Category Archives: Reviews

Tasting Report: When Sake Met Cheese

Sake is traditionally thought of as a pairing for Japanese cuisine… but how about cheese? SakeOne put together a little sampler in conjunction with the Marin French Cheese Company (plus friends) — an amazing producer that’s all of 8 miles from my house here in Northern California.

We’ve reviewed most of these sakes before, so today I’m just looking at the concept of pairing rice wine with rich cheese. Here are some case-by-case thoughts on a quartet of duos.

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo ($14) with Marin French Petite Breakfast Brie – This is an interesting combination and great first exploration, coming across a lot like the way that melon and parmesan cheese can match up swimmingly. The brie is beautiful alone, and the sweeter sake does work as nice foil to the umami in the cheese.

Momokawa Organic (Unfiltered) Nigori ($14) with Laura Chenel’s Chévre – Fresh, moist, and creamy, this slightly grainy cheese pairs nicely with the cloudy, more savory sake. Overall it’s less of a counterpoint though, and more of a happy companion with the cheese.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry ($27) with Laura Chenel’s Ash-rinded Buchette – This very pungent cheese might have been a bit spoiled during shipment to me. That said, this sake is also more pungent than those preceding it here, balancing its melon notes with some deeper, funkier character — so I can see how the combo would work.

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior Junmai Ginjo ($27) with Rogue River Blue Cheese – Sake + blue cheese? Another surprising winner. This recalls the first pairing — a little sweet meets salty/savory — but amps things up quite a bit. Winter Warrior is a lively and balanced sake on its own, but this is a wonderful example of how a big, punchy cheese can elevate a quality sake into new and exciting territory.

Review: Ungava Canadian Premium Gin

UNGAVA UNGAVA 1L 525x840 Review: Ungava Canadian Premium Gin

When thoughts turn to Canada, the mind immediately thinks of its national spirit: Gin.

Wait, what? Ungava isn’t just a Canadian gin — made exclusively with handpicked native Canadian botanicals — it’s a bright yellow Canadian gin. Think electric, Galliano-class yellow. Now that’s a unique gin.

Inspired by all things in the Great White North, Ungava is a gin infused with six botanicals, many of which are completely foreign to most of us. Nordic juniper is the most mundane, followed by crowberry, Labrador tea, cloudberry, Arctic blend (a leafy evergreen shrub), and wild rose hips (which give Ungava its bright yellow color).

It’s nothing if not eye-catching. Here’s how it works out in the glass.

There’s pretty juniper starts off the nose, with touches of lemon peel and an indistinct grassiness. The body is juniper-forward, but only modestly. As the more piney elements fade the gin brings forward notes of forest floor, sour apple, saffron, and rubber. The finish veers more toward earth than botanical pungency, offering a sort of chewy tree bark character as it fades to black.

All told, Ungava is a balanced, versatile, and likable gin, remarkably traditional in many ways despite its unorthodox botanical bill, but with enough distinction — and that unmistakable color — to merit continued exploration.

86.2 proof.

B+ / $30 / ungava-gin.com

Review: 2012 Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast

smith hook cabernet Review: 2012 Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon Central CoastA blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah from the San Antonio Valley, Arroyo Seco, and Paso Robles AVAs, this inky black wine is simply overflowing with blackberry jam and liquid chocolate. There’s no structure here to speak of. Instead it’s all juicy berries and a quick, lightly-tart finish that serves to lightly cleanse what quickly becomes a palate overwhelmed by sweetness. When pairing, think of cheese plates and chocolate mousse, not steak and rack of lamb.

B / $30 / smithandhook.com

Review: Solbeso No. 1 Fresh Distilled Cacao

Solbeso Bottle 2 525x593 Review: Solbeso No. 1 Fresh Distilled Cacao

First: Solbeso is not a creme de cacao, and it is not a cocoa-flavored anything. Solbeso is a new type of spirit that is distilled directly from cacao fruit, the first and only spirit of its kind (at least that I’m aware of).

How does this work? Cacao pods are picked at various South American farms, the fruit surrounding the pods (not the pods themselves) is juiced, and fermented with a combination of local yeast and Champagne yeast. Distillation is completed in hybrid column/pot stills on a regional basis, then the various regional distillates are finally brought together and blended in the United States before bottling.

