Review: Q Soda, Q Ginger Beer, and Q Grapefruit

q grapefruitQ Drinks is well known for its tonic, but like Fever-Tree, the company makes a wide range of cocktail mixers, all high-end products made with legitimate ingredients and botanicals. (You’ll notice the solids settling out in the ginger and grapefruit products, so be sure to gently mix them up a bit before serving.)

Thoughts on three of Q’s mixers follow.

Q Soda – A classic club soda, heavy on the fizz, with no minerality to speak of, or any other overtones. Drinks like a solid sparkling water, with large, gently foamy bubbles rather than tiny, spicy ones. A fine product on all fronts — and enjoyable on its own. A-

Q Ginger Beer – Nicely sweet up front, then this ginger beer builds to a strong, authentic ginger bite with significant, growing heat. There’s a good balance between the two components, making this an easy go-to for Dark & Stormy cocktails and other ginger-fueled libations. A-

Q Grapefruit – Very mild, with a minimal citrus bite to it. Squirt is a much bolder grapefruit soda than this, which comes across like club soda with a modest squeeze of grapefruit in it. As such, it can’t hold its own in a cocktail and quickly finds itself overpowered. C+

each $7 per 4-pack of 8 oz. bottles / qdrinks.com

Review: Pura Vida Silver Tequila

pura vida silver

This 100% agave tequila is not to be confused with Vida or Dulce Vida, Pura Vida is a small brand with a focus on flavored tequilas. The company also makes straight tequila, including this unaged blanco. Pura Vida is in the process of moving to its own distillery; this sample is still produced at NOM 1414.

Moderate, peppery punch kicks off the nose, with some notes of lemongrass and a clear jalapeno edge. On the palate, there’s sweetness and spice, some surprising caramel character, and a more gentle lacing of agave with the tequila’s more up-front citrus notes.

The finish is clean but still offers an ample, classic tequila character. Overall, Pura Vida doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, but it does put together a quality blanco with plenty to recommend.

80 proof.

B+ / $35 / puravidatequila.com

Review: Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon (2015)

wild turkey 101It’s been five years since I last reviewed Wild Turkey’s iconic bottling, Wild Turkey 101, and seven years since my first (early) review of the stuff.

Here in 2015, it’s time to look at one of the mainstays of the bourbon world with fresh eyes and palates, no? (And to see if the whiskey has evolved in that time. The bottle has changed, but what about what’s inside?)

Wild Turkey 101 — in its 2015 incarnation — remains restrained on the nose. Alcoholic vapor obscures a bit of what’s underneath, which is redolent of barrel char, bacon, and vanilla custard, but give this one some time if you can, as a little air helps the nose develop more fully. Wild Turkey 101’s palate is rich though boozy, loaded with butterscotch, vanilla caramel, and ample baking spice.

At this point in my career, sipping on WT 101 without water is painless and enjoyable, but a bit of H2O may not hurt in bringing out the spicy and fruity elements, which meld pepper and cloves and cinnamon with a bit of applesauce — a note I continue to pick out on the 101 — with plenty of barrel char notes that add a rustic intensity to the proceedings.

Still a fan.

101 proof.

A- / $19 / wildturkeybourbon.com

Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm Third Release

Loch-Gorm-2015

The third annual release of Kilchoman’s Loch Gorm is here. As before, Loch Gorm is matured fully in ex-Oloroso sherry butts — but this year, a larger proportion of smaller sherry hogsheads were used to mature a portion of the whisky, as opposed to larger sherry butts. That’s a small change but it should increase the sherry influence on the whisky. This edition is “marginally older” than last year’s Second Edition, coming from whiskies distilled in 2009-2010 and bottled in March 2015.

There’s nothing not to like here. The sherry influence is palpable, loading the spirit up with sweet, winey citrus notes before diving headlong into the peat. The nose is surprisingly restrained — offering some Mexican chocolate character atop the mild smoke elements — but the body plays up the peat and the sweetness at once, folding things together in well-balanced form.

This is Kilchoman at its best and a showcase of how sherry and peated whisky can do magical things together. It’s not a remarkable digression from last year’s glorious bottling, but since you won’t find that expression on the market anywhere, well, best to snap this one up instead.

92 proof.

