bulk-wine-producing Central Valley to the east, Paso is close to nothing and, for many, just not worth a very lengthy drive for what many see as inferior wines.

I can’t help you with your travel plans, but it’s time to look more closely at Paso, a region rapidly on the rise in the quality department. Once known as a home for zinfandel (never a good sign for any region), Paso is now producing a remarkable range of quality wines, with a special focus on Rhone-style wines (syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and their ilk). Cabernet Sauvignon is also on the rise here — as is the number of wineries in total. Over 300 wineries populate this region now, and more are on the way.

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Recently we spent several days touring Paso, with a specific focus on some of the region’s brightest stars. We also took the opportunity to stay at Justin’s completely revamped Just Inn, dining that evening at Justin: The Restaurant, an intimate place serving local and seasonal fare. (Note: Justin hosted both.) The Just Inn Isosceles Suite is quite the affair, featuring a lovely sitting area with fireplace, a king-size Tempur-Pedic bed, and a well-appointed bathroom complete with Jacuzzi-style tub.

The Justin Restaurant was a fun experience, with careful service and a steady pace of inventive dishes coming from the kitchen. (No a la carte here, only a set menu of about seven dishes.) Wine pairings (all Justin wines) are available, or you can order a bottle from a list that largely comprises imports. (We had the Justin pairings, of course.)

Many of the dishes were quite delightful, including a delectable venison loin, a luscious spring pea soup, and a fun little “deconstructed grilled cheese sandwich,” served as an amuse bouche from the kitchen. Other dishes weren’t as memorable — like the cheese course of burrata (not my favorite), served not with bread but with a pile of breadcrumbs. The only miss was the second course of hamachi crudo, a few beautiful slices of fish that were absolutely divine… until they were covered with a bright-green and quite bitter “herb jus,” washing out the lovely brininess of the fish. Sometimes, simpler is better.

On the whole, it was a lovely meal. Some photos follow. (Dine there yourself by entering Justin’s mega-sweepstakes on Facebook!)

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Complete tasting notes on all wines tasted during the trip follow.