So, to recap: This is a distillate of fermented cacao fruit juice.

Almost clear in color, Solbeso is closest in character to a white rum. The nose is not chocolaty, but rather indistinctly sweet. As you exhale, there are touches of light cocoa powder, cinnamon, and brown sugar — notes that grow in intensity as they develop in the glass. There’s also a moderate burn on the nose, but it’s nothing too overwhelming.

The body  is more citrus-focused at first, offering a sourness that mingles with dusky floral elements. Solbeso’s tasting notes identify (rightly, I think) this as honeysuckle. Again, my mind turns to hints of chocolate — cinnamon-infused Mexican chocolate is a better analogy — but maybe that’s just my mind playing with me? The finish is a bit rustic, but continues to showcase both citrus/floral notes as well as a dusky, cocoa-hinting character that sticks in the back of the throat.

All in all this is quite the odd duck and doesn’t show its greatest strengths on its own, but it is something which would fare well as a substitute for white rum in any number of cocktails — even something as mundane as a rum & Coke. Others have compared Solbeso favorably to pisco, and Solbeso Sours are also worth exploring.

80 proof.

B / $35 / solbeso.com

Review: Nicolas Feuillatte X’Ploration 2014 Brut Reserve Champagne

nicolas feuillate XPloration Bottle 109x300 Review: Nicolas Feuillatte XPloration 2014 Brut Reserve ChampagneThis limited edition bottling of Nicolas Feuillatte’s Brut Reserve is all set for the holidays, available in two, fancy sleeves (the gold one is shown at right; there’s also a black version). It’s a special edition for 2014 (at least the packaging is), but the wine itself is not vintage dated.

I’m a fan of Feuillatte in general, but this expression of Champagne hits all the right points for fresh, fun, holiday tippling. Crisp apple notes on the nose start things off, with lively touches of lemon peel and rhubarb joining the party after. The finish is clean and fresh, offering slight herbal notes on the finish that balance the citrus character up front. Delightful.

A / $36 / nicolas-feuillatte.com

Review: Platte Valley Moonshine

Platte Valley Moonshine Family 525x365 Review: Platte Valley Moonshine

The Platte Valley can be found in Missouri (and thereabouts), far away from the moonshinin’ capital of the world, Appalachia.

Don’t tell that to McCormick distilling — makers of the well-known, eco-friendly 360 Vodka. Among other spirits, McCormick also makes Platte Valley Moonshine (“a true expression of the south… since 1856″), too. This is a 100% corn whiskey bottled in a classically-styledd ceramic jug. And while most moonshine is traditionally bottle unaged, Platte Valley spends 3 years in barrel before bottling. (What type of barrel isn’t disclosed, but I’m guessing refill bourbon barrels based on the pale yellow color.)

The nose is all sweet cream and corn — think creamed corn — with notes of toasted marshmallow and malted milk powder. On the palate, the sweetness hinted at on the nose becomes almost overbearing, a spun sugar web that locks up notes of caramel corn, almonds, and a touch of Fig Newton. The finish is lengthy and more than a bit cloying, making it tough to believe this hasn’t been doctored with more than a few sugar cubes before bottling.

Neat jug, though.

80 proof.

B- / $20 / plattevalleymoonshine.com

Review: Anchor Distilling Christmas Spirit White Whiskey 2014

Christmas Spirit High Res 497x1200 Review: Anchor Distilling Christmas Spirit White Whiskey 2014

Last year San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling released a limited-edition, Christmas-focused white whiskey called White Christmas. This year it’s back, (cleverly) renamed Christmas Spirit.

As with White Christmas, this year Anchor has double distilled last year’s 2013 Christmas Ale and turned into into an unaged whiskey. The ale is different every year, so the whiskey should follow suit, no?

The 2014 Christmas Spirit is more clearly a white whiskey than the almost gin-like 2013 White Christmas. The nose offers popcorn notes, cream of wheat cereal, and cedar tree bark. On the palate, a few piney notes emerge — hints of gin, like last year — but these are overwhelmed by a more indistinct wood character, notes of raisins, cinnamon bark, and touches of leather and tobacco leaf. The finish is racy, hot and spicy, with more cinnamon and evergreen notes counterbalancing the malty roasted grain character.

