Review: I.W. Harper Bourbon and 15 Year Old Bourbon

I.W._HARPER_15_YEAR

Diageo recently announced another spiritual resurrection: I.W. Harper. I.W. Harper was a Kentucky bourbon brand started by Isaac Wolfe Bernheim (another familiar whiskey name) in 1879. It changed hands a few times over the years, ultimately winding up with Diageo, which turned it into a super-premium product … in Japan. Discontinued in the U.S. in the 1990s, now Diageo is bringing Harper back to the States.

Two expressions are launching, a lower-cost NAS expression and a 15-year-old version. Chuck Cowdery has a lot of info on the likely origins of the distillate in these bottles, but these are different spirits with different origins; the full mashbills were recently revealed (see below for details). The 15 year is the bigger mystery here, and it’s likely a blend of lots of “orphan” barrels that didn’t become Orphan Barrels.

Harper hits U.S. shelves this month. Here’s what to expect.

I.W._HARPER_I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – There’s no age statement on the “base” expression, but it’s made from a mash of 73% corn, 18% rye, and 9% barley. It “was most recently aged at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Ky., and contains whiskeys distilled at the current Bernheim Distillery. It is hand bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn.” The nose is quiet, and a little sweaty at times with notes of walnut and some lumberyard. Vanilla emerges over time, with more salty shortbread character building on the palate. The finish offers almonds, with a touch of astringency. Capable, but it doesn’t add a lot to the world of bourbon at this price range. 82 proof. B / $35

I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 Years Old – This “was distilled at the current Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, Ky. and aged most recently at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville. It is hand bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn.” The mash is 86% corn, 6% rye, and 8% barley. This is a much different spirit than the above; it really bears little resemblance to it at all. On the nose: lots of mint, cinnamon, dark chocolate, and some lumber. The body features ample citrus notes, more baking spice, and emerging chocolate and caramel on the backside. There’s heat at first, but this settles down into supple sweetness and a finish that’s surprisingly gentle for a 15 year old bourbon. Ultimately it’s quite balanced and delightful — and well worth sampling. Delightfully retro decanter, too. 86 proof. A- / $75

iwharper.com

Tasting: Chiantis of Ruffino, 2015 Releases

ruffinoRecently I had the chance to virtually sit down with Gabriele Tacconi, Ruffino’s chief winemaker, to hear about the launch of its “Gran Selezione,” a new, upper-echelon expression of Tuscany’s most famous wine, Chianti. Gran Selezione add’s a fourth tier to this wine region, from Chianti to Chianti Classico to Riserva to Gran Selezione.

Gran Selezione wines must spend at least 30 months aging (including 3 months in bottle), a 6 month increase over the legal standards that Riserva wines are subject to, and these wines must be sourced from 100% winery-owned vineyards.

How does Ruffino’s first “GS” stack up? We tried the full range of Ruffino’s Chianti lineup (well, all four categories of Chianti, anyway), to experience for ourselves. Thoughts follow.

2013 Ruffino Chianti DOCG – 70% sangiovese, plus a mix of other stuff. Bottled in a Burgundy-style bottle, evoking the old wicker basket bottlings. This is a simple wine but it’s far more pleasurable than you’d expect, offering a simple fruit structure (more strawberry than cherry), some touches of roasted meats, and hints of vanilla. Both lightly tannic and lightly jammy, but so simple and extremely light on its feet (and in color). B- / $6

2013 Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 20% cabernet and merlot. Some pepper on the nose, then bright cherry fruit. Lush on the body, its cherry fruit balanced by notes of bacon, roasted meats, and touches of oak-driven vanilla. There’s a simplicity to this wine, but also a depth of character that makes the non-Classico wine look a bit undercooked. B+ / $12

2011 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 20% cabernet and merlot. Somewhat jammy, with a clear cabernet influence on the tongue and some perfumed notes on the nose, driven by the merlot. Altogether it comes across quite a bit like a New World wine, fruit firmly forward, almost sweet thanks to significant oak influence, but nicely balanced and easy to enjoy. A- / $15

