Author Archives: Christopher Null

Review: Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15

racer 15 96x300 Review: Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15Bear Republic’s Racer 5 is one of the west coast’s most iconic IPAs. Cafe Racer 15 is its bigger, burlier, limited-edition brother, a monstrous Double IPA that fans of Racer 5 will definitely want to check out.

Named after a type of motorcycle (and not speedy coffee), Cafe Racer 15 uses Citra, Amarillo, Cascade, and Chinook hops to create a bruising hop regimen that hits over 100 IBUs. Up front watch for lots of ultraripe fruit and those trademark piney notes. This fades into a rather malty, mouth-coating character, ripe with notes of orange sherbet and applesauce. The finish is fruity and brings out more of the base barley’s cereal character. While the attack is brisk, the finish is less mouth cleansing than your typical IPA. That malty character positively demands the next sip be taken to clear things out and get you ready for the next pull… and the next… and the next…

9.75% abv.

A- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / bearrepublic.com

Review: 2013 Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley

Merryvale 2013 Sauv Blanc NV 105x300 Review: 2013 Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc Napa ValleyThis is the way sauvignon blanc should be done. With this 2013 release Merryvale has perfectly balanced this simple but tricky grape. The nose and attack are floral and lightly sweet, hinting at white flowers and honeysuckle. As the body builds, there is more honey, tropical fruit, and a rich, creme brulee finish. Could use a touch more acid, but overall this is a hands-down winner that is exemplary on its own or with a light meal.

A / $28 / merryvale.com

Review: BridgePort Brewing Trilogy 2 and Hop Czar Topaz Copper IPA

bridgeport Topaz Czar Bottle 225x300 Review: BridgePort Brewing Trilogy 2 and Hop Czar Topaz Copper IPA“Oregon’s Oldest Craft Brewery” is back with two new installments in its Trilogy and Hop Czar series of beers. (Find reviews of the first edition of each one here.) Trilogy is a series of three beers celebrating BridgePort’s 30 years in business. Hop Czar is a series of single-hop IPAs.

Thoughts on both beers follow.

BridgePort Brewing Trilogy 2 Aussie Salute IPA – An American IPA made with Cenetennial and Chinook hops, which is then dry-hopped with Australian Galaxy and Ella hops. If you like your beer like you like your ex-wives — extremely bitter — you’ll thrill to BridgePort’s 2nd installment of its Trilogy series. What it lacks in fruit it makes up for with notes of cedar wood and fresh mushrooms. This IPA is nearly overpowering thanks to its bitter edginess; it’s a brooding and almost chewy brew that is at first daunting but which slides toward enjoyability as you finish the bottle. I’m a fan, I think. 5.8% abv. A-

BridgePort Brewing Hop Czar Topaz Copper IPA – IPA made with Topaz hops exclusively. This is a “copper IPA,”  offering a muddier experience than you might expect, but laced with notes of sherry, mulled wine, and darker fruits. The finish meanders toward the earth, with touches of muddy grass and cedar wood. Plenty bitter, but it’s easily manageable even by IPA standards. Lots of unusual character here for an IPA, but that does make it an intriguing, quaffable brew. 6.5% abv. B+

about $8 per six-pack / bridgeportbrew.com

Review: 2013 Hahn Winery Pinot Gris and 2012 Hahn Chardonnay

hahn pinot gris 13 bottle 98x300 Review: 2013 Hahn Winery Pinot Gris and 2012 Hahn ChardonnayHahn’s Pinot Noir has a good reputation, but it also produces some very affordable whites, both sourced from the Monterey area. Thoughts follow.