All in all this is a different expression of white dog than 2013’s rendition, but a slightly more cohesive bottling, one which showcases more of the whiskey/beer underpinnings as well as the seasonal character of the spirit. Ho ho ho.

90 proof. Available in California only.

B+ / $50 / anchordistilling.com

Review: The London No. 1 Gin

gonzalez byass 525x703 Review: The London No. 1 Gin

The world of gin is awash in numbers. There is Tanqueray No. Ten. Beefeater 24. Monkey 47. No. 3. No. 209. And London 40. Now the numismatics are coming full circle, with The London No. 1.

This gin is produced in England but under the ownership of the Spanish comany Gonzalez Byass, best known for its winery (where it is the producer of Tio Pepe sherry). That’s curious enough on its own, but London No. 1’s blue color is also of particular note. This is not a blue-tinted bottle like Bombay Sapphire. This is blue gin (courtesy of some certified colors).

The blueness is a nod toward one of the more unique botanicals in the mix here, namely the iris flowers used here as an addition to the more standard juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon peel, orange peel, and both cassia and cinnamon. Also in the blend are liquorice, almond, savory, and bergamot.

That sounds like a lot, but London No. 1 is surprisingly well-constructed. On the nose you’ll find a solid juniper base, plus hints of caramel sauce, orange and even grapefruit notes. The licorice character is mild but distinct — while this ingredient is becoming commonplace in modern gins, this is one of the few products I can recall where I could actually taste the licorice element.

The body of London No. 1 Gin starts off restrained, zero alcoholic burn, and almost tasting watery despite a hefty 47% abv. But things open up a bit with some air, revealing more of the gin’s nuances. Some earthy notes emerge at the start, with juniper and citrus peel close behind. The midpalate veers toward a bittersweet character, its citrus taking on balsamic notes, with some of that lily-driven floral character finally emerging as the finish rumbles along. There’s sweetness on the back end too, a bit earthy, almost caramel mixed with honey in character, perhaps thanks to the bergamot. It’s a nice way to end things — not too dessert like, and providing a nice balance to the racier front side.

I’m not sold on the blue color, but the gin itself is versatile, well-made, and unique in its own way.

94 proof.

B+ / $30 / thelondon1.com

Review: Cascade Ice Zero-Calorie Mixers

cascade ice 326x1200 Review: Cascade Ice Zero Calorie MixersMixers are getting a bad rap of late, what with all the added sugar and extra calories they add to your glass. Here’s a new brand of no-cal, flavored, sparkling waters: Cascade Ice Zero-Calorie Sparkling Water. They all contain pear juice — but not enough to give the drinks a single calorie, about 1% — and are sweetened with sucralose, sometimes to within an inch of their lives.

31 flavors are now available. We tasted five, all of which are some shade of pink or purple. Can you really mix with these? You be the judge. (Oddly, Cascade Ice didn’t send us their actual mixers like Margarita and Mojito flavors, so you’ll just have to read about these fruit-centric ones instead.

Cascade Ice Blueberry Watermelon – Impossibly sweet, with essence of watermelon Jolly Rancher. C-

Cascade Ice Strawberry Banana – Veers more toward the banana side of things, with a sweet-tart finish. Also impossibly sweet. C

Cascade Ice Cranberry Pomegranate – Incredibly sweet, but more of a classic cocktail mixer than the other flavors here. Tastes much like any cran-whatever mixer. Used sparingly, could be acceptable in a low-cal cosmo. C+

Cascade Ice McIntosh Apple – That’s a pretty specific type of apple, ain’t it, Cascade Ice? The resulting beverage is slightly caramelly, with a touch of crisp apple coming along on the finish. Less sweet than many of those above, but still overpowering. C+

Cascade Ice Huckleberry Blackberry – Who’s your huckleberry? This easy winner in the Cascade Ice lineup, which balances the sugar with tart berry notes — though which berries are a bit tough to place. This is the only one among the group that I could drink straight, and which, used sparingly, would make for the most interesting cocktail companion with its nodes toward creme de cassis. B

each about $2.50 (17.2 oz.) / cascadeicewater.com [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water

fever tree 500ml Elderflower Tonic Dry 525x1016 Review: Fever Tree Elderflower Tonic WaterFor its latest trick, top-shelf mixer maker Fever-Tree is bringing forth a tonic water — its third expression, if you don’t include the diet version it also sells. As the name implies, Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water is an elderflower-infused tonic water, made with Fever-Tree’s typically high-end ingredients, including cane sugar and natural quinine.

