Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Syndicate 58/6 Blended Scotch Whisky

syndicate 58-6

If nothing else, Syndicate 58/6 is the most uniquely named whisky you’ll drink all year. What’s it all about? Syndicate, so the story goes, began as a blend of malt and grain whiskies discovered in 1958. Six guys got together to make a whisky out of these barrels, and they named it after themselves (the “syndicate” and the 6) and the year of discovery.

OK, so let’s jump ahead to 2014. The Syndicate 58/6 that’s just now hitting the market obviously has little to do with that 1958 discovery… or has it? This blend of 18 single malt whiskies and 4 single grain whiskies has been being kept up over the years in a solera system (it’s unclear how long things were dormant, but they’re back up and running now), with new whiskies added in and blended with the older stock. Today’s Syndicate 58/6, so they say, actually still contains small quantities of the original 1958 blend! The final blend is matured for up to 2 years in 4 year old Oloroso sherry casks before bottling.

Whew!

OK, so let’s attack this animal.

The nose is instantly burly and rich. I’d peg it as a single malt over a blend — you just don’t see this much complexity and punch in a typical blend. Here you get roasted grains, cinnamon oatmeal, orange peel, and light smokiness — just enough intrigue to lead you into the spirit proper. The body is instantly engaging. Just the right combination of malty cereal, apple pie, sweet nougat, honey, rich sherry, butterscotch, and just a wisp of smoke on the back end. Gentle but full of depth and intrigue, this is one little whisky that’s tough to put down.

Never mind the kooky backstory and nutty name. Give the Syndicate a spin.

86 proof.

A / $150 / syndicate58-6.com

Review: Hudson Baby Bourbon and Four Grain Bourbon

4grain-bourbon

Tuthilltown Spirits, based in Gardiner, New York, has been on the forefront of craft distilling since its launch in 2005. Its Hudson line of craft whiskeys remains one of the most iconic exemplars of what can be done with a careful hand and a lot of ambition, and I’ve interviewed distiller and all-around nice guy Gable Erenzo on several occasions over the years  to talk about his approach to production and, particularly, aging. (Erenzo is a pioneer in the use of small barrels in craft whiskey aging; Hudson whiskeys are aged in a variety of casks ranging from 2 to 14 gallons in size — and Erenzo will often play loud music in the warehouse to get the bass shaking the whiskey in and out of the pores of the wood.)

Today, Tuthilltown markets four whiskeys in its permanent lineup, plus a variety of seasonal releases. Here we look at two of them, including Hudson Four Grain Bourbon and Hudson Baby Bourbon, the first bourbon distilled in New York.

Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey – 100% New York corn, double distilled and aged less than four years in small oak barrels. Unfiltered. This is a whiskey that has always worn its grain on its sleeve, and this bottling is no different. Pure popcorn up front — particularly on the bristly, rustic nose — finally gives way to something sweet after you give this whiskey some air, and some time. With ample patience, you’ll find notes of sweet cherry juice, butterscotch, menthol, and some baking spices. The back end is tough and astringent, bringing back that gritty popcorn character and proving it’s made in a frontier style in every sense of the word. All in all it is not without its charms, but it does require a certain mindset to really get into. Reviewed Year 14, Batch 4. 92 proof. B / $40 (375ml)

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a mash of corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley, double distilled and aged under four years. This is a gentler whiskey than the Baby Bourbon — as it should be, due to the addition of those other grains beyond straight corn. The nose is lightly minty, and adds notes of chocolate to a slightly corny base. The body is quite pretty, with a buttery and mouth-filling richness to it, offering notes of creme brulee, intense vanilla, some dried tobacco, and fresh-cut timber. On the finish, touches of popcorn re-emerge to remind you that, four grains or no, you’re still drinking bourbon, and a good one at that. Reviewed Year 11, Batch 24. 92 proof. A- / $42 (375ml)

tuthilltown.com

Review: Craigellachie 13 Years Old, 17 Years Old, 19 Years Old, and 23 Years Old

Craigellachie-23

These expressions from Speyside’s Craigellachie (pronounced CRAY-guh-lackey) Distillery have the same provenance as the three Aultmore whiskies we recently reviewed. Now part of the Dewar’s portfolio — which makes heavy use of Craigellachie in its blends — single malts from these stills are finally coming, and in quite a range of ages. Today we look at a quartet of whiskies: 13, 17, 19, and 23 years old. All are bottled at 92 proof.