2013 Hahn Winery Pinot Gris Monterey – Quite tropical on the nose, but the body is restrained, coming off with buttery notes up front and reserving its mango-pineapple character for the finish. Hints of bacon fat and pine needles on the nose. Simple, but on the mark. B+ / $14

2012 Hahn Winery Chardonnay Monterey – Buttery and unctuous, a rather typical Californiafied version of this grape. Restrained pear and gentle lemon notes round out the palate, but otherwise it is a simple wine with a monstrous body and a somewhat short, slightly herbal finish. B / $14

hahnestates.com

Review: Whiskies of Lost Distillery – Auchnagie, Stratheden, and Gerston

lost distillery gerston 525x721 Review: Whiskies of Lost Distillery   Auchnagie, Stratheden, and Gerston

This is one of the niftiest ideas to come out of the whisky world in years. As the Lost Distillery Company reminds us, some 100 Scottish distilleries were shut down or destroyed in the last century, which means most of us will never know what their spirits tasted like. Until now, as they say.

What Lost Distillery does is concoct recreations of these “silent stills,” some of which have been nothing but ash for 100 years. By doing a lot of research about the stills used, the type of barley, the water, the wood, and more, the company sources malts and mixes up a spirit which — in their mind — is a faithful recreation of the original. (All are vattings of various single malt whiskies, technically “blended malts.”)

No, they don’t have stashes of whisky made in the 1800s to compare their version to (you can check out the Shackleton bottlings if you’re interested in a taste-alike approach to recreating old whisky), but are rather using history as a guide.

Lost Distillery launched with three recreations, and the company has copious historical information about all three of the whiskies on its well-researched website. What I can offer, however, is notes on how the spirits they’ve created taste.

Note: All three of these bottlings are available in “Deluxe” and “Vintage” editions, the Vintage versions being limited edition, one-off bottlings. We’re only looking at the Deluxe versions today — which, to make things even more confusing for you, don’t say “Deluxe” anywhere on the bottle.

Lost Distillery Auchnagie – Auchnagie was around from 1812-1911 in the southern Highlands. Here we have a whisky with a fairly typical Highlands construction: Lots of heather and grain, ample citrus, and a healthy backing of dense wood and smoky notes on the nose. The body plays up the orange and lemon notes, almost hinting at grapefruit on the finish. Sweet to start, the cereal character becomes stronger as the whisky develops on the palate, leading to a finish that is a bit on the hot side but which offers a bold afterimage rather than a gentle fade-away. Reviewed: Batch i. 92 proof. A-

Lost Distillery Stratheden – Stratheden existed from 1829-1926 in the Lowlands. This recreation offers a gentle experience, with nicely mellowed cereal notes, light chocolate and caramel, and a light squirt of orange oil. A mild peatiness emerges with time, lending a smoldering note to the spirit that is reminiscent of  toasted bread. It’s a straightforward and somewhat simple dram, but not nearly as rustic as I’d expected. Warming but a bit short, the finish vanishes just in time for you to reach for another sip. Reviewed: Batch ii. 92 proof. B+

Lost Distillery Gerston - Gerston existed in two incarnations, from 1796-1882 and 1886-1914, based in the far north of the Scottish mainland (part of the Highlands). Elusive nose, with more of a raw alcohol character than the Stratheden, but with much of its cereal character to offer. This is a bolder, pushier, and more forward whisky, punctuated with notes of bitter orange, roasted grains, licorice, and diesel fire. As the finish fades, watch for sea salt and seaweed notes to develop. This is a less refined and less purely enjoyable spirit on its own merits, but my hunch is its a more authentic recreation of the spirits of the era. Reviewed: Batch 1.1X. 92 proof. B

each $65 / lost-distillery.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm Second Release and 100% Islay Fourth Release

Islay-based Kilchoman may be one of the youngest distilleries in Scotland, but somehow it cranks out more different spirits than just about everyone else in the business. (Mainly because it’s presenting itself as a bit of a “work in progress,” so Kilchoman’s releases tend to be annual updates.)

Today we consider two of the main Kilchoman expressions, Loch Gorm and 100% Islay, in their 2014 editions.

