Review: Black Dirt Bourbon 3 Years Old

BD Bourbon w fire

Black Dirt is made in New York State’s first microdistillery, where an applejack and this bourbon are produced. Made from a mash of 80% local “black dirt” corn (hence the name), 12% malted barley, and 8% rye, it’s aged for three years in #3 char new American oak barrels. Let’s take a look under the hood.

The nose is appealing, showing light popcorn and breakfast cereal, then lumberyard notes, plus gentle vanilla and caramel notes. It’s youthful, but not too young, just a peeling back of the layers of the spirit to reveal its grainy underpinnings. The body largely follows suit, offering a touch of chocolate up front, then a modest dip back into the grain pool for another helping. Some baking spice and a bit of citrus come along before you reach a finish that returns to chocolate for a reprise.

Cereal-heavy whiskeys are often a bummer, but Black Dirt (the name notwithstanding) is surprisingly easygoing and balanced between its granary notes and its sweeter components. The finished product may still drink like it’s in short pants, but it’s nonetheless quite enjoyable on its merits. It’s rare to find a microdistilled bourbon that has balance and a unique character all its own, but Black Dirt is one of them.

90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6.

A- / $38 / blackdirtdistillery.com

Review: Sauvignon Blancs of Brancott, 2015 Releases

brancottBrancott is a bit like the Mondavi of New Zealand. It was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, a region that has become one of the world leaders in this style of grape. Today, Brancott makes dozens of wines, including eight different sauvignon blancs. We reviewed five of them, from entry-level juice to some surprising rarities that I wasn’t even aware of before cracking into them.

2014 Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Entry level, and it shows. The tropical notes are strong, but come across more like canned mango and pineapple, with a slightly vegetal note. Best when served very cold, which helps accentuate the acidity. C+ / $14

2013 Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Note that it doesn’t actually indicate “Brancott” on the label. The nose is tropical but also strongly bent toward melon notes. On the body, it’s slightly frizzante, which I’m not sure is intentional, but it brings out the cantaloupe/honeydew notes more distinctly. A little odd, but it grows on you. B / $18

2013 Brancott Estate Flight Song Sauvignon Blanc – A low-cal wine with 88 calories per 5 oz glass and 9% alcohol. Strongly orange on the nose, with floral notes and tropical underpinnings. Slightly buzzy on the tongue with a touch of fizz, but clean on the finish with and echo of more fresh citrus. Easy and breezy, so they say. Surprisingly good for “diet wine.” B / $15

2013 Brancott Estate Letter Series Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – A well-balanced sauvignon blanc, with strong pineapple and mango notes on the nose and a solid level of acidity in the body. Some sweet caramel and light almond notes continue on the palate — but the finish veers sharply into some earthier, mushroom tones, a bit discordant here. B / $26

2010 Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Very well-aged for a sauvignon blanc, this wine starts with tropical character and then showcases creme brulee, vanilla caramel, and light lychee notes. Much more complicated then the relatively straightforward big-fruit-then-acid wines above, Chosen Rows uses a little funk to add depth to what is normally an uncomplex style. Bottled in the most exotic screwcap I’ve ever seen. A- / $65

brancottestate.com

Head to Head with 4 Bloody Mary Mixes: Scales, Tabanero, Bloody Good, and Bloody Amazing

tabaneroSummer is hear, and that means brunch with bloodies is upon us.

Sure, it’d be great if you could always crush your own tomatoes and grate your own fresh horseradish, but really, who’s got the time. Recently we’ve been inundated with bottled bloody mary mixers, which we put head to head to head to head.

Thoughts follow.

