Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Lombard Jewels of Scotland Springbank 21 Years Old

Springbank 21 Year Old Lombard Jewels of Scotland Bottling Single Malt Scotch 525x750 Review: Lombard Jewels of Scotland Springbank 21 Years Old

This independent bottling of Campbeltown favorite Springbank is a D&M Liquors exclusive (link below), so don’t go shopping all over creation for it. Only 263 bottles were produced. 21 years old and fully matured in a bourbon hogshead, this is Springbank at its finest.

The nose is mysterious and mild, with hints of greenery and a kind of petrol note. The body, however, opens up in just phenomenal ways. Fruit hits you first — apples and tangerines, banana and a bit of coconut. From there, make way for some smoky campfire and vanilla marshmallow notes, cedar box, and a touch of seaweed. The finish calls to the barley and heather, both malty and chewy.

Gorgeous stuff. Get it while you can.

99.4 proof.

A / $350 / dandm.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon Entry Proof Experiments

Buffalo Trace Rye Mash Entry Proof Family 300x159 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Rye Bourbon Entry Proof ExperimentsLast year, Buffalo Trace released a line of Experimental Collection bourbons put into barrel at various entry proofs.

As I explained back then: Entry proof describes the alcohol level of a whiskey when it goes into the barrel for the first time. Generally whiskey is watered down a bit before barreling, often to between 105 and 125 proof, before it’s wheeled into the warehouse.

This release differs from the last one in two ways. First, the white dog came off the still at 140 proof, not 130. Second, this recipe is BT’s rye bourbon mashbill (aka mash #1), not the wheated one from last year. Same as last time, though, this white dog was split into four batches, one barreled at 90 proof, one at 105, one at 115, and finally one at 125 proof. All four spent 11 years, 9 months in barrel, and when bottled, they were all brought down to 90 proof. (These barrels were distilled, barreled, and bottled all around the same time as the wheated ones.)

Thoughts follow…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 90 Entry Proof – Light and airy, a candy bar of a whiskey with notes of cherry, nougat, and caramel. Finishes smoothly sweet and easy. Not a lot of complexity, but it makes up for it in delightful simplicity. This is one you could drink all day. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 105 Entry Proof - Much different on the nose, with wood-forward aromas and hints of baking spice and menthol. The body is generous and considerably more balanced than the nose would indicate. Caramel and orange are the major notes, with the burly woodiness coming on stronger on the end. A straightforward if unremarkable rendition of an older bourbon. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 115 Entry Proof - Racy on the nose, with Madeira and Port-like notes. Bold on the palate, with notes of sherry, clove-studded orange, and vanilla caramel on the finish. Great balance here, with a rich, well-rounded body. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 125 Entry Proof - This is BT’s standard entry proof, so should be closest to a typical Buffalo Trace mash #1 whiskey at this age. It’s a blazer on the nose, masking leather and wood notes with somewhat raw heat. It settles down with time, however, revealing a fairly traditional profile of vanilla, caramel, and milk chocolate, with some sawdust edges licking up on the back end. A fine effort but one that doesn’t really distinguish itself especially. B+

As with the rye experiments, this is again a fun exercise — and curiously I liked both the 90 proof and 115 proof expressions the best the last time out. Still, my hunch is that barrel variability probably has a bigger ultimate impact than entry proof does.

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: GlenDronach Tawny Port Wood Finish 15 Years Old and Cask Strength Batch 2

GlenDronach 15yo Tawny Port 191x300 Review: GlenDronach Tawny Port Wood Finish 15 Years Old and Cask Strength Batch 2GlenDronach, “the sleeping giant,” is a storied Highlands distillery that dates back to 1826. As is often the case with these companies, the distillery changed hands a few time and was shut down in 1996. Five years later it was acquired by BenRiach and is now producing again. It’s also releasing aged, old stock, including a core range — all sherry-finished — and a number of special, limited releases, including the two reviewed below, which are both new to the U.S. market.

