Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Bluewater Distilling Organic Vodka and Halcyon Gin

bluewater halcyon gin 88x300 Review: Bluewater Distilling Organic Vodka and Halcyon GinBluewater Distilling in Everett, Washington makes a variety of spirits (including an aquavit!), but it’s best known for two major staples, a gin and a vodka, both organically produced and crafted in a classic copper pot still — not a column still, which is by far the norm for most vodkas and gins.

Thoughts on both of these spirits follow.

Bluewater Organic Vodka – Pot-distilled from organic wheat. Immediately enticing. Classic, old-world nose, with rich light medicinal character and undertones of old wood and wet earth. This intriguing aroma leads you into an even more engaging palate. The body is surprisingly mild and easygoing, yet it’s quite punchy with flavor. It kicks off with notes of toffee and butterscotch, then develops fruit and acidity as it builds on the tongue. Within a few seconds, it’s pummeling the palate with lemongrass and grapefruit, black pepper, and some pine tree/cedar notes. The finish is both silky and sharp, but lacking in the expected astringency. One of those vodkas that’s easy to sip on at length, even at room temperature. 80 proof. A / $27

Bluewater Halcyon Organic Distilled Gin – Note that the “Bluewater” is very small on the bottle here. You’ll most likely find it listed under “Halcyon” instead. The wheat-based distillate on this London Gin style gin is crafted with a classic 24-hour infusion of juniper, orange, lemon, coriander, angelica root, orris root, licorice root, and cassia bark. The intense nose features lots of fruit, modest juniper, and some spongy, earthy notes driven by a few of the root-based ingredients. Unlike with the vodka, there are few surprises on the palate here. Lemon and orange remain strong, and the juniper is a bit more present on the tongue than the initial nosing would indicate. All in all it is stylistically on par with many a UK-crafted gin and a versatile spirit that works in all kinds of classic cocktails. 92 proof. A- / $30

bluewaterdistilling.com

Review: 2012 Starmont Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Starmont 2012 StanlyRanchEstate Chardonnay 104x300 Review: 2012 Starmont Pinot Noir and ChardonnayTwo new high-end wines from this adjunct of the Merryvale Winery, located in Napa Valley. Both are exquisite offerings. Thoughts follow.

2012 Starmont Pinot Noir Stanly Ranch Estate Carneros – Gorgeous Carneros Pinot, light as a feather with silky notes of tea leaf, cherry, cola, and a little strawberry. Seductive on the nose, it’s got a brisk attack and a long, lasting finish. This is one of those pinots that you just drink and drink and keep pouring and pouring and then it’s gone and you sigh and think that, yeah, someone there knows what they’re doing. A / $55

2012 Starmont Chardonnay Stanly Ranch Estate Carneros - Buttery Chardonnay, but not overpoweringly woody. Instead it provides notes of vanilla, peaches, a touch of pineapple, and a lemon spritz on the finish. Touches of roasted meats on the back end as well. On the whole, it’s nicely balanced and very easy drinking — and it’s lovely with fish. A / $45

merryvale.com

Review: 2 Wines from the SommSelect Website

1162291x 125x300 Review: 2 Wines from the SommSelect WebsiteIf you’ve ever seen the documentary Somm, you will remember Ian Cauble, the bright-eyed sommelier who seems like a shoo-in to pass the Master Sommelier test administered at the end of the film. I won’t spoil what happens in the movie, but fast forward to today, and Cauble has his own internet wine website, SommSelect. Essentially a spin on the “daily deal” website, SommSelect is focused on bringing limited-release, high-end, international wines to market at discount prices. You won’t find $5 bargain bins here, mind you. The two wines the company sent us to try out both hover around $40 retail (though pricing as they appeared on the SommSelect site during their original offer is not available).

I can’t comment on SommSelect’s service — though the website seems really straightforward and you get free shipping if you buy just two bottles — but I can talk about a couple of the wines the company recently had on offer. Thoughts follow.

2011 Clos du Mont-Olivet Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Unique – This southern Rhone wine drinks like a much more mature bottling than it is, rich with earth tones, raisiny/Port notes, and some chalkiness. Despite a somewhat harsh attack on the palate, a little too balsamic-meets-barnyard for my taste, the wine settles down as it gets some air, offering notes of blackberry jam and distinct notes of fruit-flavored tea. An intriguing combination of Old World and New World, though ultimately those barnyard notes are tough to shake. B / $47

2012 Chanin Wines Chardonnay Los Alamos Vineyard Santa Barbara – Surprisingly tart and lemony for a Chardonnay, only 15% of this wine is finished in new oak, the rest remaining in neutral oak barrels. Bright with fruit and grassy notes, it does open up as it warms (as Cauble’s tasting notes promise), revealing apricot notes, creme brulee, ginger, and a seductively mushroomy, earthy backbone. A- / $38

sommselect.com

Three Days on the Juice with Urban Remedy

001 525x393 Three Days on the Juice with Urban Remedy

Behold: my fridge (in part) on day one.

So my wife got us doing a juice cleanse. It’s all the rage, ain’t it? So why not? We can all use a little detox once in awhile. It’s not a trend I’m smitten with, but I’ll try just about anything once.