Loch Gorm 2014 BC 249x300 Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm Second Release and 100% Islay Fourth ReleaseKilchoman Loch Gorm Second Release – Distilled in 2008-09, bottled in March 2014. Fully matured in oloroso sherry butts (and five years old), this is the only all-sherry-matured release from Kilchoman. On the whole it’s a much more compelling whisky than the Loch Gorm First Release, which had a finishing round in a different type of sherry cask and which couldn’t find a balance between the peat and the sweet. With this second release, things have settled down nicely, with the overall impact being one of smoked, grilled citrus fruit. The nose is well-peated without being overpowering, while the body is packed with notes of tangerine and pears, singed with smoke. Miraculously it’s all exquisitely balanced, so harmonious that it’s hard to believe this is just another iteration of last year’s Loch Gorm, which boasted none of these qualities. I take back what I said about sherry being better as a finish for Kilchoman. Can’t wait for 2015’s expression. 92 proof. 17,100 bottles produced. A / $95  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Kilchoman 100 Islay 4th Edition 250x300 Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm Second Release and 100% Islay Fourth ReleaseKilchoman 100% Islay Fourth Release – Distilled in 2009-10, bottled in May 2014. It’s round #4 for this all-Islay release (where everything from growing the barley to bottling is done on the distillery property). Lightly peated, this release is vatted from 32 five-year-old barrels and 8 four-year-old barrels, all of them first-fill Bourbon barrels. The combination of five-year and four-year whiskies is about on par with last year’s Third Release. Up front this whisky offers lots of smoke — creosote and coal fires and a bit of burnt paper. The fruit doesn’t arise until you’re will into your third sip, where some banana and pear notes start to emerge on the finish. Over time in the glass, it develops the character of orange marmalade, tinged through and through with those wisps of smoke. Mild fruitiness aside, it’s a slow burner. Not a palate-buster, but redolent with the character of a just-extinguished birthday candle. The lightly fruity finish adds complexity, but it never brings the whole package together in quite the way the prior installments of the 100% Islay expression have managed to do. 100 proof. B+ / $110

kilchomandistillery.com

Review: Innis & Gunn Original, Rum Aged, and Toasted Oak IPA

Rum Aged US 330ml lo 86x300 Review: Innis & Gunn Original, Rum Aged, and Toasted Oak IPAFounded in Scotland in 2002, Innis & Gunn has built a reputation around its Scottish Ale and a host of other beer expressions, all of which are aged in oak barrels. (It’s now the most popular British beer in Canada.)

As the story goes, the company’s barrel-aged beers came about almost as an accident, when the beers were aged simply to flavor casks that would then be used by William Grant to make an ale cask-aged whiskey. Turns out the beer itself tasted pretty good, so they decided to sell it too rather than dump it out.

Innis & Gunn recently added a third beer to its core range of U.S. products, all of which we consider today.

Innis & Gunn Original – Ex-bourbon barrel aged for 77 days. This light amber Scottish Ale starts off be showing its chewy maltiness before quickly leaping into a rabbit hole full of fruit. Pears, applesauce, and vanilla ice cream all come together as the long, malty finish develops. An unusual and lively beer that lacks the heaviness that so many barrel-aged beers have. 6.6% abv. B

Innis & Gunn Rum Aged – Aged with oak rum barrel chips for 57 days. A much darker, redder beer, technically a Wee Heavy, it nonetheless offers a similar character on the whole. Malty and sweet, with tons of fruit — including all of the characteristics of the Original plus some cherry and strawberry character, almost as an aftertaste. 6.8% abv. B

Innis & Gun Toasted Oak India Pale Ale – This newest addition to the lineup is a barrel-aged IPA, which spends 41 days in bourbon casks. Despite being an IPA, it’s got the lowest alcohol level of the bunch. Not as hoppy as you’d expect, it hangs on to that trademark fruitiness with all its life, eventually letting in a little something extra by way of a modest slug of hops. That gives this beer a little more balance and a slight herbal edge that works well with all the fruit. 5.6% abv. B+

$NA per 11.2 oz bottle / innisandgunn.com

Review: Wines of Pina Napa Valley, 2014 Releases

pina napa valley 142x300 Review: Wines of Pina Napa Valley, 2014 ReleasesEvery year we anticipate a shipment of wines from Pina Napa Valley for review, and every year that shipment seems to get larger. For 2014 the winery has offered a whopping six wines for review — five from different regions of Napa — upon which we’re happily ready to offer our commentary.

