Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

special-releases-2016-lagavulin-12-yo

Lagavulin 12 appears in the Diageo Special Releases nearly every year — but this year it has the luxury of appearing as part of Lagavulin’s 200th anniversary celebratory releases (see also its 8 year old and 25 year old).

This year’s Lag 12, aged in refill American oak hogsheads, is particularly worthwhile, rounded and balanced right from the start, which kicks off on the nose with notes of sweet barbecue smoke, plus hefty iodine and seaweed. There’s citrus notes — lemon and orange — in the mix, with a hard-to-place character that ultimately hits me as lemongrass. The palate is surprisingly restrained considering the hefty proof level, a centerpiece for briny seaweed, lemon peel, and a touch of spice. The finish retreats to a rather bitter note, which works surprisingly well with the mild sweetness and fruity notes that come before.

All told, it’s a bit of a departure from prior Lagavulin 12s, which have tended to be quite heavy on the peat, but this year’s relative quietness really lets Lagavulin’s more delicate, underlying character shine through.

115.4 proof.

A- / $135 / malts.com

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Chocolate Orange Stout and Christmas Ale

breck-nitro-chocolate-stout

Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery is out with two new seasonals, a nitro chocolate orange stout, and a classic Christmas ale. Let’s give both a try!

Breckenridge Brewery Chocolate Orange Stout – You might expect a nitrogen-charged stout flavored with chocolate and orange zest to be heavy, even overwhelming — but Breckenridge’s nitro choc-orange stout is anything but. Light on its feet but velvety without being overpowering, the brew lets the bittersweet cocoa notes shine the most brightly, with just a hint of citrus on the back end. The main event is nutty and malty, but could benefit from more spice to liven up an otherwise somewhat muddy middle. 6% abv. B / $12 per four-pack of 15.2 oz cans

Breckenridge Brewery Christmas Ale – Christmas ales can often be overloaded with baking spices, brown sugar, and evergreen notes to the point of undrinkability, but Breckenridge’s version plays things a bit cooler. Yes, all of the above are present in the mix, but the caramel and spice notes are tempered. The likely reason: “Unlike other holiday and winter beers on the market, Breckenridge Brewery does not add any spice to Christmas Ale, rather the spicy characteristics come from the Chinook and Mt. Hood hops.” Relatively bold on the tongue — enough to stand up to the cold weather outside — it’s got enough bitterness on the finish to counterbalance the festive notes that come before. 7.1% abv. A- / $9 per six-pack of 12 oz bottles

breckbrew.com

Review: Glenfiddich Experimental Series #1 IPA Cask Finish

glenfiddich-ipa_us_lockup_hr

Even old guard Glenfiddich can’t stay away from the fun of experimental whiskymaking. In fact the distillery is launching a whole line of experimental spirits called the Experimental Series which revolve around unusual cask finishes. First out of the gate: an India Pale Ale cask finish.

This isn’t a partnership with a major brewery. Rather, the distillery worked closely with a local Speyside craft brewery to craft a custom IPA, then aged it in its own used whisky casks,. Those casks were then emptied and used to finish already mature Glenfiddich. There’s no age statement for the initial aging run, but the whisky ultimately spends 12 weeks in the IPA barrels.

This is the first of what will likely be a significant series of releases from Glenfiddich. While we wait for what’s coming down the pipe, let’s take a taste of what GF has cooked up with its IPA Cask Finish.

On the nose, it’s definitely malty, bourbon-casked Glenfiddich, but it comes with a clear beer influence as well — moderately hoppy, with citrus (but not sherry) overtones. The palate is malty at first, showcasing traditional notes of cereal, light caramel and vanilla notes, heather, and a touch of spice… but while you’re grasping for that lattermost note the IPA finish kicks in. A slug of hops followed by some bitter orange peel immediately connotes IPA, The finish is decidedly beer-like, bittersweet and herbal at times, but also kicking out a chocolate character that is decidedly unique.

All told, I really love this expression — and am shocked at how generally affordable and available it is. Can’t wait to see what’s next in the series.