For those who find standard tonic water too bitter, this expression is just the ticket. The bitter quinine is softer here, mellowed by sweet-and-sour citrus notes that run more distinctly toward grapefruit and lime zest than elderflower specifically. The finish is clean and bittersweet, refreshing as those citrus notes endure. The tonic water pairs well with gin and vodka, though the fruitier notes tend to get overpowered by gin’s more powerful elements. I’d aim for a more citrus-focused gin over a juniper-heavy one when choosing a companion. All in all, lovely stuff — even for sipping on its own.

A / $3.50 (500ml) / fever-tree.com [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye

Slow Low Bottle Shot 525x1037 Review: Hochstadters Slow & Low Rock and Rye

Rock & Rye is coming back into vogue as a cocktail, and that’s probably just fine with the folks at Hochstadter’s, who are bottling a premade version of the cocktail called Slow & Low Rock and Rye. (The producer is the same company behind St. Germain, among other recent classics.)

Hochstadter’s takes rye whiskey and flavors it — strongly — with orange and honey (plus a bit of lemon, grapefruit, and horeshound), then bottles the concoction along with plenty of rock candy syrup, which knocks the sweetness into the stratosphere. We sampled a bottle to see what the fuss was all about a century or so ago…

The nose starts off surprisingly perfumed, then that orange peel character starts to push its way to the front. Sharp and sweet, it is punctuated by the earthier honey notes beneath the fruit. The palate is heavy, very heavy, on fruit. Tasted blind (literally blind) I doubt I would be able to peg this as based on whiskey at all, much less rye. Ignore the bottle and you could be drinking a special bottling of Grand Marnier, or perhaps a flavored rum. That’s a long way of saying that the characteristic sweet-and-spice of rye whiskey is largely absent here. What you do get are some vanilla overtones, but these aren’t distinctly whiskeylike. That honeyed orange element is just too powerful to mess with.

Mind you, that’s not a slight. Slow & Low is a flavored whiskey-slash-cocktail in a bottle, and as such the flavor component of that really should shine. That said, Slow & Low is quite the powerhouse, and it’s a bit overwhelming on its own — much more so than any Old Fashioned you’d encounter in a bar or mix up at home. Try it with plenty of ice and maybe a splash of water (or soda) to mellow things out a bit and make it . Also: Mind the extremely wide-mouth bottle. It pours fast!

84 proof.

B / $24 / drinkslowandlow.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Uncle Val’s Restorative Gin

uncle vals restorative gin 394x1200 Review: Uncle Vals Restorative GinDoes this bottle look familiar? Does the name sound familiar, too? Ah, you’re probably thinking about Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin, which we reviewed upon release in 2012.

Uncle Val’s Restorative Gin offers a somewhat different formulation. In lieu of juniper, cucumber, lemon, sage, and lavender — the key ingredients in Botanical — Restorative offers juniper, coriander, cucumber, and rose petals.

If that sounds a lot like Hendrick’s, that’s because it is a lot like Hendrick’s. And once again, my tasting notes run to some unexpected places that are not wholly in keeping with the botanical bill. The nose presents juniper and lemony citrus (surprising, as there’s no citrus in the gin), a brisk and powerful introduction that should keep fans of more traditional, juniper-forward gins happy.

The body folds in the florals — lots of rose petal character (considerably more than Hendrick’s) that fortunately manages to stay on this side of the perfume counter. The coriander adds an earthy element that is present mainly on the finish. Cucumbers are the only element that don’t really make a major showing. Intended to be “cooling,” the gin does have a gentler (and sweeter) let-down on the back end than you might expect, which takes things out on a refreshing and, well, restorative finish.

I like this gin a bit better than the Uncle Val’s Botanical bottling, although with only four botanicals to rely on, Restorative has to work harder for your love. For the most part, it succeeds in earning it. Hendrick’s fans should definitely give this a shot to compare and contrast.

90 proof.

