Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial India Pale Ale and Pumpkin Ale

alaskan imperial ipa pilot seriesTwo new brews from Alaskan — another large format IPA in the Pilot Series and, of course, a new, seasonal Pumpkin Ale. Thoughts follow.

Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial India Pale Ale – This new Pilot Series offering pours a dusky light brown. Crisp and plenty bitter, it’s got loads of freshly baked bread plus a backing of light citrus and spice notes. These are washed away by the piney overtones that quickly come to the fore, but the breadier elements linger — something you don’t often get with IPAs. It’s a nice combination, and one that tempers the hops well enough to make it accessible to non-IPA fans. 8.5% abv. A- / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

Alaskan Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale – This is not the same beer as Alaskan’s Pumpkin Porter. Indeed, it’s a far different experience, made in a sweeter style that features rich malt laced with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Brown sugar sweetness sticks with you, along with some hoppy, almost leathery notes that emerge on the finish. A better style of beer to pair with pumpkin spices. 6% abv. B / $8 per six pack

Review: Jameson Wild Sloe Berry Bitters

Unveiled for Tales of the Cocktail 2015, Jameson released its first-ever bitters, taking them to an unexpected and exotic place: the sloe berry.

The sloe berry is primarily known — OK, exclusively known — for its use in sloe gin. Here, Jameson blends up sloe berry distillate, Jameson whiskey, a mix of bittering agents that includes wormwood, gentian, and ginseng, plus a bit of caramel color to produce a distinctive new bitters.

The nose is distinctively tart and fruity, backed with an appropriately root beer overtone. On the tongue, it’s (of course) quite bitter, but not as tough as you might think, with the tart sloe berries offering some balance. The finish sticks closely to the gentian/wormwood playbook, which is really just what you want from a bottle of bitters.

Of course this is not meant for solo consumption, and the sloe berry element is a surprisingly perfect foil for whiskey. While I know this is intended as a complement for Irish, give it a go with bourbon to coax out some lovely cherry notes.

92 proof.

A- / $NA /

Review: Rational Spirits Santeria Rum

santeriaRemember Lost Spirits, the guys making 20 year old rum in 8 days? Well, after my Wired article hit, the company got venture capital funding, commercialized its reactor, and made deals with pretty much every distillery you’ve ever heard of — either to make commercial products or to provide experimental services.

Now the first third-party rum to come from a Lost Spirits accelerated aging reactor is hitting the market: Santeria Rum. Bryan Davis, Lost Spirits’ head honcho, made Santeria batch #1 on behalf of Rational before turning the reactor over to them for the second go. The Charleston-based Rational provided new-make, unaged rum to Davis, who ran it through the system and turned out this inky, molasses-hued monster, which was bottled at “cask strength” — quotes, because there is no cask, really.

I tried both the new-make and the finished product. Santeria starts with a quite fruity (very ripe banana-heavy) spirit with overtones of almonds, hospital antiseptic, and the sticky-sweet dunder character of young, Jamaica-style rum. After processing, it’s dark as night and the profile comes across as you might expect: Intense coffee grounds, dark chocolate, walnuts, cloves, and ample molasses on the nose. On the tongue, there’s more of the same, plus that sweet banana from the new-make and plenty of rummy funk on the back end. The finish is long and bitter-savory, with some lightly smoky elements to it.

Ultimately this is an interesting comparison and companion to Lost Spirits Colonial Rum, which underwent the same process but has a different base spirit as an input. Colonial is more brooding, pungent, and smokier, broader in heft and more muscular on the finish. Santeria is a bit more accessible today but, as with Colonial, drinks like some really, really, old and funky stuff. Rum nuts need to try it.

115 proof.

A- / $NA /

Review: Wines of Tom Gore, 2015 Releases

Tom Gore Vineyards 2012 Field Blend_Bottle ShotTom Gore is a Sonoma County grape grower, nut farmer,chicken raiser, and olive oil maker — and now a winemaker with his first batch of wines hitting the market. Let’s tuck into this inaugural trio.