Scales Bloody Mary Mix – For a so-called low-carb bloody mary mix (5 grams of carbs per 3 oz.), this sure tastes sweet. The very dark color is a bit misleading; the mixer is more tart than spicy or meaty, a densely acidic mixer with a heavy tomato paste character and a metallic aftertaste. Not at all spicy, despite the claims of being made with Texas Pete’s hot sauce. B- / $6 per 1 liter bottle

Tabanero Spicy Bloody Mary Mix – Definitely “Mexican style,” with a salsa-like character to it. Intensely spicy, with lasting, burning habanero notes, plus notes of green pepper, cilantro, and lots of onion. It’s a bit on the watery side, so don’t expect to try watering it down to temper its heat. That said — I really like it (and the Tabanero hot sauce.) Mixing half and half with a less racy mix might work, though. Oddly has less carbs than the Scales. A- / $10 per 1 liter bottle

Bloody Good Bloody Mary Mix – A local brand you won’t likely find outside of northern California. Very fresh, with ripe tomatoes, some green veggies, black pepper, and lots and lots of horseradish. Quite gentle in spice level, but it’s pungent thanks to the horseradish component. Nicely balanced; definitely a strong contender. Very difficult to pour (as it’s bottled in what is basically a spaghetti sauce jar). / $9 per 32 oz jar

Bloody Amazing Premium Mary Mix – While Tabanero approaches bloodies from a salsa standpoint, Bloody Amazing comes at it from the shrimp cocktail sauce arena. Very dense, with stewed tomato notes, black pepper, and horseradish — plus lots of Worcestershire to add a brooding character that Bloody Good doesn’t have. This one’s more a matter of taste, as the overall character is very much a “coastal” one. Only slightly spicy; easily manageable. B+ / $13 per 750ml bottle

Review: Beers of Mavericks (Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.)

mavericks rye pale ale

Mavericks is a famous surf spot off the coast of Half Moon Bay, California, where these three beers — available exclusively in cans — are made. We tried them all. Thoughts follow.

Mavericks Rye Pale Ale – Mavericks sent two cans of this beer, an American pale ale with west coast hops plus rye malt, and I managed to polish off the first can before I remembered I was supposed to be writing about it. A huge crowd pleaser, this combines the best of both worlds: a chewy, bready base that leads to a modestly hoppy conclusion. Notes of citrus and hints of dark chocolate add some mystique. Somehow, all of this is just 3.75% abv, making for an amazing session brew. Hard not to love. A / $NA (12 oz cans)

Mavericks Belgian Style Wit – Quite spicy on the nose, with dried orange peel and coriander notes. The body punches first with the spice, then ventures into the malt, which is substantial — bready and toasty, and quite lasting. More spice on the finish, but it doesn’t ever shake hands completely with the malt. Fairly average and unremarkable. 3.75% abv. B- / $NA (12 oz cans)

Mavericks Tunnel Vision IPA – The big dog, a monster beer that “blurs the line between single and double IPA” (though it’s 100+ IBUs). It’s a beer that pushes things awfully far, with an intense resinous character and notes of tar, forest floor, and a heavy, lasting, bitter finish. Fruit and piney notes are sorely needed here. 6.8% abv. B- / $NA (16 oz cans)

mavericksbeer.com

Review: Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso and Vermouth Chinato

Alessio_Vermouth_TORINOTempus Fugit Spirits has turned to vermouth for its latest products, importing from Italy a pair of fortified, aromatic wines: Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso and Alessio Vermouth Chinato, both “inspired by a true ‘Renaissance man,’ Alessio Piemontese.”

These vermouths are both produced in a considerably more bitter style than the typical Italian or sweet vermouth on the market. Both feature added bittering agents in the form of wormwood and, in the case of Chinato, cinchona bark. As such, they straddle the line between vermouth and amaro, and can be easily consumed on their own much like the latter. (They’re best chilled.)

Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso – “Based on a classic di Torino recipe from the late 19th century, Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso is designed to be enjoyed as what was commonly called a ‘Vino di Lusso’ (luxury wine), a wine thoroughly consumed on its own. Created with a fine Piedmont wine as the base, this authentic Vermouth di Torino contains both Grande and Petite Wormwood, along with over 25 other pharmaceutical-grade herbs, roots and spices.” It’s quite dense and dark, with intensely bitter amaro notes on the nose — licorice root, stewed prunes, and cloves — and not much in the way of sweetness. The body offers a more bittersweet character, however, tempering the heavy bitter components with some raisin and baking spice notes. A fairly dark chocolate character comes along on the finish to add some mystique. I really like how it all comes together, and it works well as a cocktail ingredient and drinks beautifully on its own. 17% abv. A- / $22

Alessio_Vermouth_CHINATOAlessio Vermouth Chinato – “Alessio Vermouth Chinato is also based on a classic di Torino recipe from the late 19th century combined with the additional bittering of Cinchona bark and more than 25 other balancing herbs, including Grande and Petite Wormwood, and reflects an almost-lost style of bitter vermouth.” The nose is somewhat less appealing, lacking some of the intensity of di Torino, but otherwise cuts a similar aromatic profile. The body seems to miss out on some of the di Torino’s depth, trading the back-and-forth of sweet and bitter for a focus that veers more toward sour cherries with a strongly bitter undercurrent. The finish is lengthy and mouth-coating, rather than the bitter cleansing character you get with the di Torino. Better as a mixology ingredient. 16.5% abv. B / $25

anchordistilling.com

Review: Old Monk Very Old Vatted XXX Rum 7 Years Old

Old_Monk_XXX_rumOld Monk, a rum that’s made in Uttar Pradesh, India, is a major international seller which has a bit of a cult following on our shores. That’s probably owing more to the low price point, unique decanter, and novelty design than anything else. But let’s see how it tastes.

This expression (there are a handful of varieties) is a vatted (or blended) rum that is aged for a minimum of seven years. It appears to be traditionally produced, using molasses and used whiskey barrels for aging (though I have no official evidence of this).

The copper-hued spirit kicks off with plenty of hogo, a funky, almost winey nose with notes of dried spices, dense molasses, and some charcoal. Powerful and pungent, it leads the way into a body that is dense with baking spices — cloves, particularly — along with quite bitter (very dark) chocolate, coffee grounds, burnt nuts, and notes of old wood. The sweet molasses core is unmistakable, and when combined with the spicier elements it makes Old Monk a very good mixer. But on its own, Old Monk sips a bit too far on the tannic side. Save it for parties and punches.

B / $16 / no website

Review: Jim Beam Black XA Extra Aged Kentucky Straight Bourbon

jim beam black extra agedWhile I wasn’t paying attention, Jim Beam quietly updated its venerable Black Label bottling. What was once bottled with an 8 Year Old (“Double Aged”) age statement now carries none. Beam assures me the product in the new bottle is the same as the old Jim Beam Black Label even if the exterior isn’t quite the same. Either way, we got a fresh bottle of XA to offer some 2015 perspective. Thoughts follow.

Jim Beam XA is, as the name implies, a seemingly well aged spirit. A bit of sawdust on the nose leads into notes of fruity apple, cloves, and vanilla ice cream. The palate offers a rich and creamy body, loaded with caramel, vanilla, and some charcoal notes. That lumberyard character sustains here, and some popcorn notes come along as a reprise. The finish is lasting and warming and a bit dusty, for the most part offering a tour of some of bourbondom’s most classic flavors without piling on a whole lot of distracting nuance. In other words: There’s nothing you won’t enjoy here, but it’s short of a standout, too.

86 proof.

B+ / $20 / jimbeam.com

Review: Afrohead Original Rum

Afrohead Original - Front

You wouldn’t put out a rum called Afrohead and not put a line art drawing of a woman with a huge, stylized afro on the bottle, would you? Of course not. After years of hand bottling rum in an unnamed bottle featuring only the Afrohead logo, Joe Farrell and Toby Tyler are bringing this Bahamanian rum to the U.S. market officially.