2010 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 10% merlot, and 10% cabernet sauvignon. Lots of similarity with the Riserva Ducale above, with lots of bold fruit up front and a finish that fades to chocolate and vanilla. There’s a nice and intricate tannin structure here, supporting blackberries, tobacco, and leathery notes. The finish tries to dial back some impressive fruitiness, but it can barely stand up to the assault. Old World, welcome to the New World. A- / $30

ruffino.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubel 2015

Jubel_2015 bottleDeschutes Brewery originally intended Jubel as a once-a-decade release. (The second ever release came out in 2010 and the original was bottled in 2000.) But Deschutes said it couldn’t wait another five years, so it’s putting out Jubel 2015 now. This imperial take on the brewery’s annual Jubelale winter brew is 50 percent barrel aged in pinot noir and new Oregon oak barrels. Hops include Millennium, Nugget, Cascade, Willamette, US Tettnang, and East Kent Goldings, plus five kinds of malts, too.

As it was in 2010, Jubel 2015 is a knockout. There’s huge malt up front, then a wave of dried fruits comes to the forefront. Dates and figs are the main components, then a nutty character evolves as the sweetness starts to fade a bit. Over time (particularly as the beer warms up) notes of cocoa nibs and Port wine notes emerge. As with 2010, though, I liked it a bit better on the cold side, but it shows plenty of charm either way.

10.4% abv.

A / only available at Deschutes tasting rooms and pubs / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Casks 36.67 and 93.61

smws Cask No. 93.61Surprise, it’s two new outturns from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Thoughts follow on two current releases.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 36.67 – 9 year old Benrinnes from Speyside. Burly, with notes of wet earth and the essence of a pre-lit campfire. There’s fruit here, but it comes across a bit like a canned tropical medley, loaded with syrupy guava and pineapple notes. Water brings out all of the above, both an intense and oily oak character alongside that unctuous fruitiness. With time, things coalesce into something akin to a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, but with a curious, evergreen finish. 119.8 proof. B+ / $100

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 93.61 – 14 year old Glen Scotia from Campbeltown. An exotic mix of fire and spice, this iodine-laden whisky kicks off with supple notes of nougat and marshmallow, with hints of citrus and banana. The fire and smoke kick up then, starting with simple peat and pushing into some fishy, kippery notes. Iodine blends with some syrupy notes on the back end, leading to a dry and dusty finish. Some balance issues on the whole, but it’s not without some charms. Much more approachable with water. Compare to 93.47, which we reviewed last year. 116.6 proof. B / $135

smwsa.com

Tasting Comparison: Orange Bitters

regans bitters

After aromatic bitters, orange bitters are easily the most commonly called-for bittering agents in cocktails today. There’s also a huge variety of bitters available on the market. Are they any different? Which is best? I put three big bitters brands — there are plenty more, but these are all I had on hand — to the test to see which ones really made the cut.

Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6 – A 1990s recreation of Charles Baker’s orange bitters recipe, brought to you by Gary Regan and the Sazerac Company. Tangerine notes on the nose, with clear notes of cardamom and clove-like character on the back end. Orange enough, but with a bracing, Fernet-like bitterness that really lingers. The choice for drinkers looking primarily for a big, bitter punch. 45% abv. A- / $16 per 5 oz. bottle [BUY IT NOW]

Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters – Lighter in color, much sweeter, but more orange-focused than Regan’s, offering sweet tangerine notes up front that fade into cinnamon and clove notes. Quite a bit sweeter than other brands, with an almost candylike edge to them — but I like the way they impart a clear orange character (along with mild bitterness to a cocktail). I like these in punches and other party drinks and probably use them the most. Abv not disclosed. A- / $12 per 4 oz. bottle [BUY IT NOW]

The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters – Interesting nose — light on orange and heavy on notes of coffee, roasted/smoked meat, ginger, and other savory elements. The body is a nice mix of citrus and more savory elements, but they aren’t overwhelmingly bitter. The smoky element is curious, but a bit at odds with the typical usage of orange bitters. 39% abv. B+ / $27 per 200ml bottle [BUY IT NOW]

Bottom line: I prefer Regan’s in more savory cocktails (as in Manhattan variants and other whiskey cocktails) and Fee Brothers in sweeter, fruitier, and simpler ones (like the Casino or an old-school Martini).

