Review: Old Limestone Mixing Water

OldLimestone_750ML_Bottle (2)If you’re a huge Scotch nerd, you’ve probably seen the ultimate in geek mixers: Water imported from different regions in Scotland that you’re supposed to add to whisky from that region – the ultimate complement for your high-end hooch.

Now Kentucky’s getting in on the game, with Old Limestone Mixing Water, sourced straight from Bourbon country.

Old Limestone has two selling points. One, it’s limestone-filtered (limestone is everywhere in Kentucky). Two, it’s free of iron. This latter point is often touted by Bourbon makers – and Jack Daniel’s never shuts up about its iron-free water – because it is said to impart negative qualities to Bourbon.

I put Old Limestone side by side with some filtered tap water from my (California) house and, tasting them blind, I couldn’t taste much of a difference, if any. Both were quite neutral, dead flat, with a hint of mineral notes. But then I put a good sized splash into some Bourbon, and damn if I didn’t like the Old Limestone version a bit better. The tap version was fine, but the Old Limestone-doctored whiskey was a little creamier on the palate, with clearer, brighter flavors.

8 bucks for a glass-bottled liter of water might be a bit much (a cheaper, plastic-bottled version is also available), but compared to the price of a premium spirit, it’s really a drop in the bucket, ain’t it?


Review: Aberlour 10 Years Old

aberlour 10Aberlour’s 12, 16, and 18 year old expressions are commonly available in America, but surprisingly its entry-level bottling, Aberlour 10 Years Old, isn’t sold here.

That’s a shame, because it’s a fine example of the Speyside distillery’s house style and comes at a very reasonable price (the appropriate US dollar conversion has been made below). “Double cask” aged in both bourbon and sherry barrels, it is a youthful but quite exuberant little dram that you should pick up if you ever happen across it.

Malty on the nose, but well sherried, offering a nice balance between savory and spicy by way of an introduction. On the palate, Aberlour 10 fires immediately: Big baking spices, lots of sherry-fueled orange peel, roasted (but well-integrated) grains and cereal notes, and a lengthy, warming finish. The balance is just about perfect, with hints of petrol raising their heads from time to time and a smoldering, coal-dust character on the finish. What sticks with you though is that racy, sides-of-the-mouth sherry punch, though — not overdone, but just enough to wake you up and ask for another. Please, sir.

80 proof.


Tasting with Ferrari-Carano, 2015 Releases

ferrari caranoFerrari-Carano is a winery with which I’m intimately familiar. It was one of the first “serious” wines I spent my own money on when I was first learning about oenology, and I’ve visited the winery on many occasions since.

Today we’re looking at the winery’s current 2015 releases, including chardonnay, pinot noir, and the Tresor reserve, all part of a live tasting with winemaker Sarah Quider.

Let’s check them out!

2012 Ferrari-Carano Reserve Chardonnay – A dense and woody chardonnay — not so much on the buttery/vanilla tip, but rather a more lumberyard-influenced wine. Bold fig and baked apples give this a wintry tone that works well with the bold, present body. Classic in structure but a bit unique in its flavor profile, this is a slight (but fun) diversion for California chardonnay. B+ / $38

2013 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir – Lovely cola notes give this wine a sense of place, adding some herbal-driven bitterness to a solid core of red berries. The body is a bit on the flabby side, though, offering a leanness that tends toward wateriness at times. Slightly smoky on the back end, with tobacco notes. A perfect “house red” (never mind the price tag). B+ / $36

2012 Ferrari-Carano Tresor – This is a classic Bordeaux blend made from 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec, 7% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. Rich and chocolaty, this is classic Ferrari-Carano, offering a lush and velvety texture that is studded with dark berries and baking spices. Almost unctuous, it’s a huge operator with a bold attack and an even bigger finish. Your steak wine, should you be seeking one, is right here. A- / $52

Review: Usquaebach Reserve and 15 Years Old

usquaebach 15 Yr Old USQAs the back label of Usquaebach Reserve tells us, Robert Burns immortalized the name of Usquaebach in his poem “Tam O’Shanter,” when he wrote, “Wi usquabae we’ll face the de’il.”

Usquaebach, pronounced OOS-keh-bah, is a brand of blended whiskies that are made in the Scottish Highlands. The highest end bottling of the three expressions of Usquaebach (sadly not reviewed here) is bottled in an iconic stoneware decanter.

