Review: Vizcaya Black Rum Reserva

Vizcaya Black Rum Bottle

The Dominican Republic’s Vizcaya is a little-known but very high-end producer of rum, and its latest expression, Vizcaya Black, is no letdown. Some details:

Crafted in small batches in the Dominican Republic using the traditional Guarapa method, Vizcaya Black Rum features pressed sugar cane juices as the primary ingredient, not molasses that is used for producing lower quality rums. The ingredients are carefully blended, then aged for 12 to 21 years in premium charred oak barrels. The aging time determines the richness of the rum’s dark color.

It’s a beautiful rum, not quite black but coffee brown, with a touch of crimson to it. The nose is intense and rich — burnt marshmallow, chocolate syrup, and roasted nuts, hallmarks of nicely aged rum. On the palate, the rum takes you even deeper. Honey sweetness adds a kind of graham cracker note, then along comes more of those dessert elements: syrupy chocolate, caramel sauce, and Vietnamese coffee.

There’s a distinctly unctuous character that runs throughout the rum — but the finish is particularly mouth coating, which causes it to linger for probably a bit too long. Otherwise, I can’t really complain about Vizcaya Black. It’s a knockout of a rum that features incredible depth and versatility — and an impressively low price tag.

A- / $29 /

Review: Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XVIII 28th Birthday Reserve


Deschutes keeps having birthdays and it keeps putting out experimental porter to commemorate it. This year’s Black Butte is less outright wacky than some of the recent releases, brewed with cocoa, vanilla, peated malt, and sweet orange peel. Half of the batch, as always, is aged in barrels — this time used bourbon and Scotch barrels.

Lots of licorice on this imperial porter, along with very, very dark, bittersweet chocolate notes. The vanilla adds a slightly sweet kick to the finish (more so as it warms up), but Black Butte takes little time celebrating the sweet stuff. This my be a celebratory beer, but it’s always dark as Hades, often drinking like the last dregs in a cup of espresso, perhaps filtered through a charred, woody reed.

That may sound like a difficult time, but there’s lots to be enchanted by in BB XVIII — particularly the way the whole package comes together with relatively disparate flavors that manage to work well as a whole.

11.5% abv.

A- / $17 per 22 oz. bottle /

Review: Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon (2016)


Earlier this year, Elijah Craig became the latest Kentucky bourbon to lose its age statement. Formerly a 12 year old release, it is now NAS, though Heaven Hill says the product will be composed of stock aged from 8 to 12 years old (200 barrels at a time) and, of course, assures us that quality will remain exactly the same. A new bottle design was recently released, which is taller, sleeker, and more modern than the old — some might say dated — design.

To prove its claims, the distillery sent out bottles of the new Elijah Craig Small Batch to see how it fares. Sadly, I haven’t any of the old 12 year old stock to compare to, but I did put this 2016 release side by side with a recent Barrel Proof release (brought down to an equivalent proof with water) to at least give some semblance of comparison to the past.

First, let’s look at the new release. It’s a sugar bomb from the get-go, simple-sugar syrup heavy on the nose with some citrus undertones plus a baking spice kick. The palate pushes that agenda pretty hard; it’s loaded to the top with sweet butterscotch, light caramel, and vanilla ice cream notes before a more sultry note of orange peel and gentler baking spice character comes to the fore. Heaven Hill reportedly uses a 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley mashbill, and the spice level here comes across about as expected with that amount of rye in the mash. It isn’t until late in the game that gentle wood notes come around, making for a duskier finish to what initially seems like a fairly straight (and sweet) shooter.

While it’s an imperfect comparison, the watered-down Barrel Proof cuts a bit of a different profile, offering more wood, more spice, and a bolder body right from the start. There’s more nuance along the way in the form of cocoa, coffee, and raisiny Port wine, but this kind of enhanced depth isn’t uncommon with a cask strength release, even if you water it down in the glass. The new standard-grade Elijah Craig doesn’t have that kind of power, but it’s also a less expensive and more accessible bourbon. Taking all that into account, it’s definitely still worth a look. The grade is on the borderline with an A-.

94 proof.