GlenDronach Tawny Port Wood Finish 15 Years Old – Fiery, roasted grains dominate the nose, like hot bread fresh from the oven. Citrus and red pepper notes follow. On the palate, lots of flavors emerge, rapid-fire, lingering for awhile: Big malt, leather, coconut, and more of that mammoth cereal character are the most prominent. The body is big, the finish lasting. The overall effect: Interesting, but muddy and lacking focus. What’s really missing here? Any semblance of tawny port. If I didn’t know better, I’d have guessed this was a sherry-finished spirit. 92 proof. B / $80

GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 2 – No age statement on this, but it’s finished in both Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks. Punchy on the nose, with notes of cigar box and tar. The body brings forward more of these notes, backed with stronger sherry character, gentle smokiness, and ample malt, the lattermost of which builds considerably on the finish. Hot, but not overpowering, the big, citrus-meets-malt finale recalls a simple breakfast on a sunny day. 110.4 proof. 16,500 bottles made. B+ / $150

glendronachdistillery.com

Book Review: The Drunken Botanist

DRUNKEN BOTANIST 216x300 Book Review: The Drunken BotanistIt only came out last year, but Amy Stewart’s incredibly obsessive-compulsive tome, The Drunken Botanist, has already become a staple of the spirits obsessed.

The idea is deceptively simple. Whatever you drink — Scotch, rum, tequila, vodka — has its origins in the earth — barley, sugar cane, agave, potato (or whatnot). Where do these plants, fruits, and vegetables come from? What makes them different than what we put on the table? And (of course) can you grow your own?

Stewart is deep in the rabbit hole on this stuff, taking you through the botanical origins of, say, the tamarind, describing how it grows and where, and how it’s used in beverages. Tips for growing your own plants — typically herbs and spices — are proffered, and Stewart of course peppers the text with plenty of cocktail and flavored syrup recipes.

Easily digested and broken up into natural chunks, The Drunken Botanist is both easy to jump in and out of while also making a fantastic reference. What’s lemon verbena, anyway? Mauby? Myrrh?

I won’t spoil the answers.

A- / $16 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Bar Review: Hard Water, San Francisco

Hard Water, located on San Francisco’s waterfront just a block from the Ferry Building, is a tiny little place, a restaurant that serves Cajun cuisine and has no tables. Everyone sits either at the bar, a big horseshoe that juts out from the kitchen, or at a ledge around the walls. You’ll take your barstool and you’ll be thankful for it!

Hard Water isn’t particularly famous for its cuisine — which was very good in my encounter there — but rather for its specific devotion to Bourbon whiskey. The back bar, stretching to the ceiling, features over 300 bottles of the stuff, everything from plain old Buffalo Trace ($4/oz.) to Michter’s 25 Year Old ($150/oz.). The super-rare stuff, like Pappy Van Winkle, can only be ordered in flights. The current top shelf listing on the menu is 1/2 oz. each of  A.H. Hirsch 16 year old, Michters’s 20 year old 2012, Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old 2009, and Rittenhouse 21 year old rye. Total price: $250 for 2 ounces of whiskey.

While the bar has some interesting cocktails on the list — the Presbyterian my wife ordered with Wild Turkey 101, lemon, ginger, and soda, was breezy and tart — I turned my attention to the exotic Bourbons on the list. You’d think with 300+ whiskeys listed there’d be plenty I hadn’t tried, but that wasn’t quite true. The few I hadn’t encountered were heavily focused on newer craft distillery releases… and “single barrel” releases that Hard Water had purchased from the big guys.

I focused my attention on these for the evening, ordering 1 oz. pours of Elijah Craig 12 Years Old Hard Water Barrel (94 proof), Four Roses Hard Water Barrel (108.2 proof), and Willett 10 Years Old Hard Water Barrel (128.6 proof). (Well, I ordered the Weller Hard Water Barrel and was brought the Willett Hard Water Barrel, but such is life in a restaurant where we had other people’s orders misdelivered to us on two other occasions.)

None of these was more than $10 an ounce; the Elijah at $5 an ounce is an insanely good deal — the same price as Johnny Drum, for crying out loud!

Both the Willett and Elijah Craig were exceptional, the former a fireball loaded with wood and vanilla that really softened up and brought forth chocolate notes with a hearty splash of water (droppers are provided). The Elijah Craig was ready to go at 94 proof, a creamy caramel candy with mint, citrus, and cinnamon touches. The wild surprise was the Four Roses, a wholesale flop that is easily the worst 4R I’ve ever encountered. A 10 year old made from the OBSO mashbill (which I’ve never encountered in a single barrel or small batch release outside of the company’s standard offerings), this was a dead, flat, and dull whiskey. Herbal and earth notes dominated the body, and the finish was nonexistent. It’s hard to believe someone tasted through Four Roses’ inventory and picked this oddity as a signature barrel.