Urban Remedy, like many juice providers, offers a three-day cleanse kit that includes 18 pints of organic, cold-pressed juice, which you drink over the course of 72 hours, essentially every 2 hours during daylight time. Urban Remedy actually has a number of different cleanse kits; we opted for the Signature Cleanse, which the company says is its most popular product. Each day presents six different juices to drink, ranging from the veggie-heavy green Brainiac you get at 9am to the cashew milk-based Relax that comes along at 7pm.

For a few days before the cleanse, you’re supposed to wean yourself off of big meals, caffeine, alcohol, and everything else. Largely we ate small vegetarian dishes in the run-up to cleansing. The night before we started, dinner was a sweet potato and some kale.

The next morning, we had at it.

Across the board, the juices mostly taste fine. I even found the celery-laden Brainiac to be a pleasant mix of sweet and bitter, and the addition of considerable cayenne to the #2 Time Machine brightens up its exceedingly tart composition. #4, After Party, a pblend of carrot, apple, beets, ginger, and lemon, was my runaway favorite. My least favorite, oddly, was the chalky and somewhat bland #5 juice, Warrior, which looks smoothie-like only because of the addition of chia seeds. It’s supposed to be made with raspberries but strawberries were used due to a “shortage” — maybe the raspberry version tastes better.

Hunger is of course a big issue for many who juice, but Urban Cleanse has you downing so much juice that, while it was always on my mind, it wasn’t that big of a deal at the start. What I really missed, much to my surprise, was the ritual of eating. Not just sitting down at the table but physically putting food in my mouth and chewing it up. Sounds weird, but I’m starting to think the reason so many of us snack all day is just to chew on stuff. (I’m not alone here.)

That said, at various points in the cleanse I admit I was feeling quite hungry (though not “starving”) and not entirely clear headed. I found it harder to focus on work and just less motivated, both of which were exacerbated by all the running to the bathroom to pee. (You are drinking a lot of juice here. I swear I have never peed so much in my life.) That said, I did manage to get plenty of work done over those three days, maybe because I spent so much less time eating.

On day two I woke up not very hungry, but with a bit of a headache. Urban Cleanse says that’s common, and it’s usually due to caffeine withdrawal. I’ve been off caffeine for a full week, though, so with me the effect is something else. The company also warned of decreased mental clarity on day two, but I mainly just felt tired and low in energy.

By day three I was ready to be done with it all. I dutifully worked my way through the juices, wiped the headache away with a hot shower, and tried to keep my energy up, but sitting on the couch was how I spent most of the day. Before lunch I had to carry a heavy box up a flight of stairs and by the end of it I felt like I’d run a mile. With so few calories (just 1200 per day) and almost no protein, even mild activity becomes a huge strain. By the afternoon I’d plotted out with a bit of drool on my lips what my next 8 or 9 meals were going to be: nothing insane, because Urban Cleanse suggests “easing back in” to food, and, of course, I do want to try to keep eating healthy for the long term.

I lost quite a bit of weight on the cleanse, about 4 pounds in 3 days (and more if you include the pre-cleanse time). I missed eating but it was manageable, and I never “cheated” on the cleanse during its run. Part of the idea with the cleanse is to teach yourself about healthy eating habits and reset your diet. While I’m not going to start eating flax seeds and freekeh at every meal, I am more cognizant now of healthier dining choices and, especially, portion size.

That said, I’m totally getting a steak at the next opportunity.

urbanremedy.com

Tasting the Wines of Washington’s Columbia Winery with Winemaker Sean Hails

1288 300x225 Tasting the Wines of Washingtons Columbia Winery with Winemaker Sean HailsThough we’re only a few hundred miles away, here in California we honestly don’t see many wines from Washington state. And yet, after California, Washington has the 2nd largest number of wineries in the country.

Columbia is one of them. Not to be confused with Columbia Crest, Columbia recently became part of the Gallo empire, rebranded and relabeled its bottles, and hired Sean Hails to oversee the operation. With a focus on affordable bottlings (plus a large number of unique offerings sold only in the winery’s tasting room), Columbia seems to be keeping quality high and prices low.

I recently dined with winemaker Hails at Sausailto’s Murray Circle, where we tasted through the 2012 vintage of three of the company’s flagship wines, all bargains at $14 a bottle. Thoughts follow.

2012 Columbia Winery Chardonnay Columbia Valley – 89% chardonnay with some semillon and chenin blanc. This is a crisp wine with apple and lemon notes, some baking spice, and good acid. Really well made all around, with the fruit doing most of the talking. A-

2012 Columbia Winery Merlot Columbia Valley - 85% merlot, plus cabernet and syrah. Licorice and some smoke on the nose, but the body is all fruit, with well-integrated tannins and a simple blackberry/strawberry/raspberry character to it. Simple, well-honed finish. A-

2012 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley - 86% cabernet sauvignon, with touches of petit verdot, syrah, and malbec. The only wine not totally ready to drink here, it’s thick with tannin and tight  but offers some jammy fruit, tempered with dusty notes of charcoal. This is a simpler wine but one which can handle food well. B+

columbiawinery.com

 

Review: 3 Wines from Four Vines, 2014 Releases

four vines 128x300 Review: 3 Wines from Four Vines, 2014 ReleasesThree new releases from our friends at Four Vines. Thoughts follow.

