Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Oban 21 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Oban21 bottlebox High Res 525x935 Review: Oban 21 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

#6 of 9 in the 2013 Diageo Special Release series comes from the classic Oban Distillery, located on the west coast of the Highlands where it’s a bit of an honorary, lesser member of the Islay group. Aged in rejuvenated American oak and second fill sherry casks, it’s the first Oban to come out of this series in a decade.

Unlike most of the whiskies that precede this spirit in the lineup, the Oban immediately strikes you as hot. The nose is fiery — with salt air and coal smoke peeking through, along with touches of buttery biscuits. The body cries for water, but after the heat dies down a bit it reveals notes of syrup-coated pancakes and some citrus. The smoke fades away almost completely here. Water coaxes out some herbal character along with lots of nuts — walnuts and almonds — before falling back on its core of malty grains with a twist of orange peel.

With the appropriate splash of water, this emerges as one of the best Obans I’ve ever had, balanced and pretty and full of complexities that invite exploration.

117 proof. 2,860 bottles produced.

A / $385 / malts.com

Review: Bell’s Oberon Ale

OberonBluSixBttle.tif 525x387 Review: Bells Oberon Ale

Summer is reaching its wonderful peak days, and while searching around for a review in our archives, I was surprised to find the glaring omission of Bell’s Oberon in our collection. I now seek to provide remedy to this matter.

I’ve been drinking Oberon since arriving at the legal age to tend to such important matters. Inquire with anyone indigenous to Michigan, learned on its healthy surplus of microbrews, and you’ll quite likely hear the same story over and over: summer really started on the Oberon release day. Every day until then was just a warmup to the real deal. It isn’t just one of the beers that put Bell’s on the microbrew map, it was the beer. In the ’90s, folks from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo (Bell’s home base) would line up on opening day, much like craft brew beer fanatics of today, to be amongst the first to get a fresh six-pack straight out of the case, or off the tap.

Waxed nostalgia aside, let’s get to brass tacks: this is a refreshingly light wheat beer with a healthy presence of spice and lemon up front. The balance of citrus and wheat give it an incredible sweetness and an easy finish. It doesn’t have the impact on the palate of many other summer brews: it floats gently along for the entire experience; completely unobtrusive and undemanding of complex analysis.

For those who have never traveled to the state’s beautiful surplus of remote lakes and witnessed gorgeous sunsets on one of its many isolated beachfronts, this is the closest thing to a teleportation device legally allowed on the market. Oberon is a lazy, beautiful Michigan summer in a bottle, and one of the best in its class.

5.8% abv.

A / $10 per six pack / bellsbeer.com

UpNorth 525x392 Review: Bells Oberon Ale

Photo by/Tip of the Tigers cap to: Zac Johnson

Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old and Lagavulin 37 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

These two Lagavulin single malts are our #4 and #5 entries into the 2013 Diageo Special Release series. For the uninitiated, Lagavulin’s standard bottling is a 16 year old, but Diageo puts out a younger 12 year bottling pretty much every year as part of the annual Special Release program. This year it’s backing that up with an extremely rare and ungodly expensive 37 year old. Let’s take them both in turn.

Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2013 is everything you’ve come to expect from this Islay distillery. Vatted from refill American oak casks, it’s a pale yellow in color, offering a gentle, sweet, smoked meat style of smokiness on the nose along with touches of citrus. Though bottled at cask strength, the body is surprisingly easygoing. The smoke and fruit are well integrated here, that light peat — more earth than seaside — quickly giving way to notes of fresh orange, banana, and surprising tropical notes of mango and pineapple. It’s nicely balanced but the experience fades away all too quickly due to a relatively short finish. 110.2 proof. “Limited quantities.” A- / $136