Tasting Report: Paso Robles 2014

2013 L’Aventure Rose Estate / $25 / B+ / rose of syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and petit verdot; crisp and light; some lemon and vanilla notes
2011 L’Aventure Optimus / $45 / B+ / syrah/cab/petit verdot; silky, chocolate notes; big tannins now with some rough edges; definite mint notes
2011 L’Aventure Cote a Cote / $85 / A / syrah/mourvedre/grenache; good structure; more softness; some floral notes, black and blueberry; quite lovely
2011 L’Aventure Estate Cuvee / $85 / A- / syrah/cab/petit verdot; massive black fruit, blackberry nose; tobacco and lots of tannins; needs time to soften; approachable now
2012 Terry Hoage Vineyards The Gap Cuvee Blanc / $40 / B / grenache blanc/picpoul blanc/rousanne; marshmallow meets floral and honey notes, green apple character
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards The Pick Grenache Cuvee / $55 / A / blended with syrah, mourvedre, and counoise; lots of ripe strawberries, some tea notes; vanilla – great little wine
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards The 46 Greanche-Syrah / $55 / A- / 50-50 blend; similar to The Pick, more of a beefy quality, tobacco notes, some jam
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards 5 Blocks Syrah Cuvee / $55 / B+ / mourvedre/syrah/grenache/cinsault; modest, some herbs, jammier finish
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards The Hedge Syrah / $60 / A- / 100% syrah; lush, floral meets fruit, black cherry, big finish
2012 Calcareous Chardonnay Paso Robles / $32 / A- / lots of mineral, butterscotch; tart with a buttery body
2011 Calcareous Pinot Noir York Mountain / $40 / B / fruity and tart, light raspberry and blueberry notes; spicy end, some bitterness on the finish
2010 Calcareous Grenache-Mourvedre / $36 / B+ / licorice, big pepper notes; dense spice, earthiness
2010 Calcareous Lloyd / $49 / A- / malbec/cab/cab franc/petit verdot/merlot; lovely nose, restrained; cherry and raspberry fruit; some cedar and vanilla
2010 Calcareous Moose Paso Robles / $48 / A / syrah with 11% petit verdot; huge nose; most lush body of the bunch; vanilla and tobacco notes
2010 Calcareous Tres Violet / $42 / A / the winery’s signature blend – syrah/mourvedre/grenache; slighly thin, but with big floral tones; quiet and silky; the violets are there
2010 Calcareous Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles / $38 / A / huge blueberry and even bigger floral notes; some cocoa and cedar; wonderful
2011 Calcareous Syrah (barrel sample) / $45 / A / going to be killer; blueberry jam, a backbone of pepper; nicely chewy
2011 Oso Libre Volado Viognier / $32 / B / buttery, some tropical notes
2011 Oso Libre Carnal GSM Blend / $40 / B+ / smoky, a BBQ wine; acid on the finish
NV Oso Libre Primoroso Winemaker’s Blend / $39 / B+ / a vatting of 10 different varietal wines from 2009-11 vintages; wacky; some straberry candy, lots going on as expected
2010 Oso Libre Quixotic Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / $50 / A- / light and fruity; barely hints at tannins
2009 Oso Libre Reserva Bordeaux Style Blend / $52 / B+ / cab/merlot blend; big fruit, black tea, brown sugar, strawberry candies
2011 Oso Libre Nativo Estate Primitivo / $45 / B+ / wood smoke, dense; leathery, coffee bean notes
NV Oso Libre Rojo del Patron Winemaker’s Blend / $32 / B+ / zin/cab blend; quite sweet; edged with violets and more strawberry candy
2012 Justin Viognier / $23 / B- / woodier take on Viognier; light tropical notes with a big slug of vanilla; not my favorite
2013 Justin Sauvignon Blanc / $14 / B / mango, pineapple; quite steely
2013 Justin Rose Estate / $20 / A- / pretty, strawberry with tart and light sweet notes
2011 Justin Reserve Tempranillo / $45 / A- / huge cherry, vanilla, almost pinot-like in structure; a real surprise
2008 Justin Syrah / $40 / A- / cedra box, with long herbal notes; fun, with a long finish featuring dried fruites
2011 Justin Justification / $50 / B / cab franc/merlot blend; touch of barnyard here; dense, coffee, currants
2011 Justin Isosceles / $62 / B+ / cab/merlot/cab franc; pre-release but in bottle; drinking young, almost green; light cherry; give this 3 years
2010 Justin Isosceles Reserve / $100 / A / 90% cab with malbec/cab franc/merlot; huge wine; concentrated fruit and cassis, some chocolate and a bit of strawberry

Review: 7 Sirens White Rum

 Review: 7 Sirens White RumIf there’s anything I hate, it’s putting numbers into words in place of letters. It’s called “7 Sirens,” but it’s written “S7rens” on the bottle. Ugh. Ssevenrens? I’m ill.

What I do like, however, is good rum, and 7 Sirens is solid stuff.

This new brand is made in Trinidad. It’s two years old, filtered to white. Classic design for a white, really.

The nose is sharp, with a mix of hospital notes and vegetal tones. Hints of sweetness, but more like raw sugar cane. The body is more complex than the nose would indicate, a blend of sugar syrup, vanilla, caramels, and bitter root notes, particularly on the finish. It’s a relatively burly, almost smoky, rum that brings on plenty of body and complexity. Not the best choice for sipping straight, but it adds something to cocktails than many rums lack.

80 proof.

B+ / $29 / 7sirens.com

Review: SW4 London Dry Gin

sw4 gin 92x300 Review: SW4 London Dry GinNamed for its place of origin in Clapham, South London, SW4 is an independently-produced gin made of 5-times distilled neutral grain spirits, which is re-distilled in a pot still with its botanicals. The botanical list includes most of the classics, with a few minor twists. The full list includes juniper, savory, orris, angelica, cinnamon, cassia, licorice, coriander, nutmeg, orange, lemon, and almond.