Review: Samuel Adams Escape Route, Crystal Pale Ale, Double Bock, and Rebel Rider IPA Series

EscapeRoute_12oz_Bottle_(1)Sam Adams is positively pouring out the new releases this season for springtime, including three seasonals — Escape Route, Crystal Pale Ale, and Double Bock — and a new series of “west coast style” IPAs called Rebel Rider. Rebel Rider is available at three different strengths, from a low-alcohol session version to a thick and rich double. We reviewed the lot! Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Escape Route – An unfiltered, hybrid Kolsch designed for springtime, I heartily enjoyed this concoction, a mix of ale and lager styles that starts off bready, with just a touch of citrus, before fading gently into notes of bitter, dried spices, citrus peel, and easy malt notes. Quite refreshing and very well balanced, with a crisp and quenching finish. 5% abv. A

Samuel Adams Crystal Pale Ale – A piney American pale ale made with, of course, Crystal hops (plus East Kent Goldings and Fuggles) being the primary bittering agent. It’s got a standard, evergreen-oriented pale ale profile, but its on the distinctly muddy side, which makes the final product come across as a bit weedy, with some canned vegetable notes on the finish. Acceptable, but not a standout in a world where you can throw your shoe and hit a dozen superior IPAs. 5.3% abv. B-

Samuel Adams Double Bock – A big double bock, almost syrupy at times. Chocolate, licorice, and coffee notes mix to combine a somewhat muddy experience that I can best describe as filling. The finish is long and heavy on maple syrup notes, but there’s no way I could power through a full 22 oz. bottle (this is the only oversized bottling in this roundup) of this stuff without breaking my palate. 9.5% abv. B-

sam adams Rebel_12oz_BOTTLESamuel Adams Rebel Rider Session IPA (blue label) – One of the best “session” IPAs I’ve experienced in recent years. A brisk and fragrant west coast style IPA, it’s stuffed with piney notes, citrus peel, and plenty of bitter root and tree bark notes, but it manages to offer a lush body, avoiding that thin wateriness that comes with so many session IPAs on the market. Clean, simple, and easy to enjoy. 4.5% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Rebel Rider IPA (red label) – Surprisingly less well-realized, this IPA is herbal up front, with a more mild, bitter core. It’s creamier and with a distinctly rounder body than the Session IPA thanks to the higher alcohol level, but there’s just less overall character here — either west coast IPA oriented or otherwise. 6.5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Rebel Rider Double IPA (green label) – Back in action, this rich IPA offers big pine needle notes up front and a luxurious, resinous body to back them up. The long finish offers notes of root beer, grapefruit, licorice, and baking spice. Lots going on, and IPA fans should eat it up. 8.4% abv. A-

pricing NA / samueladams.com

Review: 2011 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder

nullMt. Brave isn’t called that because they think the name is cute. It’s because the fruit for this wine is grown at high altitudes on the dedicedly inhospitable Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley, California.

This 2011 Cabernet (94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc) is the picture of restraint. The nose is very mild, with notes of blackberry, tea leaf, mushroom, and cedar — but in the distance, not punching at your nostrils like so many bolder, Napa-born cabernets. The body doesn’t immediate run any specific direction. It’s light and lively, almost to the point of feeling watery, again a big surprise given the usual trajectory for this type of wine.

Instead, look for notes of simple red fruits, vanilla, and a touch of fresh herbal character. Again, this is all very simplistic and a tad underdeveloped, which means it drinks easily enough, but lacks the depth that a wine of this stature should have.

B+ / $75 / mtbravewines.com

Tasting 2015 Bruichladdich Releases with Distiller Jim McEwan

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Since Bruichladdich was reopened in 2001, just one man has been running the stills: Jim McEwan. A veteran from Bowmore (where he began working as a cooper at age 15), McEwan has overseen some 300 different bottlings of Bruichladdich during its wild first decade (and change) of production. When Remy Cointreau famously bought Bruichladdich in 2012, the distillery’s notoriously scattershot inventory was reined in, with the company focusing on a more targeted and more closely curated range of expressions.

