Review: Aberlour 10 Years Old

aberlour 10Aberlour’s 12, 16, and 18 year old expressions are commonly available in America, but surprisingly its entry-level bottling, Aberlour 10 Years Old, isn’t sold here.

That’s a shame, because it’s a fine example of the Speyside distillery’s house style and comes at a very reasonable price (the appropriate US dollar conversion has been made below). “Double cask” aged in both bourbon and sherry barrels, it is a youthful but quite exuberant little dram that you should pick up if you ever happen across it.

Malty on the nose, but well sherried, offering a nice balance between savory and spicy by way of an introduction. On the palate, Aberlour 10 fires immediately: Big baking spices, lots of sherry-fueled orange peel, roasted (but well-integrated) grains and cereal notes, and a lengthy, warming finish. The balance is just about perfect, with hints of petrol raising their heads from time to time and a smoldering, coal-dust character on the finish. What sticks with you though is that racy, sides-of-the-mouth sherry punch, though — not overdone, but just enough to wake you up and ask for another. Please, sir.

80 proof.


Tasting with Ferrari-Carano, 2015 Releases

ferrari caranoFerrari-Carano is a winery with which I’m intimately familiar. It was one of the first “serious” wines I spent my own money on when I was first learning about oenology, and I’ve visited the winery on many occasions since.

Today we’re looking at the winery’s current 2015 releases, including chardonnay, pinot noir, and the Tresor reserve, all part of a live tasting with winemaker Sarah Quider.

Let’s check them out!

2012 Ferrari-Carano Reserve Chardonnay – A dense and woody chardonnay — not so much on the buttery/vanilla tip, but rather a more lumberyard-influenced wine. Bold fig and baked apples give this a wintry tone that works well with the bold, present body. Classic in structure but a bit unique in its flavor profile, this is a slight (but fun) diversion for California chardonnay. B+ / $38

2013 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir – Lovely cola notes give this wine a sense of place, adding some herbal-driven bitterness to a solid core of red berries. The body is a bit on the flabby side, though, offering a leanness that tends toward wateriness at times. Slightly smoky on the back end, with tobacco notes. A perfect “house red” (never mind the price tag). B+ / $36

2012 Ferrari-Carano Tresor – This is a classic Bordeaux blend made from 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec, 7% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. Rich and chocolaty, this is classic Ferrari-Carano, offering a lush and velvety texture that is studded with dark berries and baking spices. Almost unctuous, it’s a huge operator with a bold attack and an even bigger finish. Your steak wine, should you be seeking one, is right here. A- / $52

Review: 2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford

FREEMARK_ABBEYFreemark Abbey’s always-engaging Cabernets are here, representing the 2012 vintage. Some real standouts… without further ado.

2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – 75.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16.6% Merlot, 3.3% Cabernet Franc, 2.6% Petit Verdot, and 2.0% Malbec. Dense and quite sweet, this is New World cabernet at its most iconic, all crushed red fruits, vanilla, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. It’s all layered into a rich and sumptuous body, almost like marshmallow creme at times. I have a feeling all the sweetness is going to leave me with a headache tomorrow, but for now it’s so easy to drink and enjoy that I can’t complain much. A- / $44

2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Napa Valley – 83.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8.3% Merlot, 4.6% Petit Verdot, and 3.9% Cabernet Franc. A more regional designate of the above (oddly, in a slightly larger bottle). Again, classic Napa Cabernet, but elevated to near perfection — supple cherry and berry fruit, very gentle tannin, the slightest layering of baking spices. This is so easy drinking it’s almost criminal, with hints of violets (hello, Merlot), black pepper, and blackberry bramble raising the game that much more. A / $75

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Heritage Coffee Brown and Smoked Porter 2015


It’s cold outside! Don’t stop drinking beer. Drink winter beer.