A- / $100 / kilchomandistillery.com

Review: Appleton Estate Signature Blend, Appleton Estate Reserve Blend, and Appleton Rare Blend 12 Years Old Rum (2015)

appleton2

It’s been six years since we last reviewed Appleton‘s Jamaican-born rums, and the company has recently done some label and nomenclature updates across the line. The distillery tells us that the recipes and the juice inside (nor the Rubenesque bottle design) haven’t changed, so let’s take a fresh look at one of the icons of the rum business and see how things are shaping up in 2015.

appleton1Appleton Estate Signature Blend – Formerly Appleton V/X. A blend of 15 rums, average age 4 years old. No age statement. The entry level Appleton is a bit rustic and punchy, with some sharp medicinal character to it. Clearly designed as a mixer, this nicely golden rum offers big molasses backed by barrel char notes and some burnt marshmallow. A touch of banana on the back end. It’s got more than a bit of a weedy finish due to its significant youth, but it does give this rum some funky character that’s fun to play with in a cocktail. 80 proof. B / $18

appleton3Appleton Estate Reserve Blend – Formerly Appleton Estate Reserve. A blend of 20 rums, average age 6 years old. No age statement. Quite a bit more refined than the Signature, with its rough edges filed down a bit. The Estate Reserve Blend offers a sherried note up front, full of citrus and cloves, that winds its way slowly into bold vanilla and Christmas spice character. Deftly balanced between the sharp attack and the festive finish, it manages to keep a foot in both the rustic and refined worlds. Great on its own or in cocktails. 80 proof. A- / $26

Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Years Old – Replaces Appleton Extra 12 Years Old. The youngest of Appleton’s age statement rums, this one (obviously) 12 years old. No blending information offered. This is top notch rum here, and easily the best of the bunch. Refined tropical notes — banana, coconut, brown sugar, vanilla-fueled barrel char — it’s all there, right on the nose. The body takes on a fruitier character, with chocolate lacing and more of a flame-kissed/charred fruit note, giving the rum a distinctly sweet, dessert-friendly character, yet it offers a little extra oomph thanks to the slightly higher proof. This one’s hard to put down — and so beautiful it’s a perfect candidate for straight sipping. 86 proof. A / $32

appletonestate.com

Review: Scales Sweet & Sour Mix and Margarita Mix

scales

We reviewed the Bloody Mary mix from Scales a few months ago. Today we are taking a belated look at its no carb/no sugar sweet cocktail mixers, including a Sweet & Sour and a Margarita mix.

Both are minimalist products flavored with sucralose. At 5 calories, it’s hard to come up with a less fattening way to sip a tall cocktail.

Some thoughts follow.

Scales Sweet & Sour Mix – Appropriately yellow-green, lemon-lime on the nose. The body’s quite tart, not overly sweetened, with a clear bite of raw citric acid (which is the second ingredient on the list). This actually helps to tame that sucralose aftertaste a bit, making this a surprisingly palatable mixer in the ultra-low-cal space. B

Scales Margarita Mix – Paler in color, slightly sweeter smelling. There’s more of a chalky texture here and the whole thing is quite a bit sweeter on the palate. It doesn’t offer clear lime notes like you’d want in a margarita mix, but it doesn’t overly offend. B-

both $5 per 32 oz. bottle / scalescocktails.com

Review: Reilly’s Mother’s Milk and Reilly’s Ginger Whiskey

reillysWhat with the label featuring young ruffian sporting an eyepatch emblazoned with a shamrock — plus the squared off, Bushmills-like bottle — you can be forgiven for assuming Reilly’s is a new Irish whiskey brand. Not so. It’s a blended American whiskey, albeit one with “Irish roots.”

The avowed goal of Butte, Montana-based Reilly’s was to create an easy-sipping, no-burn spirit, and that has clearly been achieved here. There’s not a lot of production information to go around, though the back label claims the spirit has “Bourbon credentials.” The whiskey starts from a base made of 75% corn, 21% rye and 4% malted barley, then unaged whiskey is blended into the mix. There’s no information on the type of grain spirit used here, or how much grain spirit has been added. Either way, you’ll soon find it doesn’t taste a lot like either bourbon or most Irish whiskeys.