I sat down with McEwan in San Francisco to taste through eight current and upcoming releases, and one thing was made clear. You might be able to tame the number of SKUs that Bruichladdich is churning out, but you’ll never get rid of the distiller’s sense of adventure and experimentation. Case in point: His next trick involves 100 tons of barley given to farms in eight regions within Scotland, which has now been turned into whiskey and is aging in identical barrels on Islay. The results, when these spirits are matured and released in 2018, will demonstrate exactly how terroir impacts malt whiskey.

Until then, here are some brief thoughts on a guided (but unfortunately short) tour through eight of Bruichladdich’s finest current-release spirits follow.

The Botanist Gin – McEwan’s baby. A traditional, classic dry gin with a twist. Distilled from neutral alcohol and studded with 22 botanicals. Still a gorgeous, supple spirit. Recently repackaged. A

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley The Classic Laddie – This is a 7 year old version of the beloved Laddie Ten (which you’ll see again in, well, 3 years). Made from barley grown all over Scotland. 25% aged in sherry casks. Rich and honeyed, with a significant sherry influence. Big mouthfeel, big bite on the finish. A-

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2007 – Made exclusively from Islay-grown barley, the first such barley grown on the island since World War I. Not peated, but it offers salt and maritime notes, a lot of malt character, and a touch of iodine. A great dram. A

Bruichladdich Black Art 1990 4.1 23 Years Old – McEwan is a bit smug about Black Art, which is a well-aged whisky made from mysterious sources — involving a huge variety of barrel types of which McEwan will say nothing. It’s intended to “intrigue the consumer” and is a bottling McEwan says was made as “a protest” to the bullshit stories that distilleries are so fond of peppering their back labels with. Black Art hasn’t always been a favorite of mine, but 4.1 is drinking with a better balance, with nice chewiness and plenty of wine barrel influence to it. B+

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley – The first of two PC releases tasted today, this peaty dram sees some wine cask aging, which gives it so much fruit it almost goes toe to toe with the peat. Same deal as above; this is made from Scotland-only barley, from all over the country. B+

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Barley – Made only from the Islay barley mentioned above. This is a brand new release that also sees some wine casks for aging. It’s a searing whisky with lots of peat and seaweed in the mix. Nice balance. B+

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1 – Classic Octomore, ultrapeated to 157ppm, which gives it a dense smokiness and a barbecue-like sweetness out back. I’ve grown used to Octomore, but compared to 6.3 (see below) it’s a bit of a bore… 14 proof. B+

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.3 – In the nomenclature of Bruichladdich, .1 bottlings are global releases, .2 are for travel retail, and .3 denotes whisky made from Islay barley. This is the first .3 Octomore, and it’s easily the best rendition of this spirit ever. Peated to an absurd 245ppm — the most heavily peated whisky ever released by a mile — this 5 year old spirit (bottled in a frosted bottle instead of the usual black) is remarkably gentle on its own despite bottling at 128 proof. Some floral elements emerge along with vanilla, and it isn’t until you add a substantial amount of water that the peat really starts to kick up. Even then, it’s well integrated, balanced, and just lovely to sip on. Available April 2015 for about $225 (good luck). A+

bruichladdich.com

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Review: NV Ferrari Perle Trento DOC

stilllife 012This sparkler is made in the same method as Champagne, but in Trento, Italy, located in the far north of the nation, midway between Milan and Venice. Made from 100% Chardonnay. It’s a fresh and flavorful wine that lands somewhere between Champagne and Prosecco in most of the facets of its construction.

Fizzy, but not too fizzy, it’s big with apple and peach notes and a touch of lemon oil up front. As it evolves, a touch of walnut, some light notes of roasted meats, and hints of red berry fruit come to the fore. Watch for a touch of floral character — white, springtime flowers — particularly on the nose as the wine opens up in the glass.

A- / $35 / ferraritrento.it

Review: 2012 Flora Springs Trilogy

flora springs trilogy2012’s bottling of the Bordeaux-style Trilogy is composed of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 6% Malbec, and 6% Petite Verdot — another quartet of grapes for a wine named for threes. It’s another knockout vintage, offering a lush core of cherries, currants, and plum, well-laced with notes of chocolate sauce. Beautiful perfume on the nose offers violet notes but also a mix of fresh and dried herbs, with a lightly tannic kicker. Very well crafted and ready to go now.

A- / $75 / florasprings.com