Try these two from our friends up at Alaskan…

Alaskan Brewing Company Heritage Coffee Brown Ale – Brown ale brewed with coffee from Heritage Coffee Roasting Co. Part of the Alaskan Pilot Series. Less dense and enveloping than you’d think, this beer offers quite mild coffee notes folded into a lightly spicy brown ale. Notes of brown sugar and ample malt make up the bulk of the experience, with some gentle nutmeg notes coming up the rear. 7% abv. B+ / $9 (22 oz. bottle)

Alaskan Brewing Company Smoked Porter 2015 – Alaskan’s take on rauchbier, which is made with smoked malt to give the beer a distinctly smoky flavor. I first had rauchbier in Bamberg, Germany, crowded into a tiny room full of drunken locals. German rauchbier was far, far more alcohol-laden than this (a mere 6.5% abv) but that’s no matter; for a fun dive into a really wild and unique type of beer, give this one a spin: Intense wood smoke — somehow it comes across as evergreen smoke, not sure why — dominates, but underneath you’ll find chocolate malt notes, cocoa nibs, crumbly charcoal, and modest bitterness to help break up the finish. There’s a picture of caribou at sunset on the label of Alaskan Smoked Porter — but if you look away while sipping this beer, you can still see them. 6.5% abv. A- / $10 (22 oz. bottle)

Review: 2013 Hahn SLH 2013 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

hahnLooking for big quality in American wine at a really attractive price? Check out Hahn’s SLH sub-label, a pair of wines sourced from estate grapes in the Santa Lucia Highlands.


These both represent a bit of a premium over the standard Hahn bottlings, but as you’ll see, they’re worth it.

2013 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highands – Dusky at first, with blackberry notes and tea leaf. On the palate, a bit sweeter than expected, with black pepper and a touch of ruby port character, but a finish that plays beautifully to the blackberry and dark raspberry notes, with a dusting of brown sugar on top. Incredibly easy-drinking, maybe too much so. A- / $18

2013 Hahn SLH Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands – A restrained expression of California chardonnay, offering a nose that is front-loaded with fruit — apples and figs, oddly enough — before veering into more traditional lines with a body that offers moderate and creamy buttery vanilla notes. A measured wine, it keeps things balanced between the fresh fruit and sweeter notes, with a dusting of nutmeg on the finish. A- / $20

Review: Herradura Ultra Anejo

herradura ultra

Clear, filtered anejo tequila is still the big thing in the agave category, and next up in the queue is Herradura, which takes tequila that has spent over 4 years in oak barrels and filters it back to blanco (in color, anyway).

The results are curious and a departure from other tequilas made in this style, starting with very tropical notes on the nose. Pineapple and coconut are both distinct, along with some citrus and a huge slug of marzipan.

On the palate, the sweet almond paste takes center stage, providing a core upon which the rest of the spirit builds. Strong coconut muscles the pineapple down a bit, allowing some interesting floral notes to build — think honeysuckle and white carnations. The finish marks a return to fruity sweetness, a touch more coconut and some chocolate dropping a sugar bomb into the syrupy fruit cocktail that bubbles up for your farewell.

The biggest surprise here is how different this is than most XO tequilas, which are almost always vanilla-heavy monsters that don’t often showcase much nuance. That said, the flavors here would probably be more at home in a rum than a tequila, and this Herradura offering all but wipes away any hint of the agave that was used to make it. That said, it would be crazy to accuse this tequila of being difficult to enjoy on its merits (and at this price, one of the least expensive for an extra anejo I’ve seen).

80 proof.

A- / $50 /

Review: Samuel Adams Late 2015 Seasonals – Octoberfest, Hoppy Red, Rebel Grapefruit IPA, Winter Lager, and Pumpkin Batch

SAM_HopRed_12oz_Bottle (1)Nearly a half-dozen new offerings from Sam Adams, mostly winter/fall seasonals designed to make the most of the cold weather. Let’s bundle up and dig in!

Samuel Adams Octoberfest (2015) – Very old world, with plenty of spice and some citrus to be a companion to loads of caramel-soaked malt. The finish is on the sweet side, maybe a bit too far for my tastes. It only takes one whiff and an oompa band starts playing somewhere. 5.3% abv. B

Samuel Adams Hoppy Red – A red ale with added Australian hops, moderately malty but with a big slug of piney bitterness bringing up the rear. The up-front character is almost toffee-like in its sweetness, with a healthy dosing of walnuts, but the moderately hoppy back end provides near-immediate respite and balance. A nice diversion. 5.7% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA – An extension of the Rebel IPA line, this beer adds grapefruit (peel and juice) — grapefruit being the “it” additive in beermaking this year — to kick up the bitter/sour element. This is a fine IPA, but the one thing I don’t get… is grapefruit. Piney and resinous, it has a slightly sweet element to it — a bit fruity but also almost chocolaty at times, with overtones of spiced nuts. Not common flavors for either IPA or anything that’s been near a grapefruit, but pleasurable nonetheless. 6.3% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Winter Lager (2015) – A spiced wheat bock made with orange peel, cinnamon, and ginger. Mainly what you’re expecting, a winter warmer with a touch of spice. I find it more palatable this year than 2014’s release, though perhaps that’s just the suddenly cold weather talking. Though it can be a little strange, the spice isn’t overdone — and it pairs well with food, particularly sweets. I’m not a fanatic, but it’s more pleasant than I remembered. 5.6% abv. B