There’s a big burst of lemon and juniper right when you pour a shot out of the bottle. The juniper hangs around the longest, forcing the citrus notes into the background. The body is quite sharp, the polar opposite of so many modern gins, which turn to floral notes and a gentle sweetness to become more palatable to a modern, sweet-toothed crowd. You’ll get none of that here. SW4 is old school, juniper-forward stuff, dense with pine forest notes, almost to a fault. Balance is a tricky issue with SW4. I catch some of the nutmeg, cinnamon, and licorice notes here, but those botanicals are fleeting and soon overpowered by a strong, forest-fueled finish.

Nothing at all wrong with this approach, just be ready for a gin that doesn’t pull any punches

80 proof.

B+ / $30 / sw4gin.com

Review: Solana Tequila

Solana image 148x300 Review: Solana TequilaSolana is a new 100% agave budget tequila from the Los Altos de Jalisco region. Triple distilled, it certainly looks a lot more expensive than it is, with an upscale presentation. Available only in a silver/blanco expression (for now), we got a sneak peek at this new brand.

Lots of fresh agave, black and red pepper, and lemon notes on the sharp nose. The body follows in stride, bright with acidity and bold with spice. The substantial agave notes are well-integrated into a lightly sweet, mildly citrusy body. The finish is clean but racy, offering plenty of crispness. The sweet-meets-lemon kicker recalls a glass of lemonade with a cayenne rim.

Totally solid.

80 proof.

B+ / $22 / no website

Review: Knappogue Castle 12, 14, and 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskeys

knappogue castle 16 years old 507x1200 Review: Knappogue Castle 12, 14, and 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskeys

While most Irish whiskeys are some mix of grain and malt spirits, Knappogue Castle specializes in single malts exclusively. Recently the brand shifted from vintage-dated spirits to more standard age statements, with 12, 14, and 16 year old expressions now making up the core. We’ve reviewed the 12 and 14 in the past, but take fresh looks at them both, alongside the 16, with this review.

Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey – This whiskey undergoes a standard aging regimen in ex-bourbon casks. Heavily malty on the nose, with clear notes of marzipan and coconut. The body offers lots of interesting, fresh apple notes, backed up with more malty cereal mash and a bit of swampy/iodine kick on the finish that tends to muck things up a bit. I enjoyed this quite a bit less this time around than I have in previous iterations, the finish veering too far into the cereal box and throwing things out of balance. 80 proof. B / $42

Knappogue Castle 14 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey – Oloroso sherry finished for about 3 months. There’s plenty going on here, and the 14 year old cuts a much different picture than the 12. The nose is sharp with sherry and orange oil notes, and more of those almond/marzipan characteristics underneath. On the palate, there’s toasted marshmallow, roasted nuts, banana, coconut, and more citrus at the back end. The extra alcohol provides some heat, but the Knappogue can handle it. Unlike my prior encounter, I’m finding this expression more balanced and cohesive, but my overall opinion is about the same. 92 proof. B+ / $60

Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey - A numbered release which, like the 14 year old, spends time finishing in sherry casks — this time for nearly two years. Clearly darker in color than both the 12 and the 14, this spirit still has that malty Knappogue DNA running through it, moderated with orange notes, more marshmallow, and some tree bark. Chewy on the body, with (surprisingly) more pronounced malt character than the 14, alongside clearer banana and coconut notes. The 16 year old opens up more with time in the glass, smoothing out some of those crunchy cereal box notes with sherry and a bit of seawater. Still, it’s not quite hitting its stride in the balance department, but it’s getting there. 80 proof. B+ / $100

knappoguewhiskey.com

Bar Review: Trick Dog, San Francisco

trick dog cancer 300x225 Bar Review: Trick Dog, San FranciscoA quick pre-dinner stop at San Francisco’s new Trick Dog became a fun diversion into oddball mixology. The cramped space is carved into the newly resurgent corridor surrounding the unfathomably popular restaurant Flour + Water, and many of the patrons (like me) seem to be folks who come here while they’re waiting for their table at F+W.

