Category Archives: Reviews

Book Review: The New York Times Book of Wine

nyt book of wine 203x300 Book Review: The New York Times Book of WineIf you want to learn about wine… like really learn about wine, you might think a mammoth tome like The New York Times Book of Wine would be a good place to start. Sure sounds legit. Alas, TNYTBOW is not that kind of place. As with many a book of this ilk (the kind with a newspaper name in the title), it’s not a book written with any specific goal in mind, but rather a loosely cobbled-together collection of previously published stories wrapped around a single topic. In this case, wine.

If you want to learn about Gary Vaynerchuk’s past, or you want seafood recipes, or you’re interested in comments on pairing oysters with red wine, you’ve come to the right place: This is a seemingly random anthology of stories that all do get around to mentioning wine at least at some point.

There are plenty of the expected kinds of pieces you read about in newspaper wine columns these days: Don’t serve your wine too cold, don’t serve your wine too hot, drink more Lagrein, maybe boxed wine isn’t so bad, that kind of thing. There’s a whole chapter of missives on Port, Madeira, and grape-based spirits like Cognac. (Filling a daily newspaper column with wine coverage for 30 years must not be easy.)

Of course, it’s all a bit random. Alongside insightful but well-trodden pieces on stuff like the ancient history of wine you’ll find gag dispatches to giggle over. For every deep dive into why vine pruning is important you’ll find an inscrutable piece of self-love that begins along the lines of “I was sitting at my desk in Paris one day when…” And you’ll even find book reviews of other wine books! Now that’s meta.

Reading TNYTBOW is a lot like reading the paper: The individual pieces are very short (often just a couple of pages), and the whole affair is seemingly designed so you’ll keep this book beside the toilet. That’s not to say that the book is slight or useless. Given that this monster tome comprises 592 pages of old newspaper clippings, it’s perhaps to be expected that there is plenty of good material here, but plenty of chaff too. Just like the wine world, I suppose.

B / $17 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Taildragger Rums

taildragger rums 525x350 Review: Taildragger Rums

American rum is on the rise, and the latest expressions include this trio from Tailwinds Distilling in Plainfield, Illinois. Tailwind makes Taildragger from pricey first-boil molasses from Louisiana (rather than cheap 5th-boil blackstrap), which is distilled in a 100 gallon pot still with a six-plate column.

Taildragger is not carbon filtered nor chill filtered, which is why it retains a lot of its raw cane character. It’s a rum, as distiller Toby Beall puts it, which is “a truly American hand-crafted rum just like you would have found in our early colonies.”

Thoughts follow.

Taildragger Rum White - (Not “White Rum” mind you, but Rum White!) Unaged and “meant to stand out,” it is as promised a fairly agricole-style rum on the nose, with notes of oily tar and some light coconut character behind it. The body brings out more charm. Here, stronger vanilla notes play with some tropical character, although the rustic, fuel-like tones remain evident, just more in the back seat. A solid example of this style, though fans of more traditionally filtered and aged rums may find its more savory characteristics too overpowering. 80 proof. B / $30

Taildragger Rum Amber – Aged in ex-American rye barrels for one year. Banana and light vanilla notes temper the agricole base, but it’s still there, off in the distance. Despite the light gold color, the oak has done quite a number on the palate here, giving this rum more intense vanilla and caramel notes, with ripe banana and whipped cream coming through on the finish. The body feels creamier too, but maybe that’s just my brain messing with me. 80 proof. B+ / $35

Taildragger Coffee-Flavored Rum – Huge, bittersweet coffee character on the nose, it really overpowers almost any sense of rum here. Over time, this develops in the glass, giving the spirit’s coffee-ground core a slightly tropical, fruity back-end. There is a somewhat brooding, almost smoky quality to it, which doesn’t quite mesh perfectly well with the fruity notes. Coffee lovers will rejoice. 60 proof. B / $ 29

tailwindsdistilling.com

Review: Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky

glen garioch virgin oak 242x300 Review: Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Single Malt WhiskyLike its sister distillery Auchentoshan, Highlands-based Glen Garioch is releasing a “Virgin Oak” expression aged not in ex-bourbon casks but in fresh, newly charred white oak barrels that haven’t seen a drop of whiskey before — a first-ever for Glen Garioch, which has been operating since 1797. As with the Auchie, this expression is bottled without an age statement and is non-chill filtered.

