Review: American Star Vodka

AmericanStarVodkaCroppedLook closely at the label — “Star Vodka” is a totally different product — and you’ll see a small “American” in the etching above the “Star” on this exceptionally hard-to-read vodka bottle from Ascendant Spirits (makers of Breaker Bourbon).

American Star is distilled (at least) five times from corn (the bottle just reads “grain”) in Santa Barbara County. A straight expression and three flavors are available. All are 80 proof, and all are reviewed below.

American Star Vodka – Pungent on the nose, with notes melding medicinal notes with some marshmallow character. The body’s a bit muddy, its distinct vanilla character enhancing the vodka’s creaminess on the palate. The finish isn’t sharp or cleansing but rather fades away with a lengthy (but not unpleasant) fade away. Best as a mixer. B

American Star Caviar Lime Vodka – At first I thought this was some kind of terrible typo for Kaffir Lime, but it turns out caviar lime is its own wacky thing. This vodka uses these finger-shaped limes for flavoring, resulting in a quite successful spirit. The nose is distinctively lime — very fresh and not at all artificial smelling, with some floral undertones. On the palate, the citrus sustains, with a touch of vanilla — driven perhaps by the base spirit — to add some nuance. Much cleaner than the straight version. A-

American Star Strawberry Vodka – Tinted pink, flavored only with organic strawberries. Along with fresh berries, the nose offers floral notes and hints of whipped cream. It’s an enchanting lead-up, but the body is less successful. Here we find the vibrant fruit overwhelmed by astringency, sour elements, and a finish that comes across as artificial and unpleasant. Unfortunate. C-

American Star Ghost Chili Vodka – The infamous ghost pepper (hardwood smoked here) finds a home in this lightly yellow-colored vodka. The nose doesn’t offer many hints, but the body is hot as all get-out. Searing red pepper attacks the palate almost immediately, but later on the smokier elements, and just a touch of sweetness, offer some relief from the heat. Not much, though. Tread with caution. B

each about $33 / ascendantspirits.com

Review: anCnoc Cutter, 12 Years Old, 18 Years Old, 24 Years Old, and 1975 Vintage

Ancnoc1975-

Knockdhu’s anCnoc recently flooded our mailbox with a collection of single malts, including three members of the age-statemented line, one new one from the NAS “Peaty Range,” and a very special offering from anCnoc’s vintage-dated collection of whiskies. We gathered them all up and put them through the Drinkhacker gauntlet. Thoughts follow.

anCnoc Cutter Highland Single Malt – Part of the anCnoc Peaty Range, Cutter is peated to 20.8 ppm, which gives it a hefty smokiness that you don’t find much in the anCnoc lineup. The nose is well peated and gentle with cereal notes. The body wears its smoke up front, folding in iodine notes, some saltiness, and a biscuit character. The finish is more purely smoky — more wood fire than smoldering peat — which leaves things in relatively uncomplicated territory. 92 proof. B / $85

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 12 Years OldRevisiting this young malt reveals many similar notes — though it feels like an evolution of the expression I reviewed a few years ago. As before, there are plenty of cereal notes here, to be sure, but things soon evolve with notes of sweet breakfast cereal, citrus syrup, and some maple notes. It drinks young — and comes across a bit hot on the finish — but it’s charming in its own way. I’d give this slightly different spirit a bit better rating than I did back in 2011. 86 proof. B / $40

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 18 Years Old – This whisky is a bit medicinal on the nose, but the body is all malty grains. The cereal lingers for ages alongside modest honeycomb, nougat, and some gentle citrus character, driven by the sherry cask aging that some of anCnoc 18 undergoes. (The 18 year a blend of whiskies aged in either sherry or bourbon casks.) The finish takes things into slightly vegetal territory, folding almond nougat into some mushroom character. Yeah, that sounds weird and it is, a little. 6000 bottles made. 92 proof. B- / $105

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 24 Years Old – Sherry-forward, with some smoky elements, particularly on the nose. The body offers tons of orange and grapefruit, balanced out with fresh cut grains, hay, popcorn, and a bit of petrol. I get hints of fresh, fried fish — perhaps this expression’s nod to the sea — before it returns to notes of golden syrup, honey, and a bit of lumberyard. Lots going on here, but it all comes together in the end with a sunny, pastoral disposition. Very limited production. 92 proof. B+ / $170