There’s beer and wine to be had here, but the focus is on a collection of 12 cocktails, each named for a sign of the zodiac. My wife and I sampled three of the dozen, and enjoyed them all. The Gemini was my least favorite, a bit overpowering and featuring two kinds of amaro, Noilly Prat vermouth, a sour orange tincture, sesame, and cava.

My favorite: The Cancer (pictured), including Black Grouse, Ardbeg 10, salted pineapple, peanut, and sage, all on a big fat block of ice. This was the strangest sounding conflagration on a list that features a lot of really oddball combinations (sherry and kiwi soda? guava and stout? whiskey and whey?) and I ordered it just for that reason. The combination of pineapple and smoky scotch was surprisingly on point — and the peanut notes were just as much fun.

Good but not great: The Libra, which serves tequila, tangerine, dill, lime, egg white, and maccha powder in a coupe. This fell somewhere between a margarita and pisco sour… and works quite well on the whole.

Trick Dog has a variety of bar snacks on offer (table service is available upstairs for diners), but you’ll need to arrive early if you want a seat downstairs in order to nosh on them, otherwise it’s standing room only.

Fun place.

A-

Review: 2012 Porter & Plot Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris

Porter Pinot Noir 300x300 Review: 2012 Porter & Plot Pinot Noir and Pinot GrisPorter & Plot is a new company specializing not in making wine but rather in finding limited-production wines from all over the U.S., and bringing them to consumers at prices of less than $20. (If you know Cameron Hughes, it basically does the same thing, just on a much larger scale.)

P&P is just now getting out of the gate with two wines, a SoCal Pinot Noir and a Washington Pinot Gris. We tasted them both. Thoughts follow.

2012 Porter & Plot Pinot Noir Edna Valley – Interesting nose on this Pinot, with chocolate, coffee, and blackberry jam. Unfortunately the sweetness on the body is dialed up way too high, with the body hitting high on the jam portion of the above, awash with pushy, fruity notes. It drinks reasonably well with food, but on its own it quickly becomes too much. B / $16

2012 Porter & Plot Pinot Gris Columbia Valley - Mild nose. Some butter and vanilla, but quite restrained. On the palate, there’s tropical notes, particularly guava/papaya, and touches of pineapple. The finish is a bit too buttery considering the amount of fruit up front, which makes for a bit of discord on the finish, but it’s not a bad experience on the whole. You’ll swear it’s Chardonnay. B / $13

porterandplot.com

Review: Wines of Bianchi, 2011 Vintages

bianchi cabernet sauvignon 233x300 Review: Wines of Bianchi, 2011 VintagesBianchi is a Paso Robles-based winery making some impressively high-quality wines at around the $20 price level. We got a taste of the latest releases, three reds from the 2011 vintage. Thoughts follow.

2011 Bianchi Zinfandel Paso Robles – Initially quite jammy, intense strawberry and raspberry notes on the nose and the front of the palate. Things settle down with a bit of time, revealing a somewhat more balanced wine in the end, with notes of tea leaf, dark chocolate, and licorice, with a gentle, pleasing finish. B+ / $18

2011 Bianchi Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Garey Vineyard – Seductive. Nose of rosemary, thyme, and even cloves. The body is lighter than you’d expect — much lighter — with an easy strawberry, raspberry, and subtle chocolate note. The finish hints at spices again, and even rhubarb. Lots going on, but well balanced in the end. Quite lovely. A / $22

2011 Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – A solid, if young wine. Notes of greenery, chicory, pepper, and incense are layered atop a fruit-forward core, adding layers of complexity (and ample tannin) over a fairly berry-rich wine. Modest finish, with notes of black pepper and green pepper. Well-made. B+ / $19

bianchiwine.com

Review: Alaska Brewing Company Icy Bay IPA (2014) and Jalapeno IPA

alaskan jalpeno ipa Review: Alaska Brewing Company Icy Bay IPA (2014) and Jalapeno IPATwo new brews from Alaskan Brewing — or rather, one new experiment from the “Pilot Series,” and one revamp of one of the company’s year-round offerings.