An interesting nose offers lots of fruit: ripe apples, orange zest, alongside some hospital notes. Hints of grainy cereal pervade the back-end, and raw wood character develops with time in the glass. On the palate, it’s a moderately intense spirit, with deep notes of cedar wood, baking spice (particularly cloves), and roasted grains. The finish is especially redolent with slightly smoky, dried grains, a toasty blend of tree bark and oatmeal that is surprisingly enticing (and much better than the Auchentoshan rendition of this same spirit).

96 proof. 1038 bottles allocated to U.S.

B+ / $110 / glengarioch.com

Review: Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey 525x1200 Review: Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

If you’re unfamiliar with “single grain” whiskey, you’re not alone. While in fact the majority of Irish whiskey sold is grain whiskey, single grain whiskey is not typically seen on the shelf. (The single doesn’t refer to the type of grain but rather the fact that it’s made at a single distillery.) All grain whiskey is made not from barley (as in the case of single malt whiskey) but rather from a blend of grains, primarily corn.

Teeling Single Grain Whiskey is column-distilled and, unusually, aged fully in ex-California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. No age statement (or other details on the specifics of the mashbill) are offered, but the spirit is non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof.

The nose is exotic, offering thick menthol vapors along with some vanilla, butterscotch, and cake frosting notes. The body is even harder to pin down. At first the whiskey is mild and easygoing, then it develops some of the more traditional character of Irish whiskeys — touches of banana and coconut, salted caramel, buttered toffee, and honey. The grain base becomes more evident on the finish, a toasty, malty conclusion that is both a little unexpected but also surprisingly satisfying.

B+ / $71 / teelingwhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Tasting Chopin Vodka: Potato vs. Rye vs. Wheat

chopinkit 525x930 Tasting Chopin Vodka: Potato vs. Rye vs. Wheat

Curious how the base carbohydrate impacts the way a straight vodka tastes? Well, Poland-based Chopin is here to illustrate. It’s one of the few companies that make a multitude of straight vodkas from different base products. In fact, it now makes three: one from potato, one from rye, and one from wheat.

While I’ve tasted (and reviewed) both the potato and rye versions before, this is the first time I’ve sampled all three side by side (and the first time I’ve had any of them in many years). I sampled the trio blind, so as not to be tainted by preconceived notions, with thoughts below. But never mind my thoughts — this is a great little experiment to try for yourself at your favorite watering hole.

Each is 80 proof.

Chopin Potato Vodka – Similar nose to #1, with just a hint more power. On the body, it offers a punchier mouthfeel with a more savory character, and a somewhat earthy, mushroomy component on the finish. Still on the light side, but with more heft. The most “old world” vodka in the lineup. My favorite here, by a slight margin (and a significant departure from my opinion of it back in 2008). A-

Chopin Rye Vodka - Clean, slightly sweet nose, with a breezy, almost tropical nuance. Very clean, light body, with a slight astringency on the finish. Flavor profile includes very mild tropical character, and a kind of doughy finish. Easily the lightest spirit, in both body and character, in this lineup. B+

Chopin Wheat Vodka – Sharper nose, with more of a lemon curd character to it. The body hints at orange juice, adds more sweetness in the form of a nougat, almost chocolate character. Stylistically it’s the most “modern” of the bunch, with the cleanest finish. B+

each about $28 / chopinvodka.com

Review: Whistling Andy Straight Bourbon Whiskey

whistling andy 198x300 Review: Whistling Andy Straight Bourbon WhiskeyUp next, craft distilling comes to… Montana. The curiously-named Whistling Andy offers this new, all-local bourbon (the state’s first) made from 100% Montana-grown grains. A unique blend of corn, barley, wheat, and rye is used for the mashbill, which is triple-distilled in pot stills, then aged for three years in medium-char new oak barrels.