2013 Tom Gore Chardonnay California – Looks cheap, tastes great. Fresh and fruity, there’s buttery vanilla on the nose, but the body is all golden apples, fresh peaches, and nectarine notes. The finish is clean, with a rounded approach that lets the fruit shine through. Very easy to enjoy. A- / $15

2012 Tom Gore Cabernet Sauvignon California – A workmanlike cabernet, with simple jam structure, vanilla syrup, and a lacing of dried herbs. Relatively harmless, but nothing to write home about in the end. Plenty of fruit plus a modest tannic backbone — it helps that this wine is now three years old and has clearly matured a bit — give this an easy and uncomplicated drinkability. B- / $15

2012 Tom Gore Field Blend Alexander Valley – 35% petit verdot, 33% malbec, 21% merlot, 6% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% tempranillo. That’s a really odd blend — really odd — but as a wine this field blend works better than expected. The nose is moderately smoky with dense jam notes and some leather character. On the palate, plenty of tannin keeps things tight at first, but a strong current of fruit runs through it — plum and currants — to add balance. (Currant currents? OK.) Vegetal notes emerge on the finish, but this doesn’t really detract much, adding a curious nuance to the experience. Worth a try. B+ / $40

Review: Wines of Balletto, 2015 Releases

Balletto_CH_Teresa_bottleBalletto is primarily a grape grower — 90% of the company’s harvest is sold to other vintners — but it also vinifies its own wines, including a wide range of NorCal classic styles. Recently we tried four modestly priced bottlings. Thoughts follow.

2014 Balletto Rose of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Fresh, with light strawberries and some floral notes. A touch of creme brulee underneath on the palate, with grapefruit notes adding tartness to the finish. B / $18

2014 Balletto Chardonnay Teresa’s Unoaked Russian River Valley – A crisp and nicely acidic unoaked chardonnay, loaded with green apple and grapefruit, plus a dusting of fresh herbs — rosemary in particular. Cleansing on the finish. A- / $20

2014 Balletto Chardonnay Russian River Valley – Restrained on the butter/wood component, but the toasty wood notes eventually evoke brown butter and some melon notes. Uncomplicated but well balanced. A- / $28

2013 Balletto Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A bit bloated at first, with modest cherry and currant notes and some licorice. Dried herbs lead to a light finish, but give this wine some time and some light chocolate notes emerge, adding some structure. B / $29

Review: Tippleman’s Not Quite Simple Syrups


Our friends at Bittermilk cocktail mixers have recently expanded to the world of syrups. Bottled under a new name, Tippleman’s, these are all sweet, non-alcoholic mixers designed to sub in for the “sweet” component in your drink. We tried them all on their own and in a cocktail. Each comes in 500ml bottles. Here’s what we thought.

Tippleman’s Syrup Burnt Sugar – An organic sugar/molasses-based syrup. Dense, molasses brown color. Port wine notes on the nose. Extremely sweet, with bitter coffee and berry overtones. It immediately dominates any cocktail it’s dropped into with both sweetness and a bitter edge. I like the bold direction it goes, but use it sparingly and with the appropriate spirits. A- / $12

Tippleman’s Syrup Lemon Oleo Saccharum – 2000 pounds of lemons go into each batch of this classic oily citrus concoction. Nice balance between lemon and sugar, with herbal overtones. There’s less lemon in cocktails made with it, as the sugar tends to wash the citrus out a bit. A solid, but understated syrup. B+ / $22

Tippleman’s Syrup Barrel Smoked Maple – Old Willett bourbon barrels are shaved, remoistened with bourbon, and smoldered under organic Grade B maple syrup. A dark brown oddity that smells like charred wood, but tastes like well-sweetened barbecue sauce. Clearly invented for whiskey cocktails, this is love-it or hate-it territory, a syrup that totally dominates its cocktails, but in a fun and unique way. A- / $29

Tippleman’s Syrup Falernum – A traditional tropical syrup, this is flavored with spices and lime peel, plus ginger juice (and lots of sugar). Quite intense with cardamom and some allspice, vanilla on the finish. An easy choice for any tropical drink you want to whip up, Very similar character when used as a mixer, creating that festively tropical yet brooding, Chinatown kinda vibe that really takes you someplace else. Well done. A / $17

Tippleman’s Syrup Ginger Honey – Ginger juice plus organic wildflower honey, diluted with water. This ought to be a no brainer, but it just doesn’t come together. A nose of fortified wine and citrus dominate, but the body is closer to sweet and sour sauce than anything the above would imply. The ginger is abruptly overwhelming in cocktails, with a kind of perfumy “grandma” character that is difficult to properly describe. Funky and old-fashioned. B- / $20

Tippleman’s Syrup Island Orxata – Cracked corn and toasted sesame are soaked to make a milk-like base, then bitter almond and jasmine is added. That doesn’t sound at all enticing, and the creamed-corn nose and marzipan-meets-cream-of-wheat texture aren’t exactly inspirational, either. Not offensive in cocktails, but it adds a layer of weirdness that is tough to shake. I’d rather not think this much about my mixed drinks. B / $16

Review: Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton


Green Spot Whiskey 2015

Available in the U.S. for about a year and a half, Green Spot has deservedly taken earned its reputation as one of the best Irish whiskeys on the market. And now for something completely different: Green Spot… finished in used Bordeaux wine casks.

Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton takes the original Green Spot — matured in a mix of sherry, new bourbon, and refill bourbon casks — then transfers the liquid into Bordeaux casks from Chateau Leoville Barton, where it finishes for 12 to 24 months.

This expression immediately cuts a spicier, more pungent figure. The nose showcases honey, vanilla, and banana notes, but it’s undercut by subtle and tannic red wine notes. You might initially find this confluence off-putting, but give it some time and things start to gel. On the palate, the wine influence is stronger, the tannin hitting first alongside some austere wood notes, the wine cask then adding a raisin note atop the more expected notes of marshmallow, toffee, and vanilla. The finish is huge, again bringing out more winey elements, chewy and powerful and punchy with some Christmas spice notes to polish things off. (Also of note is that this expression is considerably higher in alcohol than standard Green Spot, which is bottled at 80 proof.)

All told, this is a fun expression and an exciting spin on a whiskey that never had anything to prove. It isn’t quite as cohesive as the original, but it’s wholly worthwhile in its own right.

92 proof.

A- / $65 /

Review: Flaviar “Eau de Vie! Oui!” Cognac Sampler & the Flaviar App

flaviar packs

We’ve been friends with Flaviar for quite a while, and we’re going to start looking more deeply into their sampler packs. These are available on a one-off basis or as a monthly subscription, featuring rum, whiskey, brandy, or just about anything else.

Today we’re looking at Flaviar’s Cognac sampler, a set of spirits packaged under the label of “Eau de Vie! Oui!” If you’re expecting a bunch of Remy Martin and Courvoisier, think again. With the exception of Hennessy and Martell, none of these are major-name Cogancs, and even the Hennessy is a Europe-only bottling. In other words, you’re getting stuff here you won’t likely find at your local watering hole.

Let’s take a look at the five Cognacs — each in 50ml quantities — in this pack.

Hennessy Fine de Cognac – Positioned between a VS and VSOP, not available in the U.S. (originally made for King George IV before he was crowned). It’s a junior Cognac, a little weedy and short, with some rough, wood-driven notes, but not without some charms. B-

Martell VSOP – Pretty nose, but a bit thin on the body. Solid caramel, vanilla, raisin, and baking spice notes. Well-integrated but not overwhelmingly complicated. An easy “house brandy” selection. A-

Baron Otard VSOP – Very mild nose, evoking cinnamon buns. Quite sweet on the tongue, more than the previous brandies, which really pushes the (raisin-studded) cinnamon roll character. Gentle, brown sugar finish… a well-made, mid-level brandy. B+

Dobbe Cognac XO – Lovely to see this XO taking on some rancio notes — fortified wine, coffee, dark chocolate. Lots of coffee on the nose, and a little tobacco and roasted nuts. A dense, almost pruny Cognac, but I liked its intensity quite a bit. Brooding and contemplative. A-

Gautier XO Gold & Blue – Nice, old Cognac here — well-developed golden raisins, baking spice, and lots of vanilla. While it doesn’t stray far from the path, it’s firing on all cylinders and drinking beautifully. A

Get a Flaviar Welcome Pack (including this one)

Flaviar’s also got a new app for iOS and Android, which lets you purchase bottles and tasting packs and see a “flavour spiral” for everything you’ve sampled. Kind of a neat spin on the flavor wheel, and fun to check out while you’re sampling spirits. Check it out on your relevant app store.

Review: Cocktail & Sons Cocktail Syrups


Cocktail & Sons is a brand new operation (we tasted the first draft of their four artisan syrups late last year) that is going national as we speak.

Here’s a look at the complete lineup from the fledgling company — all four of which are wholly worthwhile and clearly made with cocktailing knowhow. (Not into drinking? Drop a tablespoon into a glass with ice and soda and you’ve got a stellar non-alcoholic beverage.)

Thoughts follow.

Cocktail & Sons Spiced Demerara – Demerara syrup spiced with peppercorns and baking spices. A beautiful brown sugar syrup at its heart, it’s got a distinct gingerbread flavor to it, with a just the lightest touch of pepper on the back. I think it could use a little more of that peppery kick, but the baking spice character is spot on and really elevates standard sugar syrup. A-

Cocktail & Sons Oleo Saccharum – An unsexy name for a classic citrus-based syrup that got its start 150 or so years ago. C&S’s version adds lemongrass and ginger to the citrus. Brisk lemon/lime notes attack the palate right at the start, then that aggressive sweetness hits you. The citrus doesn’t quite hang in there for the long haul, letting the saccharum pick up the slack. I get hints of anise on the back end. A-