Whiskey tasting aside, my experience at Hard Water was modest and memorable more for its curiosity than its intrigue. The place is loud and dim, the food (and most of the drinks) overpriced, and the seating uncomfortable. Even the menu is tough to parse. Why have several dozen bottles of Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project here if they aren’t really for sale? (It says “flight only” next to their listing… but no flight is listed.) I suppose those who are really determined will simply have to ask, and hope they don’t bring Smooth Ambler instead.

B / hardwaterbar.com

Review: The Glenrothes 2001 Single Malt Whisky

glenrothes 2001 525x756 Review: The Glenrothes 2001 Single Malt Whisky

It’s been three years since the last Glenrothes Vintage release (the 1998 vintage), and finally the Speyside distillery with the barrel-shaped bottle is out with a new one, 2001, another limited release that sticks closely to the Glenrothes house style. Bottled in mid-2012, it’s an 11 year old single malt whisky.

The nose is surprisingly malty on first blush, with a healthy slug of vanilla and some citrus underpinnings. The palate is at first quite bready, but this fades as the spirit opens up, and as the next wave of flavors start to develop. As the body grows, it shows notes of sherry, creme brulee, and even touches of red berry and chocolate in the finish. Over time, lemon rind and menthol notes develop, too, but the nose brings things back to the bready, malty character that started the whole thing off.

86 proof.

B+ / $70 / theglenrothes.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project: Barterhouse and Old Blowhard

 Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project: Barterhouse and Old Blowhard

Everyone loves a good story, and to spin a good yarn around an original tale is becoming a talent synonymous with spirits industry. A brand simply can’t stand on its merits alone anymore. A successful product launch now requires no less than a multi-million dollar yacht, international release parties, the courtship of the tastemaker kings and queens, and a celebrity endorsement or five. However, nothing shines quite like a good lacquered coating of embellishment to make a product beam in the eyes of the unsuspecting and trustworthy. It is human nature and a constitutional right to amplify facts with the intent of impressing people. Once in high school, a certain writer once stretched a passing conversation with punk rock legend Ian MacKaye into a lunch of vegan tacos, Coca-Cola and a two-hour conversation about the future of his band Fugazi.

So it comes as no surprise that Diageo, dream weavers of the potentially-fictitious dream history of Bulleit, present the Orphan Barrel project: a new chapter in the company’s incredible alternate history of whiskey. If Diageo’s tale is true — some of a challenge in these dangerously murky marketing waters – these barrels were found aging in the mythological temple/warehouse known to Bourbon enthusiasts as the Stitzel-Weller distillery. According to the company, a very select and limited number of these barrels were picked to launch this new whiskey series, with more planning on being “discovered” throughout the forthcoming seasons.

Now it appears this long-lost S-W juice was actually made at the Bernheim distillery. The barrels also weren’t “lost,” they just never got used for their original intent. What was the original home intended for these barrels? Either Diageo doesn’t know (unlikely) or simply isn’t saying, which seems more likely. Why let those traveling down the yellow brick road get a peek at how the Wizard makes the sausage?

Either way, the barrels were shipped from S-W and bottled at the Dickel distillery in Tennessee, a state enjoying the attention and courtship of Diageo as of late. How many barrels? Good question. No one knows the answer to that either, but the edition numbers on the back of the bottles posted on the internet have now reached the 40,000 mark. Given how little would be left in each orphaned barrel at 20+ years of age, the number of barrels involved would have to be in the thousands, hard to “lose” and hardly qualifying as “limited edition” — unless you’re comparing it to the voluminous output of something like… say… Jack Daniel’s?

This lack of confidence on provenance combined with a balance inquiry at a local ATM were big sticking points as to whether or not we should purchase samples for review. Neither eager nor willing to shell out the $225 required for both bottles, a local establishment was pouring small samples for ladies and gentlemen who would otherwise shop the aisles for Kentucky Gentleman. $10.50 was the safer investment of the two options, it made sense to minimize risk and see what the buzz was about. As Chris is wont to say: “Thoughts follow.”