B+ / $30 /

Review: Stone Enjoy By 10.31.16 Tangerine IPA


It’s another tangerine-infused IPA in Stone’s “Enjoy By” series, this one “expiring” in just a few weeks on Halloween. Thought the bottle is festooned in appropriately ghoulish decor, the recipe doesn’t seem to be any different than the last Enjoy By we covered, including 12 different hop varieties plus pureed tangerines in the mix. This time, for me, the citrus seems more restrained, and I get a touch of coffee character. though the finish offers a nice burst of orange rind to temper the heaviness of the hops. All told, it’s a winner, again!

9.4% abv.

A / $8 per 22 oz. bottle /

Review: Slow Hand Six Woods Malt Whiskey

slow hand

The Greenbar Collective in Los Angeles is home to Slow Hand, a white whiskey and this, an aged whiskey made of 100% malted barley. The company calls it “a new kind of whiskey that… has never been tasted before,” and the production description doesn’t falter on that front. Says Greenbar: “After fermenting and distilling a 100% malt mash, we age this whiskey to taste in 1,000 and 2,000 gallon French oak vats with house-toasted cubes of hickory, mulberry, red oak, hard maple, and grape woods.”

For how long? “Between 10 minutes and when it tastes good,” per the label. Oh, and it’s organic.

So, hickory cube whiskey, anyone?

It is, to be sure, an unusual spirit. The nose is heavily smoky, intense not just with traditional young oak notes but also notes of forest floor, charcoal, menthol, dark chocolate, and balsamic. It’s quite overwhelming at first, but as the initially overbearing wood aromas start to settle down, some of the more unusual secondary notes really start to gain steam — and add intrigue.

The palate is also very wood-forward at first, but this too can be tempered by time and air to showcase notes of butterscotch, Madeira wine, and coconut. Sure, it’s all filtered through the lens of intense wood influence, but these curiosities — plus a coffee-dusted finish — add some nuance. I’m considerably less thrilled about the appearance of the whiskey over time, which turns cloudy in the glass and leaves significant deposits — much more than a typical brown spirit. So… drink up fast before it settles out.

84 proof.

B- / $45 /

Review: Johnnie Walker Blue Label (2016)

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Bottle

It’s been a solid six years since we spent any serious time with Johnnie Walker’s flagship bottling, Blue Label. The House of Walker doesn’t talk much about whether or how the recipe for Blue Label has evolved over the years, but in 2010 it was said that there were nine single malts in the blend, while today reports peg the total number at roughly 16 — so it’s likely some things have changed.

Tasting 2010 and 2016 vintage Blue Label side by side reveals some evolutionary changes, though nothing overwhelmingly dramatic. Today, the 2010 offers well-rounded notes of heavy sherry, almonds, some mint, and a dense, malty core. In comparison, the 2016 release shows itself as more aromatic, with a younger overall vibe and some clear aromas of petrol and rubber right off the bat.

The body however plays to many of the same elements as the older bottling — lots of nuts and roasted malts, a more restrained sherry component, and mixed herbal notes. As with the nose, the finish diverges from the 2010 more considerably. While the older bottling is lightly sweet and lingering, the 2016 comes off as a bit ashy and charcoal-smoked. It’s still respectable, austere, and complex — thanks largely to its bold and burly body, the whisky’s most consistent element throughout the years.

Blue Label has always presented itself as a mixed bag, but its current direction feels misguided to me. (For the record, I’d give the 2010 an upgrade to an A- from my earlier review.)

80 proof.

B / $225 /

Review: Attems 2015 Pinot Grigio and 2014 Pinot Grigio Ramato



Two wines from Attems, located in the Venezia region of Italy. Both in fact are made from the same grape — pinot grigio — but one is made in the traditional dry white style, the other as a ramato, or orange style.

Let’s taste both.

2015 Attems Pinot Grigio – Surprisingly buttery, to the point where this comes across like a baby chardonnay. Floral notes emerge over a time, but oaky vanilla lingers on the finish, coating the palate. B- / $15

2014 Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato – Orange wine is essentially a white wine made in the style of red, with the skins. Here it’s used to create a curious combo, fresh and fruity and amply acidic up front, then stepping into herbal territory, with notes of rosemary, thyme, and sage. These characteristics become particularly pronounced as the wine warms up, leading to a rather intense and dusky finish. A- / $19