Review: Templeton Rye 6 Years Old

templeton 6 years old

It’s hard to believe that Templeton Rye first arrived on the scene 10 years ago (to generally wide acclaim, including from yours truly) — and it’s taken 10 years for the company to release its second expression, Templeton Rye 6 Years Old.

Templeton has been in the news of late, caught up in the backlash against folks who use terms like “small batch” and, in Templeton’s case, “Prohibition Era recipe” on the label. The problem, of course, is that Templeton is actually made in Indiana, not Iowa, by MGP. As part of the settlement terms, customers who bought Templeton bottles can get a few bucks by way of a refund, and Templeton doesn’t get to use its Prohibition or Small Batch taglines any more.

Anyway, Templeton Rye 6 Years Old is a limited edition, higher proof, age-statemented version of Templeton — still 95% rye, 5% barley. Though Templeton is building a distillery in Iowa, this is still MGP juice, but it now carries the new Templeton tagline: “The Good Stuff.”

As for Templeton 6, it’s good enough, though given the phalanx of top-shelf ryes that have emerged since Templeton first hit the scene in 2006, it’s not exactly a scene stealer. The nose is loaded with sweetness — butterscotch, creme brulee, lots of sugar, with some vegetal, carrot-like hints lingering in the background. If the nose is loaded with sugar, the body is damn near overloaded with it at first, offering notes of cake frosting, more butterscotch, and candy corn notes. This is tempered by some notes of scorched lumber, pencil lead, and a finish that is surprisingly bitter, with additional notes of burnt rubber. The conclusion is quite drying, at times uncomfortably so.

The slow swing from sweet to quite bitter takes some time, and offers more complexity and curiosity than you might think, though on the whole it doesn’t exactly reinvent (or do much to elevate) the category.

91.5 proof.

B / $50 / templetonrye.com

Review: Creyente Mezcal Joven

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This new joven mezcal is a blend of two 100% Espadin agave mezcals from different regions of Oaxaca (Tlacolula and Yautepec). It’s fitting, because the product is a parternship of two longtime mezcaleros – Pedro Mateo and Mijail Zarate – who have tinkered with classical distillation processes to come up with Creyente (Spanish for “believer”). Per the press release: “In separate distilleries, they begin by removing the pencas (leaves) and roasting the piñas (hearts) using an artisanal method with mesquite wood in a horno cónico de pierdra (stone oven) for three days. The roasted piñas are ground by hand using a molino de piedra (stone mill) to extract their succulent syrups, fermented in wooden barrels, then distilled in small copper stills. Finally, following distillation, the two mezcals are cut with natural spring water, blended with each other, and together they become Creyente.”

The crystal clear Creyente offers a classically smoky nose, studded with notes of lemon zest, black pepper, and overripe fruit. On the palate, more smoke leads to a relatively fruit-heavy body, lightly oily with notes of black pepper, furniture polish, and sweetened cereal. The finish sticks to the palate (and the ribs), with overtones of petrol, licorice, and smoky forest fire. Altogether it’s a rather classic, and surprisingly straightforward, mezcal, despite it’s unorthodox production.

80 proof.

B+ / $50 / no website

Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2016

kilchoman loch gorm

It’s round five for Kilchoman’s Loch Gorm (somehow a fourth release seems to have snuck in between the 2015 and 2016 releases), which continues to show itself as a hit and miss whiskey. This year’s edition has spend six years in Oloroso sherry butts.

2016’s release is not my favorite of the bunch, by a long shot. This year’s Loch Gorm is pure peat on the nose, with a rather sickly sweet underbelly. The body exudes a somewhat cacophonous character, with notes of seaweed, camphor, and pickle juice atop the heavily smoked palate. The sherry element is all but lost in the shuffle, though some orange peel notes finally manage to break through with some air exposure and, especially, as the finish starts to develop. Said finish keeps things closer to the shore on the whole though, with an umami-laden seaweed note to finish things off.

92 proof.

B- / $100 / kilchomandistillery.com

A Visit to Anchor Distilling’s New Tasting Room

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Anchor Brewing is icon of San Francisco, dating back to 1896. Of more recent advent is Anchor’s distilling arm, which got going only in 1993. A funny thing, though: Anchor Distilling is on pace next year to match Anchor Brewing on a revenue basis, the new kid done good in the end.

The brainchild of Fritz Maytag, Anchor Distilling got going in highly unusual fashion (its original goal was to produce 100% straight rye, which the company still makes today), and eventually it added on a number of gins and a hop-flavored vodka (its most recent addition).

