Review: Blandy’s Madeira Collection, 10 Years Old


Not too long ago, we rounded up the world of Madeira as Blandy’s sees it. I won’t go into the full Madeira backstory; click the link if you want the deep dive into what Madeira is and where it comes from.

In that review we looked at five year old Madeiras. Now we kick it up another half-decade and look at the same wines at 10 years old, double the age.

I won’t regurgitate the story of Madeira again (click the above link for that tale) and will instead delve into these fortified wines, one by one, going stylistically from driest to sweetest, each made from a different grape: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey.

Thoughts follow.

NV Blandy’s Madeira Sercial Dry 10 Years Old – A dark gold in color. Nutty and lightly fruity on the nose. Dry, but with enough life to keep things lively and sippable. Light tropical notes emerge on the finish, plus some lychee. This is quite pleasant on its own — or I might try it with tonic on the rocks as an aperitif. A-

NV Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho Medium Dry 10 Years Old – Classic amber-hued sherry color. More roasted nuts, with some citrus influence. Quite almond- and hazelnut-heavy on the palate, with slight coffee overtones, but still showing enough sweetness in the form of orange and lemon to add some balance. B+

NV Blandy’s Madeira Bual Medium Rich 10 Years Old – A dark tea-stained brown in color. This Madeira offers a distinct sherry-like sharpness, with notes of bitter orange peel, raspberry, with those classic nutty notes coming on strong on the finish — here showing themselves more in the form of candied walnuts. Rounded and lush, but fully approachable. A-

NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey Rich 10 Years Old – Dark, almost coffee brown. Very nutty, on the palate it has the classic character that I think of when I think of “Madeira,” loaded with dried fruit and Christmas spice. The finish is moderately sour, with a heavy raisin character that lingers on the palate for quite some time. B+

each $24 /

Review: Trail’s End Bourbon


In my daily life, Trail’s End refers to the popcorn that my son’s Cub Scout pack has to sell every year. Turns out it is also the name, completely unaffiliated of course, of a bourbon brand, produced by Hood River Distillers (which makes Pendleton) in Oregon.

Trail’s End is sourced bourbon from Kentucky, where it is aged for eight years. The barrels then go to Oregon, where they are “steeped with Oregon oak” for a few months before being brought down to proof and bottled. This is a new wood infusion, designed to give the whiskey a stronger wood profile.

The whiskey starts things off with a nose of classic bourbon — woody, lightly corny, studded with vanilla and, here, some almond character. The palate takes a slightly different direction, however. It starts off surprisingly hot — considerably racier than its 45% abv would indicate — then after a bit of time settles into a curious and somewhat exotic groove. I get (in time) notes of fresh mint, eucalyptus, coconut brown butter, and ample (but not overwhelming) wood. The finish is somewhat Port-like, infused with a distinct and initially jarring coffee character. This coffee note is a real rarity in the bourbon world that you don’t see much, and which has little explanation in this whisky. But that finish — both fruity and distinctly mocha-like — isn’t just a rare combination, it’s one that works surprisingly well.

Thumbs up from me.

90 proof. Reviewed: Batch No. 0002.

A- / $50 /

Drinkhacker 2016 Wine Cheat Sheet / Vintage Chart

It’s a new year for the Cheat Sheet, that quick ‘n’ handy guide to various wine vintages, which you can cut out, fold up, and keep in your wallet or purse so it’s always at the ready when you find a wine list flummoxing you.

As always, here’s how to use the cheat sheet: Only the last two digits of a year are included to save space, and the list only rarely reaches back into the pre-WWII era, so assume anything you see starting with a zero or one to be from this century.

All years listed here are considered good to great vintages, but those in green with underlining are the cream of the crop, “classic” years that you should consider the very best on the market. (Why green and underlined? So you can tell the difference whether you use a color or black & white printer.)

Check back next October for the next revision of the cheat sheet!

Cheers! wine cheat sheet download options:

drinkhacker vintage chart 2016 [doc]

drinkhacker vintage chart 2016 [pdf]

Review: Lagavulin 25 Years Old 200th Anniversary (2016)


Islay is rife with 200th anniversaries this year. Up next is Lagavulin, which is putting out a special 25 year old anniversary bottling to commemorate the occasion. Some details from the distillery:

Lagavulin 25 Year Old, matured exclusively in sherry casks and bottled at cask strength, pays homage to the contribution Lagavulin’s distillery managers have made in crafting Lagavulin over the years. This limited-release offering honors the many craftsmen and great skill behind producing Lagavulin’s renowned whisky. Dr. Nick Morgan, Diageo’s Head of Whisky outreach states, “To continue this special birthday we wanted to release a brand new bottling to Lagavulin enthusiasts worldwide. The 25 Year Old is a sublime expression of Lagavulin, I couldn’t think of a better way to pay homage to the distillery managers.”