2012 Pina Napa Valley Chardonnay Low Vineyard Oak Knoll District – My first encounter with Pina’s Chardonnay. In fact, I didn’t even know they made a Chardonnay. This is a rather textbook Chardonnay, imbued with a big, meaty character, dense fig and pear notes, vanilla, and a touch of salted caramel. The body is missing the certain creaminess that you need with bold Chardonnays like this, and it fares better as it warms up a bit. B- / $34

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon D’Adamo Vineyard Napa Valley – Bold, classic Napa Cab. The nose is full of currants, dark chocolate, and violets. On the body, sweeter than expected, with more of a blackberry jam character touched with black tea, gooseberries, and a bit of coffee bean, which adds just a hint of bitterness on the back end. A- / $80

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard Yountville – A milder, fatter-bodied Cab, this wine offers a juicy nose of blackberry jam, currants, and light black pepper notes. The body is ripe and lush — it’s as close to a summer-worthy Cabernet as you can get without putting an animal on the label — with a long, almost fruit-juice finish. One of Pina’s simpler wines, but highly enjoyable on its own merits. A- / $85

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Ames Vineyard Oakville – A simpler expression of Pina. Relatively tannic and on the green side, this wine dials down the jam in favor of notes from the earthier side of things, including mushroom, celery, cracked pepper, and saddle leather. Very dry and restrained, it offers only minimal fruit but packs in ample elegance. Drink now. B+ / $90

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Buckeye Vineyard Howell Mountain – Racy and dense, this is a classic mountain Cab, loaded with intense blackberry, currant, and plum notes, alongside touches of blueberry, black tea, licorice, and leather. Lots going on, but this is a wine firing on all cylinders, dark as could be but masking a brooding and authentic soul. A / $90

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard Rutherford – The greenest and most vegetal of this vintage, the Firehouse Vineyard bottling comes off as almost astringent at first, offering plenty of tannin and oak notes but only a dusting of fruit. There’s just not much life in this wine, and without food it comes off as already past its prime. B- / $90

pinanapavalley.com

Review: Laphroaig 10 Years Old Original Cask Strength

laphroaig 10 year cask strength 525x969 Review: Laphroaig 10 Years Old Original Cask Strength

The only member of the Laphroaig core lineup that we haven’t reviewed — but stay tuned for two new expressions dropping in the next couple of weeks — Laphroaig 10 Years Old Original Cask Strength is exactly what it says on the label: A cask strength version of the classic Laphroaig 10 Years Old expression.

Now anything from the Islay-based Laphroaig is always hot stuff, but Laphroaig Cask Strength is a true blazer. Packed with peat smoke and the essence of red pepper, it takes some doing to get it to settle down in the glass. Lots of air works if you’re patient, or you can start adding drops of water to speed up the process. Actually, I recommend the latter no matter what. While you can catch the whiffs of citrus and grapefruit uncut, these are far stronger when you add a splash of water. Try adding more and more as you drain the glass (which will have the side effect of making the glass appear to never empty) and out come more tropical notes of banana, lychee, and pineapple, even a touch of coconut.

Think of it as a more complicated, layered, and — yeah — expensive version of the standard bearer, one that doesn’t let go of its secrets without a fight.

114.4 proof. Reviewed: Batch #005, bottled February 2013.