Note that the two whiskies reviewed below are both blends, but offer markedly different compositions: One is a blended Scotch (which includes grain whisky), one is a blended malt (which only includes whisky made from malted barley). Let’s dig in and see how these stack up.

Usquaebach Reserve Blended Scotch Whisky – A solid blend, with none of the acrid rubberiness of so many blended Scotches. Malty and full of cereal notes, but balanced by gentle sugars, mushroom notes, hints of cloves, banana, and sweetened coconut. That sounds like a lot going on, but this is a quiet blend that doesn’t push things too far in any of these directions. Mild but accessible from start to finish, it’s a glorious entry-level dram that doesn’t take itself too seriously (Robert Burns’ stipple photo on the back label be damned), but which is hard not to find a delight writ small. 86 proof. B+ / $44

Usquaebach Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey 15 Years Old – Austere and heavily malty with big overtones of leather oil and aged wood on the nose. Wintry and warming, it offers a heady nuttiness on the palate, with notes of cloves, dark toffee, molasses, tree sap, and dates. Well-roasted cereals round out an oily and dense body that is otherwise fairly straightforward and evocative of many a Highland whisky. Some pruny, almost Port-like notes on the finish add to the winter-weather character. 86 proof. B+ / $86

Review: 2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford

FREEMARK_ABBEYFreemark Abbey’s always-engaging Cabernets are here, representing the 2012 vintage. Some real standouts… without further ado.

2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – 75.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16.6% Merlot, 3.3% Cabernet Franc, 2.6% Petit Verdot, and 2.0% Malbec. Dense and quite sweet, this is New World cabernet at its most iconic, all crushed red fruits, vanilla, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. It’s all layered into a rich and sumptuous body, almost like marshmallow creme at times. I have a feeling all the sweetness is going to leave me with a headache tomorrow, but for now it’s so easy to drink and enjoy that I can’t complain much. A- / $44

2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Napa Valley – 83.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8.3% Merlot, 4.6% Petit Verdot, and 3.9% Cabernet Franc. A more regional designate of the above (oddly, in a slightly larger bottle). Again, classic Napa Cabernet, but elevated to near perfection — supple cherry and berry fruit, very gentle tannin, the slightest layering of baking spices. This is so easy drinking it’s almost criminal, with hints of violets (hello, Merlot), black pepper, and blackberry bramble raising the game that much more. A / $75

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2015

It was another unforgettable year at 2015’s WhiskyFest, with some of whiskydom’s most cherished icons on tap for tasting, and plenty of old friends to mingle and catch up with.

Of course, many of those old friends come in liquid form, and I had ample opportunity to revisit plenty of classic whiskies while spending time with a number of newer drams. Here’s a brief look at everything I tasted at the San Francisco installment of this essential spirits show.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2015


Tullibardine 20 Years Old / A- / showing beautifully, a nice balance of vanilla and cereal notes (bourbon barrel aged)
Tullibardine 25 Years Old / A / a much different experience, with gorgeous nougat and honey notes (sherry barrel aged)
Balvenie 50 Years Old Cask 4567 / A+ / snuck out from behind a curtain, this is Balvenie shining at its brightest; not old and hoary but light on its feet and ready to dance; explosive, with dried berries, dense toffee, baking spices, and florals on the finish; 2 casks produced, the other cask is said to be very different
Balvenie 15 Years Old Single Barrel Sherry Cask / A- / very caramel heavy, racy but dense, with lots of brown sugar notes
William Grant Rare Cask Reserves Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old / A- / blended whiskey from three silent stills; restrained with toffee, nuts, and some kippered notes; comes out next year
Glengoyne 18 Years Old / A- / big body, notes of grain and fruitcake
Glengoyne 21 Years Old / B+ / traditional malt, with cocoa hints
Aberlour Scapa Skiren / B / lots of sweetness, with a malty backbone – plus melon, sweet mandarins
Highland Park Odin / B+ / dense and handsome, sherry with some smoky charcoal notes; not in love with this today
Dewar’s Scratched Cask / B+ / Dewar’s White with a little “scratched cask” aging; not readily distinguishable from the entry level blend, though quite powerful
Aultmore 12 Years Old / B+ / heavy vanilla and chocolate, dense with shortbread notes
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1964 / A- / heavy wood notes play with raisins and spice; this has seen wood for too long, though
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1984 / A / right where it’s at; vibrant and exotic, with tropical notes, plum pudding, and hints of grain; absolutely gorgeous
Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend / B+ / well-balanced, malty with some smoky notes
Compass Box Hedonism 15 Years Old Anniversary Bottling / A- / a blend of single grains, all 20 years old or more; fun toffee and fruit trifle notes
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition / A- / rich, smoky, with a gentler fruit core
Compass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky / B / a blend of single malts and grain whisky, 19 to 40 years of age; Compass Box got into trouble over this one (more on that later); I got a little mustiness and mushroom notes here, with creosote bubbling up; not feeling it tonight