Lagavulin 37 Years Old Limited Edition 2013 – Now here’s a real rarity (distilled in 1976), bottled after 37 years in American and European oak refill casks. It’s the oldest Lagavulin that Diageo has ever released (and undoubtedly the most expensive, too). Deep amber in color, the nose offers notes of old Madeira, iodine, sea spray, and balsamic vinegar. There’s lots going on here, maybe too much. With complex and layered notes of fading coal fires, wood polish, menthol, pine needles, and ancient, oxidized bottles of sherry, it’s a whisky that invites exploration but never really reaches Nirvana. The finish is rustic and more than a bit rough — a long way from the gentle simplicity of the 12 year old and further evidence that this Lagavulin has, tragically, probably spent a few years too long in the barrel. 102 proof. 1,868 bottles produced. B / $3,320

malts.com

Gelateria Naia Puts Frozen Whiskey on a Stick

photo 300x225 Gelateria Naia Puts Frozen Whiskey on a StickNow here’s a fun item I never thought I’d see in my local supermarket: A gelato popsicle flavored with St. George Spirits Single Malt Whiskey. Both companies are local to NorCal: Gelateria Naia is based in Hercules, St. George in Alameda, both in the East Bay.

This popsicle is quite a little delight, flavored with sugar, a touch of caramel, and real St. George Single Malt poured right into the pop. The texture is a bit icier than a non-alcohol-based pop from the company I tried, but still easy to munch on. The flavor is slightly nutty, and sweeter than I’d expected. The closest analogue I can suggest is a dulce de leche ice cream, swirled with caramel. The flavors linger with you, though, for quite a while after it’s all gone, and its there where some of the more whiskeylike notes — cereal and oak staves — start to emerge.

Fun. Would eat again. About $2.50 a pop.

gelaterianaia.com

Review: Stone Smoked Porter with Chipotle Peppers

stone chipotle 224x300 Review: Stone Smoked Porter with Chipotle PeppersNo guessing about this one. The recipe’s right there in the name.

With this limited edition (summertime) beer, Stone brews up its year-round, peat-smoked porter, made with Magnum and Mt. Hood hops, then adds Mexican chipotle peppers to the bill.

The results are impressive. The nose is big and malty, with notes of leather and hints of smokiness and dark chocolate. The body takes that ball and runs with it, offering up-front notes of whiskey barrel, old wood, and malt, then brings forward a gentle heat. Think jalapeno, but fleeting, just a hit of fire, then it fades away just as fast as it arrived. The beer finishes with a modest bitterness, its hops finally showing their face.

While it’s more of a “just for fun” one-off rather than something you’d drink every day, the spiciness and smoke work very well in a beer like this. Amazing with BBQ.

5.9% abv. Recommended drinking time: within 120 days of bottling.

B+ / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / stonebrewing.com

Review: Convalmore 36 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Conva 36 bb 2013 High Res 525x736 Review: Convalmore 36 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Diageo 2013 Special Release #3 of 9 is a very rare offering from Convalmore, a Speyside distillery closed in 1985. Distilled in 1977, this is only the third release to come from Convalmore in the Special Release series.

The beautiful amber color is instantly mouth-wetting, but the nose is elusive. After the alcohol vapors fade, you get notes of sherry, well-aged wood, and old furniture leather. There are hints of menthol and a touch of iodine, too.

The body is hefty on those wood characteristics. The fruit has faded considerably here, leaving behind a rather dusty spirit that offers notes of coconut husk, cedar closet, and well-oxidized sherry. The finish returns us to the lumberyard, with just a few touches of that previously encountered iodine character. Sadly, it all ends too soon.

While Convalmore 36 is far from a whisky that’s faded away completely, it is one that is on its way. My advice to Diageo is to get whatever’s left and lingering around out of barrels and into bottles, posthaste.

116 proof. 2,980 bottles produced.

B+ / $1,020 / malts.com

Review: 2012 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino and Belnero

 Review: 2012 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino and BelneroDrinking Tuscan wine doesn’t have to mean choosing between ultra-luxe bottlings and rank rotgut. These two 2012 vintage wines from Castello Banfi show that there’s a middle ground, with premium presentations of classic wines that manage to come in at under 30 bucks a bottle. Thoughts follow.