Barterhouse 20 Years Old – With more text on the bottle than a Russian novel, Diageo seems hellbent on cramming as many typographical flourishes as possible per label to remind the consumer of the epic saga they’ve purchased for their mantle, possibly to distract you from what’s inside. (It’s worth noting that Barterhouse’s mascot is a rather sly looking fox.) It’s incredibly sweet, with vanilla and butter on the nose, and soft on the palate, making it hard to even believe this is 20 years of age (with very little oak or sulfur on the taste). The finish is even weaker. Very easygoing and inoffensive, it would be a great starter bourbon for the uninitiated and those with ample money to spend. 90.2 proof. B- / $75

Chris says: I get more of a burnt toffee and considerable heat on the nose, with cinnamon and brown butter on the body. Kind of a weird balance of flavors, but a lot going on. I found this fun to explore, but difficult enough on the finish to make things a bit strange. My rating: B+

Old Blowhard 26 Years Old – A 26-year-old bourbon bearing the name of a cantankerous old man. I might be reading too much into the glass with the brand names here, but if I’m right Diageo isn’t being very subtle. It has a very strong presence right from the moment it lands in the glass. A nose of spices, cinnamon, and a touch of campfire smoke blend with a strong taste of toffee, vanilla, cloves, and a plentiful punch of oak. By comparison to Barterhouse (below), it has a much stronger and present finish with a nice burn of oak and alcohol. At $150, though, it’s hard to get excited on the cost versus quality scale of things. There are way better bourbons at this price point worth considering. That said, this is definitely the better of the two “orphan barrels.” 90.7 proof.  B / $150

Chris says: Quite a different animal. Cloves and peppermint on the nose. The body shows off big vanilla and toffee notes, but the finish turns a bit brutish, with a kind of heavily-flamed orange peel character. Becomes increasingly woody as it opens up in the glass. Intriguing. B+

With this new armada of orphan barrels, Diageo is placing bets on the casual consumer who enjoys higher end premium stuff and places as much stock on the envelope, paper, and penmanship as they do the contents of the letter. The kind of person who would purchase a $150 bottle of bourbon in order to subtly out-compete at the court of the well-heeled Keeneland’s clubhouse on opening day, or a tailgating affair at Churchill Downs in May. Much to the company’s credit, it sort of works. They’ve managed to put the fox in some very nice sheep’s clothing for the flock. However, in the end, the best consumer is one that is as well-informed as possible. Or as the song goes: “Never mind what’s been selling, it’s what you’re buying.*”

Limited Edition of Ten Frillion, or whatever number Diageo wants.

diageo.com

*The author is well aware of the thick glaze of irony created by enlisting references to the traditionally sober, straight-edged and highly anti-corporate Fugazi in a whiskey review.

Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer – BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Stock Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer   BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Bacon doughnuts, bacon gum, bacon mints, and now… bacon beer? One of the hottest crazes to sweep the nation lately has been bacon-flavored products, and not even beer seems to be able to escape its allure. In 2011, Oregon-based Rogue Ales teamed up with Voodoo Doughnut to release its Bacon Maple Ale, but now homebrewers can join in on the swine-inspired fun. (Which I did, for your reading pleasure.)

Northern Brewer’s BACON! Smoked Red Ale homebrew kit is available in both extract and all-grain varieties, featuring cherrywood smoked malt to cement the smoky, meaty character. However, what sets the Northern Brewer kit apart from crowd is the inclusion of liquid bacon extract. At first glance, this vial is intimidating; it appears thick, smells of a combination of brine and bacon, and doesn’t shy away from potency. Keep in mind, though, that this 30ml of extract is enough for 5 gallons of beer.

Bacon 3 Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer   BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Out of the box, the extract version of the kit contains specialty grains (chocolate malt, honey malt, Caramunich, and the aforementioned cherrywood smoked malt), dry malt extract (amber and wheat), dark malt syrup, an ounce of Willamette hops, 30ml of bacon extract, and your choice of dry or liquid yeast.

While steeping the specialty grains and during the boil, a strong smoke and barbecue aroma fills the air as the cherrywood malt works its magic. When I added the bacon extract after the boil, I could sense how meaty this beer was going to turn out.

Bacon 2 525x350 Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer   BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Disclaimer: Each homebrewer has different equipment, technique, and experience. Your results may vary.