Craigellachie 13 Years Old – Youthful on the nose, with strong granary notes backed by a bit of spice. The body pushes past the cereal character and offers lively citrus and vanilla, cloves, pungent honeysuckle, and melon notes. It may be loaded with flavor, but the overall presentation is still quite rustic, particularly on the somewhat astringent finish. B / $45

Craigellachie 17 Years Old – Settling down nicely, and at 17 years old, Craigellachie takes on a huge nutty character, both on the grain-scented nose and particularly on the deep and rounded palate. There’s more of that honeysuckle, plus well-oiled leather, maple syrup, and wisps of salty sea spray. A definitive fireside dram. B+ / $NA

Craigellachie 19 Years Old – Here we see Craigellachie building some austerity, with a nose that recalls Madeira. The body still holds on to its malty cereal core before delving into butterscotch and honey, and just a touch of the seaweed/iodine you find in the 17. B+ / $NA

Craigellachie 23 Years Old – For its final performance, this 23 year old bottling sees those seaside notes, just hinted at in the 17 and 19, taking more of a starring role. Big iodine notes hit the palate right from the start, giving this whisky a bit of an Islay feel. Ultimately, the fruit elements — gentle citrus and pear — are hidden behind this seawall, making for some interesting, but somewhat frustrating, exploration. B+ / $300

lastgreatmalts.com

Review: 2011 Sanford Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills

Sanford Pinot Noir

The nose of this Santa Rita-originated Pinot Noir offers tantalizing black cherry and raspberry notes, plus hints of black pepper, but the body is heavily extracted to the point where it starts to get a bit pruny. Notes of green olive, currant jelly, and brewed tea. Fun at the start, it ultimately takes things too far out of bounds.

B / $44 / sanfordwinery.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2014) and Chasin’ Freshies (2014)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHey, it’s new editions of Hop Trip and Chasin’ Freshies — limited edition IPA seasonals from our friends at Deschutes. Here we go with reviews!

Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2014) – A hotter (and more full-bodied) beer than last year’s edition, this pale ale starts off piney but then reveals some chocolate and almond notes, adding an interesting counterpoint to the typical citrus/evergreen character. Quite enjoyable, with a curious touch of cardamom on the finish. 5.9% abv. A- / $9 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Chasin’ Freshies Fresh Hop IPA (2014) – This year’s release features Mosaic hops, an “It Hop” if there is such a thing, which gives this seasonal IPA a slight nutty edge to the usual, hoppy pine tree character. Resinous but balanced with notes of grapefruit, cinnamon, and gingerbread, this beer starts out gentle then builds to a bitter, crashing finish. Lots to like here if you’re an IPA nut. 7.4% abv. A / $6 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Preview: Cocktail & Sons Cocktail Syrups

cocktail-sons-bottles

You can’t buy Cocktail & Sons spirits — yet — because the company hasn’t launched officially. As I write this, it’s about $8,000 of the way into a $10,000 Kickstarter campaign, so if you want to get these syrups for yourself, you should kick a few bucks into the startup.

We tasted the complete lineup from the fledgling company — but as these are not the finalized versions of the products, we aren’t officially grading them. However, I can say, unilaterally, that all four are wholly worthwhile and clearly made with cocktailing knowhow. (Not into drinking? Drop a tablespoon into a glass with ice and soda and you’ve got a stellar non-alcoholic beverage.)

Cocktail & Sons Spiced Demerara – Demerara syrup spiced with peppercorns and baking spices. A beautiful brown sugar syrup at its heart, it’s got a distinct gingerbread flavor to it, with a just the lightest touch of pepper on the back. I think it could use a little more of that peppery kick, but the baking spice character is spot on and really elevates standard sugar syrup.