2012 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino – A simple sangiovese, full of slightly dried cherry notes, tobacco leaf, cedar closet, and a touch of mushroom on the back end. Modest body, with a short, lightly acidic finish. A simple wine, it’s best with a hearty meal. B / $25

2012 Castello Banfi Belnero IGT - A blend of predominantly Sangiovese and a smattering of (unnamed) French varietals, aged one year in oak barriques. The nose is studded with tobacco leaf, cloves, and forest floor, the body featuring restrained fruit notes and a healthy slug of wood. A more brooding, dense with smokiness and touches of coffee. B+ / $28

castellobanfi.com

Review: Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve Unpeated Style Limited Edition 2013

Caol Ila 2013 High Res 525x742 Review: Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve Unpeated Style Limited Edition 2013

Diageo 2013 Special Release #2 of 9 is this whisky, from Islay-based Caol Ila, which is a well-known bastion of the peated style of malt whisky. This however is a very rare unpeated malt from the distillery, made just once a year by the company. Made from a mix of casks using refill American Oak, rejuvenated American Oak, and ex-bodega (sherry casks, I presume) European Oak, it is bottled without an age statement.

Made in a “Highland style,” this whisky is big and hot, and a dash of water is a huge help from the start. With some tempering the Stitchell Reserve offers a savory nose of coal dust, roasted grains, and sandalwood. The body follows suit, keeping any sweetness at bay while playing up those notes of oatmeal, almonds, and gentle wood. Honey notes – a bit denser and a bit more herbal than you’d expect — start to build as the whisky settles down, adding just the right amount of sugar to a very well-balanced spirit. Not your father’s Caol Ila by any stretch, and a fun diversion from the usual fare from Islay.

119.2 proof.

A- / $119 / malts.com

Review: NV Nicolas Feuillatte D’Luscious Demi-Sec Rosé Champagne

nicholas feuillate DEMI SEC ROS DELUSCIOUS h 96x300 Review: NV Nicolas Feuillatte D’Luscious Demi Sec Rosé ChampagneUsing the name “D’Luscious” is a bit, how do you say, jejune for something is ritzy as Champagne, but these are changing times, no, so let’s not judge iconic sparkler creators Nicolas Feuillatte for an unfortunate monker.

The nonvintage D’Luscious is a demi-sec Champagne, which is one of the sweetest levels of Champagne on the market, with 3 to 5 times the amount of sugar added than the typical Brut bottling. That pretty much overpowers everything in the experience here: D’Luscious is a pretty looking Champagne that features plenty of strawberry fruit on the body and a touch of grassiness on the nose — but ultimately it’s so full of sweetness that you forget everything else that surrounds it.

This kind of Champagne is tailor made for dessert drinking — but hold it back for the end of the meal. As an aperitif it’s almost appetite-demolishing.

B / $40 / nicolas-feuillatte.com

Review: Brora 35 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Brora 35yo 2013 High Res 525x742 Review: Brora 35 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

This is the beginning of a special week here at Drinkhacker, as we’re finally about to launch into one of the most anticipated and exciting annual events in the whiskey world. No, it’s not a new Pappy Van Winkle release, it’s the arrival of Diageo’s annual limited edition Special Release single malts.

These whiskies are sourced from very rare, very old casks — often from long-since closed distilleries — and are produced in fleetingly limited numbers. While they all bear a 2013 release date, most are still in the process of hitting our shores.

2013 Special Releases Group Shots High Res1 525x193 Review: Brora 35 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

This series encompasses nine spirits, and we’ll be tackling them in turn, one each day.

First out the gate is this 35 year old expression from Brora (distilled in 1977), a Highlands-based distillery that was shuttered in 1983. Aged in refill American and European casks, it’s a bright yellow in color, a deception that masks its true age.

The scent of the sea pours out of the glass — iodine and seaweed, peat fires and smoked fish — along with hints at a sweeter underpinning. The body, as with most old Brora releases, is just gorgeous. Liquified honey gets things going, followed by notes of citrus peel, heather, brandy-soaked raisins, coconut, and ripe banana. Here, the smokiness so evident on the nose is almost completely lost, these big fruits and some dessert-like cookie notes running all the way to the finish line. Oily and mouth-filling on the body, the long and lasting finish brings out tropical fruit and some burnt sugar notes… a sweet dessert that counters that perfectly tricky, savory nose.

99.8 proof. 2,944 bottles produced.

A / $1,278 / malts.com

Review: Hammer & Son Geranium Gin

geranium front 525x872 Review: Hammer & Son Geranium Gin

Only a few months back we reviewed Hammer & Son’s Old English Gin, a classically structured gin with old timey trappings. Now the company is already back to the well with Geranium, a gin fit for those with somewhat more modern trappings.