A- / $67 / laphroaig.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Berentzen Bushel & Barrel Apple Whiskey and Icemint Schnapps

 Review: Berentzen Bushel & Barrel Apple Whiskey and Icemint Schnapps

Founded in 1758 in Haselünne, Germany, Berentzen is known for its eponymous apple liqueur, as well as some other fruit liqueurs. The company is expanding — hey, 250 years is long enough to wait — recently adding two new products to its lineup. We got ‘em both, and put them to the Drinkhacker test.

Berentzen Bushel & Barrel is “straight bourbon whiskey, neutral spirits, caramel coloring, and natural flavors.” Made with the apple juice-based Berentzen liqueur, this is a credible apple-pie-in-a-glass beverage, featuring silky-sweet apple juice notes balanced by a healthy slug of vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves. Sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, and with just hints of those “neutral spirits” that provide a bit of a chemical character by way of aftertaste. Perfectly serviceable for those in love with apple cocktails, but you can approximate the same thing by splashing some standard bourbon into a glass of Berentzen if you don’t need a short cut. 60 proof. B / $22

Berentzen Icemint Schnapps is a “supermint” schnapps according to the company, and I’d say that’s fairly on point. I’m hardly an aficionado of peppermint schnapps, but Berentzen’s offering is surprisingly intriguing. The nose offers a light eucalyptus menthol note, and it’s surprisingly gentle. I couldn’t detect any real alcohol burn in it at all. On the palate it’s equally easygoing. The body is icy cool and appropriately minty, with wispy hints of chocolate, altogether coming across much like an after-dinner mint. It doesn’t drink at all like it’s overproof, which makes it a bit dangerous. Try sipping on a half-shot as a digestif. No more. No shooters. 100 proof. A / $25

berentzenusa.com

Review: Eel River Brewing Emerald Triangle IPA

emerald ipa 104x300 Review: Eel River Brewing Emerald Triangle IPAEel River Brewing Company recently released this new American IPA, which will become a seasonal release. “Emerald Triangle” is sub-brand to Eel River (which you can find listed if you read the smaller text on the side of the label), but really it’s just the world Emerald that you’ll spot on the shelf. The Triangle portion of the brand name is implied in the form of a dark green triangle in center of the bottle. The name is a big ignominious, but makes sense considering Eel River’s Humboldt County-based location.

As for the beer, it’s a hop-forward brew without a lot of nuance. It’s quite earthy, with pungent bitterness and pine tree bark overtones, but it lacks the crisp, citrus finish of so many high-end West Coast IPAs. With the attack is brisk and bracing, the body soon develops the brooding character of the forest floor rather than the needles on the trees. The finish remains on the muddy side, almost mouth-coating rather than cleansing, the hallmark of great IPA.

All in all, it’s an enjoyable beer, but considering the flood of top-shelf IPAs that have hit the market of late, it’s not the best I’ve encountered.

6.7% abv.

B / $NA / eelriverbrewing.com

Review: Green Flash Road Warrior Imperial Rye IPA

green flash road warrior 74x300 Review: Green Flash Road Warrior Imperial Rye IPALet’s not mince words: This brewery may have a cult following, but Green Flash Brewing Company’s logo and labels are decidedly uninviting to the point where they look like they could be marketing a cleaning product. And this is the new label.

Pay no attention to what’s on the label. San Diego-based Green Flash’s just-released Rye IPA is an amazing little brew.

A summer beer designed intentionally not to be sessionable, Road Warrior uses crystal and rye malt along with a huge amount of Columbus and Mosiac hops to make a chewy, delicious red ale — and one that tips the alco-scales at 9% abv.

This beer is dense and bready from the start, like munching on a thick hunk of dark brown German rye. Notes of caraway seeds, sesame oil, tree bark, and dark chocolate complement the intense rye notes, giving Road Warrior ample complexity and intrigue. It’s not as piney or as fruity as many other IPAs, and I think this beer finds strength in that, drawing on more exotic flavors to complement its significant bitterness. I enjoyed drinking this beer from start to finish… which did not take long, I hasten to add.