Despite the aggressive pork notes that emerge while brewing the beer, BACON! cleans up nicely within the glass after a few weeks of conditioning in bottles. While Northern Brewer’s stock photo shows a radiant ruby color, my version was a little bit darker, bordering on mahogany. In the nose, the bacon still stands in the spotlight but isn’t overpowering. In fact, there’s a pleasant balance between the meatiness and a honey, caramel sweetness. This balance continues into the body, where a mild amount of chocolate contributes to the complexity.

Overall, my version of this beer had a bold but not overwhelming bacon characteristic; I went back and forth on questioning if I would’ve liked to see a more brash beer — without compromising the drinkability of how it is now. All told, I enjoyed what I ended up with and will probably explore this kit again in the future.

B / $50 (extract version) / northernbrewer.com

Review: Sammy’s Beach Bar Red Head Macadamia Nut Flavored Rum

sammys beach bar redhead 525x750 Review: Sammys Beach Bar Red Head Macadamia Nut Flavored Rum

You gotta love a first. For his first line extension from Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, the “Red Rocker” Sammy Hagar has added a Macadamia Nut-flavored expression to this Hawaii-born product.

What the heck is this stuff?

Distilled from Maui sugar cane, it is steeped with Macadamia nuts and colored blood red (fruit and vegetable juice color is added). Right off the bat, it’s an assault to the senses — the color of wine, but with the nose of crushed nuts. At first the aroma is hard to place — closer to hazelnut than macadamia — with light sweetness underneath.

The body reveals more nuance. Again, the nut notes are the most prominent component here, far overpowering any of the sweet rum elements present. The overall effect is uncannily like a gentler, slightly sweeter version of Frangelico, with a slightly winey, strawberry finish (likely driven by the intense coloring  involved). Rum? It’s difficult to get even a hint of it, particularly the heavy funkiness of Sammy’s, but I trust him that it really is there as a base spirit. I can’t specifically peg macadamia nut here, either, for that matter.

Nonetheless, it’s a well-crafted and quite unique spirit. My recommendation: Use it in lieu of nut liqueurs, not necessarily rum.

70 proof.

A- / $20 / sammysbeachbarrum.com

Book Review: Craft Cocktails at Home

craft cocktails at home 227x300 Book Review: Craft Cocktails at HomeAs food has evolved beyond grilled steaks and baked potatoes, so have cocktails. It’s now common to see bar menus stuffed with cocktails that involve homemade tinctures, smoke, infusions, foams, pearls of goo, and god knows what else. Molecular mixology is a real thing, and it’s come to the masses.

Kevin Liu’s book, Craft Cocktails at Home, is not about molecular mixology. The illustration on the cover and tagline — Offbeat Techniques, Contemporary Crowd-Pleasers, and Classics Hacked with Science — may trick you into thinking otherwise, but don’t be fooled. This is a book about using modern techniques, intelligence, and good old brute force into making your cocktails the very best they can be. Trust me, you’ll want to read it whether you’re a home tinkerer or the main stickman at a four-star joint in Manhattan.

For the bulk of the book, Liu covers the basics. The very, very basics. Mainly, he looks at the stuff you never, ever, not once thought about and explains why it makes a difference in your drink.

For example, did you know: In blind tests, people overwhelmingly prefer the taste of four-hour-old hand-juiced lime juice to just-hand-squeezed lime juice? (Even four-hour-old machine-juiced limes were preferred over the fresh stuff.) Liu guesses at why in the book. — but the point is this: The guy is testing how old your juice is and what tastes better.

As well, Liu looks at simple syrup recipes to find the best mix of sugar to water, examines how different types of glasses chill in the freezer, and how much a “dash” really is (it matters!). He even shows you how to make homemade mineral water. Charts and graphs abound.

The end of the book is devoted to 65 cocktail recipes, “hacked,” including some spins on the classics (Why drink a Manhattan watery and warm-ish? I won’t ruin the fun…) and some that border on the molecular. I wish there were more of them — and for the second edition, I’d like to request color photos, too.

Buy it!

A / $9 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Wines of Italy’s Stemmari, 2014 Releases

stemmari pinot noir 94x300 Review: Wines of Italys Stemmari, 2014 ReleasesStemmari is a major winemaker of Sicily, where it produces wines from both native and international varietals, with a ruthless focus on keeping costs down. Most of its wines are available for under $10 a bottle, and some of these are quite good.