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 1975 Vintage – 30 years old (so this has been kicking around in tanks or bottles for quite some time). A single-vintage vatting of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry-casked whiskies. Gentle cereal notes backed by classic sherry sweetness lead the way on the nose, along with a touch of coal smoke. The body is well developed and features nicely integrated layers of fresh citrus, orange marmalade, ginger cake, and dried fruits. Hints of graham cracker, almonds, and milk chocolate emerge on a somewhat racy (and winey) finish. Very hard to find. 92 proof. A- / $530

ancnoc.com

Review: Don Pancho Origenes Rum 8 Years Old, 18 Years Old, and 30 Years Old

DP30yrs_white_USAhighres

First off, Don Pancho is a real dude. He’s Cuban, his real name is Francisco Fernandez, and he’s been in the rum business for 50 years, only he has been making it for other people. Don Pancho is the first brand he’s ever made for himself, so it better be good, huh? Produced in Panama, the rum is crafted by blending barrels of Fernandez’s own stock, with the top expression bearing a whopping 30 year old age statement on it — which is almost unheard of for rum.

We tried all three of the launch expressions from Don Pancho, which are being imported into the U.S. by Terlato. All are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Don Pancho Origines Rum 8 Years Old – Bold and pushy, this is a funky, vegetally-driven rum that starts off with notes of root beer, dried figs, leather, and sea salt on the nose. The body punches this up with licorice and cloves before releasing the sweetness — dense molasses, brown sugar, vanilla, and toffee, with a cola-driven bite on the back end. This yin-yang between the funk and the sweet release grows on you, making it a solid sipper and a character-filled mixer. A- / $40

Don Pancho Origines Rum 18 Years Old – No stopover at 12 or 15 years like regular distillers would do. Don Pancho jumps straight to 18 years old for its “mid-level” expression. The nose is similar to the 8 year old. The aromas of sea salt are hard to miss amidst all the dense, dried fruit and leathery character. On the tongue, such sweet nirvana. Here the denser, earthier character is very short-lived, and the fruitier elements take hold much more quickly. Cola comes in earlier, along with more dried and fresh fruits — raisins and figs — before seguing into notes of butterscotch, vanilla, and chocolate syrup. The finish is a bit winey, almost Port-like with a rum raisin character that lingers in the throat. I find this back end overstays its welcome just a tad. Overall, stellar stuff, though. A- / $90

Don Pancho Origenes Rare Rum 30 Years Old – Thirty years, whoa. It’s hard to believe that rum can mature effectively this far out, but Don Pancho knows his stuff. This is rum nirvana as near as I can tell. The nose tempers some of the hogo character of the “younger” Don Pancho expressions, offering a purer brown sugar and molasses character flecked with cinnamon and cloves. The body is drinking just perfectly, almost Christmassy with notes of toffee and vanilla layered over ginger cake and sugar cookies. There’s just a touch of that coffee and root beer character on the finish, which adds a layer of nuance to a rum that already smacks of perfection even without that little afterthought. Gorgeous. A+ / $425

terlatowines.com

Review: Wines of Brazil’s Salton, 2015 Releases

Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc 2013Yes Virginia, it’s not all cachaca. They also make wine in Brazil. Vinicola Salton is my first exposure to Brazilian wine, via this trio of bottlings that span a range of styles from classic Old World expressions to oddball blends I’ve never seen before.

Thoughts on all three follow.

2012 Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc – 100% cabernet franc. Slightly lean, with a nose of red berries, leather, and some smoke. The body offers more structure, with more of a tobacco character, strawberry fruit, and a pleasantly floral, vaguely sweet finish. Not what I was expecting from a 100% cab franc wine, but interesting in its own right. B+ / $15

2013 Salton Classic Tannat – 100% tannat. Best known as a tannic blending grape in France, tannat has become quite international and has made its way to Brazil in this 100% varietal wine. Woody and slightly dusty with a somewhat leathery core. Some green vegetation on the nose. Some dried fruits peek through here and there, but overall this is a better match with food. B- / $15

NV Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut – A sparkling wine from 70% chardonnay, 30% riesling. Quite an enjoyable tipple, with gentle sweetness, clear honey/tropical riesling notes, and a floral bouquet. The finish is just a touch muddy, but this would make for a great wine — and quite a conversation starter — on a hot summer day. B+ / $17

salton.com.br

Review: Redd’s Green Apple Ale and Wicked Mango

Redd's Wicked Mango CanDon’t call it cider.

Redd’s is beer flavored with apples (and other fruits), not fermented from apples directly.

