Category Archives: Reviews

Book Review: Cocktails for Book Lovers

51fRwA6cjzL. SY344 BO1204203200  215x300 Book Review: Cocktails for Book LoversMeals inspired by literary works and their authors are popular among home chefs. Now author Tessa Smith McGovern is bringing the notion to cocktails.

Cocktails for Book Lovers is a slim volume of 50 original and classic recipes, each paired with an author and a book they’ve written. Some of these are natural matches — Hemingway and a mojito, Fitzgerald and a gin rickey — while some are a little more structurally modern, like Jane Austen’s concoction of gin, Madeira, and orange juice.

I have to say, a number of the recipes in the book simply do not inspire a lot of passion or interest. Poor Dani Shapiro is saddled with a drink that pairs butterscotch schnapps with Sour Apple Pucker. Matthew Quick, author of Silver Linings Playbook, gets a beer margarita for his troubles. While the history lessons provided on each author provide fun, bathroom-friendly snippets of curiosity, there’s not much of a connection between these biographical tidbits and their respective cocktail recipe. It all adds up to a genial enough diversion, but nothing either a book fiend or a cocktail nut will likely slaver over.

C+ / $10 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014 Edition

old forester birthday bourbon 2014 525x725 Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014 Edition

Old Forester’s annual release of Birthday Bourbon — a celebration of the birthday of George Garvin Brown, founder of Brown-Forman — may not have the level of breathless anticipation surrounding it that, say, the year’s Antique Collection or Parker’s Heritage whiskey does. But I’ll say one thing for it: It’s always a well-crafted, worthwhile spirit.

This year’s Birthday Bourbon provides the usual minimal about its composition. No mashbill information is offered, but one can deduce from the vintage label that it’s been aged for 12 years. Some have expressed concern that Birthday Bourbon 2014 is coming out a bit later than usual — never a good sign in the whiskey world — but I’m happy to report that any such fears are unfounded.

2014’s Birthday Bourbon starts off fairly typical of this whiskey’s usual profile. Very woody on the nose, it offers an immediate attack of dark chocolate cocoa powder before you take your first sip. The body is racy and spicy with notes of more wood, licorice, and gunpowder. The finish warms up with gingerbread, custard, and vanilla, tamping down some of that early, and close to overwhelming, wood character. The result is a nice balance between sweet and savory with plenty to recommend it, and one of Old Forester’s more elegant special releases.

97 proof.

A- / $60 / oldforester.com

Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey “Spirit Drink” Complete Lineup

kennedy irish Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey Spirit Drink Complete Lineup

Irish whiskey is all the rage right now — it’s the fastest growing spirit category there is — and there’s a mad rush going on in Ireland to build stills, increase production, and otherwise squeeze every dollar out of this market before everyone moves on to something else, probably rum.

Kennedy is a new launch of Irish Whiskey — er, “Spirit Drink.” I’m still trying to sort all this out, so bear with me. Here’s how the Kennedy label breaks out.

Upon a sticker stylized like an old Celtic helmet it reads KENNEDY in big letters, then ORIGINAL underneath. In delicate italics beneath that: Spirit Drink. Then in even smaller italics: “Oak Filtered & Hand Crafted using.” Then, larger block letters: “Whiskey with natural flavor & caramel.”

OK, so points for truth in labeling, I think, but points off for confusing the hell out of your consumer along the way. What is “oak filtered,” exactly? Check the back label and you’ll see that “Kennedy’s Spirit is a delicate fusion of the finest Celtic whiskies and malt to insure a unique, challenging and august drinking experience. Kennedy’s Spirit, handcrafted in West Cord, Ireland, is infused with Irish and Bourbon oak using a proprietary infusion process and steeped in malt through an artisan and near-forgotten technique.”

So, yeah.

Your guess is as good as mind about what all that means, but basically my deduction is this is a mix of various Irish whiskeys and grain spirits, somehow pressure treated with oak to artificially age it more quickly. Caramel is added liberally, based on the color, though your guess is as good as mine as to what the natural flavors referenced here are.