Two expressions are being released, the “Original” reviewed here, which is 7 years old, plus an XO expression, bottled in an opaque decanter, which is 15 years old. Both expressions are crafted from only sugarcane molasses sourced from various farms in the West Indies, using a proprietary Trinidad yeast, and made with neither added coloring nor raw sugar added to the distillate. The rum is aged in used bourbon barrels in the Bahamas and is bottled in Barbados.

Afrohead Original is a well-crafted rum with a somewhat rustic style. The nose is heavily molasses-focused, with ample but not overblown sweetness. Hints of sweet sherry add some nuance, along with notes of marzipan. On the palate, the rum offers a bit of chalkiness on the body, with a rush of sugar right up front. As it fades, the rum gets a bit tougher and shows off more of its skin. As the finish builds, watch for burnt caramel and sooty notes, Cracker Jack, brown butter, and scorched peanuts. These more brooding flavors add layers of complexity, but they also dial back the sweetness a bit. There’s also a bit of a winey aftertaste that lingers on the back of the palate for quite a while.

All told, this is a fine rum with an interesting and compelling character that’s worth sampling.

Available in the Bahamas, Tennessee, and South Florida for now.

80 proof.

B+ / $35 / afroheadrums.com

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection – Brown Rice

brown rice

Four our fourth review in Jim Beam’s 6-whiskey Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection we’re finally checking out the Brown Rice release. This was actually released last year, so we’re late to the game, but our completionist streak compels a review regardless.

As a reminder, these are all bourbons, each made with one unusual grain in the mashbill. As with the others, Brown Rice is at least 51% corn and includes some amount of malted barley in the mix. All Harvest Collection bourbons are aged 11 years before bottling at 90 proof.

With the Brown Rice bottling, interesting tropical notes hit the nose immediately upon pouring, mingling nicely with well-rounded grain, burnt sugar, aged wine, and oak notes on the nose. The overall impression is one of significant age, with a lumberyard character eventually taking over duties on the nose. The body starts with sweetness — brown sugar, molasses, and crushed red berries — before handing some of the work off to the wood again. The finish takes things to a place of slight astringency, with the bourbon seeing a bit of sawdust and a lightly medicinal edge on the back end. I also get notes of brewed, sweet tea and some roasted meats as the finish eventually fades. Overall though, it’s got a light touch, and in the final analysis it comes across as a very pleasant — though oftentimes plain — bourbon.

For what it’s worth, Beam suggests looking out for notes of sweet potato on the nose.

90 proof.

B+ / $50 (375ml) / jimbeam.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Craft Distillers Mezcalero Release #11 Bramaderos (Miahuatlan)

MEZ_11Craft Distillers’ Mezcalero is a series of one-time batches of mezcal, similar to the ArteNOM tequila releases. Once they’re all sold, they’re gone for good. But don’t worry — in both cases, they always make more.

We first encountered Mezcalero in its second batch, and while I felt that release was a touch lackluster, it intrigued me enough to keep following the line. Mezcalero is now in its 12th release — and we just received release #11, still on the market, for review.

Mezcalero #11 is made from four types of agave: Semi-wild agave karwinskii  (madrecuishe) that grows on stalks, bicuishe, rhodacantha (Mexicano), and cultivated espadín. (Espadin is by far the most common type used in modern mezcal.) The spirit is crafted by distiller Alberto Ortiz (aka Don Beto) near Miahuatlan, Mexico.

Mezcalero #11 is silky and sweet and smoky on the nose, offering neat citrus aromas, iodine, and a persistent lacing of gentle smoke character. The body starts off gently, again pushing its citrus character along with ample notes of roasted meats (or bacon) and some menthol. The smoke builds slowly, then faster, but the sweetness holds its own throughout. The finish is rounded and seductive, a solid example of a well-crafted mezcal that has all the essentials in place.

1068 bottles produced, making this a bit easier to find than prior releases. 94.6 proof.

A- / $84 / craftdistillers.com