86 proof.

A- / $70 / glenfiddich.com

Review: Morocco’s Ouled Thaleb 2013 Signature and 2012 Aït Souala

ouled-thaler-signature-and-ait-souala

Quick, what’s the wine hot spot of the Arab world? Morocco, it turns out, where Domaine Ouled Thaleb is the country’s oldest working winery. Ouled Thaleb has been pushing into the States of late, and recently the company began exporting two new blends to our shores. Curious how Moroccan wine — here represented by a pair of blends that mix together both oddball varietals and better-known international grapes — fares? Read on.

2013 Ouled Thaleb Signature – 50% marselan, 35% petit verdot, 15% carmenere. (Marselan is a cross of cabernet sauvignon and grenache.) Rustic but well-rounded, this blend offers a core of dark fruits alongside a significant earthiness, loading up notes of leather and tar, with a finish that echoes violets and some balsamic notes. A mixed bag, but for the most part it’s approachable and engaging. B / $28

2012 Ouled Thaleb Aït Souala – 50% arinarnoa, 25% tannat, 25% malbec. This is a much more approachable wine (arinarnoa is a cross of merlot and petit verdot), starting with heady, aromatic aromas of cloves, baking spice, and ginger — but cut with some tarry character — that then moves into a lush, fruit-forward body. Raisins, plum, and raspberries all mingle with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and a gentle touch of leather. The finish is very lightly sweet, but that sweetness integrates well with all the fruit and spice that comes before. A very versatile wine, I could drink this with just about anything. A- / $24

nomadicdistribution.com

Review: Don Julio Tequila Blanco and Reposado (2016)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years since we looked at Don Julio’s tequilas, aside from a (disastrous) appearance in our blind tequila roundup. Reportedly these have undergone recipe changes at least once since 2008 — the brand was sold to Diageo in 2014 — and Don Julio has continued to grow.

Today we take fresh looks at the blanco and reposado expressions of Don Julio, 2016 editions, which are grown from highland agave. Both are 80 proof.

Don Julio Tequila Blanco – I’ve been on and off with Don Julio’s blanco, but as of now it is revealing itself as a quite gentle but also engaging little spirit. The nose showcases crisp agave, a touch of lime, and white pepper. Spicy but not overpowering, the aroma sets you up for a bold body — but that never materializes. Instead we find it drinking with a surprising restraint, sometimes even bordering on coming across as watery. A stronger citrus profile makes its presence known, along with lingering floral notes. The finish is clean, lightly peppery, with a bit of lime zest hanging on. A great choice for mixing. A- / $30

Don Julio Tequila Reposado – Aged for eight months in oak (same as 8 years ago). Stylistically it’s quite light, which makes sense considering the blanco’s similar state. Notes are similar, though the pepper here is dialed way back. In its place, some orange peel, light caramel, and some light barrel char notes arrive on the nose. On the palate, again the pepper notes are restrained, with some modest brown sugar in their place. The floral elements are harder to catch here, their gentleness done in by the power of the barrel. The finish sees some red pepper, tempered by brown sugar, and a fleeting hint of licorice. All told, it’s a slightly sweetened-up version of the blanco. Nothing wrong with that. A- / $35

donjulio.com

Review: Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2016

herradura_rep-portcask-angled

Herradura’s fifth Coleccion de la Casa special edition tequila makes a return to its original expression from the series’ launch: Port cask finishing. Last seen in 2012, Herradura returns to the same formula for 2016.

As with the 2012 version, this tequila spends 11 months in ex-bourbon casks, then finishes for two months in formerly used Port casks.

This expression finds a relatively traditional reposado nose of vanilla-scented caramel and toasted marshmallow, plus modest agave and just a hint of red fruit. Aromatically quite racy, it’s got a level of red pepper I haven’t really seen in this line before. On the palate, again, traditional reposado notes tend to dominate. Black pepper, green onion, and mixed savory herbs give this a dominant, heavy base — and after five or ten seconds more fruity elements, driven by the Port finish, finally begin to surface. The finish lingers with very light notes currants and some strawberry, but it’s red and black pepper notes that hang in there after all else has faded away.

