Review: J. Wray & Nephew Silver Rum, Gold Rum, and Overproof Rum

Jamaica’s J. Wray & Nephew — or just Wray & Nephew — lays claim to being the #1 producer of rum in the country, and when you consider that the company makes both Appleton and Captain Morgan, it’s a claim that’s not hard to believe. Wray & Nephew also makes pot-distilled rum that is released under its own label, some of it highly sought-after by rum aficionados. Recently, Wray & Nephew’s entry-level bottles, a white and a gold rum, both finally made it to the U.S., joining the company’s renowned overproof expression.

Let’s find out what the fuss is all about.

J. Wray & Nephew Silver Rum – This is an aged rum, filtered to white. I will go on record and tell you this is one of the best white rums I’ve ever encountered. Gentle but full of depth, it offers a nose of toasted coconut, vanilla, fresh cream, and just a hint of hospital character. On the palate, the expect rush of rubber cement flavor so typical in white rum is absent. Just supple coconut and light caramel, sweet vanilla cream, and subtle banana notes. The finish is clean, just a touch rubbery (to remind you it’s rum, of course), but fresh and quite versatile. Everything a white rum should be — a clear winner. (Get it!?) 80 proof. A / $25

J. Wray & Nephew Gold Rum – Aged (and indeed gold in color) but with no particulars attached. This has an immediately much more pungent nose, with notes of mushroom, red bean paste, burnt toast, and barrel char. It settles down on the palate, bringing out a sweeter side that showcases toffee, coconut, vanilla, and some baking spice notes. There’s more complexity here than in the silver, but you’ll find this kind of richness more commonly in a number of other rums in this category, which makes it a bit less unique. 80 proof. A- / $25

J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum – This is the flagship rum from Wray and the rum with which most American drinkers will be familiar. This is familiar instantly on the nose, with a mixture of citrus and petrol notes, very aromatic with florals and the raw alcoholic notes one expects from an overproof rum. The body is a bit tougher and astringent, slightly charcoal-dusted but otherwise intense with fruit, both citrus and tropical, with overtones of overripe banana, bubble gum, and a touch of eucalyptus on the finish. Surprisingly approachable despite the heavy alcohol level. 126 proof. A- / $19

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Review: 2014 La Follette Chardonnay and Pinot Noir North Coast

It’s been many years since I dined with Greg La Follette, back when he was making wine under the Tandem label. Now La Follette has a label under his own name, and his North Coast-sourced 2014 releases are here. Let’s give them a try.

2014 La Follette Chardonnay North Coast – Vanilla cookie notes are heavy on the nose, but tempered by clear notes of lemon and toasty brioche buns. The body is quite bold and rounded, but it’s nonetheless fresh and lively, with a lasting finish that works well alone or with food. An excellent example of a big California chardonnay that is dialed back just the right amount. A- / $22

2014 La Follette Pinot Noir North Coast – Moderate body, with notes of blackberry and dark cherry, tempered through light vanilla and gentle, toasty wood. There’s an undercurrent of licorice-loaded tannins here, but it’s kept in check by a gentle sweetness and a distinct silkiness on the palate. A- / $22

lafollettewines.com

Review: Stone Enjoy By 02.14.17 Chocolate & Coffee IPA

Stone’s latest “Enjoy By” IPA says it should be consumed by Valentine’s Day, but it was seemingly created for consumption on Valentine’s Day. Anyone looking for a special V-Day gift for that beer-loving special someone should look no further than this romantically-themed one-off brew.

As the name suggests it’s an IPA, brewed with the typical pantheon of hops (12 of them) plus added chocolate and coffee — in the form of cocoa beans processed by Stone and a blonde coffee brewed by San Diego Sunrise.

The results are really intriguing and fun: The bitter hops are impossible to ignore, sure, but the coffee and chocolate work as surprisingly deft foils for the ale. Both are more understated than I’d expect (schooled by years of overblown coffee stouts and the like), adding just a hint of dessert-like sweetness to an otherwise hop-forward experience, which tempers the whole affair and makes it more suitable for after dinner than before. With a moderate fruitiness and its bold, rounded body, consider building a fire before cracking it open.

9.4% abv.

A- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / stonebrewing.com

Review: Bear Republic Double Aught Pilsner, Racer X (2016), and Pace Car Racer

A trio of new beers from Bear Republic

Bear Republic Double Aught Pilsner – A light, Euro-style lager made with imported Hallertauer hops, this beer fully fits the part it was designed to play, bold with malty notes, a slight nutty character, and toasty cereal notes to round things out. Gentle in flavor but packed into a powerful body, it’s a great cold-weather lager with plenty of meat on its bones. 5% abv. A- / $10 per six-pack

Bear Republic Racer X Double IPA (2016) – This was a late 2016 arrival that we’re finally getting up. As always, megadoses of Cascade, Columbus, and Centennial hops give this rich IPA a hefty yet fully manageable bitterness, the silky caramel core tempers things and allows to show through notes of sweet apple, cloves, and dates. The finish is piney resin, as to be expected, as waves of bitterness come crashing back in. Rinse and repeat. 8.3% abv. A / $8 per 22 oz bottle

Bear Republic Pace Car Racer – Bear Republic’s session IPA is a dead ringer from the start as a session beer. While it isn’t at all watery, the hops are muddy and lacking in citrus and piney character, coming across with notes closer to those of pine cones than pine resin. While it’s got ample bitterness that helps it stand out against, say, your typical bottle of Miller Lite, any true IPA fan will be wishing for the full-strength experience once the leathery finish arrives. 4% abv. B- / $10 per six-pack

bearrepublic.com

Review: Sonoma County Distilling Cherrywood Rye (2016) and Black Truffle Rye

We looked at a few of the products of budding craft distiller Sonoma County Distilling Co. in 2015, and now we’re back with some fresh coverage, including a look at the second batch of SCDC’s Cherrywood Rye and a first encounter with a limited-edition rye flavored with… wait for it… truffles.

