Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Peychaud’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Cocktail Bitters

PeychaudsBarrelAged5ozXThe original Peychaud’s Bitters date back to about 1830. In New Orleans cocktailing, they’re an indispensable part of numerous drinks, including the classic Sazerac Cocktail. Now owner Sazerac (parent company of Buffalo Trace) is launching a version of Peychaud’s with a twist, aging the classic bitters in Sazerac Rye whiskey barrels for 140 days.

I tasted the new barrel-aged Peychaud’s against the classic version, side by side, to see how the duo stack up against one another.

They’re remarkably different products. Classic Peychaud’s offers complex notes of earth, charred nuts, cloves, watermelon rind, licorice root, and charred vegetables, with a distinct, semisweet rhubarb character — particularly on the nose. In contrast, the new Peychaud’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters are less complicated and initiatially, and somewhat counterintuitively, a bit sweeter. They don’t take on the charry woodiness of the wood but rather some of the vanilla and baking spices of the rye. As the bitters hit the palate, that rhubarb turns much more toward cherry fruit, with notes of gingerbread and Christmas spices on the back end.

Of course, despite all the secondary characteristics described above, both expressions are still bitters, and the finish of each is lasting and powerfully representative of the term. Both pair beautifully with whiskey but I have to say that the new whiskey-barrel aged expression lends more of an intense, fruity liveliness to a cocktail. The cherry components particularly stand out, even against the punch of bourbon or rye. No, it won’t ever replace the original, but its presence does make the cocktailer’s arsenal all the more interesting.

35% abv.

A / $17 (5 oz.) / thesazeracgiftshop.com

Review: Crown Royal Regal Apple Canadian Whisky

CR_REGAL_APPLE_BOTTLE_CMYK

Apple is the cinnamon of 2015, showing up in all kinds of spirits but, particularly, whiskey. This familiar, nostalgic flavor seems to be a big crowd-pleaser, offering tartness, sweetness, and Americana all in a single package.

Now it’s Crown Royal’s turn, with its latest expression: Regal Apple. Regal on account of the crown, I guess. The spirit is specifically flavored with natural Gala apple flavor.

The good news is that this is a better product than Crown’s prior flavored whisky, Maple Finished. The bad news is that Maple Finished was so lackluster that that isn’t saying very much.

Here, the nose is distinctly apple-fueled, but almost bitter to the nostrils to the point of astringency. Some vague vanilla and baking spice character picks up the slack, but the apple notes are more central to what’s going on here. On the tongue, it’s fruity as expected. Not just tart apple notes — more authentic here than the nose would indicate — but also hints of pineapple, some lemon, and ample vanilla notes. For a bright, shining moment, Crown Royal Regal Apple is apple pie in a glass… but it doesn’t last. The finish takes a sour, mouth-puckering turn that has some unfortunate hospital character to it, marring what is actually a fairly decent start.

The world is probably not expecting much from Crown Royal Regal Apple, but in a world soon to be overrun by apple-flavored hooch, it’s probably as good as can be expected.

70 proof.

B / $25 / crownroyal.com

Review: The Macallan Masters of Photography: Mario Testino Edition

macallan testino edition

The Macallan isn’t exactly known for doing things half-assed and on the cheap. The distillery is known for megabucks, megaold bottlings of some of the most renowned whiskies in Scotland. One of its pet projects is called Masters of Photography, in which it partners with a series of megafamous photographers and releases a limited-edition, one-off, megaexpensive whisky with each of them. Prior shutterbug partners have included Annie Leibovitz and Albert Rankin.

This is Edition #5, a partnership with Mario Testino, who’s probably best known for this picture of Princess Diana (and perhaps, now, Miley Cyrus). Testino is from Peru, so I figure he knows diddlysquat about Scotch whisky, but that’s no matter. The Macallan’s whisky pros have done the hard work for him: Selecting six casks from the archives to be bottled as the Mario Testino Edition.

There’s a big cover story here about Macallan’s “six pillars” of whiskymaking, and how the six casks chosen for this release represent each of those pillars, but I wouldn’t let any of that distract you too much. This is an amazing spirit — easily the best Macallan I’ve ever tasted, though it strays considerably from the sweeter, more syrupy house style.