Cocktail & Sons Oleo Saccharum – An unsexy name for a classic citrus-based syrup that got its start 150 or so years ago. C&S’s version adds lemongrass and ginger to the citrus. Brisk lemon/lime notes attack the palate right at the start, then that aggressive sweetness hits you. The citrus doesn’t quite hang in there for the long haul, letting the saccharum pick up the slack. I get hints of anise on the back end.

Cocktail & Sons Honeysuckle & Peppercorn – Floral and spice elements intermingle in this exotic concoction. That dusty honey character that always rides along with honeysuckle is unmistakable here, with a kind of nutmeg character that comes along after. Again, very light pepper notes on the finish, but it’s just a bit more than a nod in that direction than anything palate-busting.

Cocktail & Sons Mint & Lemon Verbena – Get your instant mint julep or mojito, right here. Nothing complicated about this one, just a slight touch of herbal character that nudges things closer to menthol than mint. Don’t worry, your Bourbon won’t mind.

Review: Bluecoat Barrel Finished Gin

Bluecoat has become a beloved gin of the New American school, and now the brand is taking things a step further by launching a barrel-finished expression.

Essentially this is standard Bluecoat that is aged — for an unstated length of time — in new American oak barrels. This gives the gin a lively bronzed yellow color, something akin to a reposado tequila.

On the nose, the juniper is restrained, relegated to the background while notes of cedar wood, butterscotch, and honeysuckle take over. There’s also a sharp, acidic edge to the aroma, something that’s tough to identify but which I can best describe as a lingering floral character that’s mingled with crushed red berries. The body is more juniper-forward than all that would imply, but there’s a lot more going on here as well than simple botanical notes and wood. On the palate you get a rush of evergreen that is chased by a wild collection of notes that include forest floor, orange peel, cream soda, and some hospital character. There’s a whole lot going on, but finding a balance in all of this is elusive to the point where the spirit ultimately becomes confusing.

94 proof. Available February 2015.

B / $TBD / bluecoatgin.com

Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Ale

1776 Ale PhotoGeorgetown Trading is the company behind John L. Sullivan Irish whiskey and James E. Pepper “1776” whiskey — and now the company has decided to get into barrel-aged beers, too. Proprietor Amir Peay explains:

We had been selling our whiskey barrels to some great brewers and always loved the beer they had been making, and wanted to do some type of collaboration but nobody was interested – so I found a contract brewer and we developed our own recipe and aged it in freshly dumped barrels from our James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye. We wanted to try something a bit different so instead of a porter or stout we went with an imperial brown ale. And the really great thing about this beer is that we have complete control over the supply / age / type of whiskey barrels we use because we have large stocks of whiskey and lay down our own stocks for aging. And even better we time it so our barrels get filled with beer no less than 30 days after the whiskey has been dumped – so you really get that great Rye whiskey finish.

James E. Pepper 1776 Ale is technically a barrel-aged American brown ale in line with other barrel-aged brews of its ilk. Thick and winey, this hefty ale piles on the chocolate and coffee right from the start, alongside some notes of smoked meats, molasses, and plenty of malt. There’s a moderate whiskey influence here — it comes across mainly in vanilla, cinnamon, and gingerbread touches on the finish, hallmarks of rye whiskey (though not particularly James E. Pepper rye whiskey, which I sampled again for this review). Otherwise it’s as powerful and punchy as almost any other barrel-aged beer, long on malty syrup and all but absent on the bitter side of things. Full of flavor, but super-boozy, so tread with caution.

10.4% abv.

A- / $NA (22 oz. bottles) / jamesepepper.com

Review: Virgil Kaine Ginger Infused Bourbon

Virgil_Kaine[1]

Ginger and bourbon go together so well that bourbon and ginger ale is a classic, standard, two-ingredient cocktail. Why not put them together in one bottle, then? Named after a supposed bootlegger from South Carolina, where this spirit also hails form, Virgil Kaine is made from a (sourced) “young” bourbon composed from a mash of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. It is infused with Yellow Hawaiian ginger, then bottled without chill-filtering.