There’s no botanical list published, but as the name implies, Geranium looks to floral elements for its inspiration, and you’ll find plenty of those to delve into here. Rose petals, orange peel, and lemon peel are all evident on the nose. I couldn’t tell you what geraniums smell like, but I’m guessing there’s a few of those in there too.

The body is lightly sweet and full of perfume, again pumping up both those juicy citrus notes and layering on floral elements to a degree you don’t often see in even the most modern of gins. The finish keeps the sweetness going, offering just a touch of chalk and angelica root to keep things interesting, but it’s hard to punch down a mountain of rose petals. It’s not at all bad on its own, but this level of flowery business is often at odds with cocktailing, where perfume notes can overwhelm the more delicate elements of a beverage, so tread lightly.

88 proof.

B / $38 / geraniumgin.com

Tasting the White Wines of Lodi, California

Lodi is located up and east from Napa/Sonoma. The source of some of California’s less expensive wines, it’s nonetheless and “up and coming” region that has more of a pedigree than, say, California’s industrial Central Valley. Known for its heavy Zinfandel production, Lodi is also home to a prodigious amount of white wine. In a recent live tasting event, which was led by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and Susan Tipton of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, we focused exclusively on those whites, sampling five wines made from different varietals, all from Lodi grapes.

Thoughts on all five wines tasted follow.

2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürztraminer - A very fruity example of Gewurztraminer, with lemon and peaches up front, revealing a light honey sweetness as it starts to evolve in the glass. The finish is crisp and clean, with more fruit than the fragrant perfume notes that are typical of Gewurz. A fave here. B+ / $19

2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca Vista Luna Vineyard – A bit on the weedy side, this white offers tropical notes up front before fading into a strongly grassy character, along with a somewhat meaty edge on the finish. Strange balance, not my favorite. C+ / $18

2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier – Made by Lodi’s only all-white-wine winery. This Viognier is restrained in a way that many Viogniers are not, with more mild apricot and peach notes and an earthiness backing them up. Again, that big, chewy body takes over and fades into some funkier, meatier notes on the finish. Better balance on the whole, though, and something to try even if you don’t consider yourself a Viognier fan. B- / $23

2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc – Very perfumy on the nose, with notes of lemongrass and pepe du chat… and also an edge of tree bark atypical of Sauvignon Blanc. Clean on the body, with lots of fresh lemon character and a grassy, herbal finish. B+ / $18

2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco – Not overwhelmingly sweet as you might have feared, this Moscato is plenty fragrant and perfumed, but dials back that unctuous juicy orange character almost to an afterthought. Dry and clean, this is the rare moscato that you might consider drinking with your main course rather than dessert. B / $14

lodiwine.com

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tasting Mystery Whisk(e)ys with the Revamped Whiskey Explorers Club

We’ve been fans of For Whiskey Lovers’ Whiskey Explorers Club for years — since the beginning, really — and when founder Douglas Stone announced he’d revamped his Whisk(e)y IQ Game, I was excited. The Whisk(e)y IQ Game is one of the only places you can taste whiskey completely blind, offer your opinions on it, then see whether you were drinking ritzy shizz or rotgut.

I haven’t played the game since February 2013, and the latest version (officially March 2014) offers a whole lot of changes to the mix.

To wit: The whole game — which, for the uninitiated, involves describing the color, nose, taste, body, and finish of four or five unlabeled spirits — has been redesigned. The mechanics are the same (you earn points for “correct” guesses and lose them for “wrong” ones), with color coding for every category — this being particularly helpful when determining a whiskey’s color. There’s a brand new section that has you taste the whiskey with water, and some other changes that make it much harder to cheat when it comes time to pick which actual spirit you’re drinking.

The game, on the whole, is now more fun — though it does take longer to work through, as there’s a lot more clicking around — but I still see room for improvement. Some comments on the new game:

My biggest complaint from day one of this game remains intact: So much of this is so subjective that it’s absurd to grade players on how “correct” they are. Things like a description of body — is it soft? creamy? austere? — are vague to the point of meaninglessness. If I say “luscious” and you say “oily,” what the hell does that really mean? I’d love to see some partial credit here. If you say a whiskey’s color is “old gold” and the “correct” answer is one shade lighter, that should give you partial points, not zero.