The nose is instantly exotic and more than a little weird, a combination of big cereal grains, burnt marshmallow, campfire ashes, and Listerine. The body features the hallmarks of young whiskey, lots of fresh-cut grain character, popcorn, and toasty — but not creamy — caramel notes. The finish hints at fresh-cut apples and hazelnuts, but these are just wisps of flavor that quickly get away from you. All told, Whistling Andy is a whiskey that’s still trying hard to integrate its grain and wood components but hasn’t yet found its sweet vanilla core. It sure does wear its promise on its sleeve, though. Look me up in 2017.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. Fun fact: The company’s mash tanks was formerly used in an Eskimo Pie factory.

B- / $42 / whistlingandy.com

Review: Bowmore Devil’s Casks 10 Years Old

bowmore devils casks 525x864 Review: Bowmore Devils Casks 10 Years Old

A new limited edition expression from Islay’s Bowmore, the Devil’s Casks bottling is inspired by a local legend involving the devil being chased by the churchgoing folk of the area into Bowmore’s vaults, where he is said to have escaped by hiding inside a cask of hooch.

I can’t vouch for whether there is any otherworldy presence in Bowmore Devil’s Casks, but I do know that the whisky inside has spent its full 10 years in first-fill sherry casks rather than ex-bourbon barrels. That’s a lot of time to pick up sherry influence; Scotch nuts know that the typical sherry-finished whisky usually spends only a couple of months at the end of its aging time in sherry casks before it’s bottled.

A dark amber in color, this cask strength whisky offers hefty peat notes up front on the nose, backed up with some curious hints of allspice, pine forest, and tar. The body is where that sherry character comes to the forefront, a punchy clove-studded orange backed with cinnamon, grapefruit, black pepper, and a hint of chewy, roasted grains. Smoky peat comes back for an encore on the finish, lasting in the throat for minutes, if not hours, after a sip.

Peat fans will likely rejoice here, but it’s hard not to think that 10 years of sherry might be a bit much for this whisky, as finding balance between the sweet and savory here proves difficult. It’s quite a unique spirit, though, and one at least worth sampling should you encounter it at your local watering hole.

103.8 proof. 1302 bottles allocated for the U.S.

B+ / $90 / bowmore.com

Review: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey (2014)

Powers Gold Label Bottle Image 2014 420x1200 Review: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey (2014)

The good folks at Ireland’s Powers don’t know when to quit. First they rebrand and relabel their classic Gold Label Irish whiskey in 2009, now they’re back at it again, redoing the bottle a second time while boosting the proof a bit. (And that doesn’t even include the launch of the masterful John’s Lane special edition bottling.)

Nothing has changed about the recipe to Gold Label — it’s still triple distilled at Midleton, aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and non-chill filtered. The only change (aside from bottle cosmetics that now include a metallic neck hanger) is the increase in alcohol up to 43.2% — the product’s original export strength — from the standard 40%.

The change is a good one, giving a little more power (ahem) to the whiskey while maintaining the easy charm and gentle flavor profile that attracts so many people to Irish whiskey.

There’s lots of traditional Irish character here to explore, with a nose that’s full of ripe banana, butterscotch, cereal, and gentle honey notes. On the body, all of the above are met by orange notes, along with both coconut and pineapple on the back end. The finish is both fruity and malty, reminiscent of a frozen custard spiked with toppings. The slight bump in alcohol works well at boosting the body just a smidge, adding just a bit more creaminess to an already well-balanced spirit.

86.4 proof.