Available through August.

A / $8 per four-pack / greenflashbrew.com

Review: Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Blend

Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniv Blend Hi Res Bottle Shot e1404796063243 525x491 Review: Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary BlendCrown Royal is one of the most popular whiskeys on the planet, and for deserved reason. It’s a straightforward, balanced, and dare-I-say-smooth spirit. It mixes well, and it’s an easy straight sipper. Who doesn’t like Crown?

Crown Royal’s history dates back to 1939, when a Canadian entrepreneur crafted a local whisky for the then-royal couple, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who were the first British monarchs to visit North America. Crown Royal was born (and named) and the world has followed its lead. Now, the brand is celebrating its 75th anniversary, with Crown Royal Monarch making its limited-edition debut.

Crown enthusiasts will likely enjoy this spirit the most, but for the rest of us it’s hit and miss. It’s delicate and straightforward, and it does offer just enough uniqueness to spark at least some level of interest, but it doesn’t raise the bar completely. The nose isn’t the highlight here: Basic, grain-forward, and a little bit plasticky. The body is a bit of a different animal, where you’ll find the classic silky body of Crown Royal imbued with notes that start with liquid caramel and head to mild blackberry, a touch of cigar, and a bit of green pepper. It’s not at all bad, simplistic and for the most part well-balanced, at least until the finish, which has a touch of astringency to it and a return to that bit-o-plastic character. (Air helps to burn this unfortunate character off.)

Crown Royal’s various special editions are well regarded, but Monarch’s presentation is a bit more interesting than once it’s the bottle.

80 proof.

B / $75 / crownroyal.com

Review: Tattle Tea Tea & Wine Infusion Kit

tea wine infusion kit wide 1 300x131 Review: Tattle Tea Tea & Wine Infusion Kit Tea drinkers and wine drinkers can finally come together, thanks to Tattle Tea’s straightforwardly named Tea & Wine Infusion Kit. In case there’s any mystery: You’re infusing the wine with tea. Tattle Tea provides the bags of tea (premeasured to work with a single bottle of wine), you provide the wine. You can get the three-bags-of-Rooibos-tea kit along with a nice pitcher that has a built-in strainer to get the tea leaves out ($30) or with just three bags of tea and no pitcher ($8).

Directions are easy: Dump the tea and a bottle of white wine into the pitcher and refrigerate overnight.

How’s it taste? Awful! OK, I’m being harsh, but this mix of tea and wine is just not for me. The nose is interesting — very tea forward and alluring — but the body messes with your senses in an off-putting way. Maybe it’s the wine I chose (a sauvignon blanc), but I just did not like the mix of earthy tea and tart fruit flavors. Compounding the issue, in the course of a day in the fridge, the wine had clearly oxidized quite a bit, giving the concoction some vinegary notes. Maybe if this is done with very high end wine and only for a short time (or in a sealed container), results will be better.

But why risk it?

no rating / $8 to $30 / tattletea.coffeebeandirect.com

Review: Angry Orchard “The Muse” Cider

angry orchard The Muse Hi Res 89x300 Review: Angry Orchard The Muse CiderSummertime is cider time, at least that’s what I hear.

The latest addition to Angry Orchard’s apple-based specialty cider lineup — called the Cider House Collection — is The Muse, a semi-sweet concoction that’s been aged “on French oak staves” and is sold, Champange style, in a 750ml corked bottle.

This cider pours with gentle effervescence and its bright apple nose offers a collection of experiences that include tart apple, rich forest floor, and hints of vanilla. The body’s almost like a fresh apple tart in a glass. Notes of complex baking spices and more of that vanilla character add a festive element that you don’t often see in ciders, but the mix of tart and sweet apples is what keeps going strong, well into the finish.

From start to finish the cider is quite sugary, and that sweetness only gets stronger and stronger as the finish arrives. One glass is almost too easy to knock back, but after that my palate starts searching for something a little more savory. Share with friends.