McKenzie Pure Potstill Whiskey / B- / American pure pot still? wacky! this one is very young, but that hint of classic Irish sweetness hits hard on the finish
Sonoma County Distilling Company Truffle Whiskey / B+ / 100% rye, with shaved truffles added to the barrel; not what you’re expecting, but with forest floor notes a-plenty
Stranahan’s Snowflake (Dec. 2014) / A- / easily my favorite Snowflake bottling to date, beautiful balance of sweet and spice, very pretty
Stranahan’s Diamond Peak / A- / lush and big with dried fruits, spices, and gentle granary notes; another winner from Colorado
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Years Old / A- / a classically structured bourbon, dense and stylish, with a spicy finish
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old / A+ / there’s a reason this whiskey is the most expensive bourbon made in America — it’s the best thing anyone is making in the country; dense raisin, cinnamon, vanilla, toffee… it just goes on and on with layer after layer of goodness
High West A Midwinter’s Night Dram Act 3 / A / my favorite AMND yet; cherry and herbs in balance (not blown out), with a licorice kick
High West Bourye Batch 15B03 / A / still gorgous; syrupy and fruity, unctuous at times
High West Single Malt 1 Month Old / NR / a work in progress, surprisingly gentle for single malt but a fun look at something coming down the pipeline… give it another 5 years at least


Forty Creek Confederation Oak / A / beautiful vanilla and maple notes, but dense and balanced
Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve / A- / very enjoyable, candy corn and chocolate raisins at play
Forty Creek Evolution / A- / again, quite candylike and very sweet; 9000 bottles made
WhistlePig Straight Rye Old World Sauternes Finish 12 Years Old / A- / a very strong and sweet whisky (just one of the components of the new Old World bottling), with lemon curd notes


Diplomatico Blanco Rum 6 Years Old / B / solid, uninspired as a sipper though
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Vintage 2000 / A / vintage Diplomatico; gorgeous, sherry-finished rum, balanced perfectly

Review: GourmetGiftBaskets “Happy Hour” Cheesecake Sampler

Happy-Hour-Sampler-Whole-Cheesecake_largeBooze and dessert have always had a special relationship, and the folks at GourmetGiftBaskets are taking it one step further by baking bar delights straight into their “Happy Hour” Cheesecake Sampler. It’s a little off the beaten path for Drinkhacker to review cheesecake, but I feel the cocktail connection is strong enough for a discriminating drinker to appreciate.

We recently received a sampler with a variety of cheesecake flavors, including Amaretto, Irish Coffee, Margarita, and Strawberry Margarita varieties — at least in the version I received. All were good, though the lime character of the two Margarita flavors is quite understated. I wouldn’t have thought they were particularly citrus if I wasn’t told they were supposed to be. The Irish coffee flavor has a bit of a peanut butter character (and consistency) to it, but the Amaretto is pure almond from start to finish. All told, they’re all very good (though perhaps a touch dry) — but if I had to pick one, I’d go for the flavor-packed Amaretto.

Note: While there is alcohol in the recipes for the cheesecakes, the cooked and finished products contain virtually none (if any at all), so be sure to bring your own.

B+ / $35 to $50 (depending on size) /

Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 1838 Style White Corn

woodford mastersIt’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the awesome Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish bourbon dropped, but the latest annual release — the tenth to come out — of the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection is upon us.