Now, in a rooftop bungalow that was formerly Maytag’s one-bedroom apartment, Anchor has opened a tasting room where six of its distilled products, all produced on site, can be sampled. The tasting is seated and led by a professional (a local bartender in my group) who walks novices and pros through the ins and outs of tasting spirits and identifying the nuances among them.

The $35 experience runs on Thursdays and Fridays, and reservations are required. Check it out! (Photos from the brewery, the jam-packed distillery (not open to visitors), and the rooftop tasting room and gardens can all be found below.)

anchordistilling.com/tastingroom

Review: Ron Zacapa 23 (2016)

zacapa 23

It’s been eight years since we formally reviewed Ron Zacapa’s “23” expression, a Guatemala-born rum made from the first pressing of sugar cane juice (not the more typical molasses) and aged in solera style. (Zacapa 23 is not 23 years old but is rather blended from various rums aged 6 years old and up.)

Recently the company put Zacapa 23 through some minor bottle changes, and, given the amount of time that has passed, we felt a fresh look was called for. Let’s look at Zacapa 23 as it stands as of 2016.

A beautiful shade of toffee in color, the rum presents itself as amply aged, and the nose bears that out. Notes of old wine, coffee, roasted nuts, and milk chocolate all make an appearance, giving this rum a beautiful complexion before you ever take that first sip. The body shines just as brightly, though, offering a mix of fruity sherry notes driven by some of the barrel aging, deeply roasted and spiced nuts, all backed up with the essence of a solid cafe mocha. The body is unctuous but not gooey, the finish lengthy and complex but not overwhelming. Everything there is to like about rum can be found in Zacapa 23. Or should I see, everything there is to like about rum can still be found here.

All told, it remains an essential bottling.

80 proof.

A / $48 / zacaparum.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Bet Vodka

bet vodka

Bet, long E. Rhymes with “beet.” In fact, it sounds exactly like “beet.” And that is all because this new vodka is made with beets as its base.

Made in partnership with the distiller 45th Parallel, Bet Vodka is a Minnesota-born spirit that uses only locally grown sugar beets in its mash.

The results are perfectly fine, if not entirely earth-shaking. The nose starts off a bit musty, just hinting at the sweetness that a sugary base can provide. I catch a few gentle, winey notes here as well, unusual for a vodka.

On the palate things diverge considerably, with a rush of sugar hitting the tongue first, bringing along rapid-fire hits of marshmallow, cotton candy, and marzipan. The back end takes these flavors and offers them up in a gently scorched rendition, with more of a toasted marshmallow tone. Things are clean, though still lightly sweet, on the finish, after which a touch of charcoal emerges (and grows) as the primary elements of the vodka fade.

All told, Bet doesn’t strike a whole lot of new ground — except, of course, in the realm of creative pronunciation.

80 proof.

B / $35 / betvodka.com

Review: Lybations Signature Cocktails

lybations

Lybations is a new brand of ready to serve cocktails designed with premium drinking in mind. They’re produced using authentic ingredients and come bottled in frosted glass decanters with swing top closures. And yet, Lybations are quite low in calories thanks to a quite low alcohol level (about on par with wine, but of course consumed in much smaller quantities).

Three varieties are available, all reviewed below. Each is 32 proof and 55 to 60 calories per serving.

Lybations Pepino Diablo Margarita – Made with 100% blue agave tequila reposado, lime, cane sugar, cucumber, and serrano. It’s cucumber all over the place on this one, with lots of tart lime coming on strong after that. There’s not an overwhelming sense of agave here or, it must be said, the diablo serrano pepper. That said, it works well enough as a margarita, provided you don’t mind that slug of cucumber juice. Tastes a little healthy. B+

Lybations Flower Power Sour – Made with vodka, lime and lemon, cane sugar, and elderflower. Less pungent than the margarita, its lemon-lime character coming across more like a lemon-lime soda, with just a touch of floral element (though not particularly identifiable as elderflower) to it. Relatively harmless and unchallenging, though the finish has some vaguely vegetal funk to it… think carrot juice. B-

Lybations Lime In The Coconut – Made with vodka, coconut, lime, and cane sugar and a terrible, terrible name. It’s coconut-forward on the nose, but much heavier with lime on the palate — perhpas making this less badly named than I’d originally thought. This relatively simple construction offers few surprises but is reasonably refreshing. Try it blended with ice, pina colada style. B

each $18 / lybationscocktails.com