7.7% abv.

A- / $15 (750ml) / angryorchard.com

 

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection – Soft Red Wheat and Rolled Oat

jim beam harvest 525x308 Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection   Soft Red Wheat and Rolled Oat

Discontent to let Buffalo Trace have all the fun with experimental whiskeys, Jim Beam has been hard at work with its annual Signature Craft releases to show how little changes can have a big impact on a finished spirit.

Now it’s pushing boundaries even further, with a series of six Bourbons called the Harvest Bourbon Collection (technically a sub-group of Signature Craft). The spin on this project is that these six whiskeys each incorporate one unusual grain into the mashbill. They’re all still Bourbon — made with at least 51% corn and some amount of malted barley — but in each whiskey that extra grain is used in a significant amount in the mash (though in undisclosed and variable proportions). All six expressions were aged 11 years before bottling at 90 proof.

The six expressions include: Soft Red Wheat, Brown Rice, Rolled Oat, Triticale, High Rye, and Six Row Barley. The first two on that list arrive in September 2014. The other four will ship through 2015.

Some of these are more unusual than others on that list, of course. Wheat, rye, and barley are all common whiskey components, though here Beam is using different strains or proportions. Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye, which leaves two big oddities on the list: Rolled Oat and, especially, Brown Rice. Both are common supermarket grains that are nonetheless bizarre to find in a whiskey. Color me curious on how these things turn out.

For now, we’ve got our hands on two of the six: Soft Red Wheat and Rolled Oat. Without further ado, here’s how they turned out.

JB SC Harvest Wheat 134x300 Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection   Soft Red Wheat and Rolled OatJim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection Soft Red Wheat – Made with Kentucky and Indiana wheat, a common ingredient in Bourbons like Maker’s Mark. This initially struck me with a slightly funky, sweaty nose, but I let it settle down and things started to clarify, revealing a more straightforward wood character, with hints of earthiness. This is well-aged whiskey and it shows from the start. On the palate, hints of cherry (not unusual for Beam products) and ample, almost overpowering oak character. Even with a healthy amount of water you can’t push that wood character down, a fact which I chalk up more to the aging regimen than to wheat being in the mashbill. Surprisingly tough to muddle through. B-

Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection Rolled Oat – I’ve had a few whiskeys that incorporate oats and I always find them fascinating, at least for a diversion. Here Beam has produced a whiskey with a distinct sweetness on the nose, almost like baking spices with cinnamon and cloves, with rich wood notes underneath. On the palate, again it is quite hot on the tongue, and water helps to bring out the unique charms of the spirit. This is a far different whiskey than the Red Wheat expression, a much softer, gentler, and more engaging spirit on the whole. Cinnamon sugar notes play well with a caramel/dulce de leche base, with that woody nose melting into a pulpier, piney character on the palate. All of this plays well together, giving the Rolled Oat expression a balance that the Red Wheat doesn’t have. Perhaps it was simply better able to stand up to the aging regimen? Either way, it’s a winner. A-

This is a fun start to an interesting lineup. Hopefully we’ll have reviews of the other four expressions for you in the Harvest Collection soon!

each $50 (375ml) / jimbeam.com

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Quarter Cask Finished Small Batch Bourbon 2014

JB SC Quarter Cask e1404621828786 525x830 Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Quarter Cask Finished Small Batch Bourbon 2014

For the third installment (and second annual release) of Jim Beam’s Signature Craft series (find reviews of the first limited annual release and the permanent member of the series here), the company is offering a curious concoction. While it’s called “Quarter Cask Finished,” that’s a little misleading. The whiskey is actually a blend of standard five-to-six year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon that is married with a separate Bourbon that has spent from four-to-six years in quarter casks. (Craft whiskey and Laphroaig fans know that quarter casks are exactly what they sound like: Barrels that are 1/4 the size of regular ones, and which tend to mature much more quickly.)