No surprises are in store for the reader on this one. This is classic, well-worn Lagavulin, which kicks off on the nose with both heavy peat and more luxurious notes of brown butter, fresh herbs, tobacco, and lanolin. On the palate, it’s quite sweet up front, offering notes of spiced nuts, clove-studded oranges, and cinnamon toast. The peat slowly rolls in like waves hitting the shore, bringing with it iodine, meaty barbecue smoke, all dusted with a salt-and-pepper sprinkling. The biting peat notes haven’t been dulled out of this one despite its time in barrel, the experience ending on a toasty, fireside character that really lingers.

All told: It’s nearly textbook Lagavulin, exactly as it should be.

101.8 proof. 1200 bottles available in the U.S.

A- / $1200 /

Review: Vizcaya Black Rum Reserva

Vizcaya Black Rum Bottle

The Dominican Republic’s Vizcaya is a little-known but very high-end producer of rum, and its latest expression, Vizcaya Black, is no letdown. Some details:

Crafted in small batches in the Dominican Republic using the traditional Guarapa method, Vizcaya Black Rum features pressed sugar cane juices as the primary ingredient, not molasses that is used for producing lower quality rums. The ingredients are carefully blended, then aged for 12 to 21 years in premium charred oak barrels. The aging time determines the richness of the rum’s dark color.

It’s a beautiful rum, not quite black but coffee brown, with a touch of crimson to it. The nose is intense and rich — burnt marshmallow, chocolate syrup, and roasted nuts, hallmarks of nicely aged rum. On the palate, the rum takes you even deeper. Honey sweetness adds a kind of graham cracker note, then along comes more of those dessert elements: syrupy chocolate, caramel sauce, and Vietnamese coffee.

There’s a distinctly unctuous character that runs throughout the rum — but the finish is particularly mouth coating, which causes it to linger for probably a bit too long. Otherwise, I can’t really complain about Vizcaya Black. It’s a knockout of a rum that features incredible depth and versatility — and an impressively low price tag.

A- / $29 /

Review: Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XVIII 28th Birthday Reserve


Deschutes keeps having birthdays and it keeps putting out experimental porter to commemorate it. This year’s Black Butte is less outright wacky than some of the recent releases, brewed with cocoa, vanilla, peated malt, and sweet orange peel. Half of the batch, as always, is aged in barrels — this time used bourbon and Scotch barrels.

Lots of licorice on this imperial porter, along with very, very dark, bittersweet chocolate notes. The vanilla adds a slightly sweet kick to the finish (more so as it warms up), but Black Butte takes little time celebrating the sweet stuff. This my be a celebratory beer, but it’s always dark as Hades, often drinking like the last dregs in a cup of espresso, perhaps filtered through a charred, woody reed.

That may sound like a difficult time, but there’s lots to be enchanted by in BB XVIII — particularly the way the whole package comes together with relatively disparate flavors that manage to work well as a whole.

11.5% abv.

A- / $17 per 22 oz. bottle /

Review: Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon (2016)


Earlier this year, Elijah Craig became the latest Kentucky bourbon to lose its age statement. Formerly a 12 year old release, it is now NAS, though Heaven Hill says the product will be composed of stock aged from 8 to 12 years old (200 barrels at a time) and, of course, assures us that quality will remain exactly the same. A new bottle design was recently released, which is taller, sleeker, and more modern than the old — some might say dated — design.

To prove its claims, the distillery sent out bottles of the new Elijah Craig Small Batch to see how it fares. Sadly, I haven’t any of the old 12 year old stock to compare to, but I did put this 2016 release side by side with a recent Barrel Proof release (brought down to an equivalent proof with water) to at least give some semblance of comparison to the past.

First, let’s look at the new release. It’s a sugar bomb from the get-go, simple-sugar syrup heavy on the nose with some citrus undertones plus a baking spice kick. The palate pushes that agenda pretty hard; it’s loaded to the top with sweet butterscotch, light caramel, and vanilla ice cream notes before a more sultry note of orange peel and gentler baking spice character comes to the fore. Heaven Hill reportedly uses a 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley mashbill, and the spice level here comes across about as expected with that amount of rye in the mash. It isn’t until late in the game that gentle wood notes come around, making for a duskier finish to what initially seems like a fairly straight (and sweet) shooter.

While it’s an imperfect comparison, the watered-down Barrel Proof cuts a bit of a different profile, offering more wood, more spice, and a bolder body right from the start. There’s more nuance along the way in the form of cocoa, coffee, and raisiny Port wine, but this kind of enhanced depth isn’t uncommon with a cask strength release, even if you water it down in the glass. The new standard-grade Elijah Craig doesn’t have that kind of power, but it’s also a less expensive and more accessible bourbon. Taking all that into account, it’s definitely still worth a look. The grade is on the borderline with an A-.

94 proof.

B+ / $30 /