You’ll find more complexity, and a much stronger Port influence, in the original bottling, but this expression is quite compelling in its own right.

80 proof.

A- / $90 / herradura.com

Review: Charbay 2005 Double Aged Rum

charbay-rum

This new and highly, highly expensive rum from Napa’s Charbay was distilled in 2005 from Hawaiian and Jamaican first-press sugar cane juice (not molasses), fermented with Champagne yeast, and distilled on Charbay’s pot-style Cognac still. It was aged in stainless steel for five years then put into French oak Chardonnay barrels for three more years. It was bottled two years later, before finally being released at full barrel strength, uncut and unfiltered.

If the production methodology alone didn’t cue you in, this is an exotic and highly unusual rum. It has a lot in common with nicely aged rhum agricole, but it finds a style that’s completely its own, too.

The nose kicks things off with curiosity: dried banana, buttered popcorn, and notes of saltwater taffy. On the palate, the popcorn really pops, as notes of maple syrup, toasty brown sugar, cinnamon, and cloves hit forcefully, followed by a backbone of earthy coffee bean, mushroom, and tobacco. Deep and lasting, it is surprisingly approachable at nearly 65% alcohol, but water is a lovely idea, which brings out some salted licorice notes that don’t fully show at cask strength.

137 proof. 2790 bottles produced; about 25% of that was released this year.

A- / $450 / charbay.com

Review: Wines of Lazy Creek Vineyards, 2016 Releases

prt_956113_prtbigpic_20160129_151628

Lazy Creek Vineyards, part of the Ferrari-Carano family of wines, is an Anderson Valley winery focused on pinot noir. Winemaker Christy Ackerman makes all of its wines as well as all of Ferrari’s pinots, and she invited a number of wine writers to sit in on an online tasting to sample the winery’s wares and learn more about what makes Lazy Creek so darn lazy.

First, some back story:

Lazy Creek Vineyards sits on a 95 acres ranch in Mendocino County’s bucolic Anderson Valley. Its vineyards were first planted more than 100 years ago, by the Italian Pinoli family. The winery was established in 1973 by Hans and Theresia Kobler, and quickly earned its reputation for excellent pinot noir and Alsatian-style gewurztraminer. In 2008, Lazy Creek Vineyards was acquired by Don and Rhonda Carano, who have continued a winemaking program emphasizing single-vineyard, terroir-driven pinot noirs and gewurztraminer, under the direction of winemaker Christy Ackerman. In 2014, Lazy Creek Vineyards was designated a California Certified Sustainable Winery (CCSW) by the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).

And now let’s taste some wines!

2015 Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir – A beauty, very lively and fresh, closer to a white wine than a classic, fruit-driven rose. Strawberry notes meld with sea spray and slate here, with a fresh and lightly floral finish. A- / $22

2014 Lazy Creek Vineyards Lazy Day Pinot Noir – This is the only Lazy Creek wine in broad distribution and comes from a blend of various estate vineyards. Fairly standard-issue for Anderson Valley, loaded with notes of cherries, raspberry, and some vanilla. A little licorice edge on the back end gives this some tannic grip and a bolder profile that is more aggressive than more inland pinots. Highly drinkable. A- / $35

2014 Lazy Creek Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir – As weighty as the Lazy Day pinot is, this expression pushes things much further. Big notes of licorice, coffee bean, and some smoky wood notes dominate, giving the wine a body closer to a syrah than a typical pinot noir. The bittersweet finish offers a respite in the form of dried cherry and light cocoa notes, but what comes before is quite aggressive and needs careful attention, particularly if attempting to pair it to food. B / $58

2014 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir – A point of comparison for the tasting, as this is bottled under the primary Ferrari-Carano label, but still comes from Anderson Valley fruit. Again the licorice kicks off right from the start, with darker blackberry notes forming the core. Spicy clove and black pepper give it an aggressive edge, along with some balsamic character. The finish is rougher than Lazy Day, but not as bold as the Estate pinot. B+ / $38

lazycreekvineyards.com

Review: Mount Gay XO Cask Strength

mount-gay-xo

As a celebration of 50 years of Barbados independence comes Mount Gay XO Cask Strength, its most luxe bottling to date. This is a limited edition, overproof expression of its existing Mount Gay XO bottling, which is itself a blend of rums 8 to 15 years old.