The company (part of MillerCoors now) just put out two new versions: Green Apple and Wicked Mango

Redd’s Green Apple Ale – It tastes just like sparkling apple juice with the tiniest of kicks, a clear nod toward the ladies (and guys, OK) who want to tipple on something but don’t like the taste of beer. I get a slight hint of orange and pineapple… but mostly it’s straightforward — and authentic — fresh apple notes (though not distinctly green apple). Keep it away from your kids, though. They’ll just think it’s their afternoon juice. After your first one, so will you. 5% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Redd’s Wicked Mango – Apple and mango-flavored beer — or technically, malt liquor. It’s called “Wicked” because it’s higher in alcohol content. Aromas are hard to peg on the nose but come across more akin to guava than mango. The body is both tropical and a bit earthy, with a distinct alcoholic aftertaste. Not as purely refreshing as the Green Apple Ale, but some drinkers may prefer its significant kick. 8% abv. C+ / $11 per 12-pack of 10 oz. cans

reddswickedapple.com

Review: Ardbeg Perpetuum

Ardbeg Perpetuum bottle & carton (NXPowerLite)

Ardbeg Day (May 30) is almost upon us, and as usual that means a new Limited Edition whisky from this classic islay distillery.

2015 marks Ardbeg’s 200th birthday, and for this momentous occasion the distillery has produced a special bottling: Ardbeg Perpetuum, an expression “inspired by the man styles, ideas and quirks of fate which have influenced Ardbeg recipes over time. It combines different styles, different flavours, different dreams and different trials, all skilfully married together in a melange of the very best Ardbeg has to offer.”

That means Perpetuum is a recipe that includes some very old and very young stock, aged in both bourbon and sherry casks, “and some surprises which hint at the future.” What that means, we can’t say for sure, but here’s what the whisky tastes like.

The color is moderate straw/light gold, hinting at youth. The nose cuts a familiar Ardbeg profile — sweetly smoky, like barbecue smoke, with a salty backbone. Don’t make any judgments yet, though. The body is something else entirely. Brine and seaweed hit the palate first, with less smoke than you’d think. Then comes a rich sweetness — honey, apricot jam, vanilla sugar, and some dark molasses on the back end. The finish has a sulfury edge to it, showcasing charred wood and dark chocolate, completing the tour of duty that takes this whisky from salt to sweet to bitter, all in one quick gulp. It’s incredible stuff that deserves a lot of time and even more introspection — and which stands as one of Ardbeg’s best releases to date.

94.8 proof.

A / $100 / ardbeg.com

Review: Diep9 Genever (Young and Old)

diep 9

We’ve reviewed so little genever here at Drinkhacker that we didn’t even have a separate category for it until I made one just now. A traditional spirit in The Netherlands and Belgium, it’s traditionally made from a distillation of malt wine (a roughly 100 proof distillate from barley), not neutral spirits, then flavored with botanicals similar to gin, including juniper. It’s sort of a hybrid of a white whiskey and gin, which means it ends up in a wide range of cocktail styles today.

Genever is an ancient spirit with at least 500 years of history that predates just about every other spirit category. Some tastemakers have heralded its return to the scene as another notch in the revival of pre-Prohibition cocktails (which were extremely heavy on genever), but most drinkers have yet to warm up to the spirit.

Diep9 (sometimes written as Diep 9) is a Belgian genever that got its start in 1910, where it’s been made in small batches in a 52-gallon column still, using 100% local, East-Flemish rye, wheat, and barley, and flavored with juniper, orange peel, blessed thistle, carob, nutmeg, grains of paradise, angelica root, cinnamon, and coriander. Diep9 makes two expressions: “Young Genever” and “Old Genever,” the former being unaged and the latter being barrel-aged in French oak for two years. As well, the Young Genever is made with 15% barley in the mash; Old Genever has 40% malt.

Here’s how they acquit themselves.

Diep9 Young Genever – Very vodka-like, and quite mild. The nose is slightly sweet, and a bit astringent and medicinal. At first blush this seems like it could very well be a vodka, and even tiptoeing into the body doesn’t let on that there’s more to encounter here (being only 70 proof helps on that front). Some almost random-seeming notes of cucumber, brown sugar, florals, and a little baking spice make this a strange little spirit, but one that isn’t without some charms. It’s light as a feather, and hard not to like because of it. But maybe it’s best not to think of it as a genever — which is traditionally quite heavy in flavor — but as a very light member of the gin family. Starter genever? Starter gin, even. 70 proof. B / $35