A- / $40 / 35maplestreet.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Drinkhacker’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Can it be time for the holidays already? We’ve been utterly swamped in 2014 with new products for review, which makes this seventh annual edition of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards” — all the tougher to produce. As usual, we are looking not just at what the very best release have been over the last 12 months, but also want to help you find the perfect give for your special someone, whether that’s whiskey, tequila, or any other spirit.

As always, the offerings below are but a small selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, but we definitely try to focus on products that are legitimately available. Got alternatives to suggest or gift ideas you think we missed? Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

Check this gift guide out in full-color PDF form, perfect for printing out and taking with you holiday shopping. Also check out our 20132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

woodford 109x300 Drinkhacker’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish ($100) – Every year Master Distiller Chris Morris puts out a special release of Woodford Reserve — sometimes a wildly different one — and his 2014 experiment is the best he’s ever done. This bourbon takes woody WR and finishes it in fruity Pinot Noir casks, bringing out a whole new side of this Kentucky classic. Just as worthy are two other incredible bourbons from 2014, Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Bourbon ($125) and Four Roses 2014 Single Barrel ($80). That’s really just a modest start to an amazing year for Bourbon. There are so, so many good bottlings out there right now. It’s almost hard to pick badly if you can’t find any of these three.

Scotch – The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 1 ($350) – The sole “A+” rating I gave to any whiskey all year went to Balvenie’s latest Tun release, Tun 1509 Batch 1. The prior Tun series, Tun 1401, also made appearances on our holiday list, but this year Balvenie quadrupled production in order to give more folks out there a shot at actually tracking this stuff down. The quality hasn’t suffered. Whether it’s for you or for dad, go for it. It’s worth it. Other amazing picks worth seeking out: Mortlach Rare Old ($110), Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Years Old ($500), The Exclusive Malts Ledaig 2005 8 Years Old ($110), and The Arran Malt 17 Years Old ($95).

Green Spot Bottle 147x300 Drinkhacker’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasOther Whiskey – Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey ($50) – This is an amazingly tough category this year, but ultimately I have to go with a whiskey that has enchanted me throughout 2014, the blissfully simple yet gorgeous Irish whiskey Green Spot, which finally made it to our shores this spring and currently stands as one of whiskeydom’s greatest deals. (Watch for Yellow Spot to slowly float over, too.) My close second is Hibiki 21 Years Old ($250). 2014 has been declared by others “the year of Japanese whiskey,” but it’s Hibiki, not Yamazaki, that is putting out the very best stuff right now. This year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection Original Batch Wheat Whiskey 13 Years Old ($90), a wheat whiskey, not a wheated bourbon, is also a standout, as is the ever-exciting Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old ($80).

Gin – Genius Gin ($26) – Who’d have thought 2014’s best gin would hail from Austin, Texas? Get the standard edition. The Navy Strength is less refined. Overall a weak year for gins, other recommended bottlings include Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve Barrel Finished Gin ($70) and The 86 Co. Ford’s Gin ($30/1 liter).

Vodka  Re:Find Cucumber Vodka ($25/375ml) – Vodka’s never a thrilling category (or much of a gift), but spending 25 bucks on this best-ever cucumber vodka is not a bad way to fill a stocking. Other top picks include the Vodka DSP CA 162 line (each $38), made by the former crew behind Hangar One, Santa Fe Spirits Expedition America West Vodka ($25), and Bluewater Organic Vodka ($27).

vizcaya 21 198x300 Drinkhacker’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasRum – Vizcaya VXOP Cask No. 21 Cuban Formula Rum ($40) – Fascinating rums have been in short supply of late (I’m presuming you can’t find a way to get Havana Club where you live), but this Dominican rum is a killer bottling. Also highly recommended is Bacardi’s boutique bottling of Facundo Exquisito ($120), which runs up to 23 years old.

Brandy – Charbay Brandy No. 89 ($92) – This craft brandy from Charbay, distilled 26 years ago, is a killer that can go toe to toe with any Cognac. Louis Royer Force 53 VSOP ($43) is also a fabulous spirit and a great bargain.

Tequila – Roca Patron Reposado ($80) – The typically breakneck pace of tequila releases slowed down in 2014. Patron’s new higher-end bottling, particularly the reposado, was my favorite. Also standing out were Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Scotch Cask Finished Reposado Reserva 2014 ($90) and the festive KAH Tequila line ($45 to $60), which tastes as good as its bottles look. High-end mezcal fans should run, not walk, to Del Maguey Iberico Mezcal ($250).