A- / $25 / powerswhiskey.com

Review: Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky

auchentoshan virgin oak 525x717 Review: Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky

Lowlands-based Auchentoshan, the only fully triple-distilled single malt in Scotland, has launched this “virgin oak” expression, aged in new oak barrels instead of ex-Bourbon barrels (or ex-sherry casks), which is the norm. No age statement is provided.

Huge wood on the nose here, oily, somewhat smoky, and punchy with lots of tar and tannin. The approach is quite off-putting, taking some real effort to delve into the spirit itself. Fortunately, the body is more forgiving, offering burnt caramel and butterscotch notes, backed with lots of dried herbs, licorice, and roasted grains. Balance is elusive, and the finish is dusty dry, and not all that compelling in the end.

92 proof. About 2100 bottles made.

C+ / $130 / auchentoshan.com

Review: Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon

belle meade bourbon 200x300 Review: Nelsons Green Brier Belle Meade BourbonA craft distillery is reborn in Nashville, Tennessee… and they’re putting “the B word” on the label!

Belle Meade is, as the story goes, a relaunch of a pre-Prohibition bourbon brand that was owned by one Charles Nelson. Today, two of his great-great-great grandsons are bringing the brand back, with the goal of producing small batch whiskey that approximates their ancestor’s recipe.

That’s the idea, anyway. At present, this is high-rye, slightly overproof bourbon (no age statement) sourced from Indiana’s MGP, in advance of the Nelsons finishing up their own on-site distillery, hopefully sometime this year. Instead, Belle Meade is something of a first volley to get investors’ — and drinkers’ — palates wet.

As for the juice, it’s got a quite mild nose, offering notes of applesauce, cinnamon, and grapefruit skins alongside straightforward wood barrel character. On the palate, the body is moderate with that rye giving off a lot of baking spice, mint chocolate, and cedar wood planks. On the whole it’s pleasant and balanced but a little on the thin side, coming up just a little short in the power department.

90.4 proof.

B+ / $39 / greenbrierdistillery.com

Review: Rekorderlig Swedish Hard Ciders

rekorderlig 3 Bottle Lock up USA Blended 525x525 Review: Rekorderlig Swedish Hard Ciders

Rekorderlig, Sweden’s hard cider, is available in myriad flavors, all clocking in at a low 4.5% abv alcohol level. Rekorderlig, popular in Europe and just now making its way to the States, isn’t made just for sipping straight. The creator also wants you to try it out in cocktails. A suggested recipe appears below. Meanwhile, we tried out the three varieties now available in the U.S.; thoughts follow.

Rekorderlig Premium Pear Hard Cider – Very sweet, with a long finish. The distinct taste of pears, bathed in a sort of vanilla cream, is especially heavy up front. As the cider fades it leaves behind a fizzy, more vaguely citrus finish. Refreshing, but the sweetness makes it a bit cloying. 

Rekorderlig Premium Strawberry-Lime Hard Cider – Very strawberry soda-like, with a little less sweetness and a bit less fizz than the Pear expression. The strawberry character is candylike, but in a tasteful way. The finish is actually more reminiscent of  real strawberries than candy. Fragrant and fun. B+

Rekorderlig Premium Wild Berries Hard Cider – Predominantly raspberry on the tongue, with more of a club soda-style foaminess that tends to mute the fruit. This is the least sweet but also the least flavorful of the bunch. B-

Recipe: Winter Fire
250ml Rekorderlig Pear
5-6 thin slices of ginger
20ml lime juice
30ml honey water (3 parts honey 1 part hot water) or squeeze tube honey
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Heat it up and serve, keep the ginger floating in the glass.

about $5 per 500ml bottle / rekorderlig.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2013 Edition

deschutes the Abyss 2013 Label 525x460 Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2013 Edition

It’s been three years since we tucked into a bottle of Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery’s rare barrel-aged concoction. Time again then for a fresh look at this bold annual release, The Abyss, now in its 8th installment.