2012 Four Vines Naked Unoaked Chardonnay Santa Barbara – Unoaked as promised, which leaves this SoCal Chard buttery without being stuffed full of wood and sawdust notes. The body’s bigger than most unoaked Chardonnays I’ve experienced of late, which is a nice balance to the wine’s natural acidity. Some light vanilla biscuit notes round out the finish. Great price on this. A- / $10

2011 Four Vines Biker Zinfandel Paso Robles – A big, chocolaty Zin, dense with raisiny, Port-like notes, ample sweetness, notes of vanilla, and a nice chocolate kick on the back end. Plays poorly with food but can work all right as an after-dinner sipper. B / $20

2011 Four Vines Truant Zinfandel California Old Vines – A meatier, more nuanced Zin, loaded with chocolate but balanced by notes of plum and blackberry, some smoke, and some earthy bramble notes. Better balance here than in the overblown Biker, and better both on its own and with a meal. Another outstanding value. A- / $10

fourvines.com

Review: Rivulet Artisan Pecan Liqueur

Rivulet03B 525x787 Review: Rivulet Artisan Pecan Liqueur

Rivulet isn’t exactly a boozy praline in a glass, but it’s gettin’ there. As an enthusiast of all things Cajun, I mean that as a compiment.

Made from barrel-aged brandy, pecans, and other secret ingredients (sugar, methinks!), Rivulet offers a rich, toasty pecan nose with undercurrents of cinnamon, cloves, and brown sugar. The body is unctuous and deep, full of nutty flavor and backed with a ton of sweetness. The sweetness is what sticks with you, just like that slowly melting sugar of a good praline, coating the back of the mouth while the nuts take on a more glazed, dessert-like quality.

Nut-oriented liqueurs are often a simple experience along these lines, and Rivulet is no exception, bringing just about the right amount of sweetness to bear on one of my favorite nuts. It sips well on its own, excels in dessert cocktails in lieu of amaretto and its ilk, and undoubtedly has lots of utility in the world of baked goods.

60 proof.

A- / $24 / rivulet.com

Review: Willett Family Estate Straight Rye Whiskey 2 Years Old

willettrye Review: Willett Family Estate Straight Rye Whiskey 2 Years Old

 

With Willett’s renaissance running high, people have been waiting with anticipation for the first 100% rye offering from master distiller Drew Kulsveen’s new operations at the distillery.  Thankfully, patience has paid off and the whiskey was worth the wait. This small batch rye is like a rookie baseball player stepping up to the plate and hitting a walk-off home run at his first major league at-bat. Don’t be deceived by the label’s youthful age statement: this bottle presents a maturity that belies a rye aged only two years. It’s immediately evident in the nose; where there’s a wild complexity of citrus and spice that proceeds to a dose of floral notes. Tasting is another matter altogether: there’s an immediate hot punch usually reserved for rye spirits 4 to 6 years older, with wood and cinnamon giving way to a finish generous with fruit and mint that lingers for a pleasantly long time.

This is just the opening volley for something potentially incredible happening down the road in Bardstown (an expression with a Grand Marnier finish is on tap for later this fall), and as a bonus we get to reap the benefits of time. As the stock gets older, it will be interesting to mark the contrast between younger and older siblings of the same stock. If this two-year rye is indicative of things to come in the future, get ready for the media myth-making maelstrom to catapult the Willett brand into the stratosphere.

109 Proof.

A- / $40 / kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Deschutes Brewery – Doppel Dinkel Bock, Foray IPA, Black Butte XXVI

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Bend, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery keeps pumping out new, seasonal and special edition beers, with these three dropping in time for some last days of summer sipping. All are are available in 22 oz. bottles. Thoughts follow.

Deschutes Brewery Conflux Series No. 3 Doppel Dinkel Bock – This double bock is made with a “generous amount” of spelt in lieu of wheat; it’s a collaboration between Deschutes and Distelhäuser in Germany. A monstrous beer, it is redolent of bubble gum and ripe bananas, before fading into a cauldron of coffee and chocolate, tree bark and baking spices. The finish is lasting and mouth-filling, and at 10.7% abv, something you’ll want to prepare for assiduously before cracking it open. / $11 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Bond Street Series Foray Belgian Style IPA - This is a sizable IPA made with five kinds of hops… and Belgian yeast. That yeast makes Foray a heavily fruity brew, loaded with apple and pear notes. That really wipes out the hoppy bitterness, though. While it shows its face here and there, the tart fruit character washes over you and hangs on to the finish. This is an unusual and, indeed, Belgian-style brew — summery and fresh, but a bit too undone by its juiciness to embrace its bitter core. 6.4% abv. B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXVI 26th Birthday Reserve – The 26th release of Black Butte Birthday Reserve sees this annual special edition porter brewed with Oregon cranberries, pomegranate molasses, and Theo Chocolate’s cocoa nibs, then 50 percent aged in bourbon barrels for 6 months. As with prior editions of Black Butte Reserve, this is a highly sweet porter, dripping with notes of figs, molasses, maple syrup, and chocolate sauce. Coffee notes build as it develops before reaching a jammy — as in actual raspberry jam — finish. Depending on your tolerance level for sweet stuff, this can be nearly overpowering. The inclusion of cranberry and pomegranate are a little strange (and that shows a bit in the finished product), but maybe after 26 years of making different beers in this series you start reaching toward the back of the pantry? It’s not my favorite of the Black Butte reserve series, but it’s a fun departure from the usual fare — even the usual craft beer fare. (Pro tip: Let it warm a bit before consuming.) 10.8% abv. B+ / $18 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Journeyman Distillery Craft Whiskeys: Silver Cross, Ravenswood Rye, Featherstone Bourbon