The naming system may be a little tricky. The less-expensive, single varietal wines all have Stemmari on the label, and some list Feudo Arancio, an older/alternate name for the company, on the label as well. The blends — which are more expensive — do not use Stemmari on the label but only say Feudo Arancio. Confusing, sure, but either way, they all come from the same company, and the same island… Sicily.

Thoughts follow.

2011 Stemmari Pinot Grigio Sicilia IGT – Crisp. Light peach and pineapple on the nose. The body veers more toward lemon, with a touch of grapefruit. Almost candylike, it’s dangerously easy to drink. A- / $7

2012 Stemmari Feudo Arancio Nero D’Avola Terre Siciliane IGT – Tough and tannic at first, this wine settles down eventually and reveals a quite jammy, strawberry-laden core. Subtle tea and milk chocolate notes add nuance, but the somewhat sweet finish becomes tiresome after awhile. B / $8

2011 Stemmari Pinot Noir Sicilia IGT – Serviceable Pinot, but on the earthy/pruny side of things. Notes of cola and black cherry are also prominent, but the finish is on the tight side. B / $8

2012 Stemmari Feudo Arancio Moscato Sicilia IGT - Super-sweet moscato (just 8.5% alcohol), loaded with peaches, pineapple, and bananas foster. Simple, but it’s what sweet moscato should be. B+ / $9

2010 Feudo Arancio Cantodoro Sicilia IGT - 80% nero d’avola, 20% cabernet sauvignon. Easily the best wine in Stemmari’s lineup, a rich and balanced collection of currants, plums, tobacco, leather, and dark chocolate. It all comes together rather seamlessly, making for a seductive and luscious experience. A- / $18

2010 Feudo Arancio Dalila Sicilia IGT - A blend of 80% grillo (stainless steel fermented) and 20% viognier (aged 8 months in oak barrels). Weird and chardonnay-like up front, with big butter and vanilla notes up front. The body brings out meatlike characteristics that can be a bit at odds with the mild peach and lemon notes that come along on the finish. B / $20

feudoarancio.it

Review: 2010 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder

Mt. Brave Single Bottle Shot with Corkscrew 214x300 Review: 2010 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. VeederNapa’s Mount Veeder has a new resident: Mt. Brave Winery, one of the most difficult and rugged parts of the Napa Valley. Mt. Brave is focusing on Malbec, Merlot, and (of course) Cabernet Sauvignon, the signature grape of Mount Veeder.

This 2010 release is an impressive early effort for Mt. Brave. Intensely dark purple — this stuff will turn your lips almost black! — it’s a bold and quite delicious Cab. The nose offers berries and candied violets, with touches of milk chocolate. The body is on the sweet side, barely, with bold strawberry, vanilla, and blueberry character. Not quite venturing into dessert territory — it paired exquisitely with pasta with creamy marinara sauce — but getting close, which I like to think means it’s versatile.

A- / $75 / mtbravewines.artisanwine.com

Book Review: The Home Distiller’s Workbook

home distillers workbook 199x300 Book Review: The Home Distillers WorkbookFirst things first: This stuff is totally illegal. You can’t distill moonshine, whiskey, vodka, rum, gin, or anything else at home. It is quite dangerous in many ways. If the still doesn’t explode, you could always poison yourself with methanol. Or you could get killed in prison. (Unlicensed still raids are a real thing.)

Still determined? Jeff King is your friendly pal who can guide you through the process of setting up a still and making just about anything. Through 85 pages of Arial-font writing he’ll guide you through the basics and walk you through the difference between your thumper box and your slobber box. I’ve never made my own spirits, but I get the sense from the book that I could handle the basics after a couple of close reads (and given the right equipment). But even equipment may not be essential. King takes things to simpler and simpler levels, even including designs for a still built out of a teapot.

King’s book is far from refined or sophisticated, and it looks like it was printed in bulk at the local copy shop, not unlike The Anarchist’s Cookbook. But considering the quasi-illegal nature of the subject matter, the scrappy look sort of fits. You’ll find worse ways to spend your nine bucks if you want to get in on the game. God help you.

B+ / $9 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Slovenia Vodka

slovenia vodka 525x700 Review: Slovenia Vodka

Yes, it’s from Slovenia. No, it’s not weird to ask. In this day and age, names mean nothing.