And that’s just the “original.” There are four flavored versions of the spirit available, too. Or, rather, more flavored.

So, with that out of the way, let’s taste them all!

Kennedy Original – A slight sugar character on the nose, with a malty, cereal character to it. Touches of honey and cinnamon dust the body, which is otherwise a soft caramel, lightly woody, mostly watery character to it. The overall impact is one of Irish whiskey that’s already been liberally doused with water. It goes down easy enough, but the finish is weak and a touch astringent, leaving behind a touch of hospital character as it fades. 80 proof. C+

Kennedy Spiced – Infused with visible, solid spices (including anise and cinnamon) floating around in the bottle. Tons of cinnamon on the nose. The body has an essence more akin to vanilla blended with dried apples — with that anise making a strong showing as a somewhat weird secondary note. I would have dropped the licorice components and pumped up the cloves, but that’s just me. At least there’s more going on here, even if it doesn’t come together the way you might hope. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Honeyed – Infused with vanilla and honey. Contains visible, fine sediment (but not big chunks like in the Spiced expression). It’s more hazelnut than honey on the nose, but the finish builds to more of an earthy honey character. Minimal whiskey character, though. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Limed – Green, lime whiskey? Why not. Again, light sediment from flavoring involving vanilla and lime juice. Not as bad as you are expecting, but a bit like drinking a slug of Rose’s Lime Juice straight. Sweeter than most of the other whiskeys in this lineup, a necessity to offset the sour lime flavors. The color is beyond off-putting. Clearly this is designed exclusively as a mixer… but with what? When the label copy calls the product “intiguing,” you know something ain’t right. C-

Kennedy Chilied – Bright red, it is flavored with chili pepper and paprika(!). Wow, this is intensely hot — far hotter than your typical “pepper vodka.” I can see this doing brisk business as frat kids make bets with each other and buy shots to dare each other to drink. It’s a fiery, habanero-style burn that singes the lips and sticks in the throat for minutes. A hint of honey sweetness helps temper the burn. Discriminating it ain’t, but daredevils should go for it. B

each about $17 / westcorkdistillers.com

Review: Uisce Beatha Irish Whiskey

uisce beatha real irish whiskey 525x442 Review: Uisce Beatha Irish Whiskey

It’s a brave product marketer who chooses “Uisce Beatha” for his new whiskey’s official name. But Uisce Beatha is a name that’s steeped in history. The term is Gaelic for “water of life.” Uisce (pronounced ISH-kah) is of course where the word “whiskey” originated.

Uisce Beatha — “Real Irish Whiskey” — is the latest launch from ROK Stars, a spirits company founded by celebrity hairstylist and Patron Tequila founder Jon Paul DeJoria. The focus with this spirit is clearly on quality (though not on maturity, which we’ll get to). Uisce Beatha is a blend of single malt and grain whiskeys, aged for four-plus years in ex-Bourbon barrels.

In experiencing the whiskey, baking spices kickstart the nose, while toasty cereal lingers in the background. The body is immediately maltier than expected, bringing up notes of honey, simple syrup, and graham crackers before more of that chewy cereal character hits the palate. As it develops in the glass, some citrus character comes to the fore — more of a clementine orange note than an orange peel character, fresher rather than bittersweet or pungent. The finish sticks with youthful grain, much like a young single malt, offering notes of heather and fresh cut barley. All in all it’s a well-made spirit that lets its raw materials shine, but Irish drinkers who crave the sweeter palate of the typical Irish whiskey might find Uisce Beatha a bit young and undercooked for extended exploration.

B / $40 / rokstars.com

Review: Wild Turkey American Honey Sting

sting 525x1031 Review: Wild Turkey American Honey StingIs the honey-flavored whiskey thing coming to an end? Now, Wild Turkey is releasing a limited edition flavored flavored whiskey: American Honey Sting, a crazy expression of the classic American Honey that is spiked with the infamous ghost pepper, the hottest chili pepper in the world. No relation to this guy.