With over a dozen spirits on offer, Three Oaks, Michigan-based Journeyman Distillery has a specific focus on craft whiskeys, bottling six expressions of the stuff in its permanent lineup. Here we review three — all young and punchy, and all worth sampling at least once.

Thoughts follow.

Silver sq 130x300 Review: Journeyman Distillery Craft Whiskeys: Silver Cross, Ravenswood Rye, Featherstone BourbonJourneyman Distillery Silver Cross Whiskey – Made from a mash of equal parts rye, wheat, corn, and barley. No age statement. The nose is youthful and grain-focused, with citrus notes and some sea salt character along with touches of menthol. The body, as you might expect, has a ton going on. Alongside some surprisingly supple grains, I get notes of chocolate caramels, butterscotch, and Bit-O-Honey. It’s a rustic liquid dessert all the way — unusual for a young craft whiskey. A drop or two of water goes a long way toward smoothing out its rough edges and coaxing the sweetness forward. 1% of proceeds from the sale of this product go to a local golf-oriented charity. 90 proof. A- / $50


Journeyman Distillery Ravenswood Rye
– An organic blend of Minnesota rye and Michigan wheat, aged in 15 gallon barrels. No age statement. Notes of licorice and phenol on the nose, settling into an intense herbal character. The body is racy and on par with craft expectations: Very young, punchy, and heavy on granary notes. Give it some time, though. As with Silver Cross, notes of chocolate and caramel emerge, along with touches of orange peel, quinine, and a touch of Bing cherries. Less enticing than the Silver Cross (though, againFeatherbone 750 130x300 Review: Journeyman Distillery Craft Whiskeys: Silver Cross, Ravenswood Rye, Featherstone Bourbon, water is of benefit here), but a solid effort. Reviewed: Batch #29, bottle #50. 90 proof. B / $50

Journeyman Distillery Featherbone Bourbon – Named for the Featherbone Factory, a Prohibition-era factory that made buggy whips and corsets and in which Journeyman is now based. Made of midwest organic corn, Michigan wheat, a little rye, and malted barley. Noage information offered. Credible craft bourbon here. It’s frontier style stuff, with a grainy, rustic attack, but the body settles down to reveal lots of vanilla, milk chocolate, and a touch of hazelnut. As with the Silver Cross, Featherbone eschews fruit in favor of dessert, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 90 proof. B+ / $45

journeymandistillery.com

Review: Master’s Selection London Dry Gin

MASTERS FRONT Review: Masters Selection London Dry Gin

You don’t have to make London Dry Gin in London, England. Turns out you don’t have to make it in Great Britain at all. Case in point: Master’s Selection London Dry Gin, which is made in Barcelona, Spain by a family-owned distillery that dates back to 1835.

Process-wise Master’s is a bit unique: Grain alcohol is redistilled in a pot still with Spanish estate-grown juniper, Spanish coriander, and Guatemalan cardamom. After this round, three separate macerations of Spanish citrus are introduced: sweet orange from Valencia, bitter orange from Seville, and lemons from Seville. Each of these macerations is rested separately for a full year being blended together and distilled again. At last, the juniper-coriander-cardamom distillate is blended with the citrus distillate and bottled in a cobalt blue (and, tragically, plastic-looking-but-actually-glass) decanter.

With all that talk of oranges, Master’s better pack some citrus power, and sure enough it does. In fact, there’s so much of it here you might mistake it for a citrus vodka instead of a gin. There’s ample sweetness here; rather than using just the peel as is traditional in gin, Master’s includes whole fruit, and some of that juiciness has found its way into the finished product. That’s not a complaint, and the citrus is well complemented here by the comparably modest juniper and coriander notes.

Ultimately and despite the convoluted production process, this is a perfectly drinkable but far from complex gin. Citrus, then juniper, then a dusting of Asian spice… that’s really about it. This isn’t a big martini gin (or much of a London Dry for that matter), but it’ll work with fruitier cocktails — or even sub in for orange-flavored vodka. Price is right, too.

87.8 proof.