Thoughts on both whiskeys follow.

Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye Whiskey (2016) – Our second look at this whiskey. Distilled from unmalted Canadian rye, unmalted Canadian wheat, and cherrywood-smoked malted barley from Wyoming. Double distilled in alembic pot stills and aged for one year in new, charred American oak. Designed to mimic the flavors of a Manhattan cocktail exclusively from the impact of the grain. My tasting notes are considerably different than last year’s edition. Heavily wood-forward on the nose, it’s got tons of youth, but also an ample focus on fresh grain, but also perfumed at times with floral notes. Cherry is hinted at aromatically, but it really hits its stride on the palate, where a burst of fruit hits the tongue before the wood component again muscles its way back to the fore. This wood character hangs around for some time, along with some light mushroom and forest floor notes that mingle with modest vanilla and caramel at times. As for the “Manhattan in a whiskey” mission? Well, it’s not quite accomplished… at least, not after just one year in barrel. Give it a few more years and let’s talk again. 95.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B- / $55

Sonoma County Distilling Co. Black Truffle Rye – This is something else, Somona County’s 100% rye infused with French black perigord truffles. The nose doesn’t give a lot of truffly hints, coming across with a raciness that borders on astringency. Give it some air and you catch notes of evergreen and cedar cigar box — not quite the mushroomy truffle, but headed in that direction. On the palate, a massively different experience awaits, offering a surprisingly gentle woodiness that is tempered by brown sugar, and nutmeg-heavy baking spice. As it develops on the tongue, the whiskey seems to change, evolving on the fly to reveal layers and layers of flavor — cut flowers, rhubarb, dried raspberry, and an insidious earthiness that, in the end, must be where the truffle finds its footing. This is a whiskey that’s almost impossible to digest and dissect in just one sitting. Give it time in glass, and ample time on your shelf, as you explore its many mysteries. 100 proof. A- / $75 (375ml)

sonomacountydistilling.com

Review: Darnley’s View Gin and Spiced Gin

Darnley’s View is a London Dry style gin made in Scotland by the Wemyss family (of Wemyss Malts fame). Two versions are produced, a relatively standard expression and a “spiced” gin. We’ll discuss the botanicals of each in turn.

Darnley’s View Gin – Aka Darnley’s View Original, this spirit is flavored with just six botanicals: juniper, lemon peel, elderflower, coriander seed, angelica root, and orris root. Only the elderflower is a slight departure from the standard botanical bill of London Dry, though there are a few omissions, namely orange peel. It’s a simple gin, the elderflower making a pretty and lightly fruity impact on the nose, along with a muted juniper kick. The palate is also light and fresh — this is a great gin to use in a tall drink like a gin and tonic — the juniper even more restrained as the lemon peel makes a stronger showing. At just 40% abv, it’s also feathery light on the palate — to the point where it comes off as a bit watery at times — so don’t go overboard with your mixers. 80 proof. B+ / $34

Darnley’s View Spiced Gin – Out with the elderflower, orris root, and lemon peel, in with nutmeg, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, cassia, grains of paradise, and cloves. The impact is immediate, the upshot being, oddly enough, that Darnley’s Spiced Gin, at least on the nose, comes across more like a traditional London Dry than its non-spiced counterpart. The juniper is stronger, and the cinnamon/cassia elements make it more pungent. A bevy of spices do come across clearly in the body, but fresh ginger, cloves, and more juniper are the most immediately visible. Unlike the relatively tepid Original Gin, the Spiced Gin is long on the finish and pungent with peppery notes. While the Original may be a great fit for a tall drink, this is the one to reach for to put in your martini. 85.4 proof. A- / $34

darnleysview.com

Review: Virginia Distillery Cider Barrel Matured Virginia Highland Malt Whisky

If Virginia Distillery Co.’s flagship product — a Scottish single malt imported to the U.S. and finished in Virginia Port wine casks — wasn’t wacky enough for you, now comes its first line extension, which sees that first product finished not in Port barrels but instead in locally-sourced cider barrels (specifically barrels from Potter’s Craft Cider). It’s the first release in Virginia’s new Commonwealth Collection, which will see additional oddball finishes being applied to its releases in the months to come.

As with the original release, this is an enchanting whisky that merits some serious study. The nose has a classic single malt structure with gentle granary notes, honey, and some florals, but it’s tempered with a slight citrus character — or at least, more of a citrus character than you’d expect from a traditional single malt. There’s an undercurrent of funk — hard to describe but perhaps driven by the cider barrels — that is at once unusual and appealing.

Rich and malty, the nose leads into a moderate but compelling body that grows in power as you let it aerate. Here the apple influence is a bit clearer, melding with the malt to showcase notes of lemon, grasses, a bit of honey, and more cereal. Again, that slight funk on the finish offers a little something extra — a touch of chocolate, a rush of acidity, and some bitterness, all notes that serve to enhance the experience by taking things in an unexpected direction.

92 proof.

A- / $55 / vadistillery.com

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