There’s no age statement on this, but the deep color and powerful nose indicate this is a spirit with considerable age. While it’s drawn from a variety of styles of sherry casks, the nose pushes past the citrus to reach into a world of leather, cloves, and toasted almonds — just a bit of the essence of that glorious, well-aged sherry character. The nose is so delightful it’s hard to pull your head out of the glass.

That’d be a big mistake, because Macallan’s Mario Testino Edition is even better on the palate. Chewy raisin and fig, chocolate pudding, fresh gingerbread, and loads of baking spices get things going, as the sweet-but-spicy body builds. Here the more raisin-laden notes battle with gentle wood, some walnut, and touches of exotic incense. It just goes and goes, bursting with intensity and popping in the mouth. The finish is long, lasting, and seductive, the ultimate expression of a whisky that was plucked from the cask at just the right moment and released into the world at last… and soon, alas, never to be seen again.

But wait, there’s more! Per the distillery:

This limited edition whisky – only 1,000 have been created – is presented, along with one of the four iconic shots captured by Mario, in a beautiful, glossy black case, designed in collaboration with Mario himself.  The pièce de résistance is a secret compartment, released by pressing a button hidden under the bottle.  It contains six miniatures from the six single casks that make up the limited edition whisky.  Never before has a whisky maker released the individual casks that make up his craft.

Hell, I’d drink it even without the minis and the fancy picture.

92 proof.

A+ / $3500 / themacallan.com

Book Review: Whisk(e)y Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life

Heathe GreeneThe first time I heard the Ramones, I was barely into my teens, and was immediately captivated by their simple, straightforward sound and mutant lyrics. It was punk, and something anyone could do if they knew three guitar chords, a basic beat and cultivated enough attitude. The group’s first four albums would lead me down a tunnel into the wild and wonderful world of punk rock that would become a staple of my teenage years. It was immediate, accessible and led to spending hours in my bedroom learning chords and playing along to dubbed cassettes of endless songs on a half busted Sony Walkman.

My point is that everyone has to start somewhere, and Heather Greene’s Whiskey Distilled is the perfect first book for newcomers to acquire. Quite simply: In the last two years of reading and reviewing books about spirits, I do believe this is might be the most accessible and informative introductory guide I’ve come across.

Versatile enough to welcome everyone with easy to follow language and great anecdotes, Greene leaves no stone unturned in covering the basics. But she also takes the reader through advanced concepts such as chemistry and flavor profiles, distinctions between the various whiskies of the world, necessary hardware for cocktail construction, suggested food pairings, and so much more. She takes time to explain, rather than assume or boast about drinking the rarest whiskies in the world, and her writing style brings a warmth and inclusion often missing from books similar in scope.

This is an outstanding, essential guide for anyone getting his or her feet wet on the big whiskey wave, and is worthy of space on anyone’s bookshelf. Plus on top of all of this? Greene gets kudos from actor/woodsmith/sage Nick Offerman on the jacket sleeve. And if it’s good enough for Ron Swanson, it’s good enough for you.

A+ / $19 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Ed Hardy “Most Wanted” Spiced Rum

edhardyrumbottle

Tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy was mentored by Sailor Jerry Collins… and some claim that Hardy has flown a bit too close to the sun, imitating Sailor Jerry’s style a bit too closely. Well, the detractors will have more to talk about with Ed Hardy rum, a spiced rum that looks on the surface, well, a whole lot like the rising star Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, which was released in 2008.

Rest assured that, uncannily similar label appearance aside, Ed Hardy Spiced Rum is not a mere repackaging of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. For starters, Hardy — which does not indicate where it is made, how long it is aged, or what it is spiced with — is bottled at 70 proof vs. Jerry’s 92. That alone distinguishes these two rums, but the flavor profile is quite different, as well.

The spice feels drawn from orange peel, cloves, and cinnamon, but it’s a bit underdone and not really racy enough to stand out against a mixer. The rum is sweet enough — not on the scale of the densely caramel-focused Sailor Jerry — but the lower alcohol level makes it come off as a little watery on the finish.

Ed Hardy does have one thing on its side, though, and it’s that the low alcohol level means it’s relatively easy to sip on straight. Not that you’re likely to ever encounter this outside of a conjoining with a healthy slug of Coke and, probably, a red Solo cup, but in case you want the option…

70 proof.