Samuel Adams Pumpkin Batch – Ale brewed with pumpkin and spices, of course. Lots of vegetal character here — nothing distinctly pumpkin (or pumpkin spice) — with a heavily malty body to keep pushing those flavors around. Eventually some cinnamon/nutmeg notes come to the forefront, but it’s cold comfort for a pumpkin brew that is pushed too far into the realm of wet earth and mushrooms for easy consumption. 5.6% abv. C-

each about $9 per six-pack /

Review: Grander Panama Rum 8 Years Old

grander rum

Grander (awkward name, admittedly) is a new brand column-distilled in Panama and bottled at 8 years old. Quite light in color, it may initially trick you into thinking this is an undercooked rum. Not so.

The nose is quite peppery, offering ample vanilla but backed up by lots of spice — both baking spices and racier black and red pepper notes. On the palate, the rum is more gentle than the nose would have you believe, with sweet butterscotch, chocolate, and lots of vanilla, all with some citrus overtones. The finish — this is slightly overproof rum — adds some alcoholic heat, but nothing you won’t be able to handle even if you’re sipping it straight. I catch some lemongrass notes from time to time here, but the overall denouement is one of flamed orange oil and a hint of bittersweet amaro.

Versatile, easygoing, and fun, this is a solid and well-rounded rum for just about any occasion.

90 proof.

A- / $37 /

Review of Soave: 2013 Fattori and 2014 Rocca Sveva

Fattori Motto PianePutting the unavoidable Santa Margarita aside, arguably the most popular white wine in Italy is Soave, which is produced near the city of Verona in the Veneto region. 70 percent of any Soave wine must be vinified from the Garganega grape. The remainder may be Verdicchio (aka Trebbiano di Soave), and a rare few other local varieties. Contrary to popular belief, Trebbiano Toscano is now illegal to use for blending in Soave.

Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to break out a brisk white, at least to start off the day, and both of the Soave wines reviewed below are worthwhile endeavors to invest in next week.

2013 Fattori Motto Piane Soave DOC – 100% Garganega, dried for 40 days. Clean and moderately acidic, with lots of mango in it, there’s a slight, candylike bite on the palate that leads to a lightly sweet finish. Playful and fresh, with just a touch of sugar on the back. A- / $20

2014 Rocca Sveva Soave Classico DOC – 100% Garganega. Lots of melon and tropical notes on this both fruity and acidic wine. Some mineral notes add nuance, with a finish that offers bright pineapple and subtle orange blossom notes. Highly drinkable. A- / $15

Review: Blood Oath Bourbon Whiskey Pact No. 1 2015

blood oath

There is a lot of flowery script on the label of the new Blood Oath Bourbon, but there is precious little information therein.

What do we know about this new bottling? It is sourced bourbon — and not only is the distillery unstated, the state in which it is produced is unstated. (The whiskey is ultimately bottled in Missouri and distributed by the company that makes Ezra Brooks.) Creator/scientist John E. Rempe isn’t the first guy to have this idea, but he says this bespoke bottling is a limited release that will “never be produced again.” Bload Oath Pact No. 2, if there is one, will be a different whiskey altogether.

Pact No. 1 is said to be a blend of three whiskeys: a 6 year old wheated bourbon, a 7 year high rye bourbon, and a 12 year old mystery bourbon. This is aged (at least in part) in barrels with a lighter, #3 char. Otherwise there’s no production information included.

It’s a very gentle whiskey on the nose — as lighter char bourbons often are — with simple vanilla, caramel, and sweet corn on the nose, plus a touch of baking spice to add nuance. On the palate, it is again surprisingly gentle and easygoing considering its proof level. More of those sugar-forward dessert components come to the fore, along with some raisin notes and heavier baking spices, including distinct gingerbread notes. The body is light and floral at times, not at all heavy or over-wooded, making for an easy sipper. The finish is slightly peppery and a bit drying, though the sweetness is sustained until the end.

Ultimately there is plenty to like here, but the mysterious origins and rather high price — which would be steep even for a whiskey that was entirely 12 years old — might understandably be a bit of a turnoff.

98.6 proof. 15,000 barrels made.

A- / $90 /