No need to beat around the bottle. Thoughts follow!

Alaskan Brewing Company Icy Bay IPA (2014 edition) - Alaskan recently updated the 2007 recipe for this staple by adding additional hops — Bravo and Calypso — to its original phalanx of Cascade, Summit, and Apollo hops. The IBU level is also higher (now 65), too. Results are fine, if short of breathtaking. The beer takes on a muddiness that might be the result of a surfeit of hops, and it’s missing the bracing crispness and citrus notes of the best IPAs. That’s a bummer, because the other notes in this beer — green pepper, tree bark, licorice touches — are intriguing. They just need something else to back them up. 6.2% abv. B / $8 per six-pack

Alaskan Jalapeno Imperial IPA – What you’re expecting: IPA brewed with jalapeno peppers. While this is a solid IPA, featuring a citrus-forward body with notes of mint, root beer, dried herbs, and plenty of hoppy bitterness, what I don’t get at all is any sense of jalapeno heat. It may be driving some of the mild green pepper and onion notes that you get, just barely, on the finish of the beer, but these are quite mild and not spicy in the slightest. Interesting (and unusual) flavors for an Imperial IPA, but where’s the heat? 8.5% abv. B+ / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

alaskanbeer.com

Review: Barrell Bourbon

barrell bourbon 525x345 Review: Barrell Bourbon

Barrell Bourbon is bottled in the heart of Bourbon Country, in Bardstown, Kentucky… but it’s made somewhere else. That’s what makes this stuff a real rarity: Tennessee Bourbon that’s bottled in Kentucky.

What is known is this: The whiskey is a mash of 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley, aged for five years. It’s a single barrel release (hence the name), and each bottle is individually numbered and bottled at cask strength — 60.8% abv for batch #1, which is still on the market.

So, how about the whiskey?

There’s corn on the nose, along with notes of cherry, toffee, very ripe banana, and wood char. The body follows suit, with popcorn rising surprisingly high for a five-year-old spirit. It’s heavily wooded with a hefty amount of char, prominently featuring sawdust notes that build as it opens up over time in the glass. Otherwise this is a pretty straightforward and young-drinking whiskey. The fruitier notes you can pick up on the nose remain buried beneath a mountain of lumber and those vegetal, corn-heavy flavors, making my wonder if this whiskey wasn’t bottled too soon… or, perhaps, too late.

Interesting stuff, though, with points for uniqueness.

121.6 proof.

Reviewed: Batch #1, bottled #2313.

B / $70 / barrellbourbon.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Perc Fresh Brewed Coffee Liqueur

PercFINAL 525x972 Review: Perc Fresh Brewed Coffee Liqueur

Our friends at Vermont’s Saxtons River Distillery don’t just work with maple syrup, they also like coffee. Freshly brewed beans are the order of the day with Perc, a Kahlua alternative that’s artisanally made from locally roasted and cold-brewed Arabica beans instead of mass-produced.

Results: Lightly sweetened, the sugar helps cut the richness of the coffee beans, a dark roast with lots of depth to it on the nose. The body isn’t as powerful, as the sweetness helps to balance out the pungent, mocha-like notes. Dark chocolate, light cinnamon, and authentic coffee-fueled bitterness are all in full effect here. Overall, it’s simply a very well-made coffee spirit, easy to sip on straight or simply to be used to give your White Russian an instant upgrade. No complaints at all here.

60 proof.

A / $28 / saplingliqueur.com

Review: Italian Wines from The Order of Malta, 2014 Releases

bottiglia monterone 82x300 Review: Italian Wines from The Order of Malta, 2014 ReleasesThe Order of Malta. The Knights of the White Cross. There’s a whole lot of mystery from the get-go with this collection of Italian wines, all of which bear the distinct white-on-red, stylized, squared-off cross on their labels… but which reveal nothing about what that insignia means.