B / $20 / mastersdrygin.com

Review: Tomatin Cu Bocan Standard Edition Single Malt Scotch

Cu Bocan Bottle Image1 Review: Tomatin Cu Bocan Standard Edition Single Malt Scotch

The newly released Cu Bocan is a bit of a “second label” for Highlands-based Tomatin, with CU BOCAN in big letters up top and “Tomatin” buried at the bottom of the bottle.

There’s a good reason for this. Cu Bocan — the name refers to a purported ghost dog that haunts the nearby village — is Tomatin’s only peated expression. It makes non-peated whisky year-round, then one week a year it cooks up its spirit with peated malt. (A limited edition 1989 vintage, bottled in a black decanter and not reviewed here, was allegedly made by accident to get this whole party started.)

Anyway, those peated whisky barrels are now being turned into the ongoing Cu Bocan line, which is bottled without an age statement but which is matured in a mix of raw oak, bourbon, and sherry casks. Phenol totals about 15ppm, so ultimately the peat level is pretty light.

For all the talk of peat, the nose on Cu Bocan is surprisingly delicate and enchanting. It’s just wisps of smoke, with overtones of nougat and a clear sherry influence. The palate ramps up with incense and baking spice, gently roasted grains, and fruit notes that include peaches and apricots. The body is moderate to big — mouth-coating to a degree — and the finish is both warming and gentle. All in all this is a representative whisky of the lightly smoky Highland style and a well-rounded, balanced spirit in just about every way. It may lack the extremes of depth and flavor you get with more mature spirits, but it’s so easy to sip on that it’s difficult not to recommend.

92 proof.

A- / $53 / cu-bocan.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish

008 525x393 Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish

Every year, Chris Morris releases a special edition of Woodford Reserve called the Master’s Collection. This November will see the ninth release of the Master’s Collection, and yours truly was the very first person outside of Brown-Forman to sample it.

I sat down with Master Distiller Morris last night in advance of this bourbon’s formal previewing in San Francisco for a sample and chat. The appearance of Sonoma-Cutrer in the name may have tipped you off already that this is a wine barrel-finished bourbon, and that’s indeed the case. But part of the promise of the Master’s Collection is, in Morris’s own words, that Woodford will never repeat a whiskey. Every year, the company will focus on a different grain, barrel, fermentation process, aging regimen, or other facet of whiskeymaking, but once a Master’s Collection release is sold out, it’s gone.

009 300x225 Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma Cutrer Pinot Noir FinishThe second release of the Master’s Collection way back in 2007 involved a Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay finish, and it was a huge hit. The whiskey is now a bit of a cult favorite and sells for a pretty penny at auction. According to Morris, people still ask him regularly when he’s going to do it again… but given the restrictions of the Master’s Collection promise, the answer has always been “Never.”

Well, not quite. Now Woodford has put out a new Sonoma-Cutrer-finished whiskey, only this time Morris is using Pinot Noir barrels instead of Chardonnay to polish off the spirit.

The production process is straightforward: Fully matured, cask strength Woodford Reserve (roughly seven years old) is moved from its new oak barrel home to French oak Pinot Noir barrels, where it spends another 10 months. These barrels have seen three vintages of Sonoma-Cutrer (the winery is owned by Woodford parent Brown-Forman), so they’re about at the end of their life for wine barrels. Once the finishing is done, the final product is brought down to 90 proof (the same as standard Woodford) and bottled.

I tasted the whiskey with Morris alongside a glass of standard Woodford Reserve for comparison. And man, what an amazing spirit it is.

There’s a lot of DNA shared between these two whiskies, as well there should be. The standard Woodford offers strong notes of cherry, walnuts, and cinnamon, and the Pinot Noir finished whiskey builds on that. Butterscotch is the (surprising) initial rush, but over time – I worked my way through two glasses while Morris regaled me with tales of whiskeymaking – you pick up other notes, including dark chocolate, and fun licorice kick on the back end. The Sonoma-Cutrer bottling picks up more fruit as it aerates, while the standard bottling of Woodford sticks close to its nutty, woody core.

Amazingly balanced and so much fun to explore, this is one of the finest – if not the finest — Master’s Collection bottling I’ve encountered to date. It’s a whiskey that smartly starts with an already strong base, then builds upon it with a savvy finish. With 24,000 bottles produced (vs. 11,300 of the prior Sonoma-Cutrer bottling), you should be able to track some down if you give it a bit of effort, but you will have to wait until November before you start hounding your local liquor store.

What’s up next for these Woodford releases? Morris plays his cards close to the vest but he does reveal that this will be the last Master’s Collection release to feature a special finishing treatment for quite a while. In fact, the Master’s Collection releases have been fully planned out and are now aging in barrels which will cover the distillery’s annual releases through 2021(!) – so any finishing treatments will have to come after that… at which point Morris claims he’ll be preparing for his planned retirement in 2023. Why not start planning a Retirement Edition Bourbon now, I asked Morris. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he replied, looking off into space with a bit of a twinkle in his eye.