This year’s expression is called 1838 Style White Corn. What happened in 1838? Well, that’s when Oscar Pepper and James Crow began distilling whiskey at the site where Woodford is located today. Did they use white corn back then? Historical records say they did, and Master Distiller Chris Morris adds that they did so for a reason — using white corn instead of the traditional yellow corn complements the other grains in the whiskey well, he says. (Otherwise the mash is the same as standard Woodford: 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barley.)

Per the company:

The Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 1838 Style White Corn was conceptualized and created by respected industry veteran and Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris. Drawing from original production records, Morris was able to develop and bring to life a recipe Pepper and Crow might have used. The 1838 Style White Corn release is both inspired by, and pays tribute to, the techniques developed by Pepper and Crow which today have become some of the most well-known and commonly used throughout the industry. In the mid-1800s, Oscar Pepper and James Crow engaged in early distilling at the present day site of the Woodford Reserve Distillery.

“Year after year, our Master’s Collection is always a favorite of mine to produce, as I enjoy seeing how even the slightest of variations can yield a dramatically different whiskey,” says Morris. “What’s truly exciting with 1838 Style White Corn is that by simply changing the corn used, we’ve created a spirit that is new for fans of Woodford Reserve yet still traditional and a perfect representation of our rich heritage.” By using white corn with the same barrels and yeast used to create Woodford Reserve bourbon, the result is a spirit that is lighter in body with a softer, sweeter, fruit-forward profile.

The results are a real step back into time. The nose exudes popcorn above all else, layered just a tad with notes of clover honey and caramel sauce. On the palate that popcorn character utterly dominates, though it also finds notes of leather, tobacco leaf, and white pepper. After that, unfortunately, there’s not much to report. The overall impact is one of considerable youth, the white corn really taking over from the get-go and never letting up. While the traces of caramel and even a dusting of Mexican chocolate that arise late in the game offer some enticing flavors and aromas, on the whole the release is just a bit too staid to get excited about.

90.4 proof. 30,000 bottles produced.


Drinkhacker’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

We at Drinkhacker have been busier than ever this year, and yet it seems impossible that it’s time for our eighth annual edition of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards.” As always, the list comprises some of the best-rated products we looked at over the last 12 months but is also focused on products that are 1) actually available, 2) worthwhile as gifts, and 3) not entirely out of the realm of affordability.

This year, by popular demand, we’re adding wine to the gift guide. It’s one of the busiest categories on the site, one of the most popular gift items on the market, and something we’ve overlooked for too many years.

As always, the offerings below are only a tiny selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, and we welcome both your suggestions for alternatives and questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting. Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Rhetoric 21-Year-Old_Hi-Res Bottle ShotBourbon – Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric 21 Years Old ($100) – So many amazing bourbons hit this year, and so many are already impossible to find. While Diageo took some early drubbing for its curious Orphan Barrel project, this year it really hit its stride. Rhetoric 21 is the best of the lot to date — and part of an ongoing project that will see older and older expressions of Rhetoric shipping every year. It’s still widely available at its original selling price, as is its near equal in the Orphan Barrel project, Forged Oak 15 Years Old ($75). I loved Col. E.H. Taylor Cured Oak ($75 on release), but you’ll be lucky to find it for $500 today. That makes the over-the-top (but delightful) Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Century ($400/1 liter) seem like a downright bargain.

Scotch – The Exclusive Malts Ben Nevis 1996 17 Years Old ($140) – I’m not going to break the bank this year with my malt whisky pick and rather send you hunting for the 17 year old Ben Nevis from The Exclusive Malts, an indie bottler that has been absolutely on fire with a string of amazing releases. The exotic fruit, sweetness, and cereal notes combine in an inimitable and very compelling way. A big hand is due to Diageo again in this list for its 2014 limited editions (which hit the U.S.) in March this year. If you have the cash, check out Rosebank 21 Years Old ($500), Strathmill 25 Years Old ($475), or Brora 35 Years Old ($1,250), all three from that series. Finally, peat fanatics should head directly for whatever Laphroaig 15 Years Old ($70) they can still find.

journeyman ThreeOaks_750Other Whiskey – Journeyman Distillery Three Oaks Single Malt ($47) – Craft whiskey in the U.S. is finally, finally, arriving, and this year it’s landing a top spot on our best of the year list. Michigan-based Journeyman is showcasing how single malt should be made in America with this young but exuberant spirit that any whiskey fan owes it to himself to try. For another top craft pick, consider Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old 100 Proof Whiskey ($75), a young wheat whiskey that is the best of this series so far. The Irish Yellow Spot ($95) maintains a special place in my heart next to its Green sibling — and don’t forget that rye is making leaps and bounds. One of the best is Woodford Reserve Rye ($38) — where it is actually made instead of trucked in from another state.