Sadly, I’m still two months before the 8/16/14 “drink after” date on this beer… but by that point, this will all be off the market, and you won’t be able to buy it.

This Imperial stout is brewed with black strap molasses, licorice, cherry bark and vanilla. 6% of the beer is aged in oak ex-bourbon barrels, 11% in oak ex-pinot noir barrels, and another 11% in new oak barrels. It all comes together in glorious fashion; I think this is one of the best Abyss bottlings I’ve tried to date.

On the nose, the coffee-brown brew offers beautiful licorice notes up front, with aromas of coffee bean and cocoa powder backing it up. The body is intense with dark coffee character, ultra-bitter chocolate, and a panoply of mild vegetal notes that include green bean and that olive character that’s a classic part of The Abyss’s finish. The denouement is like sipping on the last of a truly great espresso.

Great stuff, hard to put down.

11% abv. 70 IBUs.

2013 Edition: A / $12 per 22-oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: El Jimador Tequila Blanco

el Jimador Blanco 89x300 Review: El Jimador Tequila BlancoLooking to boost its presence off the lower tier of tequilas (albeit the still-100% agave ones), venerable El Jimador, the #1 selling 100% agave tequila in Mexico, is revamping its image with a new bottle design. The new look is sleeker and considerably more upscale… but what of the tequila within?

2014-era El Jimador (we tasted only the blanco) is a Lowlands spirit, unaged and named in honor of the jimador, a Mexican agave harvester. There’s modest pepper on the nose, with red chiles, lemon, coconut, and roasted meats. The body is a little all over the place, with notes of chile oil, grilled pineapple, more lemon, and a sultry agave/herbal character on the finish. There’s quite a bit of that funky meat character on the finish, but it’s not overwhelming or pungent.

All told, El Jimador is pleasant enough for journeyman cocktail duty, but the spirit lacks finesse, and the body is decidedly on the thin side. That said, it is fortunate to be lacking the back-of-throat burn so common in cheaper tequilas. So that’s nice.

80 proof.

B- / $22 / eljimador.com

Review: Sinfire Cinnamon Whisky

SinFire  New Bottle 122x300 Review: Sinfire Cinnamon WhiskyOregon-based Hood River Distillers has recently rebranded Sinfire, a cinnamon whisky (no “e” on this one) that was launched only two years ago in February 2012. The highlight of the relaunch: “Best served as a 32-degree shot, Sinfire now features a thermochromic temperature-triggered color-changing label to help consumers know exactly when it reaches optimum temperature. The label also incorporates photochromic ink, which brightens the logo when exposed to UV lights.”

Well, then!

We’ve never sampled Sinfire (tagline: “an evil spirit”), so what better time than the present to give it a go?

Cinnamon-flavored whiskey doesn’t typically involve a ton of nuance, and Sinfire is pretty straightforward from the start. The nose is quite mild, more cinnamon toast than cinnamon straight from the jar. On the palate, it’s remarkably easygoing, with one of the lowest overall levels of spice I’ve encountered in this type of spirit. Oddly, it’s not as overwhelmingly sweet as you might expect but rather uses its buttery, creamy body to smooth out the roughness that’s typical of cinnamon whiskeys. The sweetness hits you mid-palate, more of a brown sugar, and the cinnamon pops up most presently on the moderately racy endgame.

Surprisingly well-made, Sinfire proves that you don’t have to blast out your customers’ sinuses with spices in order to craft a rich and soothing spirit. Hardly evil.

70 proof.

A- / $18 / hrdspirits.com

Review: UV Sriracha Vodka

UV Sriracha Bottle 294x1200 Review: UV Sriracha VodkaAs we reported in December, the world of flavored vodka has delved into the full-on lunatic, with the launch of UV’s Sriracha-flavored vodka.