Honey-flavored whiskies have rapidly become the most boring category of spirits on earth. Dump some honey into cheap bourbon, Canadian, Scotch, or Irish whiskey — all of these have honey expressions on the market now — and it sweetens things up while smoothing out the harsher elements of a lesser spirit. Sure, not all honey whiskies are made equal — a few are quite good, some are truly awful — but for the most part they are hard to distinguish from one another.

And so, with Sting, at least we’re getting something different. While it might foretell the end of the honey whiskey market, it might be the beginning of something entirely new in this space. Honey-plus whiskies. God help us.

As for Sting itself, there’s little up front to cue you in to anything out of the ordinary with this product. Even the name “Sting” on the bottle is understated. I expect many purchasers of this spirit won’t have any idea what they’re buying because there’s no picture of a cartoon chili pepper on the bottle.

That may not be such a problem, though. Despite the spooky threat of the ghost pepper, Sting is surprisingly understated. I’ve had far hotter spirits in the past, and some of those were flavored with little more than cayenne or jalapenos. The nose starts out with pure honey liqueur — and with just a touch of woody bourbon to it — with just a hint of heat if you breathe it in deep. Give it some time and it starts to singe the nostrils a bit, but it’s fully manageable. But that takes time. A cursory sniff reveals nothing out of the ordinary.

The body starts of with that well-oiled, thick honey sweetness — and then you figure you’ll wait for the heat to hit. You might be waiting for quite a while. In my experience with Sting, that heat was hit and miss. Some sips would offer none at all. Some would end with a pleasant warmth coating the back of the throat for about a minute. There’s nothing scorching or quick-give-me-some-milk burning, really, just a nice balance of sweet and hot — at least most of the time.

While the absence of heat in some encounters with Sting are a little strange, they don’t really impact the enjoyment of the spirit in a negative. In fact, they kind of make things fun. Will this round be simple honey… or will it come with a kick? I had fun with it, anyway.

71 proof.

A- / $23 / americanhoney.com

Review: GM Titanium

GMTitanium Final Hi Res 525x882 Review: GM Titanium

You’re the maker of one of the most prestigious orange liqueurs on the market. For your next trick, what do you do? Release a heavily spiced, orange-flavored Cognac in a Terminator-hued, club-friendly bottle!

“Red ribbon” Grand Marnier is distinguished from most orange liqueurs because it uses Cognac as the base spirit instead of grain neutral spirits. Caribbean oranges are blended into this base, giving Grand Marnier an intense flavor that’s driven as much by the Cognac as it is by the oranges.

Titanium is a bit of a different animal, featuring, per the company, “a bold combination of Calamansi citrus, black pepper, anise, fennel, clove, and cinnamon spices combined with wild tropical oranges and Cognac.” So, sort of the Captain Morgan version of Grand Marnier, I guess — but, critically, there is no sugar added in Titanium. This is all intended to make the product attractive to men.

GM Titanium seems to be based on a younger Cognac than the red ribbon standby. There’s no reason to use old stock, after all, when you’re dumping a bunch of cloves and pepper into it. The nose is full of spice: cinnamon and licorice notes attempting to push the orange character aside. That’s well and good, I suppose — if you know what you’re getting into. The body, though, is where Titanium falls apart. There’s just no life here, none of the power of Grand Marnier and definitely not enough punchy orange character. Titanium is limp, hobbled by its utter lack of sweetness as it attempts to let its spice bill do the heavy lifting, and it just doesn’t keep up. A good spiced rum know that you have to really pour on the herbs and spices but it needs a full-bodied rum to match it. GM Titanium doesn’t have either: The spices are too understated, and the Cognac is too young and watery to assist in the matter. Anyone that’s ever tried cinnamon toast with just cinnamon — no sugar — realizes the predicament here. It’s not bad. It’s just boring.

