Review: 2014 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

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New wines from Landmark — not just the chardonnay we frequently see, but also the winery’s pinot noir. Thoughts on both expressions follow.

2014 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay Sonoma County – Robust on the nose, with an initial body that offers notes of melon and citrus. Notes of buttered popcorn emerge on what fades into a somewhat thin and green finish, its moderately heavy oak treatment unable to rescue things as it fades out. B- / $25

2014 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Pinot Noir – 53% Sonoma, 39% Mendocino, 8% San Benito County. Significant crystallized deposits in this bottle. A little vanilla breaks up the relatively dense mix of cherry, currant, and fig fruitiness before giving way to a lightly sour-bitter finish. Relatively heavy for Landmark, but not unpleasantly so. B+ / $20

landmarkwine.com

Review: Usquaebach “Old-Rare” Superior Blended Flagon

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We last covered Usquaebach, a Highland producer of blended whiskies and blended malts, in late 2015. Missing from that lineup was the blender’s top-end bottling, “Old-Rare,” most easily recognized by the stoneware flagon in which it is bottled. (“Old-Rare” is in tiny print at the very top of the decanter; the rest of the writing goes on at length about the company’s 225 years of history.)

Old-Rare includes a whopping 41 single malt Scotch whiskies (mostly Highlands, it seems) each up to 20 years old, plus 15% grain whisky in the mix. Let’s pull the cork from this olde tyme bottle and see how it fairs.

The nose is a bit hot, and rough around the edges with more of a granary character than you’d expect, which dulls the notes of leather, caramel, and some citrus peel. Subtle smokiness emerges as the spirit opens up in the glass. Things quickly coalesce on the palate, which layers in coffee and cocoa notes, juicy orange, and malt balls. The finish is lively and youthful, and even evokes a bit of lime zest to give it a bit of zip when you least expect it. After a lackluster start, it proves to be solid stuff.

86 proof.

A- / $100 / usquaebach.com

Review: The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Train Collection

Single Cask Range with Box

I scratched my head, too: Why would a major producer of Scotch whisky name a series of high-end releases after a train invented in the United States? We’ve got the full story, courtesy of The Glenlivet.

The Glenlivet has been a standard-setting luxury brand for nearly 200 years, appealing to whisky connoisseurs looking for a rare expression steeped in heritage and history. The brand’s historical ties to the Pullman Company, a pioneer of first-class railroad travel, are due in large part to the business savvy Captain Bill Smith Grant, Founder George Smith’s last distilling descendant. Grant was able to persuade the Pullman Company to offer 2-ounce miniatures of The Glenlivet as one of the only Scotch whiskies available in the dining cars helping to spread the whisky’s fame across the US.

To commemorate this piece of The Glenlivet’s history, The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Train Collection are three new, special-edition Single Cask whiskies marking the first time ever the brand has released a Single Cask in this market and available exclusively in the US. The name of each bottle is inspired by the Pullman connection: Pullman Club Car, Pullman Twentieth Century Limited, and Pullman Water Level Route.

Founded on the three pillars of rarity, purity, and uniqueness, each Single Cask within the Pullman Train Collection is hand-selected by Master Distiller, Alan Winchester. Chosen for its exceptional quality and intense flavor, The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition has been transferred from cask to bottle purely, at their natural cask strength and without chill filtration, therefore locking in the original flavor and character from the cask’s influence. Only a few hundred bottles of whisky were drawn from each cask, making them a highly collectible and unique Single Malt series.

Though it might seem like a natural fit, these are not travel retail releases but will rather be released — obviously in very small amounts — to the general market in the U.S. only. As these are three single-cask releases, each expression is limited to just a few hundred bottles.

With that said, all aboard! Let’s try ’em!

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route – “The original high-speed train” connected Chicago and New York. 14 years old, matured fully in an American oak hogshead. This is a solid example of bourbon-barrel matured single malt. Heavy on the nose with caramel and spice, florals burst forth with time in the glass. On the palate, a warm and lightly grainy attack gives way graciously to a mountain of dense chocolate, chewy nougat, and a touch of candied orange peel. The finish is lengthy and full of warmth, finishing with gentle notes of caramel and vanilla. Again, it’s a textbook example of how glorious unsherried single malt can be. 111.88 proof. 321 bottles produced. A  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition 20th Century Limited – The most famous train in the world at the time, this was the train that took the aforementioned Water Route from NYC to Chicago. This whisky is also 14 years old, but aged in a refill European oak butt that was previously used for another Scotch whisky. Bright on the nose with honey and nutmeg notes, with time it evolves aromas of camphor and mint. On the palate, the unctuous body offers notes of gingerbread, marzipan, and cloves. A light smattering of sherry-like citrus peel notes emerge primarily on the finish, rounding things out with a bit of zip. Not quite as lush as the Water Route, but an easy winner in its own right. 115.46 proof. 588 bottles produced. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Club Car – Finally we get to the Club Car, essentially the bar car, where Glenlivet would have been served on the train. This is an 18 year old whisky drawn from sherry butts. By far the darkest and richest whisky in this lineup, the nose offers notes of first-fill sherry, heavy with sherry and complemented by prominent baking spices, cocoa powder, and butterscotch. The palate plays up the above, adding ample notes of apricots, peaches, toasted marshmallow, and a creeping impression of barrel char. Again this is a fantastically well-structured whisky — all of these barrels were clearly chosen for a reason — that offers complexity and nuance alike. 112.48 proof. 618 bottles produced. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

each $350 / theglenlivet.com

Review: Four Roses 2016 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon “Elliott’s Select”

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Astute readers might recall that in January 2015, Four Roses discontinued its annual Limited Edition Single Barrel releases, citing a shortage of available stock to produce it. Then beloved distiller Jim Rutledge retired and Brent Elliott got promoted to the job. Somewhere, Elliott found enough 14 year old, lower-rye OESK-recipe bourbon to revive the bottling — which this year runs 8,000 (hand-numbered) bottles in size. (That’s about double the typical size of a Four Roses LE Single Barrel release.)