Officially notated as a “chili pepper flavored vodka” made with all-natural flavors, the spirit really looks the part, bottled in imitation of the iconic condiment, packaged in a red bottle with a green stopper. (That said, unlike actual sriracha, the vodka itself is clear. The bottle is what’s tinted red here.) Now, chili-flavored vodkas aren’t a new thing… but sriracha? Let’s see whether UV has managed to recreate a boozy version of the real deal.

The nose is surprisingly engaging — lightly spicy, with notes of tomato juice, olives, pickles, and — oddly — fresh lettuce. On the palate, sweetness arrives (much like in actual sriracha) to balance an initial rush of heat. The body retains a lot of that Bloody Mary character you get on the nose with peppery tomato juice up front, but the sweetness here is a little distracting, coming off as artificial, failing to integrate well with the hot side of things. That said, I think actual sriracha has a bit of the same problem, too.

Overall, UV Sriracha doesn’t exactly aim for the stars, and the vodka is a qualified success. I can’t say I’ve ever encountered quite this collection of flavors in a single product. It may not exactly be sriracha with a boozy base, but it’s probably as close as it comes if you’re one of the legions of fanatics who love the stuff. And since it’s not much more expensive than a real bottle of sriracha, anyway, it’s arguably worth the investment for novelty value alone.

60 proof.

B / $12 / uvvodka.com

Review: 1.0.1 Vodka

1.0.1 vodka 300x300 Review: 1.0.1 VodkaMade in California and pronounced “One-O-One,” this new vodka is distilled from corn (to keep the spirit gluten-free) and filtered five times before bottling.

Billed as affordable alternative to $30-plus ultra-premium vodkas, 1.0.1 fits right in with its oversized, frosted bottle.

The spirit itself, however, is considerably different than most of those big brands. Here, big notes of marshmallow and chocolate-covered caramels waft out just from opening the bottle. Rich and dessert-like on the nose, I also get the slightest hint of quince or Asian pear in the nostrils too. The body is a rich dessert from the start. More marshmallow, more caramel, and a long, sweet finish with a slight smokiness on the back end. The end result is not at all unpleasant, but it lacks the punch and zip of more traditional vodkas, as 1.0.1.’s traditional medicinal character has been seemingly filtered away.

80 proof.

B / $20 / 101vodka.com

Review: Frangelico Liqueur

frangelico 199x300 Review: Frangelico LiqueurConsider the hazelnut.

Best known as a secondary ingredient in a popular chocolate-flavored spread, it’s also long been the only way to get hazelnuts into a cocktail (though newer options have recently availed themselves).

Frangelico is a classic spirit that reportedly dates back more than 300 years to a bunch of Italian monks who made the stuff — hence the distinctly monk-shaped bottle. The liqueur is indeed made from roasted hazelnuts, steeped in alcohol, distilled, then flavored with cocoa and vanilla (among other proprietary flavorings) before being sweetened with sugar. Caramel color is added.

Surprisingly light in color, the toasty character of freshly roasted hazelnut really comes through here. It’s particularly hefty on the nose, a bit dusty and smoky, like fresh-baked pecan sandies. As you sip through the liqueur, the hazelnut evolves into more of a peanut butter character, with the vanilla element growing and becoming distinctive on the finish.

Frangelico is easy to like but difficult to truly love, a relatively simple spirit that works fine in a handful of cocktails and thrives with coffee. For the record, the distiller’s serving suggestion: On the rocks, with a squeeze of lime. Curious.

40 proof.

B+ / $24 / frangelico.com

Review: Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur

barrows intense ginger 74x300 Review: Barrows Intense Ginger LiqueurIt should be noted at the start that “INTENSE” is by far the largest text on the label of this liqueur, but that’s to be expected from any ginger-flavored spirit. It simply comes with the territory.

Ginger liqueurs are a small category, for obvious reasons. The number of cocktails you can use it in is limited, and ginger beer does the trick in most cases. My bottle of Domaine de Canton — the most venerable product in this category — has been half-empty for years.