Both bourbon-driven vanilla/oak character and fresh ginger character are evident on the nose, right from the start. Don’t go expecting either a flood of spicy ginger or a big bourbon character. Mild all around, it’s almost inconsequentially simple from an aromatic standpoint. The body follows suit. Very clean and pleasant, it’s a refreshing and easygoing whiskey that’s touched with a light smacking of ginger root and some chocolate notes that develop later in the game. Nothing fancy — the bourbon is light bodied and mildly sweet. The ginger is restrained and pleasant, not pungent or sharp. The finish is more akin to a good ginger ale than anything else.

If the idea of ginger and bourbon (sans a watery mixer) sounds appealing to you, you can pull off this trick by putting a few drops of Barrow’s Ginger Liqueur into a glass of Jim Beam. But if that sounds like too much work for you, this handy shortcut is just fine.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 / virgilkaine.com

Review: Glenfiddich “The Original” Single Malt Whisky

2014_Glenfiddich_Tin_Bottle

In 1963 Glenfiddich launched a single malt whisky and sold it outside of Scotland, a highly unusual move considering that the whisky world at the time really only knew of blended Scotch, not single malts. While many may very well debate the claim (considering single malt whisky dates back to at least the 1400s), the distillery has put a stake in the ground as the inventor of the modern single malt category as we now know it.

So, what Glenfiddich has done is recreate the 1963 “Original,” as it was called back then, for a modern audience. Assuming this is an accurate representation of the past, they were drinking pretty impressively back in ’63. Much like the Shackleton recreations, Glenfiddich Original — created in keeping with an authentic recipe from the era and aged in sherry butts — offers a gentler experience with the focus more squarely on the grain.

The Original starts with aromas of nicely roasted malt, rounded out by modest, restrained sherry notes. The nose goes on to offer almond and dried apple plus gentle coal fire notes driven by the wood.  The body is rounded but relaxed and easy, offering notes of coconut, dried banana, light citrus, and fresh hay on the finish. It’s not overwhelmingly complex, but it doesn’t try to be. Instead it’s a lightly sweet, delightfully drinkable whisky that is just as welcome today as it must have been 50 years ago.

80 proof.

A- / $100 / glenfiddich.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Lost Spirits Colonial American Inspired Rum

colonial bottle shot

Monterey, Calif.-based mad scientist Bryan Davis is back at work with a new rum called Colonial American Inspired.

Ultra-high in alcohol, it’s an iteration on the distillery’s Navy Style Rum that came out at the beginning of the year. Colonial American uses the same white rum as a base; the changes involve some production tweaks in the aging process that are highly technical and way over my head (distiller Bryan Davis says he has a white paper on the subject if you are so inclined to read it).

The overall impact of the spirit is much different. Navy Style is intensely drying and focused firmly on its wood, smoke, licorice, and wood tannin. In Colonial American, the fruit is still sucked out of the spirit, but here you get a kind of barbecue smoke on the nose, laced with fresh ground coffee beans and chocolate syrup. The body plays up dried fruits — figs and berries — more coffee, and a gentle smokiness on the finish. Water is your friend here, boosting the sweetness of the spirit while still retaining its natural power. The finish is long and complex, fading from dense sweetness to gentle smoke over quite some time lingering on the palate.

At 6% lower abv, Colonial has nowhere near the punch of Navy Style, and that’s probably for the best. Lost Spirits’ 136 proof rum was manageable, but just barely. With Colonial Inspired, the spirit is more playful but just as unique and exotic. If this sounds like it’s up your alley, best to grab a bottle extremely quickly, as this is a very limited edition. (Davis promises new rums based on Colonial in 2015, though, so stay tuned.)

240 bottles made. Exclusive to Bounty Hunter. 124 proof.

A / $100 / bountyhunterwine.com

Review: Starr Hill Sabbath Black India Pale Ale

Starr Hill Sabbath Black IPACross a chocolaty stout with a fresh IPA and you might get something akin to this, an odd but quite drinkable ale that comes across like a hybrid of two classic styles. Malty up front, the beer’s chocolate and coffee notes go toe to toe with some piney, lightly citrus-dusted hops, but in the end it’s the burlier, dessert-like chocolate malt that wins the day. The beer starts to pull its disparate components together in time for the finish, which is creamy and chewy, but just bitter enough to keep everything in check. Hell’s bells!