Surprisingly, Titanium is bottled at 80 proof, just like standard Grand Marnier. Compared to Grand Marnier, at about $34, it’s also more expensive. GM Titanium may be geared toward men, but I’m going to have to stick with the girly stuff.

C+ / $40 / gmtitanium.com

Bordeaux Review: 2010 Chateau de Viaud-Lalande & 2012 Chateau du Bois Chantant

Château Viaud Lalande  104x300 Bordeaux Review: 2010 Chateau de Viaud Lalande & 2012 Chateau du Bois ChantantWhen’s the last time you ordered a bottle of Bordeaux with dinner? The folks in France’s ancient wine region realize the answer to this is probably never for most people, so they’re out to change things and freshen up their image.

Today’s Bordeaux (motto: “It’s not that expensive!”) is embracing fruit and lower-cost wines. Sure, Mouton and Lafite and Petrus are still around, but the Bordeaux Wine Council would like you to consider some alternatives that you won’t make you choose between drinking wine and paying the mortgage this month.

We checked out two recent releases to see what this more affordable side of Bordeaux was like. Thoughts follow.

2010 Chateau de Viaud-Lalande Lalande-de-Pomerol – 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. Surprisingly fruit forward, with lots of violet, floral character. As it ages in the glass, notes of balsamic come to the fore along with gentle lumber and leather notes. Drinks a lot like a New World merlot, almost textbook. Nice little number and very food friendly. A- / $31

2012 Chateau du Bois Chantant – 79% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc – Not nearly as fun as the Viaud-Lalande. This wine offers dull fruit — indistinct berries, mainly — light wood tones, some vegetal character, and a thin finish. Slightly weedy on the finish, it’s best with food and in small quantities. (2012 is not considered a great year for Bordeaux.) B- / $17

Review: 2013 Mirabeau en Provence “Classic” and “Pure” Rose Wines

 Review: 2013 Mirabeau en Provence Classic and Pure Rose WinesThis Provence-based rose wine producer is making its first appearance on U.S. shores with two pink wines, the traditional “Classic” (which does not actually say “Classic” on the label) and the more modern “Pure” (label).

“Different but the same,” these two wines are made in the same basic style, but incorporate slightly different grape varietals in their construct. You won’t have trouble telling them apart: The bottles look wildly different, with the “Pure” bottling bearing a modernized, cursive logo etched onto the bottle that’s clearly designed to attract female eyes. The “Classic” *(pictured) has a much more traditional appearance.

Thoughts on both wines follow.

2013 Mirabeau en Provence “Classic” Cotes de Provence – A rose of Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault. Floral, with overtones of strawberry and orange flowers. Light as a feather, with brisk fruit that wisps away on a short, fresh finish. Quite pleasant. B+ / $16

2013 Mirabeau en Provence “Pure” Cotes de Provence - A blend of  high-altitude Grenache, Syrah, and Vermentino grapes. A bolder, fruitier wine, and with a bent more toward the racy raspberry side of the fence than the sweeter, strawberry side. A pleasant, sorbet-like finish hints at herbal notes — syrah driven, perhaps — but those raspberries hang in there until the end. B+ / $21

mirabeauwine.com

Review: Trianon Tequila

Trianon Anejo 256x1200 Review: Trianon TequilaTrianon is a 100% agave tequila hailing from the Lowlands, available in the usual three expressions. All are 80 proof, and we review all three below.