Diep9 Old Genever – After two years in the barrel (plus a tweak to the mash, as noted above), Diep9 takes on a much different, funkier character. The nose is big and malty — and a little swampy. Intense notes of Madeira, old wood, root beer, and raw twine build on the palate. This is a lot closer to what I’ve come to expect of genever, but on the palate Diep9 is a bit muddy — almost to the point of having a wet cardboard character to it. Some of the botanicals — coriander and angelica — manage to push through, but there’s so much leathery earthiness and astringency here that it’s tough to really get close to. 70 proof. C / $35

diep9genever.com

Review: Sapporo Premium Beer and Light Beer

sapporoSapporo is a venerable beer brand that’s been in production in Japan since 1876 — which has earned it a hallowed place in Asian restaurants around the world. While it seems like half the Sapporo consumed in these parts is done only with a shot of sake in it, let’s take a look at a few bottles of this classic Japanese lager.

Sapporo Premium Beer – Tastes just like your favorite sushi bar. Malty and bready on the nose. Lightly sweet on the tongue, with plenty of bread-driven notes on the palate. The finish is rounded and mouth-filling — again, with more bread — which makes it work better with food than it does on its own. Nothing special or particularly complicated here, but it does get the job done that it’s built for. 5% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Sapporo Premium Light Beer – Slightly sweet, but largely devoid of character. Here, the bready, malty character is dialed back in favor of more gentle, almost innocuous, basic “lite beer” flavors. 3.9% abv. C+ / $8 per six-pack

sapporobeer.com

Review: 1883 Syrups

1883 - Sea Salt Caramel1883 Maison Routin is a French operation that mainly just makes syrup. Strawberry syrup. Vanilla syrup. Caramelized peanut syrup. Even cucumber syrup. I tried to count the total number of syrups — or sirops in 1883’s parlance — but lost count in the dozens. The bottom line, these are more artisanal creations than your typical Torani, all made with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, and flavored with authentic botanicals. (Artificial flavors are used in the more dessert-focused syrups.)

We got four of 1883’s syrups,  representing a range of flavors and styles that could be used in all manner of cocktails. Thoughts follow.

1883 Yuzu Citron Syrup – Flavored with 4% yuzu, 3% lemon. Largely lemon in overall tone, clean and sweet. Not overdone; works well as a mixer. A classic citrus syrup, uncomplicated. A-

1883 Pomme Verte Syrup – 10% apple juice. Green apple flavored… and colored intensely green, to match. It’s hard to get past the heavy coloration here; the flavor is less authentic and more candylike than the Yuzu Citron — but that’s what anyone drinking an Appletini is probably looking for, anyway. B-

1883 Nougat Syrup – Artificially flavored. Smells a bit funky, not exactly nougat and closer to Amaretto. The body kicks off with brown sugar and cotton candy notes, then fades into something akin to candied almonds and burnt peanuts. Quite cloying. C-

1883 Caramel Beurre Sale – Primarily sugar, water, and salt, plus some natural flavors. Salted caramel flavor — and it’s reasonably authentic. A little of this goes a long way — it’s incredibly sweet — and the nose is quite expressive of caramel (if not salt). The body emphasizes sugar over salt, but that component is there, lurking in the background. I could see using it for a dessert cocktail concoction… or with coffee. B-

each $15 to $30 (1 liter) / 1883.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: 2013 Wines of Les Dauphins, Cotes du Rhones Reserve

dauphinsLes Dauphins is a new label being produced by the Union des Vignerons des Cotes du Rhone, a 1920s bistro-inspired brand that’s priced to move. The Cotes du Rhones wines — all heavily grenache-based — all share the same name, so you’ll have to rely on your eyes to figure out which one’s which. (You can do it!)

While the “Reserve” moniker might be pushing things, these are all drinkable wines with price tags that are tough not to like. Thoughts follow.

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (White) – A simple, entry-level table white wine composed of 65% grenache, 15% marsanne, 10% clairette, and 10% viognier. Somewhat green, with notes of old wood. Fair enough with food but otherwise undistinguished. B-

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (Rose) – 80% grenache, 10% syrah, 10% cinsault. The best of the Les Dauphins line, this is a fresh, mildly fruity rose with notes of strawberry and rose petals. Lightly sweet, but balanced with gentle herbs and some perfume. Pretty and well-balanced. B+

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (Red) – 70% grenache, 25% syrah, 5% mourvedre. This is ultra-ripe, super-fruity juice that’s loaded with notes of strawberry jam, plump raisins, and some black pepper — particularly on the finish. Overbearing at first, but it settles down with time, particularly when accompanying food. B-

each about $10 / lesdauphins-rhone.us