Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric Bourbon 21 Years Old

Rhetoric 21-Year-Old_Hi-Res Bottle Shot

Last year, Rhetoric 20 Years Old launched and found a foothold as one of the best releases of its Orphan Barrel project to date. But Rhetoric 20 was just the beginning. That was the first volley in a series of Rhetorics that will launch every year, each a year old, culminating with Rhetoric 25 in 2019.

All the whiskeys are made from the same mashbill, at the same distillery (Bernheim), and are likely to be bottled around the same 90 proof. The only difference here is age: Each year, one year older. Just like you, actually.

Comparing Rhetoric 21 Year Old side by side with the Rhetoric 20 Year Old, it is immediately less sharp and less citrusy on the nose. Rhetoric 20 offers some pungent alcohol notes at the start, while Rhetoric 21 is remarkably smoother around the edges and more “ready to go” out of the gate.

On the palate, Rhetoric 21 offers a bit more dusky spice, and offers a more leathery palate with a woody edge, featuring clear black and red pepper notes on the tongue. That woody element is clear, but it’s not overwhelming in the least, giving the whiskey a bolder vanilla profile with some banana and coconut notes thrown in for good measure.

I enjoyed Rhetoric 20 but have to say that Rhetoric 21 is an incremental and quite delightful improvement — and a considerably different experience. Now in very limited release.

A / $100 / diageo.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: 6 Wines from Frank Family Vineyards, 2015 Releases

frank family NV Napa Valley PinotCalistoga-based Frank Family Vineyards has been on a tear of late. Recently we received a collection of six wines for consideration, including two from the standard lineup and four from the reserve line. (It’s easy to tell the difference at a glance, as the reserves all feature etched bottles rather than standard labels.) Let’s crack into them, starting with the “standard issue” wines!

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros – Bright and fruity with big cherry and ample vanilla up front, exploration reveals touches of cola and coffee, dusted with a bit of cinnamon on the finish. Well balanced on the body, its aromatics intensify and add depth with time in the glass. It’s a nice summer wine, but it has enough complexity to stand up to a formal dinner, too. A- / $35

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A blend of 80% cab, 11% merlot, 5% petit verdot, and 4% cabernet franc. Very dry, with traditional notes of cassis and raspberry. There’s a significant oak influence here, with vanilla overtones emerging after you spend an hour or so with this wine in the glass. It’s worth the investment. Let that lumberyard character blow off and mellow out a bit — or decant — to bring out the best in the 2012 Frank Family Cab. B+ / $50

And now the reserve wines…

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Lewis Vineyard Reserve – A really big wine (with 14.5% alcohol to back it up), this Carneros Chardonnay offers a nice balance of brown butter notes and applesauce on the nose. On the palate, it starts with crisp green apple then segues into some floral notes before finally settling into that big, deep, rich butter character. With its long and soothing finish, the wine ends up opulent and powerful — the kind of wine you might reach for with a high-end meal (but which won’t pair well with a red). A- / $65

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Lewis Vineyard Reserve – This Carneros-born bottling of pinot offers rich fruit, almost too much of it. While notes of black pepper and boysenberry are rich on the nose, the body pumps up the jam, pumps it up, while your feet are stompin’. Heavy Bing cherry notes on the palate, then the finish folds in a bit of mint and chocolate, which helps the dessert-like characteristics of the wine to increasingly dominate. A bit of a letdown in this strong field of wines. B / $65

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Chiles Valley Reserve – 83% zinfandel, 17% petite sirah. Chiles Valley is a sub-appellation of Napa, south of Pope Valley on the eastern side of the AVA. Don’t worry, I had to look it up, too. Whatever the place it’s from, this is solid Zin. Lightly raisiny on the nose, it also adds notes of herbs, namely baking spices, to the mix. The body is restrained, unlike many a Zin, showcasing the melange of spice and fruit, with a supple, slightly jammy, lip-smacking finish — with just a touch of chocolate. If you think you “don’t like Zinfandel,” give this bottling a try. A- / $55

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Petite Sirah S&J Vineyard Reserve – Dusty and dry at first, this Napa petite sirah features strong chocolate, plum, and blackberry notes, with heavy overtones of lumberyard, tree bark, and dried herbs — lavender, rosemary, and thyme. It leans a bit too far toward the bitter side of things, but a touch of blueberry and black pepper on the back end pull it back into focus. B+ / $60

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: 5 Beers from Good People

good people brewing

Now celebrating seven years making beer, Birmingham, Alabama-based Good People was keg-only for several years. Now its beers can be obtained in an increasingly wide area, but only in cans, not bottles. (Of note, those cans are made from the thinnest aluminum I’ve ever encountered.)

We tried five of Good People’s offerings. Thoughts follow.