A / $100 / woodfordreserve.com

Review: Havana Club Rum 3 Years Old, 7 Years Old, and Seleccion de Maestros

havana club 525x350 Review: Havana Club Rum 3 Years Old, 7 Years Old, and Seleccion de Maestros

For the third time at Drinkhacker we turn our attention to Havana Club, the essential Cuban rum that many an international traveler (including myself) has come to love. Widely available overseas, Havana Club is not available in the U.S. due to trade restrictions with Cuba. Nonetheless today we turn our attention to three of Havana Club’s expressions — out of a total seven that the Havana-based distillery makes.

The reviews below are of 700ml UK-destined bottlings, and the prices are approximate representations of what you’d pay in a typical duty free shop. As a final reminder, remember that this Havana Club is the original and is completely unrelated to Bacardi’s “Havana Club,” which is made in Puerto Rico.

Havana Club Anejo 3 Anos - At 3 years old, this is the youngest of the distillery’s rums (all Havana Club is at least “anejo”) and the only Havana Club expression bottled in clear glass, letting you see the pale yellow (filtered) spirit within. The nose is fruity with some sharpness to it, with the exuberance and slight funk of a white rum balanced by its share of refinements. Fresh lime is the biggest fruit note here, with hints of grapefruit and blood orange coming along after. The finish is spicy and piquant, offering a touch of hogo that is quickly cleaned away. Excellent as a mixer, Havana Club says this is “made for mojitos,” and it’s easy to see why. 80 proof. B+ / $20

Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos -  The standard bearer of the Havana Club brand, 7 Anos offers a complex nose that, while clearly rum, ventures into exotic notes of polished wood, passion fruit, banana, coconut, and butterscotch. The body features tropical notes, ample vanilla caramel, cocoa powder, some smoky wood fire notes, and plenty of molasses. For kicks I compared this rum to the Italian-bought version of the same spirit (though the bottle has changed a bit) I reviewed in 2010. Very similar, indicating nothing major has changed at Havana Club in the last few years, though I get a bit more cocoa on the palate in the current bottling than the older one. Same rating. 80 proof. A / $30

Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros (pictured) – This “masters’ selection” is triple barrel aged, first in standard oak barrels, after which individual casks are selected and blended and aged further in a second set of barrels. After this round of maturation, the maestros sort through these barrels, pick their favorites, and blend them again in a third barrel, after which the rum is bottled at 90 proof. Sounds like a lot of work (and frankly, not a whole lot of information on either the wood used or the amount of time spent in it), but the results speak for themselves. The nose is intense and deep, a bit of a departure from Havana Club’s usual approachability. The nose includes light smoke, leather, nuts, and charred orange peel. On the palate, the extra alcohol is immediately noteworthy, giving the Seleccion more of a sherried character, along with notes of raisins and plums, incense, cinnamon, and tobacco. It’s a markedly different experience than the 7 Year Old expression, but of equally high quality and just as enjoyable in its own right. A / $60

havana-club.com

Review: New Amsterdam Orange and Pineapple Vodkas

New Amsterdam Orange 750ml JS 351x1200 Review: New Amsterdam Orange and Pineapple Vodkas

New Amsterdam’s gin and vodka lines are becoming increasingly commonplace thanks to their very low price point and upscale bottle design. These new flavors are fairly natural extensions to the line, bringing the total number of New Amsterdam flavors up to six. Intriguingly, both represent a major departure from (and improvement over) the more pungent and booze-forward notes that are characteristic of New Amsterdam’s recent attempts at flavored vodka, upon which I’ve remarked in the past.

Thoughts follow. Both are 70 proof.

New Amsterdam Orange Vodka - Fresh and juicy on the nose, but sweet to the point of being almost candylike. Tangerine notes emerge with time, the overall impact being very sweet and uncomplicated. Looking for some high-test orange zest to add to your cocktail? New Amsterdam Orange will get the job done without making things complicated. This isn’t a complex spirit nor is it anything like biting into an actual piece of fruit, but it’s a considerably more drinkable spirit than the lemon-focused New Amsterdam Citron, for example. B+ 

New Amsterdam Pineapple Vodka – Again with the candy, but this vodka is stuffed with tropical notes — not just pineapple but coconut and maybe some guava, too. So sweet and powerful with candylike fruit notes, it’s like drinking a cheap but functional beach cocktail straight from the spigot. Again, New Amsterdam has dialed back that alcoholic funkiness by pushing the sugar content to epic highs, and it’s an approach that has its merits. I hate to be one to encourage such shortcutting, but drop a little of this into a blender with some Coco Lopez and some ice and you’ve got a credible and super cheap Pina Faux-lada without ever having to crack into a can of pineapple juice. Sophisticates can safely snub it, but your mom will eat it up. B+

both $13 / newamsterdamspirits.com

Tasting Report: Pinot Days 2014

Pinot Days 2014 is now behind us, and as usual it offered some of the best Pinot Noirs (and a few Chardonnays) from all over California and Oregon. There was plenty to love at this show, particularly wines from the always-enchanting Sojourn and Dutton-Goldfield, but I also made a huge discovery in the form of Belden Barns, a brand new label from Sonoma that was only now making its public debut. Keep an eye out for this rising star!

Thoughts on all wines tasted follow. Prices are noted where they were available.