Similarly, I still have problems with the “right” answers here; these are apparently drawn from the distillery’s tasting notes, and in some cases I disagree completely with their choices. What on earth does “fragrant” mean when describing the taste of a whiskey? Every whiskey is “fragrant,” and everyone’s palate is different, after all. What’s the difference between “dry hay” and “mown hay”? “Mown hay” and “grass cuttings”? “Soothing” and “lingering”? Some of these terms involve way too much guesswork to the point where the thing gets frustrating…

For Whiskey Lovers has finally taken my long-running advice, putting your selections next to the “correct” choices when you complete a round, so you can compare your tasting notes with what the “correct” choices are in the database. This is a huge win. The formatting needs work (it’s still very hard to read the way it’s laid out), but it’s a massive improvement to the game.

Certain elements of the game just don’t seem to work. The price information doesn’t show up in the end, for example. And there are some technical problems with the design, where items jump from one line to the next after they’re selected.

I’d love to see pop-ups for certain descriptive terms, like aldehydes and esters, explaining what the terms mean for those who aren’t in the know.

Finally, once I accidentally hit “back” and hard to start all over. Argh.

That said, I still recommend this program to just about anyone. You get to try new whiskeys blind — in this round there were two whiskeys I’d never had before — and put your senses to the test in a way that you just can’t do when you know exactly what it is you’re drinking. Good times, good times.

Recipe: Lemonade Cocktails From the Thoroughbred Club – Charleston, S.C.

Charleston, S.C. happens to be one of my favorite summer destinations. And although I’ve never stayed at the Belmond Charleston Place, I have had the good fortune of enjoying a rather posh night out at the Charleston Grill followed by drinks at the Thoroughbred Club. So I was quite pleased when we received two recipes straight from their bar, both based around one of the best pleasures of summer: lemonade.

Here’s how to make them yourself.

 Recipe: Lemonade Cocktails From the Thoroughbred Club   Charleston, S.C.Peach Thyme Lemonade
1 1/2 oz thyme-infused simple syrup
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz of whiskey
1 oz of peach puree

Mix ingredients together. Pour over ice and top with Club soda. Garnish with a slice of fresh peach
(Note: While they use Bernheim at their bar, I opted to use a Very Old Barton instead. Worked out just fine. Also, for the thyme simple syrup: “The method we use is to steep the thyme in nearly-boiling water as you would a loose leaf tea for about four or five minutes, straining the herbs out and then using the hot water to make the simple syrup.”)

 Recipe: Lemonade Cocktails From the Thoroughbred Club   Charleston, S.C.Cucumber Basil Lemonade
6 basil leaves
6 cucumber slices, muddled lightly
2 oz lemongrass-infused simple syrup
1 oz Effen Cucumber Vodka
1 1/2 oz of fresh lemon juice

Mix ingredients together. The lemongrass simple syrup is made the same way as the thyme simple syrup above. Strain over ice. Garnish with cucumber slice and basil leaf.

Review: Kavalan Whisky Lineup 2014

kavalan 300x300 Review: Kavalan Whisky Lineup 2014Kavalan is the best-known Taiwanese whisky distiller (at least in the U.S.), rapidly increasing its footprint from a single bottling just a few years ago (which we reviewed) to a total of nine on the market now. At least five of these whiskies, all single malts, are available in the U.S., and today we take a fresh look at this five-bottle lineup, which includes two standard-proof bottlings and three from the cask-strength Solist line.

Kavalan doesn’t bottle its spirits with age statements, but it does rely on some exotic barrel treatments to create some truly unique spirits.

Thoughts on the five-whisky lineup follow.