Liqueur – Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur ($33) – From the first time I tasted this, I knew it would be the Drinkhacker liqueur of the year. Ancho chile is so distinctive and unique, and these guys do amazing work with it in alco-form. Try it in, well, anything.  Other excellent giftworthy liqueurs include Perc Coffee Liqueur ($28), Barrow’s Intense Ginger ($31), and the new Wild Turkey American Honey Sting ($23) — technically a flavored whiskey, but which drinks more like a liqueur.

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

Review: Louis Royer Force 53 VSOP Cognac

LOUIS ROYER FORCE 53 VSOP silo 525x610 Review: Louis Royer Force 53 VSOP Cognac

Most Cognac is bottled at the usual 80 proof, but Louis Royer’s Force 53 says screw that, let’s take a cue from the fellas in the whiskey world and go megaproof.

The choice of 53% abv (106 proof) isn’t accidental. The House of Royer got its start in 1853. Lucky for them, I guess, that the business didn’t launch in 1799. Or 1801.

From a spec standpoint, the higher alcohol level is the major distinguishing feature of Louis Royer Force 53. Otherwise it’s a standard VSOP Cognac in composition, which means that technically the spirit’s been aged a minimum of just four years in cask.

Turns out the extra alcohol (and some smart knowhow) makes quite a difference. Many VSOPs are perfectly drinkable and full of life, but few have the punch and power of Force 53. What could have come across as almost watery in an 80 proof Cognac is instead, well, forceful and lively in this bottling. Here, notes of caramel apple take on more apple pie-like overtones on the nose. The body is delightfully rich, dusted with cinnamon and cocoa powder, offering fig and raisin notes on the back end. That classic Cognac sweetness is unmistakable throughout, all those fresh citrus, apple pie, banana cream, and molten caramel notes building to an expressive and delightful — yet still youthful — whole.

For barely 40 bucks, you will be hard pressed to find a brandy of any ilk that is as well-balanced and downright enjoyable as Force 53, and Royer may very well find it has launched a big trend with this “high strength” idea in a world where 80 proof has long ruled the roost.

A / $43 / louis-royer.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Lost Prophet Bourbon 22 Years Old

Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet Hi Res Bottle Shot 525x679 Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Lost Prophet Bourbon 22 Years Old

These orphans are working harder than Oliver Twist for Diageo, and a fourth expression of the Orphan Barrel Project is now hitting the market: Lost Prophet.

The Lost Prophet stock was distilled in 1991 in Frankfort, Kentucky at what was then the George T. Stagg Distillery and, per the company, was found in the old Stitzel-Weller Warehouses in Louisville. The whiskey is bottled in Tullahoma, Tennessee. The mashbill for Lost Prophet Whiskey is 75-78% corn, 7-10% barley, and 15% rye.

This is a fun and intriguing spirit that’s hard not to like. The nose is immediately unique, almost startling, with notes of intense menthol, tanned leather, cloves, and citrus oils. The body punches hard — hotter at first than its proof level would indicate — with notes of molasses, dark cherry, big vanilla, some gingerbread lat in the game, and a moderate amount of wood.

Not at all hoary or tough the way many very old whiskeys can be, Lost Prophet Bourbon still manages to feel fresh and exciting, offering a rich and engaging experience that is both plenty complex while also being easy-drinking and refreshingly enjoyable. So many old whiskeys leave you with a bitter, astringent aftertaste, but Lost Prophet’s denouement is lightly sweet, lasting, and memorable.

For a bourbon over 20 years old, Lost Prophet is actually quite cheap. Doubt it will stay that way, of course…

90.1 proof. Reviewed: Batch Tul-Tr-1.

A / $120 / orphanbarrel.com

Review: Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice 21 Years Old

Dec12 BruichladdichCuvee 382 1 525x684 Review: Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice 21 Years Old

When people ask me what my favorite whiskey is — and they do that a lot — after I hem and haw about it for a while, I usually tell them it’s one they’ve never heard of: Bruichladdich 16 Years Old First Growth Series: Cuvee E Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes Finish, a limited edition that Laddie put out in 2010 and which is down to its last drops in my bar. (My “A” rating at the time is too low.)