7.2% abv.

B+ / $NA (22oz. bottle) / starrhill.com

Update: Clyde May’s Whiskey Makes Some Changes

clyde may

It hasn’t quite been two years since we reviewed Clyde May’s Conecuh Ridge Whiskey, but big things are afoot at this operation, which is rapidly picking up steam and notoriety.

A rebranding and radically updated design is the major news. “Conecuh Ridge” has been shrunken down on the label and in fact is no longer part of the official name (probably because the region could be anywhere in the minds of most drinkers). The label has also been completely redesigned, wisely jettisoning the black-and-gold silhouette landscape motif which was straight out of the 1970s for a more post-modern typographic design that etches tasting notes (legible, this time) right on the glass.

The recipe hasn’t changed — the company new notes that it is a blend of 5 and 6 year old bourbon mash finished in the Alabama Style, which is the natural infusion of apple and spice such as cinnamon (which is why it isn’t called a “Bourbon”) — and a side by side tasting of old and new bottles confirms that nothing is different. Lots of apples and butterscotch, with toasted coconut on the finish — but a much cleaner look.

Still 85 proof.

B+ / $30 / clydemays.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting Report: 6 Spanish Garnacha Wines

Some say Garnacha, the Spanish inflection of Grenache, is the next “It Wine.” (It doesn’t hurt that most Garnachas are extremely inexpensive.) Is it so? We tasted six Garnachas (one of which is a Garnacha/Syrah blend), from 2009, 2012, and 2013 vintages, to see where this varietal is headed.

2009 Bodegas y Vinedos del Jalon Alto Las Pizarras Garnacha Vinas Viejas – Engaging, exotic, almost perfumed on the nose. Notes of violets and raspberry mingle with hints of black tea and coffee to create a surprisingly rousing and rounded whole. The finish heads toward more of a candied violet character, but there’s plenty of tannin here to keep things out of jam territory. A / $9

2009 Castillo de Maluenda Punto y Seguido Garnacha Vinas Viejas – The embarrassingly simple label wouldn’t cue you in to how impressive the wine in this bottle is, a showy, fruit-forward wine that simultaneously offers depth and balance. Notes of tea leaf, cola, and leather are layered atop blackberry and cherry forming a core that drinks with lushness but which features muted, well-smothered tannins. The finish is complex, echoing everything that’s come before with a fresh denouement. A / $15

2009 Vinas del Vero Secastilla Somontano - A little pruny and overcooked, almost stewed. Very dense fruit competes with balsamic notes and runs up against a finish that offers coffee bean and dense, oily leather notes. C- / $25

2012 Castillo de Monseran Carinena Garnacha – Very fruity, almost like a Gamay-based wine. Thick strawberry jam leads to a finish that’s almost sickly sweet and unbalanced. C- / $8

2012 Pagos del Moncayo Garnacha – A very easy-drinking garnacha, offering a refreshing mix of strawberry and currant notes, backed with light chocolate, some tea leaf, and gentle tannins. Though not entirely complex, it’s lovely from start to finish, and ready to go immediately. A- / $12

2013 Bodegas Paniza Agoston Garnacha & Syrah – A blend, as the name suggests, with a surprising amount of fruit from the start — it almost comes across as candied berries with a dusting of chocolate sprinkles. More herbal notes take hold as the wine develops on the palate — think thyme and rosemary on a Sunday roast — but that youthful spirit and dense fruit maintains the focus through to the finish. B+ / $8

Review: Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao and Creme de Menthe

menthe

Quick, when’s the last time you had a Grasshopper? Pink Squirrel? Brandy Alexander?

While some things never come back into vogue, for classics like these, it seems inevitable that hipsters will once again be guzzling these things by the gallon — and probably in hollowed-out coconuts and pineapples.

Creme de Cacao and Creme de Menthe are typically purchased — if they’re purchased at all — in the cheapest form available. But Petaluma, Calif.-based Tempus Fugit Spirits is dead-set on elevating the category with this pair of artisan liqueurs, recreated from well-researched historical recipes and high-end, natural ingredients (no oils or essences… or, yech, chemical flavorings here).