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky – I get strong apple notes up front this time around, followed by healthy citrus character. Otherwise my notes mimic those I had in 2011. The palate drips with honey, balanced with modest toast-and-cereal notes, vanilla, and and touches of nougat. The finish brings a pleasant bit of fruit to the forefront before fading away. Straightforward, a bit rustic, and quite simple, it drinks like a young single malt Scotch, modest yet full of life. 80 proof. B+ / $73  (prior rating: A-)

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Concertmaster Port Cask Finish – Look for the unmistakeable jade-green bottle. Finished in a variety of Port casks, this whisky has a bolder, fruitier nose that hints at raisins and Christmas spice. The body brings it all home, with lush fruit notes — plum and plump raisins, hints of fresh cherries, all lightly touched with cinnamon and morsels of cereal. The finish keeps it going for the long haul — lasting with ample spice notes. It’s drinking well in the summer but would be perfect for Christmastime. 80 proof. A- / $89

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask - A rather muted nose, hard to parse out from the aroma, though eventually it reveals notes of apple and red berries, with a slight iodine kick to it. The body is something else entirely, punchy with raw alcohol that masks a citrus kick alongside notes of vanilla and peaches — maybe even a touch of coconut. The finish is on the short side — mostly fire, a touch of sawdust, and a vanilla-soaked marshmallow that fades away just a bit too fast. Try water. 114 proof. B+ / $170

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Sherry Cask – Matured fully in oloroso sherry casks; a dark tea-brown in color. What an unusual spirit… the nose offers notes of dried figs and prunes, with a well-aged sherry character to it. The body is intense, a bruising collection of Madeira notes, rum-soaked raisins, burnt orange peel, and cocoa bean. Slightly bittersweet on the finish in the way that old sherry can be, it’s a digestif style whisky with plenty of depth and originality. 114 proof. A- / $180

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Vinho Barrique – Matured fully in ex-American red wine barrels that have been re-charred. Deep amber, about the same as the prior whisky, this spirit offers a dense and deep nose, offering exotic notes of ginger, chocolate cake, and salted caramel. The body brings out those chocolate notes, touched with a surprising licorice note and some extra spices — lemon pepper, cloves, and a healthy slug of wood. Wild and, again, exotic stuff. 114 proof. A- / $157

kavalanwhisky.com

Review: 2012 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 Caymus 40th 750ml Bottle 300dpi 103x300 Review: 2012 Caymus Cabernet SauvignonI give Caymus all the credit for making me a real wine lover. When I was in grad school, my friend Sonny would regularly have me over for dinner — Korean style steaks, asparagus, and Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, which we procured for $20 a bottle back then.

It was a bit of indulgence for kids on a budget, but I’m sure we thought the expense was worth it if we ate Taco Bell and TV dinners the rest of the week.

Caymus quickly elevated itself into cult wine status to the point where I haven’t had it in years — particularly the ritzy Special Selection bottling. But for the winery’s 40th anniversary I was lucky enough to snag a sample bottle. Is the wine just as I remembered? Thoughts follow.

This is classic, dense Napa Cabernet. The nose offers intense blueberry and blackberry notes, hints of menthol, and dark chocolate. These are played up further on the body, along with a strong tart cherry character that comes on strong on the finish. This acidity is a welcome counterpart to the otherwise big, gripping body of the wine, giving some much needed balance to the experience. Tons of aging potential here.

A- / $60 / caymus.com

Tasting Beers and Stout Ice Cream at Peter B’s, Monterey, California

A recent trip to Monterey, California took us to Peter B’s Brewpub, back behind the Portola Hotel. A rowdy place full of pool tables and TVs blasting sports, it’s also home to Monterey’s biggest brewpub operation, with about a dozen beers on tap at any one time.

This time we came in search of something special, a not-yet-released ice cream flavored with Peter B’s own stout. Made by local icecreamateur Butch Adams (pictured below), who runs a small operation just off of Cannery Row called Kai Lee Creamery, it’s quite a treat, very mild up front, with a modest chocolate and nutty character to it — not quite stout, but not coffee or chocolate either. Lovely and restrained, I can’t think of a better way to end a session of sampling craft beers — unless you maybe drop a scoop of this into an IPA. A-

While we were there, we naturally sampled the five “always on” brews that Peter B’s offers, plus a couple of barrel-aged seasonal releases. Some quick thoughts follow on each of the beers.