Cuvee E is long gone from the market, but Bruichladdich recently put out a spiritual successor of sorts, Cuvee 382 La Berenice. It’s a different animal — five years older and finished in both Barsac and Sauternes casks, but with my beloved Cuvee E nearly spent, I sprang for a bottle of 382 to keep the party going.

Cuvee 382 is a study of contrasts, starting out much, much darker in color than Cuvee E, offering the appearance of what looks like a well-sherried whiskey. The nose is serious, more intense than Cuvee E, and less sweet from the start. Biscuits, gingerbread, and leather oil pervade the racy, punchy nose. The body brings lots of dried fruits into the equation, folding these into notes of roasted grains, more leather, and some citrus peel. It doesn’t offer the bright and sweet honey character of Cuvee E, however, rather it takes things in a more austere direction. Watch for a surprising rush of sea salt on the finish to polish it all off.

Altogether, this is a surprisingly different whisky than the distillery’s prior Sauternes-oriented bottling, though it has plenty to recommend it in its own right. While it sticks closer to a more traditional malt whisky formula than Laddie’s previous experiment with a sweet white wine finish, it remains a remarkable and remarkably drinkable dram.

92 proof.

A / $170 / bruichladdich.com

Rueda Wines Reviewed: Shaya and Jose Pariente

Shaya Habis 376x1200 Rueda Wines Reviewed: Shaya and Jose ParienteFret not if you’re unfamiliar with Rueda. This region, directly to the west of Spain’s Ribera del Duero, is the home to a white wine that is beginning to find favor overseas. Long a favorite in its homeland, Rueda wines are made primarily from the verdejo grape (viura and sauvignon blanc are also grown here, as are some red wine grapes). Best of all, the wines are quite affordable and designed for everyday drinking (much like Ribera reds).

Think of verdejo as somewhere between sauvignon blanc and viognier. For a more detailed look at what this wine is like, we examined two recent vintages straight outta Rueda.

2010 Bodegas Shaya Habis Verdejo Old Vines Rueda – Somewhat buttery and nutty on the nose at first, the wine’s aromatics eventually take hold on the tongue, offering light perfume mingled with notes of apricot, lime zest, and a touch of tropical character. Hazelnuts make an appearance as the wine’s finish fades, bringing things full circle. A- / $25

2013 Jose Pariente Verdejo Rueda – A touch musty, this wine offers peaches and apricots on the nose. A touch of caramel and cotton candy get the palate started, and then more of a citrus and tropical character takes hold. Pleasant, simple, and fruit-forward. B+ / $10

Review: 2011 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills

matchbook tempranillo 83x300 Review: 2011 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan HillsHere’s a surprisingly lovely little wine from JL Giguiere’s Matchbook brand, made from Tempranillo in Yolo County, grown in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The restrained nose features notes of tanned leather, stonework, touches of smoke, and dried fruits. On the palate, things are more fruit-forward: dark cherries, plums, tobacco, and cranberry notes lead to a well-rounded, moderately big finish. This wine offers balance as well as lasting fruit notes that polish off a food-friendly, imminently drinkable wine that drinks like a considerably more expensive bottling.

A- / $15 / crewwines.com

Review: The Balvenie 25 Years Old Single Barrel and Tun 1509, Batch 1 Single Malt

The Balvenie Tun 1509 batch 1 525x660 Review: The Balvenie 25 Years Old Single Barrel and Tun 1509, Batch 1 Single Malt

Lucky day: Not one, but two new bottlings from a perennial favorite: The Balvenie. Actually, the distillery has recently released three different whiskies, the third being The Balvenie Fifty, Cask 4567, a 50 year old expression that runs $38,000 a bottle.

We did not manage to nab a bottle of this lattermost one, but no matter: We did sample the other two, a new 25 year old single barrel release and a new sibling in the Balvenie Tun series, Tun 1509, Batch 1.

Let’s discuss each in turn.

First, The Balvenie is adding a new single barrel edition to its regular release range, a 25 year old single barrel expression that joins the 12 year and 15 year single barrel expressions that have launched in recent years. This new 25 year old expression spends its life entirely in traditional American ex-bourbon casks, a departure from the sherry cask barrels used for the 15 year single barrel bottling. Again, this is an ongoing release, and while stocks will be limited, it will remain available for the foreseeable future.