Semantics aside, this is an intriguing new, limited edition whiskey from Beam, and the use of small barrels (at least in part) makes it a considerable departure from the norm. Thoughts follow.

Jim Beam Quarter Cask Finished Bourbon starts off sweet and doesn’t let up. The nose offers notes of caramelized fruit — Bananas Foster, I would argue — along with sugared orange peel and vanilla-scented sugar cookies. The body brings that home, with heavy doses of vanilla caramels, milk chocolate, and hints of cherry. Wood notes start to develop, particularly on the finish, as the whiskey settles down in the glass. It’s not particularly hot, at 86 proof, but it does benefit from a little air time, which allows the various flavor and aroma components to meld.

I like this whiskey a lot, though it’s not at all what I was expecting (a bruiser heavy on wood and tannin) and ultimately doesn’t venture all that far from the winning Beam formula. Bottom line: With ample fruit and sweeter elements in abundance, there’s a little something here for Bourbon fans of every stripe.

86 proof. Available beginning in September 2014.

A- / $40 / jimbeam.com

Review: 2011 Brancaia TRE Rosso Toscana IGT

Brancaia 2011 Toscana IGT Tre Red Blend 750ml 80x300 Review: 2011 Brancaia TRE Rosso Toscana IGTHere’s a very simple wine, one of the most gentle Italian reds I’ve ever encountered. This blend of Sangiovese (80%), Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon is named for both the three varietals and the three vineyards it is sourced from.

The nose nods at both cherries and milk chocolate, but the body is pure fruit. Almost maraschino cherry, even strawberry in character, the fruit is balanced with notes of brewed tea and touches of vanilla. Some wood overtones come along on the finish… but it’s never able to muscle the fruit out of the picture.

B+ / $23 / brancaia.com

Review: Talisker 27 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Talisker1985 bottlebox High Res 525x742 Review: Talisker 27 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

The final whisky in the 2013 Diageo Special Releases series comes from venerable Talisker on the Isle of Skye. It’s a 1985-distilled spirit aged exclusively in American refill casks, so this whisky’s considerable age should be the main focus here rather than any finishing it encounters.

Sure enough: This is classic Talisker, a peaty, green-tinted malt loaded with aromas of wood smoke and seaweed, with just hints of citrus fruit. The body’s got ample peat, but it’s not overwhelming, with just a bit of vegetable character to it — green bean and green tomatoes, perhaps. Lots of salt splashes you on the finish, showing off this maritime spirit’s true colors.

Final analysis: Very enjoyable, but it never ventures far from its roots.

112.2 proof. 3,000 bottles produced.

B+ / $815 / malts.com

Review: The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir and Rose

The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 175x300 Review: The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir and RoseAre we not men? We are Pinot!

(Sorry.)

Devo founding member Gerald Casale is the man behind the new wine label The 50 by 50, which is named for a never-built home that doesn’t exist on a property that’s wedged between the Atlas Peak AVA and Wild Horse AVA in Napa County. (How very Devo, no?)

The 23-acre estate is planted with Bordeaux varietals, but those don’t seem to be ready to turn into wine yet, so for now Casale is offering two wines from the Sonoma Coast, both from Pinot Noir grapes. (Watch for the Bordeaux style estate wines in 2019 or so.) Meanwhile, thoughts on the current releases follow.

2013 The 50 by 50 Rose of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Big strawberry and raspberry notes on this rose, right up front and lasting well into the finish. This high fruit, high acid wine is an iconic summer sipper, offering hints of tropical fruits and melon as the wine fades from the tongue. B+ / $20

2012 The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – A simple but totally enjoyable expression of Pinot Noir, offering tart cherry notes up front, tempered with touches of coffee, tree bark, dark chocolate, and a bit of cloves. Drink this one slightly chilled; at room temperature it comes across as a bit thin. My wine snob wife was a much bigger fan. B+ / $30

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