Good People IPA – Somewhat syrupy, malty and citrus-focused. The hops start off gentle, then push into a heavier, more earthy and woody character as the palate builds, leading to a boldly bitter — but slightly mushy — finish. 7.2% abv. B+ 

Good People Pale Ale – A cloudy rendition of pale ale that drinks a bit like a lager, with rounded caramel notes, modest hops, and a touch of vegetation on the back end. A dazzlingly good ball park beer, but a little underwhelming as a craft brew. 5.6% abv. 

Good People Brown Ale – Quite dark in color, with dense molasses and some root beer notes. As it builds, the beer takes on some port-like character, imbuing the sweetness at the beginning with some winey, woody notes on the back end. 5.8% abv. 

Good People The Bearded Lady American Wheat Ale – A surprisingly pale yellow in color, this wheat ale features mild granary notes, and a bit of a weedy finish. Very slight coriander and orange peel spice echoes after the finish fades. Refreshing, but relatively thin and unremarkable. 4.2% abv. B- 

Good People Coffee Oatmeal Stout – Completely opaque, with bracing coffee and chocolate notes that fade as lots of hoppiness comes to the fore. Chewy, sweet-and-savory, with a finish that melds the best of both worlds. A really fun stout, yet one that’s complex and exciting to dig into. 6% abv. A- 

all prices NA / goodpeoplebrewing.com

Review: Vida Tequila Anejo

anejo_new

We covered Vida Tequila’s Blanco expression in 2012. Now we’re back with the Vida Anejo, a 100% agave tequila that’s aged for 18 to 24 months in oak barrels before bottling.

The nose is laden with sweet stuff, marshmallow and brown sugar, but the agave — powerful in Vida Blanco — still peeks through. On the palate it’s dessert time from the start. Caramel kicks things off, then notes of cinnamon and an emerging clove character. The agave is gentle but ever-present, nicely balanced for a tequila at this age. An echo of toasted marshmallow returns on the finish, a great way to cap off a well-crafted (and relatively affordable) anejo.

80 proof.

A- / $55 / vidatequila.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof

Here’s what’s hard to believe: Jack Daniel’s has never released a barrel strength whiskey. That’s changing, with the release of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof, the company’s first-ever cask strength offering.

The whiskey isn’t a terribly complicated idea: Take the JD Single Barrel Select (which we only just reviewed a few weeks ago) and don’t water it down. Single Barrel is a consistent 94 proof, but these are bottled at whatever the cask gives you, ranging from 125 to 140 proof, depending on the bottle you get.

Naturally, we can only review the sample we received, and individual bottles are going to vary widely. As for this bottling, it’s an easy winner. The nose offers maple syrup, caramel sauce, and a little barrel char. On the body, it doesn’t drink like something that is 2/3rds alcohol. In fact, it really needs no water at all to be approachable, though less seasoned whiskey drinkers may want to add a splash. The palate is rich with more of that caramel, butterscotch, a touch of cloves and a lengthy, vanilla-fueled finish. Big, bold body — but it’s not overpowering in the slightest. The char isn’t overly evident here, which lets the sweetness really shine. All told, it’s a fantastic whiskey that stands as arguably the best thing ever to come out of the JD empire.

Reviewed: Warehouse 2-45, 4th floor. 133.7 proof.

A / $65 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Pedras Salgadas Mineral Water

Pedras250mlUSASemFrescuraPedras Salgadas is mineral water from Portugal; naturally effervescent, it is born in the Pedras Valley, in the north interior of Portugal at Trás-Os-Montes. Very, very lightly sparkling, it has significant, weighty minerality to it, reminiscent of Perrier. The finish is on the metallic side, but otherwise comes across clean and refreshing. I like it.

B+ / $1 per 250ml bottle / pedras.com

Review: Wines of Three Sticks, 2015 Releases

three sticks bien nacidoThree Sticks is an emerging cult wine with a serious following for its serious pinot noirs, which are largely under allocation at this point. Recently we received a smattering of its offerings — two chardonnays and three pinots — for review. Thoughts follow.

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain “One Sky” – Intensely golden in color and creamy on the palate, this is as textbook as Sonoma chardonnay gets. Roasted nuts, butter, browned and caramelized apple — what else could you want from this style of heavily-oaked chardonnay? A little acidity might help to brighten up the heavy body and balance things out, but who’s keeping score, eh? B / $50

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Valley “Origin” – There’s less power here, with a little tropical zest — think Hawaiian POG juice — to balance out the lightly nutty, buttery body. Better acidity gives it a more engaging and approachable structure. B+ / $48

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard – Lovely pinot, a combination of light and lively red berry fruit and a spicy, peppery note to give it some kick. Light notes of vanilla and chocolate add a touch of sweetness, but the fruit is what carries the day, leading to a light, summery, well-balanced finish. A- / $65