What’s it all about? The Sovereign Order of Malta is an ancient Catholic Religious Order that continues today to provide global relief efforts to areas affected by natural disasters. There are different chapters of The Order around the world. One of the things the organization does is make wine. For the first time, wines from The Order of Malta are now becoming available in the United States, courtesy of Fritz Cellars (Clay Fritz was a member of The Order for a number of years before deciding to import the wines).

I wasn’t able to attend a formal tasting with Fritz, but I did receive a number of the newly imported wines for review. Thoughts follow.

2012 Rocca Bernarda Ribolla Gialla Friuli DOC – Ribolla Gialla is an indigenous grape to Italy, and at first this white wine drinks like an indistinct blend, fruity and moderately acidic, but a bit touch to parse. As it warms, notes of honeydew and white flowers develop, adding some mystery to an inexpensive and drinkable wine. B+ / $27

2012 Castello di Magione Monterone Grechetto Colli del Trasimeno DOC – A brilliant gold wine with massive fruitiness all around. The nose is rich with apples, pears, apricots, and bright honeysuckle notes. The body is tart and rich with all of the above, but also laced with buttery vanilla. The finish is zippy and alive, like a lemon meringue pie. Good stuff.  Amazing value. A- / $25

2008 Castello di Magione Morcinaia Vendemmia – An Umbrian blend made from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Gamay. It’s the Sangiovese that pops the brightest, with bright cherry notes at play with some earthy, slightly herbal character (Gamay, maybe?). Solid body, but nothing mind-blowing. The finish is a bit tart for my tastes, but it works well with food. B / $40

2012 Castello di Magione Sangiovese Umbria – A brisk, classic (albeit young) Sangiovese. Floral notes on the nose interplay with cherry fruit, while a brambly character brings nuance to the body. Some dried herbal notes hang around on the finish. Very food friendly and well-crafted considering the price. A- / $25

fritzwinery.com

Review: Bandit Chardonnay and Merlot

Bandit Merlot 1L HI Res Bottle Shot 131x300 Review: Bandit Chardonnay and MerlotYou’ve seen these brightly colored Tetra Pak wine canisters before, and probably never gave them a second thought. Wine in a plastic-and-cardboard box? Where’s the romance of that?

Sure, Bandit isn’t aiming to replace Screaming Eagle in your cellar, but these extremely inexpensive wines do serve a purpose, besides being cheap. The containers are less wasteful, and they don’t have that nagging problem of shattering into a million pieces if you drop them. Available in five varieties, these non-vintage wines are available seemingly everywhere.

So, I finally tasted a couple of them. Thoughts follow.

NV Bandit Chardonnay California – Surprisingly good. The oak influence is minimal, leaving the bright fruit plenty of room to shine. Pretty apple notes are happy with quiet vanilla, mango, and lemon juice, giving this wine a bit of an apple pie character. The finish is a tad steely, but otherwise it excels in its simplicity. B+

NV Bandit Merlot California – About as expected. Quite sweet, with pumped up fruit notes. These seem to be masking a sort of green skunkiness, which creeps forth after time in the glass. It’s far from undrinkable, but just too candylike for serious drinking. C-

$9 per 1-liter container ($5 for 500ml) / banditwines.com

Review: Angry Orchard Green Apple Hard Cider

angry orchard Green Apple Bottle Hi Res 79x300 Review: Angry Orchard Green Apple Hard CiderWhy are these apples so mad? I guess because Angry Orchard is squeezing them into cider.

The company’s latest offering is Green Apple, made from apples grown in Washington state. The attack is brisk and tart, recalling indeed a real green apple. What’s left behind after that crisp apple character fades is a sort of melon-like finish, recalling sake, laced perhaps with a bit of bubbly. This would be a fine cider for sushi, in fact. Give it a spin.

5% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack / angryorchard.com