The yearly Single Barrel releases only use one of the famed 10 Four Roses recipes. The last time OESK was used was in 2012, which was bottled at a somewhat younger 12 years old and at about 109 proof.

Tasting the 2016 — Elliott’s first solo release as master distiller — reveals plenty to like. It’s a much different whiskey than the 2012, which is today showcasing butterscotch, gingerbread, and loads of baking spices before heading toward a winey, very sweet chocolaty finish. In contrast, the 2016 offers aromas of marzipan, green olive, barrel char, and a little toasted coconut. The palate deftly blends sweet and spicy, notes of black pepper folding in nicely to those of a crusty fruit pie, more almonds, vanilla, and some curious notes of fig and — again — green olive. The interfplay is fun. The finish woody but easily approachable.

Altogether a very solid whiskey for Mr. Elliott. Let’s see what’s next.

As a single barrel release, proof varies; figure around 116.8 proof.

A- / $125 / fourrosesbourbon.com

Review: Iichiko Kurobin Shochu and Yuzu Liqueur

iichiko Kurobin

We last visited with two of Iichiko’s shochus in 2013. Today we look at a third variety from Iichiko, plus a liqueur made from yuzu fruit. Thoughts follow.

Iichiko Kurobin Shochu – No production information available; “Kurobin” means “black bottle.” Heavy melon notes on the nose, with a touch of sugar distinctly sake-like. Nose and palate are both very, very mild, offering basic of honeydew notes, a pinch of sea salt, and just the barest essence of citrus. The most neutral shochu I’ve encountered, this is an elegant, if uncomplex, spirit that would work well as a lower-alcohol alternative in any drink that calls for vodka. 50 proof. A- / $32

Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur – An Asian spin on triple sec, made from barley and natural fruit juice; this is essentially watered-down, flavored shochu, tinted just the faintest shade of yellow. On the nose, distinctive notes of lemongrass, lightly tropical elements, and a bit of Meyer lemon rind. The body folds in a slightly vegetal cilantro character which adds some balance to what could have been overly sweet The very low alcohol level might cause this to get lost in a complex cocktail, but give it a try in a margarita, sidecar, or similar. 16 proof. A- / $11 (375ml)

iichiko.co.jp

Review: Woodchuck June & Juice Juniper Hard Cider

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Woodchuck’s latest “Out on a Limb” cider is this true oddity — June & Juice — a juniper-based cider that takes the gin and tonic as its inspiration.

It’s a semi-sweet apple cider made by steeping fresh juniper berries, rose buds, and orange peel into the mix. The results are better than I expected, a light and refreshing cider which isn’t too sweet and which doesn’t overdo the botanical elements, either. Lightly junipery, the rose flowers make a distinct impression and give it a floral focus. With a little time in the glass, citrus makes a stronger showing. The finish lets the apple base shine — again, with just the right balance between dry and sweet.

While it’s loaded with uncharacteristic flavors, it’s one of the more worthwhile cider releases in recent months.

5.5% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

Round 2 Review: (Reformulated) LIQS Ready To Drink Cocktail Shots

liqs

Last year we saddled LIQS ready-to-drink shots — little single-serve plastic shot glasses sealed with foil — with a bunch of C grades and promptly forgot all about them. Recently the company said the product had been reformulated to use real fruit juice and was anxious to get a fresh review. A few of the products have actual names now, instead of just lists of ingredients.

So let’s oblige, and check out three of the four varieties on offer. (Note that at least one of the old LIQS, including the Cucumber Lime version, is no longer in production.)

LIQS Vodka Kamikaze – Vodka, triple sec, and lime juice. A kamikaze should be sweet, but there’s too much of it here, and the lime flavors don’t really make it through with enough citrus bite. There’s a touch of vanilla here, which comes across as a bit weird in the end. All told, it’s relatively harmless, but with a saccharine aftertaste. 45 proof. B-

LIQS Vodka Lemon Drop – Vodka, sugar, and lemon juice. Probably the best of the bunch, which is good because there’s just not much you can mess up here. The attack is a touch medicinal but moderately strong lemon notes hit along with an appropriate amount of sugar. Nothing too fancy here, but it’s good enough in a pinch. 45 proof. B

LIQS Tequila-Cinnamon-Orange – Well, this one never got a real name and is still known by its ingredients. It’s still the only non-vodka based shot in the lineup. The cinnamon is a touch strong here, and it also features a vanilla character that gives it a Creamsicle character. Easygoing despite the higher proof level, it has an overall gentler approach than the 2015 version, without the overbearing aftertaste. A vast improvement. 55 proof. B

$18 for six 1.5-oz. shots / liqsshot.com