But Barrow’s, an artisanal product made in Brooklyn, NY, easily gives it a run for its money. This cloudy, intriguing liqueur (Canton is transparent) really does live up to its name. The nose is pungent without being overwhelming, offering legit ginger character plus a smattering of lemon and grapefruit notes. There’s more of the same on the body, which starts off with moderate sweetness — brown sugar melted into ginger ale — then jumps off a cliff into that classic, fresh-grated-ginger bite. The finish is spicy hot yet oddly refreshing, a spirit that’s both rustic and authentic. (The swing top bottle stopper completes the effect.)

Do I still like Canton? Absolutely, but it’s more perfumed, offering jasmine, incense, and vanilla notes up front, with all the ginger in the back. Barrow’s is a bolder and less distracted rendition of the spirit with, yes, a bit more intensity.

44 proof.

A / $31 / barrowsintense.com

Review: Ketel One Vodka (2014)

ketel one 2014 bottle 353x1200 Review: Ketel One Vodka (2014)

The Netherlands-distilled Ketel One was one of the brands that drove vodka’s rise to super-premium status, and it’s been 6 years since we took a look at this iconic, venerable brand.

Recipes and production methods change, over time. So how has Ketel One fared in the last half-decade as its found itself attacked by competitors? We took a fresh look at a recent-vintage bottle.

I tasted Ketel One before reading my prior review. The vodka is cleaner than I remember, with distinct lemon notes on the nose backing up some hefty hospital character. The body is crisp and sharp with classic medicinal character, and also mildly lemony with a slight backbone of vanilla. Lovely balance on the whole, making it easy to enjoy straight or in any number of cocktails. A clear go-to that deserves its spot on the back bar.

I didn’t catch the menthol notes this time around, but more importantly that ashy charcoal character was wholly lacking in this 2014 bottle. All in all, Ketel One remains a top choice for a high-end vodka, and in fact may even be getting better.

A / $20 / ketelone.com

Review: John Walker & Sons Odyssey Blended Scotch Whisky

john walker odyssey 525x699 Review: John Walker & Sons Odyssey Blended Scotch Whisky

I guess when you climb past the $1000-a-bottle level for your whisky, you lose the “Johnnie” and just become “John.”

“John” Walker’s Odyssey is a very rare, limited-edition bottling from the Scotch juggernaut, a blend that has previously been sold in Asian and other global markets, but which is now coming to the United States.

There’s a story behind this one, of course. Per Johnnie Walker: “Inspired by Sir Alexander Walker’s passion for epic journeys, John Walker & Sons Odyssey is crafted from three rare, handpicked single malts to create the first triple malt Scotch whisky from the House of Walker.” After selection, the whisky has been married and blended in European oak casks. The rare whisky is packed into “an ultra-modern interpretation of Sir Alexander Walker’s legendary 1932 ‘nautical’ decanter bottle created for Johnnie Walker Swing Blended Scotch Whisky.” That includes a wild kind of gyroscopic chassis.

While no information about the trio of whiskeys — provenance or age — that make up this blend is offered, it’s clearly old stock. The nose offers classic Johnnie notes of malt and cereal, with mild sherry notes and a bit of coal fires. The palate is chewy with malt balls, oatmeal, toasted marshmallow, and ripe banana. Balanced, yes, but everything is shockingly dialed back — austere, modest, and surprisingly sedate. The whisky drinks easily, but this body comes at the price of not really saying a lot when it comes to character. I found myself wondering if this was a whisky that was simply too old, drawn from barrels a bit too far past their prime.

When sampling Odyssey, I was initially reminded of Johnnie Walker Platinum Label, but even that relatively restrained whisky (which I freshly tasted in comparison) has more going on than this one. Platinum’s bigger citrus notes are simply more engaging than Odyssey’s big bowl of grains. What is this, health whisky?

80 proof.

B / $1100 / johnniewalker.com