Review: Four Roses 2016 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon “Elliott’s Select”

2009Limited Edition- 173

Astute readers might recall that in January 2015, Four Roses discontinued its annual Limited Edition Single Barrel releases, citing a shortage of available stock to produce it. Then beloved distiller Jim Rutledge retired and Brent Elliott got promoted to the job. Somewhere, Elliott found enough 14 year old, lower-rye OESK-recipe bourbon to revive the bottling — which this year runs 8,000 (hand-numbered) bottles in size. (That’s about double the typical size of a Four Roses LE Single Barrel release.)

The yearly Single Barrel releases only use one of the famed 10 Four Roses recipes. The last time OESK was used was in 2012, which was bottled at a somewhat younger 12 years old and at about 109 proof.

Tasting the 2016 — Elliott’s first solo release as master distiller — reveals plenty to like. It’s a much different whiskey than the 2012, which is today showcasing butterscotch, gingerbread, and loads of baking spices before heading toward a winey, very sweet chocolaty finish. In contrast, the 2016 offers aromas of marzipan, green olive, barrel char, and a little toasted coconut. The palate deftly blends sweet and spicy, notes of black pepper folding in nicely to those of a crusty fruit pie, more almonds, vanilla, and some curious notes of fig and — again — green olive. The interfplay is fun. The finish woody but easily approachable.

Altogether a very solid whiskey for Mr. Elliott. Let’s see what’s next.

As a single barrel release, proof varies; figure around 116.8 proof.

A- / $125 / fourrosesbourbon.com

Review: Iichiko Kurobin Shochu and Yuzu Liqueur

iichiko Kurobin

We last visited with two of Iichiko’s shochus in 2013. Today we look at a third variety from Iichiko, plus a liqueur made from yuzu fruit. Thoughts follow.

Iichiko Kurobin Shochu – No production information available; “Kurobin” means “black bottle.” Heavy melon notes on the nose, with a touch of sugar distinctly sake-like. Nose and palate are both very, very mild, offering basic of honeydew notes, a pinch of sea salt, and just the barest essence of citrus. The most neutral shochu I’ve encountered, this is an elegant, if uncomplex, spirit that would work well as a lower-alcohol alternative in any drink that calls for vodka. 50 proof. A- / $32

Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur – An Asian spin on triple sec, made from barley and natural fruit juice; this is essentially watered-down, flavored shochu, tinted just the faintest shade of yellow. On the nose, distinctive notes of lemongrass, lightly tropical elements, and a bit of Meyer lemon rind. The body folds in a slightly vegetal cilantro character which adds some balance to what could have been overly sweet The very low alcohol level might cause this to get lost in a complex cocktail, but give it a try in a margarita, sidecar, or similar. 16 proof. A- / $11 (375ml)

iichiko.co.jp

Review: Woodchuck June & Juice Juniper Hard Cider

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Woodchuck’s latest “Out on a Limb” cider is this true oddity — June & Juice — a juniper-based cider that takes the gin and tonic as its inspiration.

It’s a semi-sweet apple cider made by steeping fresh juniper berries, rose buds, and orange peel into the mix. The results are better than I expected, a light and refreshing cider which isn’t too sweet and which doesn’t overdo the botanical elements, either. Lightly junipery, the rose flowers make a distinct impression and give it a floral focus. With a little time in the glass, citrus makes a stronger showing. The finish lets the apple base shine — again, with just the right balance between dry and sweet.

While it’s loaded with uncharacteristic flavors, it’s one of the more worthwhile cider releases in recent months.

5.5% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

Round 2 Review: (Reformulated) LIQS Ready To Drink Cocktail Shots

liqs

Last year we saddled LIQS ready-to-drink shots — little single-serve plastic shot glasses sealed with foil — with a bunch of C grades and promptly forgot all about them. Recently the company said the product had been reformulated to use real fruit juice and was anxious to get a fresh review. A few of the products have actual names now, instead of just lists of ingredients.

So let’s oblige, and check out three of the four varieties on offer. (Note that at least one of the old LIQS, including the Cucumber Lime version, is no longer in production.)

LIQS Vodka Kamikaze – Vodka, triple sec, and lime juice. A kamikaze should be sweet, but there’s too much of it here, and the lime flavors don’t really make it through with enough citrus bite. There’s a touch of vanilla here, which comes across as a bit weird in the end. All told, it’s relatively harmless, but with a saccharine aftertaste. 45 proof. B-

LIQS Vodka Lemon Drop – Vodka, sugar, and lemon juice. Probably the best of the bunch, which is good because there’s just not much you can mess up here. The attack is a touch medicinal but moderately strong lemon notes hit along with an appropriate amount of sugar. Nothing too fancy here, but it’s good enough in a pinch. 45 proof. B

LIQS Tequila-Cinnamon-Orange – Well, this one never got a real name and is still known by its ingredients. It’s still the only non-vodka based shot in the lineup. The cinnamon is a touch strong here, and it also features a vanilla character that gives it a Creamsicle character. Easygoing despite the higher proof level, it has an overall gentler approach than the 2015 version, without the overbearing aftertaste. A vast improvement. 55 proof. B

$18 for six 1.5-oz. shots / liqsshot.com

Review: Wines of Noble Vines, 2016 Releases

Like Cameron Hughes before it, Noble Vines eschews fun names in favor of a simple three-digit number to identify its various bottlings. (Unlike Hughes, however, Noble Vines’ numbers indicate rootstock, vineyard blocks, or both.)