Thoughts follow.

Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao – Crafted from distilled raw cocoa, then flavored with additional cocoa and whole vanilla beans. A shade of light brown in color, the nose offers rich cocoa powder character, touched with the essence of barbecue spices — and other spice rack staples, including rosemary and thyme. Dark chocolate notes win out on the palate, as a dessert-friendly amalgam of cinnamon and vanilla wash over the body. By taking the focus off of pure sugar and keeping it locked in the baking cabinet and the chocolate bar, this creme de cacao is an easy winner in a maligned category. 48 proof. A / $31

Tempus Fugit Creme de Menthe - An even more maligned category, demolished by the downfall of peppermint schnapps. But Tempus Fugit is undaunted. This liqueur distilled from winter wheat, then flavored with real peppermint and spearmint, plus added botanicals (in keeping with historical recipes). The result is both traditionally minty and surprisingly piney on the nose, leading into gentle peppermint candy notes with touches of vanilla extract and citrus peel emerging late in the game. An excellent digestif, but a bit syrupy for continued sipping. 56 proof. A- / $31

tempusfugitspirits.com

Review: Victorious B.I.G. Beef Jerky and Punch Drunk Hot Sauce

victorious BIG jerkyMore and more consumer products are using beer and spirits in their creation, including these two artisan offerings, both of which rely on Victory Brewing’s Storm King Imperial Stout in their ingredient list. Some thoughts on eating your beer instead of simply drinking it follow.

Victorious B.I.G. Beef Jerky is an artisanal, all natural jerky made with Victory Storm King Imperial Stout. This is amazing stuff, tender and peppery and full of flavor… but nothing I could peg as any type of beer, much less an Imperial Stout. That’s not a slight — maybe the stout does its job behind the scenes, tenderizing and flavor-boosting the meat without leaving behind a specifically stouty character? Or maybe it’s just blown away by the natural flavor of the meat. I don’t much mind. Either way, it’s really delicious stuff. A / $8 ( 2 oz.)

Punch Drunk Hot Sauce – I liked this hot sauce, which marries ghost peppers with Storm King Stout and raw cacao, considerably less. Meant to give the impression of a mega-fiery mole sauce, the chocolate isn’t pumped up enough to offset the searing heat. Instead, the chocolate appears briefly at the start, but the heat promptly overwhelms things completely and, particularly, leaves no room for any sort of stout character. I’d love to see this in either a milder version, where the chocolate can shine more clearly, or in a version that just omits the sweet stuff altogether and goes straight for the heat. B- / $6 (5 oz.)

victorybeer.com

Review: 2011 La Jota Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon bottle shotIt’s not every day we get a bona fide cult wine here at Drinkhacker HQ, but La Jota is the kind of thing that sells for well into the hundreds of dollars on restaurant wine lists and shows up on auction sell sheets with equal probability. Today we look at the 2011 Cab from this storied Howell Mountain operation.

Initially quite pungent with tarry and dense notes of fresh leather and blackberry jam, decant or give this at least an hour in glass before truly exploring. After time with air, the 2011 La Jota’s charms really start to reveal themselves. That includes notes of lush blackberry fruit, black tea, cocoa nibs, cigar box, and a touch of Sunday evening fireplace smoke that wisps along on the finish. This is a wine with amazing depth and, ultimately, a spot-on balance between its fruit-driven core and its savory finish. Well done.

A / $70 / lajotavineyardco.com

La Jota's 1900 vintage label.

La Jota’s 1900 vintage label.

Review: Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Whisky

BowmoreSmallBatch BtlCart - med

This latest expression from Islay’s Bowmore is simply called Small Batch, a No Age Statement expression matured in first fill and second fill bourbon casks. No finishing barrel. It now joins the Bowmore family as a full-time member of the lineup.

It’s at first a classically styled, if not entirely remarkable, Islay bottling, offering smoky peat on the nose, plus a sweeter-than-usual edge that takes it to the realm of barbecued meats. That sweetness carries over to the body, where a sugary rush of vanilla pudding hits the palate first. I get touches of sweetened coconut and some orange juice as the finish builds, at which point a quite modest smoky peat character starts to take hold again. That smoke-meets-salt air character is just barely evident as the finish fades, the Islay core bookending the experience as gently as possible.