Tasting Report: Pinot Days 2014

2011 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley / $45 / B+ / tart, quite herbal
2011 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Mendocino County / $34 / B+ / lots of cherry, tart, mineral edge
2012 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Nash Mill Vineyard, Anderson Valley / $40 / A- / silky and balanced, bursting with fruit
2012 La Follette Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast / A- / silky and modest, pretty, quiet
2011 La Follette Pinot Noir van der Kamp Vineyard Sonoma Mountain / B+ / lush, roaste meat notes, smoky edge
2011 La Follette Pinot Noir DuNah Vineyard Russian River Valley / A- / citrusy, sweet and sour sauce notes
2012 La Follette Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast / A- / big tropical notes, caramel
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast / $54 / A- / intense cherry, strawberry; grows as finish builds
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast / $54 / A / rich and full of cocoa and raspberry notes; a favorite
2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard Sonoma Coast / $59 / A- / orange peel and herbal notes, dense with evergreen and cherry tones
2012 Ca’Nani a Del Dotto Pinot Noir / B+ / very big body, strawberry notes
2009 Del Dotto Pinot Noir Cinghale Vineyard Sonoma Coast / B / massive herbs and grassy nots, lots of oak
2011 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Russian River Selection / B+ / high acid, focused on fruit
2012 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Halberg Vineyard Russian River Valley / B / heavy tartness, herbal character
2012 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Halberg Vineyard Russian River Valley Dijon Clones / B- / similar, more vegetal
2011 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Dundee Hills / C / something’s off here; big barnyard nose, funky flavors
2011 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Estate Cuvee / C+ / light barnyard, lots of wet earth
2012 Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Chardonnay Artist Label Oregon / $30 / A- / a surprising winner, rich and creamy, with lots of fresh fruit
2011 Cornerstone Cellars Pinot Noir Willamette Valley / $50 / B+ / a bit tough now, give this one a year or two
2011 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Home Vineyard” / $60 / B / herbal, mushroom, restrained
2011 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Lower Block” / $65 / B / similar, quite tart
2011 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Old Block” / $75 / B / slightly edgier, with bigger mushroom notes
2005 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Texas Hill Road Vineyard” / B+ / hanging on, with grilled meats and anise notes
2001 Clos Saron Pinot Noir “Home Vineyard” / B- / showing some VA, but still has a core of fruit
2012 Belden Barns Serendipity Block Pinot Noir / $48 / A / rich, with robust chocolate notes — first public showing of this new Sonoma Mountain winery
2012 Belden Barns Estate Pinot Noir / $38 / A- / good balance, fruit and chocolate, but restrained composition
2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Clark & Telephone Vineyard Santa Maria Valley / A- / baking spices and lively fruit showing up here
2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Las Alturas Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands / A- / similar, better balance
2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Dairyman Vineyard Russian River Valley / B+ / on the tart side; lively fruit
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Azaya Ranch Vineyard Marin County / $58 / A- / big body, lots of fruit and spice
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Marin County / $58 / A- / lots of fruit again, tart edge, slight chocolate character
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch-Fox Den Vineyard Green Valley / $58 / A- / similar character, ample fruit, some vanilla
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch-Emerald Ridge Vineyard Green Valley / $58 / A- / some menthol character, mild herbs, strawberry and cherry
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Winery Pinot Noir Angel Camp Vineyard Anderson Valley / $58 / A- / pretty, some floral notes, raspberry

Review: Beachwood/Heretic/Stone Unapologetic IPA and Stone RuinTen IPA 2014

These days, Stone Brewing Company is a juggernaut of new releases, with new brews sometimes arriving at the pace of one every couple of weeks. Here we have two of Stone’s latest, including a relaunch of one of the company’s most famed IPAs, and a three-way collaboration among some California brewing icons.

Thoughts on both follow. Get ‘em while you can!

Stone Unapologetic WEB 125x300 Review: Beachwood/Heretic/Stone Unapologetic IPA and Stone RuinTen IPA 2014Beachwood/Heretic/Stone Unapologetic IPA – This collaborative brew is from the California-based trio of Beachwood Brewing (Long Beach), Heretic Brewing (Fairfield), and Stone (Escondido). It’s a big IPA crafted with Magnum and Chinook hops, plus four new Washington-grown strains (HBC 342, Hopsteiner 06300, Azacca, and Belma), giving it a truly unique makeup (and a bit of a new flavor profile, too). The beer is a hop monster but it’s also loaded with fruit flavors. After the initial rush of bitterness dies down, look for notes of lemon and peaches, almost like a fruit custard has been blended into the classic, piney notes of the IPA. The finish is sweet and tropical, hinting at coconut milk, making for an unusual IPA that is both intensely hoppy as well as dessert-friendly. 8.8% abv. A- / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