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Classic Russian River pinot, dense and slightly meaty, but overflowing with deep fruit notes — dark cherries and blackberries — cracked black pepper, and some caramel notes. Sweetness pervades the experience from start to finish, but it’s balanced by exotic spices and savory notes. A dazzling counterpoint to the southern California bottling above. A- / $60

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills “The James” – Definitely the weak link in the pinot lineup here, a more rustic styled wine that first comes across with some bitterness before getting to the meat of the wine, which offers jammier blueberry character and a somewhat overripe finish. Easy enough to drink, but a distant third next to its more sophisticated brethren. B / $60

threestickswines.com

Review: Journeyman Kissing Cousins and Three Oaks Single Malt

journeyman kissing cousinsMichigan’s Journeyman Distillery continues to crank out the whiskey, and recently we received two new offerings for review. Thoughts follow.

Journeyman Distillery Kissing Cousins Whiskey – This is a selection of Featherbone bourbon that is finished in a Wyncroft Winery 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon barrel. An annual release, this is the third edition of Kissing Cousins. The finished product is a blend of sweet, bourbon-driven vanilla notes, mushroomy earth, and a bit of popcorn on the finish. The wine barrel finishing tempers the rustic character of Featherbone quite a bit, but still leaves behind plenty of chewy grains and coal-dust notes, ensuring you don’t mistake this for the mass produced stuff. 90 proof. B+ / $33 (375ml)

journeyman ThreeOaks_750Journeyman Distillery Three Oaks Single Malt – This one’s a real surprise. This is the second batch of Three Oaks (the first was in 2013), a 100% organic malted barley whiskey with an exotic aging regimen. As the distillery writes, “The spirit spends its first year and a half in used Featherbone Bourbon barrels. From there it is moved into used Road’s End Rum barrels for nearly a year and then is finished for two months in used port casks imported from northern Portugal. The whiskey spends a total of 32 months in the barrels.” The resulting spirit is mahogany brown, with an aroma of coffee, dark chocolate, coconut, and cloves. On the palate, it’s intensely rich, with clear port wine notes, a sweet backbone of caramel and Bananas Foster, and some roasted grain notes on the finish. There’s plenty of complexity here, with echoes of toasted coconut, rum raisin, and hints of amari. Hard to put down and engaging through and through, I have no trouble stating that this is one of the best single malts being produced in America today. 90 proof. A / $47

journeymandistillery.com

Review: Laphroaig 15 Years Old Scotch Whisky

Laphroaig_15YO_BottleImageThough it was introduced 30 years ago, Laphroaig 15 Years Old is a bottling that has come and gone over the years. For a short while, however, it’s back, with this expression being re-released in honor of the company’s 200th anniversary. That said, nothing has technically changed with the production of the spirit vs. older bottlings, but this one does at least come with bonus sentimental value.

Laphroaig 15 Years Old is a quieter expression of the spirit, where it’s just finding its balance between the peat blast it offers at 10 years old and the more fruity notes that emerge at 18 and 25 years old.

At this point in its maturity, the whisky offers a smoky nose that also showcases gentle honey alongside notes of yellow flowers. The peat however is dialed back significantly, creating the essence of a branch of mesquite that’s been thrown atop a barbecue pit. Citrus notes are present on the palate but they’re understated — a squeeze of lemon and a shaving of grapefruit peel — with some simple syrup adding a layer of sweetness atop the delicate layer of smoke.

At just 86 proof the whisky is remarkably easy-drinking, almost overly so — it sips almost like a mezcal-based Paloma, mixing citrus and smoke into a beautiful, satisfying whole.

Really lovely. Snap it up if you see it.

A / $70 / laphroaig.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Forged Oak Bourbon 15 Years Old

Orphan Barrel_Forged Oak Bottle Shot

The fifth release in Diageo’s Orphan Barrel series is one of the best in the lineup. “Found by foraging the Stitzel-Weller warehouses,” it was produced at Bernheim in 1997-1998 from a mash of 86% corn, 8% barley and 6% rye. Barrel age is 15 years.

I’m not sure what “Forged Oak” is supposed to refer to, but the whiskey that bears its name doesn’t really evoke either of the words. On the nose, there’s lots going on: dense vanilla, gingerbread, and then some exotic stuff: namely distinct lemongrass and coconut notes (I start craving Thai food immediately). The body includes that vanilla punch plus some tropical notes, then a sweet butterscotch push as it builds on the palate. The finish takes the bourbon into darker territory — more lumber and a touch of Madeira. That may sound like a bummer after all the ephemeral fun that’s come before, but it’s actually a nice counterbalance to what’s come before — and what follows in the next sip.

90.5 proof.

A / $75 / orphanbarrel.com