Trianon Tequila Blanco – Sedate and seductive on the nose, the agave here seems dialed way back, and a touch sweet based on the honeyed aroma. The body plays down herbal and earth notes in favor of showcasing how restrained a blanco can be. Notes of spun sugar and light honey dominate. A character akin to chomping into a stalk of crisp celery is about as close as it gets to agave essence, though some hints of black pepper, red chilies, and matchsticks remind you it really is a tequila. If restraint and “smoothness” is what you’re looking for in a tequila, look no further than Trianon. For me, it might be playing things a bit too close to the vest, to the point where it’s hiding a bit of its essence. B+ / $38

Trianon Tequila Reposado – Rested for six months in a mix of French and American oak barrels. The nose starts off with some unusually winey, citrus characteristics, almost sharp to the nostrils with orange and lemon peel notes. The body’s a totally different story. Here, the sweet characteristics of the blanco are pushed to the max, the spirit starting off with a kind of sugary breakfast cereal character before diving headlong into a finish that favors marshmallow fluff and caramel syrup just barely flecked with cracked black pepper. Given the sweetness of the blanco, the sugariness of the reposado isn’t totally surprising — but it makes me wonder what’s left for the anejo… B+ / $50

Trianon Tequila Anejo – Deep brown in color, this anejo spends 18 months in the same French/American oak barrels used for the reposado. Sugar bomb? Not quite. The nose is quite a bit more austere than expected, those winey characteristics on the nose taking on more of a Port character and the essence of chocolate syrup. This leads to a body that is, as expected, full of sweetness, but which features more of a carmelized/brown sugar character akin to creme brulee crust. The agave notes are pretty much gone at this point, this anejo offering some vaguely vegetal character only on the downswing of the finish. This racy heat however does stick with you for quite a while, battling with sugary notes that threaten to choke you into submission. A fun study in opposites. A- / $57

tequilatrianon.com

Review: Samuel Adams Kosmic Mother Funk Grand Cru

035 525x700 Review: Samuel Adams Kosmic Mother Funk Grand CruKeep your eyes open for the KMF: Samuel Adams’ limited edition grand cru beer, formally known as Kosmic Mother Funk.

An aged Belgian style ale, it spends a full year in Hungarian oak casks, and here’s why:

The inspiration for Kosmic Mother Funk is Belgian beer styles and brewing techniques including blending, aging and conditioning beers for wild and flavorful results. The Samuel Adams brewers began by taking a Belgian ale and aging it in Hungarian oak tuns and as time went on the beer continued to evolve and take on a life and character of its own, only to be described as a kosmic collection of flavors. The porous character of the wood allows air to slowly seep into the beer during secondary fermentation, smoothing out any harsh flavors. Wild yeast and bacteria including Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus also interact with the aging brew, imparting unique spicy, fruity and bright tart flavors.  Long contact with the wood imparts its own flavors of oak and vanilla.  This unique brew was then blended at varying levels into a series of Belgian brews, the manifestation of which became the Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection.

sam adams gmf 146x300 Review: Samuel Adams Kosmic Mother Funk Grand Cru“Kosmic Funk” is pretty much right. This is a wild concoction that would immediately explode the zombie head of Adolphus Busch. The nose reeks of a typical sour beer — sour cherry, sawdust, and vinegar notes. That acidic, throat-scorching cherry vinegar character hits hard on the palate, a smattering of malt oddly complementing the wild, almost abrasive brew. Compelling, but it’s a massive undertaking to get your arms around it. This isn’t something most of us are likely to consume on a regular basis — which is a good thing, since the only way you can try KMF is by encountering it on the KMF roadshow. See the link below for a location near you.

6.4% abv.

B+ / not on sale / samueladams.com

Review: The Last Drop 1950 Fine Aged Cognac

last drop 1950 cognac 525x525 Review: The Last Drop 1950 Fine Aged Cognac

The Last Drop is a company with an amazingly fun story: It sources its spirits from shuttered, abandoned, or “lost” distilleries. When you buy the company’s product, that’s it. They’re gone and no one is going to make them again.

That’s a powerful promise of rarity. The Last Drop says it “found these casks in a tiny distillery lost in the woods near Cognac.” So, yeah, you aren’t getting any more of this stuff.