Sourcing grapes largely from two vineyards, one in Lodi, one in Monterey, the company currently produces six low-cost wines. We review three below. Thoughts follow.

2014 Noble Vines 242 Sauvignon Blanc San Bernabe Monterey California – A bit odd for a sauvignon blanc, with clear notes of brown sugar and cinnamon. The finish dials back the sweetness and offers a squeeze of lemon, but lacks the acidity you want in a great sauvignon blanc. B- / $9

2014 Noble Vines 446 Chardonnay San Bernabe Monterey California – Oaked to within an inch of its life, this ultra-buttery Chardonnay almost feels retro in an era when wines are embracing acid over this kind of wood treatment. The end result is flabby, with notes of melon to offset the heavy vanilla and raw oak character. C / $9

2013 Noble Vines 667 Pinot Noir Monterey California – Another flabby experience, the fruit here overshadowed by notes of marshmallow and vanilla ice cream. A sort of brambly blueberry note emerges in the finish, but the heavy sweetness endures. B- / $11

noblevines.com

Review: Hard Frescos

hard frescos

Mexican sodas are one of life’s little pleasures. Naturally someone had to try and improve on them by adding alcohol.

Hard Frescos are, as is common in this category, not really sodas but rather malt beverages with copious flavoring added. In other words, they’re heavily doctored and sweetened in order to attempt to drown out the malt liquor funk that is omnipresent in these kinds of drinks. To its credit, everything is natural in each of the four Hard Frescos expressions, and each includes 25% fruit ingredients in the bill. All of the expressions clock in at 5% abv, and all bottles are 11.5 oz. (16 oz cans are also available.)

Can you shortcut your way to a Tequila Sunrise with a Hard Fresco? (Strangely, a Paloma-esque grapefruit soda is not available.) Let’s find out.

Hard Frescos Cola Buena – Smells like cola (this is “brewed with real kola nut”), but the palate is sickly sweet with notes of cheap, Chinese candies and laden with an overripe fruit character that dominates any vanilla-cinnamon notes that one expects from a cola-flavored drink. The aftertaste is epic and, I should add, far from buenaD+

Hard Frescos Juicy Jamaica – A hibiscus flavored drink, again very sweet and fruity, but here the sweetness is more warranted, making the experience come across more like a boozy fruit punch. The malty funk found in the Cola Buena is largely absent here; if you can handle some heavy strawberry and cherry notes (and precious little floral character), this isn’t a bad spin on an, indeed, juicy punch. B

Hard Frescos Citrico – Flavored with “real citrus and guava” — but looks like orange soda. Tastes like it too (with a slight tropical edge), but again there’s a funky, medicinal character underneath that tends to dominate the experience. It’s more evened out than the cola, but more obviously “alcoholic” than the jamaica. If you imagine this to be a very cheap and abstract version of a margarita, it makes the experience a bit more worthwhile. B-

Hard Frescos Tangy Tamarind – Jarritos made me a tamarindo convert, but this Hard Frescos rendition is decidedly weird, offering notes of cocoa powder, walnuts, marzipan, and brewed tea — all of which are various shades of brown but none of which taste anything like tamarind. This concoction, whatever it is, doesn’t taste particularly offensive, but it pales in comparison to what a real tamarind soda is like. C+

each about $4 per 11.5 oz bottle / hardfrescos.com

Review: Few Spirits Breakfast Gin

Few Breakfast Gin

Gin for breakfast? Well, brunch anyway.

With Breakfast Gin, Few Spirits is targeting some specific cocktails — including the Ramos Gin Fizz and the French 75, which are a little more appropriate before noon than, say, a Manhattan. Botanicals include juniper, lemon, and Earl Grey tea (among others).

Launched in Chicago in summer 2015, the gin was a local hit and is rolling out nationally now.

Thoughts follow.

The gin is light on its feet, at first a bit woody on the nose, but in time revealing more of the herbal notes driven by the tea element. On the palate, the gin is gentle at first, with uncomplicated juniper notes up front. These give way to more of those tea-driven notes, heavy on orange peel and grapefruit peel notes, before finishing with a brighter burst of citrus.

It’s got less going on than you might expect based on the unusual addition of tea in the botanical bill, but it’s definitely worth trying out in the above mentioned cocktails, or in one of the ones below.

84 proof.

B+ / $40 / fewspirits.com

And now, some recipes…

Madteani
by Sara McDaniel, MAD Social, Chicago
3 oz. Few Breakfast Gin
.5 oz. brewed Earl Grey tea
.5 oz. honey syrup (1 part honey, 1 part water)
3 dashes Bar Keep Lavender Bitters

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a Martini or coupe glass. Garnish with an edible flower.

White Lady
by Todd Elkis, Adele’s Front Room, La Grange, Ill.
1.75 oz. Few Breakfast Gin
1.25 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. lemon juice

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

The Spell
by Ergys Dizdari, SIP, Chicago
1.5 oz. Few Breakfast Gin
.5 oz. elderflower liqueur (such as St. Germain)
.75 oz. lemon juice
.75 oz. Rose-Lavender Syrup*

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a spritz of rosewater and a rose petal.

*Rose-Lavender Syrup
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 cup dried rose petals
.5 cup dried lavender

Add all the ingredients to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and let stand until cool. Fine-strain and store in the refrigerator.