Second, The Balvenie Tun 1509 is the sequel and successor to the impressive Tun 1401 series, which composed a set of nine different batches of whiskies that were blended up in small quantities, about 2000 liters per batch, and released in very limited amounts over the last few years. We reviewed several of the Tun 1401 series (see Batches 3, 6, and 9) — only a few of the nine ever made it to the U.S. — but all were gone much too soon. Now, Tun 1401 has been retired, and Tun 1509 is in. This mixing vessel can hold 8000 liters, which means the whisky blended up in it may be less “rare,” but it will at least be easier to find.

Thoughts on both of these whiskies follow.

The Balvenie 25 Years Old Traditional Oak Single Barrel – Shockingly light in color, this hardly looks like it’s been in barrel for a year, much less 25. The actual presentation on the tongue and nostrils, however, is quite the opposite. Seductive notes of caramel and some citrus notes are well-integrated on the nose, making it candylike without being cloying. The body takes this and runs with it, firing on all cylinders. The caramel notes turn toward dark chocolate sauce, the fruitiness toward essence of orange flowers, caramel apples, honey, and some spice — cinnamon, allspice, and a bit of brown sugar. Throughout, Balvenie 25 keeps things light and lively, a whisky that’s lithe and light on its feet, a treat that combines the pleasures of a well-aged senior statesman with the gentler body of a fresher, younger spirit. If it weren’t so gorgeous I’d call it a simple pleasure. 95.6 proof. A / $599

The Balvenie Tun 1509, Batch 1 Single Malt – Batch #1 of Tun 1509 is made from whisky aged in ex-bourbon barrels (35 casks) and sherry butts (7 casks), for a total of 42 casks worth of single malt commingling in Tun 1509. The results are powerful compared to the quieter 25 year old single barrel, evident from the start by looking at the deep amber color of the whisky. The nose is exotic and rich, offering punchy notes of well-burnt sugar, coffee, dried figs and raisins, and a touch of coal fire smoke. The body then takes all of these components and promptly kicks them right in the ass. Dried fruit takes a spicy, Christmas-like turn toward the baking pantry, with notes of cloves and cinnamon dominating. There’s more red fruit on the palate — think plums — along with notes of blood orange and tangerine. Some malt is here, but the cereal character is warm and inviting, like a well-doctored bowl of oatmeal on a cold day. This whisky drinks embarrassingly easy despite topping 94 proof, taking its burly, rounded body and just having its way with your palate from start to finish. Speaking of the finish — it’s long, warming, and, as it vanishes, it leaves you begging for more. One of Balvenie’s best whiskies ever. 94.2 proof. A+ / $350

thebalvenie.com

Review: Privateer Silver Reserve Rum

privateer rum 525x782 Review: Privateer Silver Reserve RumAs I’ve noted before here, rum has a long history of being distilled in America, and now it’s on the upswing again thanks to craft distillers and the easy availability of high-quality sugar products. Privateer is made by Andrew Cabot, a distant descendant of the Revolutionary-era Andrew Cabot, who was a rum-maker in his own time.

Based in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Privateer is made from Grade A molasses, crystallized sugar, and boiled brown sugar. Double column distilled, it is then rested in stainless steel before bottling. (An amber rum, not reviewed here, spends time in a variety of casks before bottling.)

Most white rums are aged in barrels for a time to mellow them out, then filtered back to white. Privateer Silver doesn’t have that luxury, and it’s surprising to see how the distillery has produced such a well-rounded and flavorful rum without taking this step.

The nose of Privateer rum offers classic notes of coconut husk, Brazil nuts, and a maltiness that mellows out some of the rougher alcohol character of the spirit. Nothing fancy, but on the palate, the rum starts to shine, offering notes of rich caramel, brown sugar, hazelnuts, and a dusting of cocoa powder. The finish is short but fresh, providing a pleasant rush of sweetness to finish things off. Fans of hogo will find just a touch of it here, but on the whole the body is gentle enough for easy sipping for most anyone, and it’s got plenty of utility in cocktailing applications, too.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #23.

B+ / $27 / privateerrum.com