The Last Drop 1950 starts with a classic Cognac nose of old fruit, raisins, incense, and well-aged wood. It’s got a bit of a funky, almost burning undercurrent to it — like an old rhum agricole — offering notes of coconut husk and fuel oil. The body is immediately austere, with sherried stone fruits, balsamic, and oiled leather. With a salted caramel/cocoa powder back end, things start to go out on a lightly sweet high note, but the finish is so drying and woody that it sucks all the fruit away completely, ending on an almost astringent overtone.

That said, it’s a unique Cognac and an excellent example of what very old brandy is like. At this price, though, you might want something that’s still firing on all cylinders, and which is more balanced from start to finish.

83.6 proof. 478 bottles made (each includes a 50ml miniature as a bonus).

B+ / $2,600 / lastdropdistillers.com

Review: CapaBubbles Sparkling Wine Cap

capa bubbles 300x246 Review: CapaBubbles Sparkling Wine CapCapaBunga makes a pretty cool rubberized still wine stopper. It would therefore make sense that the company would want to do the same thing for sparkling wines, which are frequently resealed after opening and saved for another day. The problem of course is that you can’t just jam a cork into the neck. The gas in the wine would pop it right back out. Same goes for CapaBunga’s still wine stopper.

For decades consumers have relied on hinged sealers that grip beneath the flared lip to keep the wine sealed and the stopper in place. CapaBunga thought it had a better idea. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t really work.

The CapaBubbles stopper is a two-piece unit, a plastic base and a rubberized top. The base consists of two half-moon shaped pieces that bear screw threads on the outside. In theory, you just snap the hinge around the neck of the bottle, beneath the flared lip, to start the process. The top piece of the CapaBubbles then — again, in theory — screws down onto the base, creating a seal up top.

Neat idea, but in practice it’s a disaster. The major problem is that the necks of sparkling wine bottles are all kinds of different sizes, and the CapaBubbles doesn’t fit on them all. In my testing of a variety of different bottlings, I went two for four in getting the base to fit around the neck of the bottle. The other times the bottle neck was just too fat for the base to fit around it — and in one of the two successes I had, I just barely got it to work and only by peeling off the foil around the bottle’s neck completely. Even if you do get the base unit around the neck, screwing the top down on top of it is not a sure thing. Expect lots of trial and error — and often significant force — in getting the pieces to actually come together and make a solid seal.

Given its limitations and the fact that the CapaBubbles costs about two or three times as much as a typical hinged stopper, my rating is probably generous.

D / $16 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: 2012 Vineyard 29 Cru Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

cru cs 2012 143x300 Review: 2012 Vineyard 29 Cru Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyDistinctly smoky on the nose, this second-label wine from Vineyard 29 offers a body that pushes plenty of currants, blueberries, and gooseberries, with a healthy slug of wood, ash, and fresh leather to back it up. This sweet-meets-savory character is so full of body it can be almost overwhelming. Give it time, let it aerate in the glass, and things start to come together. Excellent with chocolate.

A- / $60 / vineyard29.com

“Dark” Wine Roundup: 2012 Menage a Trois Midnight and 2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black

Teeth not stained enough for ya? Try Midnight, a new “dark red” wine from Menage a Trois, or Authentic Black, Gnarly Head’s take on the theme of vinified darkness that suddenly seems to be all the rage in the wine world right now. Which “dark red” wine should earn your late night affections? Read on.

bottle midnight 103x300 Dark Wine Roundup: 2012 Menage a Trois Midnight and 2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black2012 Menage a Trois Midnight Dark Red Blend California – Composed of 44% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Sirah, and 3% Petit Verdot, there’s nothing really unusual about the makeup of Menage a Trois Midnight, though it’s certainly completely opaque. like many a deep red wine There’s no real information about why the wine is so dark. I expect the addition of Petite Sirah, well known for its deep color, is the primary culprit. Midnight is fine, if undistinguished red. Violet notes do just fine alongside red berries and plum notes, with a touch of chocolate underpinning things. Slightly sweet and quite unctuous, the wine has a silkiness that makes it work best either with dessert or before dinner. B+ / $12

gnarly head authentic black 78x300 Dark Wine Roundup: 2012 Menage a Trois Midnight and 2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black Lodi – No blend information available except that this is “Petite Sirah” based. Again, that makes sense, and this wine is even darker in color than Midnight. Jammy to the point of being syrupy, the body is dark currents, Port-like chocolate syrup, and touches of pepper jelly. The finish comes across as impossibly sweet, taking this wine just a step too far into the world of dessert wines. B- / $12