Belly Up Blonde – A classic blonde ale, quite rich and malty. Fresh and chewy, with a slight oatmeal character. 5% abv. B+

Fort Ord Wheat – Unfiltered wheat ale. A bit musty, this is missing the bracing citrus of good witbiers. A little muddy on the back end. 5.8% abv. B-

Inclusion Amber Ale – Nice body on this, a good bridge to Peter B’s stronger brews. Mocha notes are prominent here, with some decent hops, though it’s far from bitter at 35 IBUs. Dried fruit and mushroom notes on the finish add interest. 5.13% abv. B+

Legend of Laguna IPA – The big guy (60 to 80 IBUs, depending on where you look). Ample citrus all around, with a ton of bitterness behind it. Hang in there for the evergreen finish, plusa touch of rum raisin. 6.5% abv. B+

Stout Resistance – The stout used in the ice cream, you get big coffee and cream notes on this black brew. It’s mouth coating and rich, but a lot of mushiness in the body mars this otherwise capable stout. 5.7% abv. B

Scotch Ale (seasonal) – Nutty with roasted grains and a slug of raisins. Nice balance here, and it’s quite different and fun. A-

Port Barrel Aged Stout (seasonal) – A real change of pace. Extremely cherry-fueled from start to finish, with a smattering of plums and raisins. Big body with a bracing, bitter finish that works well with the lightly sour body. B+

Review: Bittermilk Mixers No. 1, 2, and 3

bittermilk no 3 525x525 Review: Bittermilk Mixers No. 1, 2, and 3

OK, yes, there are dozens of pre-packaged cocktail mixers on the market. And yes, most of them claim to be ultra-premium-better-than-you-can-make-yourself products. And — yes — most of them are passable at best, swill at worst.

Well, finally, here’s one that isn’t. Bittermilk is a Charleston, South Carolina operation that is making truly high-end mixers that even I would not hesitate to serve to my guests.

The secret is right there on the label and in the bottle: Very high-quality, mostly organic ingredients that take original spins on some classic recipes — the Old Fashioned, the Tom Collins, and the Whiskey Sour.

Bittermilk mixers have no alcohol, so bring your high-end hooch when you’re mixing something up. They may look small, but remember that each pint-sized bottle is good for about a dozen cocktails, depending on how tall you make ‘em. At a little over a dollar per cocktail, that’s not a bad deal. Hell, you’ll spend more on a couple of limes these days!

Thoughts on each of the three current Bittermilk offerings follow.

Bittermilk No. 1 Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned – Made with burnt cane sugar, orange peel, gentian root, and cinchona bark, then aged in Willett Bourbon barrels. I made versions with Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye and with Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon. This one comes in a significantly smaller vial than the others, since you mix it 1:4 with your spirit, vs. 1:1 with the others. Sweet up front, with ample sugar in the mix (I’d err toward 1:5 or 1:6 proportions on this one), the burnt-ness of the sugar becomes apparent only as the finish starts to build. It’s here that you start to pick up the bitter edge of the mixer, too — grated roots and bark and a quinine character — though the citrus character, essential to an Old Fashioned, never quite arrives in full. Ultimately, it’s the bitterness that sticks with you the longest, lasting long after the sweetness has faded. A completely capable Old Fashioned — though the barrel aging isn’t immediately evident, and it’s more fun to drink an Old Fashioned with actual fruit muddled into it. Much better with rye (as specified on the label). A- / $15 (8.5 oz.)

Bittermilk No. 2 Tom Collins with Elderflowers & Hops – Made with lemon juice, sugar, elderflower & elderberry, and Centennial hops. I made versions with Ketel One Vodka and Greenhook Ginsmiths Gin (the bottle specifies either spirit). The weirdest of the bunch. With vodka, the hops add a level of funkiness here, and lots of it. Up front there’s a solid sweet-and-sour character, but that initially light bitter hops element brings a bit of discord to the finish, growing as it develops on the palate. It finishes almost like a shandy. With gin, this is a much better combination, those aromatics firing just about perfectly with the citrus and the elderflower, which comes through more clearly alongside the brightness of the gin. Here the hops play a very muted role, adding just a hint of bitterness on the back end rather than the lingering power you get with vodka. On the whole it’s a success, but it’s my least favorite of the bunch. Use gin, and a bit more than is called for. B+ / $15 (17 oz.)