Made from 99.9% winter wheat and 0.1% non-pearled buckwheat (“for smoothness”), pot-distilled, and brought to proof with Slovenian Alps water, Slovenia Vodka has a curious pedigree. The money behind this new brand comes from, in part, chef Peter X. Kelly, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, and actor Bill Murray.

So that’s the story. How about the spirit?

The nose starts off classically, with medicinal character backed with a bit of smoke — or smoked meat — character. Pungent and powerful, it leads into a body that is surprisingly quite different than what you might expect. Here you’ll find much bigger sweetness, vanilla and butterscotch notes, with the hospital notes coming along in the finish. It’s a curious, but not unlikable, experience, careening from savory to sweet and back again. That said, the lack of focus is a bit strange, though some could argue this just adds complexity to an oftentimes simplistic spirit.

80 proof.

B+ / $30 / sloveniavodka.com

Review: Spring 44 Straight Bourbon and Single Barrel Bourbon

SPRING44 WHISKEY TRANS 2 233x1200 Review: Spring 44 Straight Bourbon and Single Barrel BourbonArguably known best for its honey-flavored vodka, Colorado-based Spring 44 is jumping onto the whiskey bandwagon, with two new expressions of straight bourbon whiskey. As you might expect by their sudden appearance on the market, both are sourced whiskey from Kentucky (not Indiana), brought down to proof with Colorado water, and bottled in individually numbered bottles. The whiskey inside has aged for six-plus years, but mashbill information is not offered. Based on the cloudiness readily visible in the bottles, they are not chill-filtered, either. Thoughts follow.

Spring 44 Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Maybe it’s my mind playing tricks on me since I know Spring 44′s prior products, but I swear I get notes of honey on the nose just from cracking open the bottle. The nose offers classic bourbon notes — vanilla infused with deep wood character — but playing the game otherwise close to the vest. The body explodes with a melange of flavors: honey (I swear), butterscotch, cinnamon, and a sweet-tinged apple and pear character that builds on the finish. The finale is a bit too drying, but otherwise Spring 44 has done a great job of finding some solid barrels to showcase. 90 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #3933. B+/ $40

Spring 44 Single Barrel Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Presumably the same whiskey as the above, but drawn from a single cask and bottled at a higher alcohol level. Curiously different from the standard bottling right from the start, with a fruitier nose that keeps the wood components in check. Here you’ll find touches of tea leaf, cinnamon, mint, and even incense. The body is something else — a silky sweet delight, full of lush apple pie notes, deep honey, lots of vanilla, hot buttered rum, and even some unexpected red berry notes. Well balanced and drinking perfectly despite its high alcohol content, this is a bourbon that can stand up to about anything on the market in this age category. A real standout. 100 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #208. A / $60

spring44.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire

Jack Daniels Tennessee Fire Bottle 408x1200 Review: Jack Daniels Tennessee Fire

JD jumped into the honey-flavored whiskey market and made massive waves. Why not try it again with cinnamon?

Tennessee Fire is a classic cinnamon-infused spirit, with a nose that’s immediately redolent of Red Hots, but not overpowering. The body is more quiet and candylike than, well, fiery. The palate starts off sweet, with vanilla caramel notes, essentially classic JD, with the attention of some apple cider character in the mid-palate. The cinnamon comes along later, well tempered with plenty of sugar to keep the cinnamon candy notes from searing the roof of your mouth. This is fine — no one is drinking these whiskeys because they enjoy pain — but Jack’s rendition ends up a little over-sweetened, the way too much Equal leaves a funky taste on your tongue.

The bottom line: JD may have mastered honey, and Tennessee Fire is mostly harmless, but I think other cinnamon whiskeys do this style better.

The test launch of “Jack Fire” (as you are invited to call it) begins in April in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

70 proof.

B+ / $22 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve Barrel Finished Gin

Beefeater Burroughs Reserve Gin 525x609 Review: Beefeater Burroughs Reserve Barrel Finished Gin

Remember when genever was going to be the next big thing? Of course you don’t. That stillborn trend gave way to aged gin, which is now — cautiously — on the rise. Will barrel-aged gin be successful where genever was not? Let’s take a look at a bottling from one of the biggest names in gin, Beefeater.

Burrough’s Reserve (tagline: “the gin for free thinkers”) is distilled in 268-liter small batches (the botanicals used are not published) before being aged for an unspecified time (not long, I think) in former Lillet aperitif wine barrels.