B / $16 / edhardyrum.com

Book Review: Sake Confidential

sake confidentialTo say that sake is a poorly understood beverage in the U.S. is an understatement. Never mind understanding the various grades and styles of sake, how to drink it (hot or cold?), and what kind of food to drink it with, there’s the not-so-little matter that most imported sakes don’t have anything written in English on the label.

John Gauntner’s Sake Confidential can’t teach you Japanese, but it can give you everything you really need to know about sake in one slim tome. Just 175 spare pages in length, the book breaks sake down by topic; each chapter is a myth about sake that Gantner is prepared to debunk. Is cheap sake supposed to be drank warm and good sake cold? (Not necessarily.) Is non-junmai sake garbage? (Not necessarily.) Should you only drink sake out of one of those little ceramic cups? (Not necessarily.)

Gauntner’s world of sake is a complex and decidedly confusing place, and even in the end the writer confesses that there are no clear answers to anything in this industry. At the same time, the book works well as a primer for both novices and intermediate sake drinkers who want to know more about this unique rice product. While the book’s design — slim and tall like a pocket travel guide — makes little sense for a topic like this (and, in fact, makes it unfortunately difficult to comfortably read), Gauntner nonetheless does us all a much-needed service by digesting all of this material into one place — and inexpensively, too.

B+ / $10 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Infuse Vodka Peach and Orange Clove

infuse vodka Orange_Clove_sm

We encountered Infuse Vodkas about a year ago, reviewing four members of this unique flavored vodka lineup, each featuring solid botanicals suspended inside the bottle. Today we check out the remaining two vodkas in the lineup — though, unfortunately, they are not my overwhelming favorites of the bunch.

Again, all Infuse Vodkas are flavored not with mystery essences but with dried fruits and spices. Both are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Infuse Peach Vodka – The big slices of dried peaches look enticing, but this spirit is just way too medicinal. Suffering from much the same problem as Southern Comfort, Infuse Peach has a raw alcohol overtone to it that the peach notes only serve to enhance, not detract from. Even the peach notes are indistinct and a bit off-putting, more like a vaguely-flavored cough syrup than anything that came from the orchard. C-

Infuse Orange Clove Vodka – Gentle on the nose, almost lemonade-like, with just a hint of baking spice. The body is equally restrained, a layering of easy citrus fruit with clove and some evergreen notes, lending this vodka a quality on the palate that approaches that of many modern gins. The flavor isn’t altogether intense, and the finish is short. It’s pleasant enough as a simple mixer, but it doesn’t really push its component flavors far enough to replace either a solid, citrus-flavored vodka or a fruity gin. B

each $28 / infusevodkas.com

Review: 2012 Avignonesi Rosso di Montipulciano DOC

avignonesi rosso di montepulciano_2011This fresh Rosso di Montipulciano offers a gentle approach, offering perfumy floral notes atop simple red berries on the nose. The body dips from there into more simple cherry and raspberry character, melding acid with tannin in a balanced body, with some subtle notes of tea leaf and dried herbs. The finish is short, but pleasant and savory, fading out with some lightly jammy notes and a modest slug of wood. Nicely done at this price.

See also our review of the 2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile.

B+ / $19 / avignonesi.it

Review: 2012 Rutherford Hill Chardonnay Napa Valley

Rutherford Hill ChardonnayThis Napa Chardonnay is classically styled, with a bit of a twist. The buttery vanilla notes are relatively restrained. In their place you’ll find notes of lemon curd, clover honey, whipped cream, and light lavender that bubble up to the surface, particularly evident as the wine warms up a bit. Refreshing on the finish, but loaded with character that’s worth exploring.

A- / $26 / rutherfordhill.com

Review: Redhook Winterhook #30

redhookSeattle-based Redhook Brewery has been around for 30 years now, and its 30th expression of its seasonal Winterhook brew is now on the market. Redhook tweaks the recipe for Winterhook every year, and this year it comes forward with a burly, slightly smoky winter ale. Decked with molasses from the get-go, this malt-heavy beer offers notes of coal fires, bitter greens, cloves, and forest floor. It tastes stronger than it is — just 6% abv — which makes it a better choice for sipping on in this post-holiday-meal aftermath. All in all, a burly, but not overpowering, little number that dark beer fans should enjoy quite a bit.

6% abv.

B+ / $NA / redhook.com