This expression is a deep and brooding rum that kicks off with heavy aromas of barrel char, licorice, and coffee bean. Dark chocolate and cloves are both well represented on the nose. At 63% alcohol it’s a burner on the palate, and a healthy splash of water helps to reveal its significant charms. Sans water, the dusky notes of the nose follow through closely to the palate, but when tempered it reveals much more — ample wood, to be sure, but a backbone of rich baking spices, sweet coffee, molasses cookies, and ginger. There’s a lot going on, but it sticks closely to the family of holiday baked goods and, well, very old rum.

What’s not to like?

126 proof. 3000 bottles produced.

A- / $185 / mountgayrum.com

Review: Del Maguey Wild Papalome and San Pablo Ameyaltepec Mezcal

del-maguey-sanpabloameyaltepec

Del Maguey hits this month with not one but two of its Single Village Mezcals – Wild Papalome and San Pablo Ameyaltepec. Let’s try both.

Del Maguey Wild Papalome Mezcal – A 100% agave papalome bottling from the Mixteca Alta region. A definitively sweeter style of mezcal, its barbecue-smoke nose layers in notes of citrus and pineapple — almost Hawaiian in style at times. On the palate the mezcal offers few surprises. kicking off with a rather sharp but gently sweet note, then segueing into gentle smoke that influences notes of orange peel, lemon, green banana, and some white wine character. It’s definitely on the quiet side for mezcal, but pleasant and pretty from start to finish. (For what it’s worth, my tasting notes have nothing in common with Del Maguey’s back label; your mileage may vary.) 90 proof. B+ / $100

Del Maguey San Pablo Ameyaltepec – Also 100% agave papalome, this mezcal is made from 12 to 18 year old plants grown in Ameyaltepec, in the Puebla region, where mezcal production was only recently given the OK. Here’s proof that terroir matters in mezcal — this is a much different spirit than the Wild Papalome, kicking off with a nose that is both leathery and smoky-spicy, with notes of dried flowers, almost evoking potpourri. The body is gentle to moderate in strength, and it offers numerous surprises, including notes of milk chocolate, orange flowers, smoked meats, and dried apple character. On the finish we find notes of bubble gum, gingerbread, and wispy smoke — which lingers on the back of the throat. Taken as a whole, it’s an exotic mezcal with an awful lot going on, but an awful lot that manages to come together in inspiring fashion. 94 proof. A- / $110

delmaguey.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2016, The Dissident 2016, and Conflux Collage #2

Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2016 – Jubelale is always the first taste of Christmas for me each year, and for 2016 the brewery’s winter ale seems particularly pleasing, a warming experience that builds on a malty base with gentle notes of raisin and fig, mulling spices, and vanilla. What Jubelale has in spades this year is balance, and the beer manages to ride the line between malt, fruit, and light bitterness with aplomb. One of the best versions in recent memory. 6.7% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery The Dissident 2016 – Now an annual release, this beloved sour, a Flanders-style sour brown brewed with Oregon cherries, strikes with a vengeance. I’m never big on sours, but The Dissident is one I can happily sip on, its tart cherry notes surprisingly restrained against a backdrop of Madeirized wine, almond and walnut notes, chocolate malt, and stone fruit pits. The key to the beer’s success is that the sourness here isn’t the slap-yer-mama affair as it can so often be in big sours, but rather a refined and elevated experience that shows that sours can have a surprising elegance. 10.9% abv. A- / $16 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Conflux Series Collage #2 – This is a wacky, wacky thing, the second beer in Deschutes’ Conflux Series, which blends up a bunch of rare, barrel-aged beers from both Deschutes and Hair of the Dog brewery to make one insanely, super-rare, barrel-aged beer. I never saw Collage #1, but Collage #2 is a different blend, which incorporates Deschutes’ The Abyss (only the portion from Pinot barrels) and The Stoic (100% aged in Pinot barrels) plus Hair of the Dog’s Fred (aged in American oak and rye whiskey barrels) and Doggie Claws (100% aged in cognac barrels). That’s four barrel-aged beers, all aiming squarely at your gullet with an alcohol level that’s over 14 whopping percent. It’s definitely interesting as a sipper, but decidedly not an everyday experience. Notes of intense raisin, fig, and prune mix with overwhelming, syrupy caramel, thick molasses, and grainy malt extract. The beer is uncommonly sweet with dark sugar and dried fruit notes, with a finish that will linger for hours if you let it, eventually devolving into a pungent, mushroom-and-molasses character. Beers like this are rarified air, something fun to sample while you’re bloated after Christmas dinner, but nothing I need to experience more than a few ounces of. 14.3% abv. B / $25 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Whiskeys of Cedar Ridge – Iowa Bourbon, Wheat, Rye, Malted Rye, Single Malt

cedar_ridge_rye_whiskey_bottle_large-rgb-large

As the first distillery in the state since Prohibition, Iowa’s Cedar Ridge makes everything from gin to rum to apple brandy. Today we look at five of the company’s whiskeys (it makes at least eight), which are all distilled on site (not sourced) but which are bottled without age statements. Cedar Ridge makes heavy use of Iowa-grown corn in its products, but not all are corn-based, and less is said about the sourcing of its other grains. (Though notably the company also makes wine, from estate-grown grapes.)

Without further ado, let’s dive into this selection of whiskeys.

Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey – A bourbon made with 75% corn, 14% rye, and 12% malted barley. Youthful on the nose, with a sharp granary and fresh corn character, it features notes of tobacco, barrel char, green pepper, and black pepper. The finish offers some caramel corn sweetness, smoky notes, and a vaguely vegetal encore. 80 proof. B- / $39

Cedar Ridge Wheat Whiskey – Made from 100% malted wheat — technically making this a single malt whiskey. Light in color and fragrant on the nose, this is a delightful spirit, gossamer thin but loaded with intense floral aromas. On the palate the grain is quite clear, but a moderate sweetness keeps things moving, leading to more notes of white flowers, honey, graham crackers, and just a hint of cinnamon. The finish is soothing and sweet enough to balance out the aromatics that come before. 80 proof. B+ / $40

Cedar Ridge Rye Whiskey – This is a “traditional” rye made with a 70% “toasted rye” mash and bottled overproof. Racy but also quite woody, its big clove and raw ginger notes lead to a rather sweet finish, with notes of cinnamon-heavy apple pie and ripe banana. The spicy notes are lingering as the finish fades, along with a rather pungent Madeira character. Interesting, flavor-forward stuff. 115.2 proof. B / $43

Cedar Ridge Malted Rye Whiskey – An unusual whiskey made of 51% malted rye, 34% rye, 12% corn, and 3% malted barley. The result is a gentler spin on rye (though this is just 43% abv if you’re comparing to the regular rye above), which takes that apple pie note and filters it through more supple notes of graham crackers, toasted marshmallow, coconut, and dried banana. Of all the whiskeys in this roundup, this one is the most refined and the most complex, a spirit that is clearly youthful and which still offers fresh granary notes up front, but which manages to round out its sharp and rough edges in style. 86 proof. A- / $40

Cedar Ridge Single Malt Whiskey – This is a classic American single malt (malted barley) release, but with few of the expected fixins. The nose is moderately woody, studded with grain, and lightly spiced. On the palate, caramel makes a surprising impact, with overtones of evergreen and a heavy chocolate note. This cocoa character lingers on the finish, giving it a dessert-like character you rarely find in domestic single malts. Well done. 80 proof. B+ / $50

crwine.com