Gin – Oppidan American Botanical Gin ($30) – Our top gin pick this year comes from a Chicago microdistillery where a bounty of botanicals is used to spice up a London Dry style gin, giving it a delicate, floral character that should not be missed. Other great options include Tanqueray Bloomsbury ($33), Anchor Distilling Old Tom ($30), and the exotic Painted Stave South River Red Gin ($22/375ml), which really is red.

Vodka  Square One Bergamot Vodka ($35) – If you must give vodka this year, try this unusual, citrus-flavored vodka from Square One. Other good (and unflavored) options include Vodka Mariette ($30) and Tigre Blanc Vodka ($90), proceeds of which go in part to support large cats in the wild.

DP30yrs_white_USAhighresRum – Don Pancho Origenes Rare Rum 30 Years Old ($425) – New rum brands don’t pop up every day, and when they do rarely do they have a legend in the business attached. Don Pancho (aka Francisco Fernandez) is putting his name on a finished product for the first time, and it’s a doozy not to be missed. For less ritzy outlays, consider the well-aged offerings in the form of Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 23 Years Old ($50) or Ron Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva ($40).

Brandy – Cognac Paul Giraud Grande Champagne Tres Rare ($179) – A tough call from among these three stellar Cognacs, and really you can’t go wrong with any of them. My slight preference ultimately goes to Giraud and this well-priced rarity. Close runners-up: Majeste L’Empereur Cognac XO ($110) and Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2005 Cognac ($100).

dulce vida extra anejoTequila – Dulce Vida Extra Anejo ($160) – Another solid year for tequila, with a flood of excellent extra anejos really showing their stuff in 2015. My favorite of the bunch is from Dulce Vida, aged 5 1/2 years in used wine barrels. Great tequila with a great story behind it, too. Also worthwhile are Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia 2015 Rolling Stones Tour Pick ($150, also available for less sans the Stones imagery), El Mayor Reposado ($30, amazing bargain!), and the luxe Patron Extra Anejo 7 Anos ($299).

Liqueur – Spirit Works Sloe Gin ($40) – It’s a light year for quality liqueurs, but I have to give the nod to my hometown heroes Spirit Works and their killer sloe gin. Other top picks include Maraska Maraschino ($27) and Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao ($31), both of which should be home bar staples.

Wine As promised, this year we’re adding a smattering of ideas for some of the best wines we’ve seen this year that would be appropriate for gift-giving. It’s hard to pick a single “winner” (and probably not fair because availability will vary widely) but here are my top seven wines of the year, in no particular order:

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Heritage Coffee Brown and Smoked Porter 2015


It’s cold outside! Don’t stop drinking beer. Drink winter beer.

Try these two from our friends up at Alaskan…

Alaskan Brewing Company Heritage Coffee Brown Ale – Brown ale brewed with coffee from Heritage Coffee Roasting Co. Part of the Alaskan Pilot Series. Less dense and enveloping than you’d think, this beer offers quite mild coffee notes folded into a lightly spicy brown ale. Notes of brown sugar and ample malt make up the bulk of the experience, with some gentle nutmeg notes coming up the rear. 7% abv. B+ / $9 (22 oz. bottle)

Alaskan Brewing Company Smoked Porter 2015 – Alaskan’s take on rauchbier, which is made with smoked malt to give the beer a distinctly smoky flavor. I first had rauchbier in Bamberg, Germany, crowded into a tiny room full of drunken locals. German rauchbier was far, far more alcohol-laden than this (a mere 6.5% abv) but that’s no matter; for a fun dive into a really wild and unique type of beer, give this one a spin: Intense wood smoke — somehow it comes across as evergreen smoke, not sure why — dominates, but underneath you’ll find chocolate malt notes, cocoa nibs, crumbly charcoal, and modest bitterness to help break up the finish. There’s a picture of caribou at sunset on the label of Alaskan Smoked Porter — but if you look away while sipping this beer, you can still see them. 6.5% abv. A- / $10 (22 oz. bottle)