Bittermilk No. 3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour – Made with lemon juice, Bourbon barrel-smoked honey, sugar, and orange peel. I made this one with Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon. Shockingly delicious. It doesn’t reveal much on the nose, but the body is stuffed full of a melange of sweet and savory notes — bracing lemon, silky honey, and just a touch of smokiness on the back end. If you’re not a smoke fan, be not afraid. The effect here is subtle and well integrated into what reveals itself to be a lovely concoction. The lemon hangs along til the finish, where everything comes together into a fully realized whole. Sure, the whiskey sour is hardly the world’s most elevated cocktail, but in Bittermilk’s hands it’s one you’d have no problem gulping right down… maybe two. A / $15 (17 oz.)

bittermilk.com

Review: Cabernets of Louis M. Martini, 2014 Releases

Louis M. Martini 2011 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauv 750ml 87x300 Review: Cabernets of Louis M. Martini, 2014 ReleasesNo need for a lot of throat-clearing here. Check out these three new Cabs from both Napa and Sonoma, all made by Louis M. Martini.

2011 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County – Textbook Sonoma Cab, milder on the palate than Napa’s fruit bombs, but with plenty of earthy mushroom notes, leather, balsamic vinegar, and hints of blueberry on the nose. Breathe deep for hints of the garden — some thyme and peppermint on the back end — and watch for some Christmas spice on the palate’s finish. Imminently drinkable, it’s a fun yet modest wine. A- / $35

2011 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A benchmark Napa cab from Martini, with a mix of floral, currant, pepper, and light leather notes on the nose, followed by a solid slug of blackberries, black cherries, and just hints of earth that are laced into the palate. Light on its feet but full of nuance, this wine shows restraint while offering a plenty ample body and a spot-on finish. One of Martini’s finest cabs in years and dirt cheap. A / $22

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – A simple, almost rustic, “burger” wine (which is exactly how I drank it). A little weedy up front, with some notes of sweet pepper, an interesting counterpart to the relatively sweet and cinnamon-infused body, which offers some tropical and brown sugar notes. Perfectly serviceable, if short of awe-inspiring. B / $14

louismartini.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Warehouse Floor Experiments

Buffalo Trace Warehouse Floor Experiment 525x385 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Warehouse Floor Experiments

More tinkering in the form of experimental whiskeys from the mad scientists at Buffalo Trace. This is one of the company’s most interesting and telling ones to date: Three 12-year-old, rye-heavy bourbons each aged on a different floor of Buffalo Trace’s massive Warehouse K (floors 1, 5, and 9). Warehouse K is built of brick, with wooden floors (because that seems to matter, too).

The same Bourbon, in the same building, just aged on a different floor. Why on earth would the aging floor matter? Simple, as any middle school science student can tell you: Heat rises. The lower floors are relatively cool. The top floors are scorching hot. This impacts aging in a direct and profound way — in part, because water and alcohol evaporate at different temperatures. (That said, all three of these whiskeys are bottled at 90 proof to make comparisons considerably easier.)

And so, how do these compare side by side by side? Let’s take a look…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #1 – Aged on the bottom floor. Some funky notes of olives and green pepper hit the nose at first, with plenty of sweet stuff riding on its coattails. The palate is sharp and fiery, with elements of burnt butter, cayenne, and ample sawdust in contrast to its toffee notes. Balance is a mess, flavors hitting you from every which way. C

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #5 - Aged right in the middle, but is it the Goldilocks of the group? It’s not as different as you might expect, those olive notes still hanging on, but to a much less powerful degree. Floor #5 settles down much more fully and quickly, revealing more of a rounded butter toffee note that’s fused with a melange of cloves, candied pineapple, and lumberyard notes. It’s still a bit rough around the edges, but overall more palatable and approachable than Floor #1. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #9 - From the hot top floor, where some of BT’s blue chip Bourbons, like George T. Stagg, are sourced. This is clearly the best of the bunch, featuring toasted marshmallows and more gentle wood notes on the nose, followed by a body that is lush with brown sugar sweetness, cinnamon and cloves, vanilla caramels, and cake frosting. Gorgeous in structure, and radically different than the other two installments in this series. Grab it if you find it! A

each $46 (375ml) / buffalotracedistillery.com