Cocktail & Sons Honeysuckle & Peppercorn – Floral and spice elements intermingle in this exotic concoction. That dusty honey character that always rides along with honeysuckle is unmistakable here, with a kind of nutmeg character that comes along after. Again, very light pepper notes on the finish, but it’s just a bit more than a nod in that direction than anything palate-busting. B+

Cocktail & Sons Mint & Lemon Verbena – Get your instant mint julep or mojito, right here. Nothing complicated about this one, just a slight touch of herbal character that nudges things closer to menthol than mint. Don’t worry, your Bourbon won’t mind. A

each $15 per 8 oz. bottle /

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2015 Edition


As bourbon (and rye) mania continue to sweep the nation, this year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is setting up to be one of the hottest releases ever. (Surely you’re heard about Stagg? If not, read on for the spoiler…) As always, these are all highly capable, unique, and for the most part worthwhile whiskeys. But here’s the particulars on how each one breaks down for me this year.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – As it has for many years, this is 18 year old rye distilled way back in 1985 that has been sitting in a big metal tank since it hit its 18th birthday in 2003. Sazerac 18 changes a little each year, but not much. But now pay attention: This is the final release from the old tank. Next year’s release will feature whiskey distilled in 1998, and going forward, Sazerac 18 will be drawn from barrels filled 18 years prior. So — if you like what Sazzy 18 has been like in the past, get it now, as this is your last chance. In 2015, the nose offers exotic notes of brandied cherries, graham crackers, and whipped cream. This beautiful dessert character leads to ample wood on the initial rush of the palate — but this quickly segues to Christmas spices, more gingerbread, mulled wine, marzipan, and spiced, baked apples. The finish is long, soothing, and festive with its hefty spice character — perfect for holiday tippling. All in all, it’s a similar Sazerac 18 to the whiskey we’ve seen before, but like an old friend it’s one you still want to spend time with from time to time. 90 proof. A-

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – A 17 year old whiskey from the bottom three floors of Warehouses Q and I. Punchy with vanilla, caramel, and chocolate, this is a cocoa lover’s dream come true. A classic bourbon drinking at full maturity, it eventually reveals some allspice, barrel char, and a bit of menthol. This year’s whiskey is a fairly straightforward bourbon, one that even hints at its origins with some popcorn notes emerging on the finish — not something you often see in a whiskey of this age. Solid stuff on the whole, as it usually is. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – There’s quite a tale to go away with this one. Buffalo Trace says that it opened up 128 barrels of whiskey distilled in 2000 (making this 15 years old), but many of them only had 1 or 2 gallons of bourbon left in them. The shocking statistic: 84% of the original distillate evaporated! That’s quite an angel’s share… which means you are not going to find much Stagg on the market this year — one source I’ve seen estimates just 5000 bottles of this coveted whiskey will hit stores. 2015 is quite strong on the nose (this is 69% alcohol and dark as night, so prepare thy liver), but push through the alcohol to reveal intense vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves on the nose. The body is equally intense — lots of vanilla extract, cloves, and, surprisingly, licorice, plus a bit of barrel char on the back end. Give it water and it settles into a groove of burnt caramel and brown sugar with a little licorice kick. There’s not a lot of nuance this year — Stagg can often take on a dark coffee/chocolate tone — but it’s a very capable and highly enjoyable bourbon from start to finish. What else were you expecting? 138.2 proof. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – 12 year old W.L. Weller, from the second and sixth floors of warehouses I, K, and L. Appealing nose, and approachable even at this hefty proof (just 2% abv less than Stagg). It’s got a distinctly lighter style, with a nose of distinct butterscotch notes, fruit salad, and vanilla. On the palate, the butterscotch comes on strong, along with some marzipan and orange oil. Add water and the whiskey takes on an evergreen edge, though it’s still tempered with that almond paste/butterscotch sweetness. Kind of an odd combination of flavors — each enjoyable enough on its own, but all together a little bit scattered. 134.6 proof. B+

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Six year old rye, as per the norm, from the fourth and seventh floors of warehouses I, K, and M. Slightly light in alcohol for Handy vs. previous years’ releases. Restrained on the nose, far more so than anything else in the collection. It’s just not altogether there, aside from some nutty and grainy overtones. On the palate, at full bottle strength, it features hot, toasty grain, some citrus/orange marmalade notes, and more than a bit of astringency. Water helps, bringing out more sweetness and some baking spice, but also tons of grain and some antiseptic notes that make the whole affair seem undercooked. There’s nothing wrong with young whiskey, but I question whether a rye that’s drinking so youthfully has a proper place in this collection. 126.9 proof. B-

$80 each /