Bowmore Small Batch is a nice beginner’s introduction to Islay and a capable budget dram, but it’s nothing that fans of the island’s particular style are likely to feel the need to seek out.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / bowmore.com

Review: Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1870 Original Batch Bourbon

OF_Craft_rev_051614

Rest assured, Old Forester 1870 Original Batch Bourbon was not made in 1870. Rather, this is a whiskey that is the first release in what Old Forester is calling its new Whiskey Row Series. “This unique series highlights our bourbon’s significant milestones and production innovations with each release.  From the first batched bourbon to a post-prohibition era style bourbon, the series will allow consumers to sip Old Forester as it was enjoyed in the late 1800s through the mid-1920s,” says the company.

And so we start here, an attempt to recreate the tone of 1870, when OldFo became, they say, the first “batched bourbon” — made at three different distilleries and blended together later. Attempts have been made to keep things legit:

To emulate Brown’s pioneering 1870 batching process, the 1870 Original Batch bourbon is comprised of barrels selected from three different warehouses with a different day of production as well as a different entry proof and maturation period. The expressions will be batched together to create this 90-proof product which represents the innovative technique developed by Brown which has become an integral part of the bourbon industry.

And so, let’s see how this first batch pans out…

Big notes of caramel apple attack the nose right from the start. Fruity notes carry well into the body, until some leathery, tobacco notes finally emerge as the palate starts to round out. The finish offers tons of grip and tannin, but it’s complemented by a slug of baking spices — cinnamon and ginger, mainly — giving it an almost candylike character on the back end. It’s an almost simple whiskey, though it’s so loaded with that candy apple character that it’s hard not to like.

90 proof.

A- / $45 / oldforester.com

Tasting the 2012 Vintage Cabernets of Hourglass Vineyard

Deja vu? No. We just wrapped a tasting session with Hourglass a few months ago. Now proprietor Jeff Smith is back with the full lineup of his winery’s 2012 vintage Cabernets, including its two cult-status estate bottlings, Blueline Estate and Hourglass Estate. As we noted previously, 2012 is the winery’s first vintage with Tony Biagi (ex of CADE and Plumpjack) as full-time winemaker. (Bob Foley was the prior winemaker here.)

The winery’s trademark Cabernets weren’t ready for tasting in our prior meeting. But now they are — including a first look at HGIII, Hourglass’s new second label wine that’s composed of “odds and ends” from around the winery.

2012 Hourglass HGIII Red Wine – A non-estate blend of merlot, cab, and malbec. Initially quite dusty and restrained, some time in the glass helps elevate the subject matter. Lightly peppery on the nose, HGIII reveals notes of chocolate, cedar chest, and dense blackberry. The body is chewy, offering a blend of jam and chocolate sauce, finishing with some lightly astringent tobacco leaf character. Fine for a second label, but nothing shocking. (Aka HG III.) B+ / $50

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – 91% cabernet, 9% petit verdot from the Blueline Estate Vineyard. Dark as night. The nose is exotic and instantly different than your typical cab, offering intense violets and baking spice. There’s plenty of this to go around on the blueberry-focused palate, with a flinty character emerging late on the finish. Soothing and lush without becoming overly fruited, it also offers nice mineral notes as a companion. A / $125

2012 Hourglass Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – 100% cab from the Hourglass Estate Vineyard, this is a classic, opulent, and beautiful wine that somehow manages to avoid the huge, fruit bombiness of the typical Napa cabernet. Light mint chocolate notes on the nose lead you to a lush body that’s ripe with blackberry, juicy currants, and stone fruit. More mint, fresh tobacco leaf, and lightly sweet vanilla emerge on the adroitly balanced and almost elegant finish, giving this a great complexity but also an easy, gorgeous drinkability. Collectors looking for a massive tannin structure may balk, but those who want to drink beautiful cabs today need look no further. A+ / $165

hourglasswines.com