Review: LA1 Louisiana Whiskey

LA1 Whiskey Bottle Image Review: LA1 Louisiana WhiskeyOur final review of three product lines from Louisiana-based Donner-Peltier Distillers, we at last turn to what is something of a flagship for the company, LA1 Louisiana Whiskey.

LA1 is made from corn, barley, rye, and — most curiously — local rice. There’s no information on proportions in the mashbill or the aging regimen, but it’s clearly a young spirit. In fact, it’s the first aged whiskey produced in Louisiana since Prohibition, hence the name.

Those conversant with the recent spate of young craft whiskeys will find this a familiar experience. The body is huge with young corn and fresh wood notes, the hallmark of limited time in small barrels. There’s ample smokiness and bitter root notes, but it’s just so tough to shake that wood. Even water doesn’t do this whiskey much service. While it does help to coax out a few light fruit notes of golden raisins and lemon peel, the water actually makes the overall wood character even more powerful — and tougher to muscle through.

94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3, bottle #461/500.

C- / $45 / dpdspirits.com

Review: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon – Limited Edition (2014)

angels envy cask strengh 2014 525x750 Review: Angels Envy Cask Strength Bourbon   Limited Edition (2014)

Angel’s Envy remains a top bourbon pick — and cheap, too — but true fans know that something special awaits if they just hang in there. Last year the company released its first Cask Strength Edition of its Port-finished bourbon. Available in an an edition of a whopping 600 bottles, you would probably have had better luck finding bottles of Pappy on closeout.

Well, 2014 is here and Angel’s Envy Cask Strength is back — with 6,500 bottles being released, more than 10 times last year’s figure. (It’s also $20 more expensive, but who’s counting?)

As I noted last year, this is a very different bourbon from standard-edition Angel’s Envy. Hot and charcoaly with lots of burnt sugar, toffee, and chimney ash, it reveals interesting notes of plum and banana only well into the finish. Water is big help here, bringing down those burnt/blackened sugar and molasses characteristics and revealing more of the essence of wood, cloves, and (very) dark chocolate notes to back it up. Fans of old, heavily wooded whiskeys will naturally eat this up, but those who enjoy a more fruity spirit will probably find something to enjoy here, too. Even more water (don’t be shy) helps to coax out more gentle vanilla, caramel, raisin, and cherry notes — some of the hallmarks of the standard AE bottlings — while still hinting at its burlier underpinnings.

119.3 proof.

A- / $169 / angelsenvy.com

Review: Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka

Crop Spiced Pumpkin Final 288x1200 Review: Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka‘Tis the season for all things pumpkin… which brings us to our first pumpkin spice-flavored vodka here at Drinkhacker, from (of all people) Crop Organic.

Crop has a well-deserved reputation as a purveyor of high-end organic spirits, and despite the novelty nature of anything pumpkinesque, Crop somehow hits another home run with this hip flavor.

Appropriately burnt orange in color, Crop Spiced Pumpkin offers a quite sweet nose with a fragrant, cloves/cinnamon/vanilla spice to it. The body has the inimitable pumpkin spiciness to it — difficult to put into words, but distinctly nodding toward holiday tipples. That said, it is extremely sweet, to the point where you’ll have no idea whether you’re drinking a flavored vodka or a dense, sugary liqueur. From the orangey appearance, observers would be well justified in assuming you’re sipping on Grand Marnier.