Two expressions are available, starting with…

Reilly’s Mother’s Milk Blended American Whiskey – This is the straight whiskey, unflavored (not even with milk). The name is an homage to the milk bottle design, a common Prohibition gimmick to sneak whiskey around. They definitely got the “easy drinking” part right. Super sweet and supple, it goes down with no bite at all, which is precisely the idea. The nose offers maple syrup, sweet butter cookies, gooey ginger cake, and massive vanilla candy notes. On the palate, there’s a touch of popcorn but it’s mixed up in a melange of Cracker Jack, more vanilla candy and cookie character, and lots more of that maple syrup. The finish isn’t overwhelmingly sugary, but it still has plenty of residual sweetness. Blended whiskey is hardly my go-to beverage, but this is at least a step up from Seagram’s 7. 80 proof. B- / $25

Reilly’s Ginger Rock & Rye – This is Mother’s Milk flavored with added sugar and ginger, and dropped down in alcohol. Significant ginger on the nose here, along with mint and brown sugar. On the palate, there’s surprising heat, though it comes across with more of the burn of cayenne than the zip of fresh ginger. As the heat fades, the caramel and maple emerge again, but not as stridently as in Mother’s Milk. Chalk that up to that burn, which can linger quite considerably. Consider as a racier, gingery alternative to Fireball. 66 proof. B- / $25

reillyswhiskey.com

Review: Teeling Whiskey Company Single Cask, Rum Barrel Aged, 16 Years Old

teeling single cask

Our friends at Dublin’s Teeling Whiskey Company already make a single malt release, but now they’re taking things a step further with a series of Single Cask releases of their single malt stock.

Some seven casks of Irish single malt — each release under 200 or so bottles — are being released, including whiskey aged and/or finished for a varying amount of time in white burgundy barrels, white port pipes, and other exotic woods. You’ll need to check the hand-written find print to see which one you’re getting, so pay close attention. All are bottled at cask strength. This one’s a 16 year old barrel, matured fully in rum casks. Distilled March 1999 and bottled June 2015, making it a 16 year old.

It’s hot stuff, a bit scorching on the throat at first owing to the hefty alcohol level — particularly hot for Irish. Very malty up front (on the nose and the palate), the earthy grain notes are a big surprise considering how long this has spent maturing. Lots of lumberyard on the nose, too — and it’s a bit on the sweaty side.

Again, the body is blazing hot and can stand up to a healthy amount of water to bring it down to a more workable alcohol level. I had it watered down to a very pale gold before I could really analyze the nuances of this whiskey. Grain remains the focus; toasty barley notes with a back-end of golden syrup, cloves, and some raisin notes. Time is a friend of the Single Cask, which helps some of the more rugged elements mellow. What I don’t really get is much of a rum influence. This is the essence of pure, unadulterated single malt through and through.

119.4 proof.

B+ / $130 / teelingwhiskey.com

Review: 3 White Wines from Kim Crawford, 2014 Vintage

kim crawfordThree new whites from New Zealand’s Kim Crawford — each made from one of three different varietals. On with the show…

2014 Kim Crawford Pinot Gris Marlborough – Fruit-forward, with both bright tropical and crisp apple notes. There’s a bit of nougaty sweetness that creeps in and grows in power as the body develops. That sugar, unfortunately, lingers on the tongue for a bit too long, cutting the much-needed acidity down to almost nothing. B / $16

2014 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Crisp with lots of tropical character, classic New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Again that sweet nougat character emerges, though here it is less overbearing and better integrated into the wine. Pineapple notes and modest acidity finish things up. B / $11

2014 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay East Coast New Zealand – The best wine in the bunch here, with everything restrained appropriately, from tropical fruit to sugar. Rather, touches of lemon, apple, and pear give this wine approachability both on its own and with food. Simple, but not without a level of refinement. A- / $14

kimcrawfordwines.com

Review: Gordon Biersch SommerBrau and Zwickel Pils

gb-zwickel-pils-limitedTwo new summery brews from our friends at Gordon Biersch — one ready to go in six-pack form, the other an oversized bottle designed for sipping and sharing.

Gordon Biersch SommerBrau – A delightfully refreshing Kolsch (made with 80% malted barley and 20% malted wheat), this German-style beers balances its malty beginnings with a touch of citrus — almost reminiscent of a witbier. Soothing, bread-heavy notes dominate the finish, but the overall impact is light and, indeed, summery. 4.6% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Gordon Biersch Zwickel Pils – This one’s a limited edition, bottom-fermented unfiltered pilsner “made by tapping directly into an aging tank of pilsner via the Zwickel — German for ‘sample valve.'” Previously only available at the GB brewery, it’s a fresh and fizzy brew that’s part of the Uberbier Series at Gordon Biersch. Pilsner fans will love this bottling, which seems extra-carbonated and celebratory in the way Champagne does. The character otherwise runs to simple grains, with gentle barley notes, easygoing bitterness, and just a touch of herbal character to give it a hint of spice. Note: It will continue to age and mellow out in the bottle. 5% abv. A- / $7 (750ml bottle)

gordonbiersch.com