Stone RuinTen Heroshot WEB 2014 224x300 Review: Beachwood/Heretic/Stone Unapologetic IPA and Stone RuinTen IPA 2014Stone RuinTen IPA 2014 – “A stage dive into a mosh pit of hops” is about right. This is the 2014 release of Ruination, which Stone originally launched to much fanfare in 2002 and which was released as an even hoppier version in 2012 for the 10th anniversary of the company. The recipe here is the same as the 2012 bottling; only the name has changed. (The name is intended to be suggestive of what this beer will do to your palate, given its 110 IBUs — and, at over 10% alcohol, what it will do to your mind as well, I presume.) RuinTen features ample hops (five pounds of Columbus and Centennial hops (then dry-hopped with Citra and Centennial), per barrel of brew), but presents itself with class and finesse. The nose and body are resinous with pine tree sap, bitter orange peel, and cloves. Ultra-ripe fruit comes on strong as you sip it, culminating in a somewhat malty, syrupy, and lightly smoky combination of flavors. The finish offers hints of marshmallows and canned fruits, pine trees and applesauce. All kinds of flavors going on, and firing on all cylinders. 10.8% abv. A / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

stonebrewing.com

Review: Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur

ancho reyes 525x660 Review: Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur

The ancho chile is a dried poblano pepper. A popular element in both traditional Mexican cuisine and upscale cooking, ancho chiles have a gentle, smoky flavor with hints of chocolate and cinnamon. I use ancho a lot in the kitchen, but never thought about how it would fare in a cocktail.

Ancho Reyes is a new liqueur made in Mexico, reportedly made from a recipe created in Puebla in 1927. You can use it as a cocktail ingredient or drink it straight as an aperitif — neat or on the rocks.

This is fun stuff. Initially it offers an amaro-like character on the nose, with a root beer and licorice character to it. Spice emerges after a few seconds, a surprisingly racy, chili pepper heat that really tickles the nostrils. The body’s full of complexity and interest, immediately filling the mouth with heat, tempering that spice with vanilla, cinnamon, and dark chocolate. Exotic notes of incense, bitter roots, and orange peel emerge over time, particularly on the finish.

This is a versatile spirit with all kinds of applications, from adding it by the drop in a margarita to drinking it by the shot glass after a hefty meal. It may sound like a niche product, but it’s got a truly surprising level of flexibility.

80 proof.

A / $33 / anchoreyes.com

Review: Ardbeg Auriverdes

ardbeg auriverdes 525x585 Review: Ardbeg Auriverdes

Earlier this summer, iconic Islay distillery Ardbeg released its annual “Ardbeg Day” limited-edition whisky release, Auriverdes. The name is from Portuguese and refers to the colors green and gold (Ardbeg’s classic color scheme) and is a nod to the Brazilian flag and the just-completed World Cup.

The whisky eschews finishes for what is a bit of a gimmicky barrel treatment: Standard American oak (ex-Bourbon) barrels are given “specially toasted lids” that were used just for Auriverdes. Considering the relatively small surface area of the lids of the barrel compared to the rest of the cask, I can’t imagine that this toasting regimen has had a significant effect on the whisky inside. Putting that aside, let’s look at the spirit within. As usual for these releases, it is bottled at cask strength and with no age statement.

Auriverdes starts off with sweet barbecue smoke on the nose, with touches of burnt orange peel, sherry, and salted caramel. The body is quite sweet — sweeter than I expected from an Ardbeg — with notes of rum raisin, creme brulee, and Madeira up front. As the whisky develops in the glass and on the tongue, you catch snippets of meaty bacon and syrup, more smoked meats (pork ribs, methinks), plus light chocolate and vanilla malt notes on the back end. The finish is long and continues to grow in sweetness, really coating the mouth and becoming increasingly warm and rounded as it develops. The only cure is the fiery bite of another sip… and we know what that leads to.

This is a completely solid Ardbeg release, and the heavy, winey notes make it seem like it has had a finishing run in some kind of fortified wine barrel, but that’s not the case. It doesn’t entirely reinvent the well-worn Ardbeg wheel, but it provides enough of a unique spin on the formula to make it worth exploring.

99.8 proof.

A- / $100 / ardbeg.com

Review: Ventisquero Grey 2012 Pinot Noir and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

Ventisquero NV GreyPinotNoir Bottleshot 104x300 Review: Ventisquero Grey 2012 Pinot Noir and 2011 Cabernet SauvignonWe covered the “Grey” line from Chilean producer Ventisquero late last year, and now the winery is back with two more releases, both from international varietals. Thoughts follow.

2012 Ventisquero Grey [Glacier] Pinot Noir Leyda Valley Las Terrazas Vineyard – This single block Pinot spends 12 months in French oak barrels, after which time it comes out as an earthy, intense expression of the grape. Massive mushroom and wet leather notes interplay with blackberry and cassis. It’s spicy, but with more the bite of a green pepper than anything in the herb family. Interesting structure but the balance is pushed to far into the vegetal. B / $20

2011 Ventisquero Grey [Glacier] Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Trinidad Vineyard – Grey Cabernet pops out after 18 months in oak barrels, revealing a surprisingly balanced and restrained wine. The nose is vibrant with fruit and lightly peppery, with just hints of licorice. On the palate it shows only a light dusting of tannins, with deep blackberry, tree bark, and light balsamic notes. Quite fruit-friendly, and a very good value to boot. B+ / $18

ventisquero.com