The color is a light gold, not unlike Lillet Blanc, with a nose reminiscent of modern gins. The intense juniper notes of Beefeater are absent here, replaced with notes of camphor, licorice, citrus peel, and some curious sea salt notes. The more seaward components are what linger in the nostrils, even as you sip it to reveal some of the classic gin components, including angelica, light lemon and orange notes, white flowers, and vanilla on the finish. The body is on the sweet side, and surprisingly creamy. Juniper? Frankly it’s hard to find at all here, just a vague evergreen character that develops on the nose over time.

The only sticking point with Burrough’s Reserve, an otherwise excellent product that both gin and brown spirits fans should like, is the price. At $70 a bottle it’s a hard sell, even if you’re a gin fanatic. If the price is too rich, maybe stick with the genever then?

86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5, bottle #74.

A- / $70 / pernod-ricard.com

Book Review: The Curious World of Wine

curious world of wine 187x300 Book Review: The Curious World of WineWine is indeed a curious world. Just drinking everyday bottles of the stuff is enough to vault you into a world of confusing terminology, exotic places, and strange people for the rest of your life.

Purdue University’s Richard Vine does the wine fanatic no favors with his book, The Curious World of Wine, which only serves to add to the mystery. A collection of loosely sorted and generally quite short “fun facts,” Vine devotes 210 pages, 10 chapters, and over 100 segments of only a few paragraphs each to one oddball tidbit or another about the world of wine.

Historical vignettes and etymology make up the lion’s share of the book. Some of this you’ll likely have heard before (toasting was born to exchange liquids between two glasses to ensure no one was being poisoned), some you likely haven’t (Robert Mondavi and Philippe de Rothschild conceived of Opus One while the Baron was lounging in bed). Most of the tidbits are at least interesting, even if they’re short on being actively educational.

Vine’s writing is typical of academics — straightforward and largely humorless aside from the overuse of wordplay — but breezy enough to make it easy to get into. If trivia’s your name and wine’s your game, give this book a look.

B / $15 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Kuemmerling Liqueur

kuemmerling 87x300 Review: Kuemmerling LiqueurKuemmerling is a classic Krauter Likor, and one that’s almost exclusively available in mini format (pictured).

A bittersweet herbal liqueur that dates back to 1921, it’s an easily drinkable digestif that’s hugely popular in its homeland of Germany. The nose offers sweet raspberry paired with licorice and cloves. On the palate, the herbal character — cloves, cinnamon, ample licorice and other root flavors — tends to dominate. The finish includes enough sweetness to keep your mouth from sealing shut… at least until the bitterness takes hold in the end, requiring another sip.

It’s shockingly easy to polish one of these off without thinking much about it… and also quite soothing to the stomach without being terribly complicated.

70 proof.

B+ / $15 per 12-pack of 20ml bottles / ourniche.com

Review: Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

Green Spot Bottle 525x1067 Review: Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

Heretofore seldom seen on our shores, one of the most beloved Irish whiskeys in-country is now making its way to the U.S. It is named after a blotch of color.

Green Spot, the kid brother of the even rarer Yellow Spot, is made at Midleton, where Jameson, Tullamore D.E.W., Powers, and Redbreast all hail from. It is a thrice-distilled single pot still whiskey, but unlike Redbreast it is bottled without an age statement. What’s inside is a blend of whiskeys aged seven to 10 years in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. 12,000 bottles are produced each year.

No bones about it, this whiskey is a delight. Loaded with flavor but balanced to a T, Green Spot hits all the classic Irish hallmarks while retaining its sense of balance.

The nose is spot on (get it?), rich with unripe banana, light honey, chimney soot, and cut grains. The body is more lovely, with toasted marshmallows, very light citrus, caramel, a touch of chocolate, and a big malty finish that comes across a lot like chocolate malt balls when it’s all said and done. Often thought of as “sweeter” than its compatriots, that’s not exactly the case here. Green Spot has sweetness, but it balances out the more savory components, bringing the body right where it ought to be. The spirit is drying as it fades, almost hinting at licorice, which only invites further exploration as that malt character dies like the sunset.

Buy it now.

80 proof.

A / $50 / singlepotstill.com [BUY IT FROM MASTER OF MALT]   [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]