Clearly one would never do that — save your intrepid critic — as this is a mixer through and through. With that in mind, Crop has provided a number of recipes for your enjoyment. See below.

70 proof.

A- / $25 / cropvodka.com

Recipes!

Crop Organic Pumpkin Ginger Cooler 
(Arley Howard, Top of the Hub) 
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 lemon slice
Nutmeg
2 parts Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1 part ginger liqueur
1 part sour mix
Ginger ale

In a highball glass, muddle brown sugar with lemon and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Add ice, Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka, ginger liqueur, and sour mix. Shake contents and then top with ginger ale.

Plymouth Rock Julep 
(Nick Nistico, Premier Beverage Company) 
2 parts Rye whiskey
1 part Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1/2 part cinnamon syrup
5 dashes Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters

Swizzle all ingredients with ice and then top with crushed ice.  Garnish with a candy-corn pumpkin and grated cinnamon.

Pumpkin Cocktail 
(Nick Nistico, Premier Beverage Company) 
1 part Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
5 dashes bitters

Top with pumpkin ale.

Pumpkin Collins 
(Nick Nistico, Premier Beverage Company) 
2 parts Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1 part fresh lemon juice
1/2 part simple syrup

Shake with ice and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel dusted with cinnamon.

Review: Hibiki 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old

hibiki 21 525x742 Review: Hibiki 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old

Great news for lovers of Japanese whiskies. Suntory has just launched two older Hibiki expressions, 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old, to join its 12 year old bottling that arrived on our shores way back in 2009. We got fresh looks as the first shipments hit the U.S.

Hibiki 17 Years Old – Nicely balanced between supple grain notes and dessert-like characteristics on the nose, including sherried nuts, honeycomb, and nougat. The body plays up both sides of this equation nicely. The cereal side is well-aged, mellow, and slightly racy, while the oak-driven side offers deep almond and hazelnut notes and a lightly sweet, whipped cream finish that ties it all together like a nice ice cream sundae. Could be a touch punchier, but overall it’s a great way to end an evening. 86 proof. A- / $150

Hibiki 21 Years Old – Elevated. Almost cognac-like on the nose, with austerity and grace, but also clear sweetness. The palate starts out a bit hot — surprising given the relatively gentle alcohol level here — with a cinnamon-like burn and more of those roasted cereal notes. Give it a little time in glass and some honey character emerges along with soothing brown sugar notes. The finish is where Hibiki 21 really kicks in, with some red fruits, sherry, red peppers, and a bit of chewy marshmallow to top it all off. Exemplary. 86 proof. A / $250

suntory.com

Review: Samuel Adams Octoberfest

sam adams octoberfest 300x200 Review: Samuel Adams OctoberfestSamuel Adams has a beer for every season, so of course an Octoberfest brew is in the hopper. This seasonal Munich-style/Marzen lager offers warming, roasted grain notes up front, plus touches of sweet maple syrup, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. Well balanced between its grain-focused notes and the sweetness of its malt, this is an Octoberfest brew that feels both festive and easy to drink at the same time. Sure, it may be made far from the beer halls of Germany, but for stateside drinkers it does the trick.

5,3% abv.

B+ / $13 per 12-pack / samueladams.com

Review: NV Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut Champagne

Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut with Box Hi Res 212x300 Review: NV Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut ChampagneLaurent-Perrier Ultra Brut is a rare Champagne made with absolutely no dosage — the addition of refined sugar to the finished wine as a sweetener. Even the driest of sparkling wines tends to have some sugar in it — even if it’s a tiny amount. In L-P’s Ultra Brut, the sweetness is all in your mind. About half chardonnay and half pinot noir, this nonvintage sparkler offers a surprisingly lively core of fruit. Fresh cut apples are long and expressive here, with bready notes that keep the yeast character in check. It’s dry, but notes of lemon peel, lime, and a very light violet fragrance give this a lot more body and power than you would probably expect.

A- / $40 / laurent-perrier.com