Review: Port Dundas Single Grain Whisky 12 Years Old and 18 Years Old

Port Dundas 12

While the history of the distillery is complex, Diageo-owned Port Dundas has been producing single grain spirit since the mid-1800s, making it one of the oldest grain distilleries in Scotland. At least until 2010, when it was shuttered. The whisky that flowed from these Glasgow-based stills was used far and wide in blends like Johnnie Walker, J&B, and more. To honor this storied but now silent still, Diageo is releasing two single grain expressions that bear the Port Dundas name, drawn from now restricted stock.

Let’s look at these two limited release expressions, a 12 year old and an 18 year old bottling.

Port Dundas Single Grain Whisky 12 Years Old – No surprises on the nose, which offers heavy cereal notes and some astringent hospital character, alongside some root vegetable character. On the palate, things brighten up, the grains offering up some notes of lemongrass and dark brown sugar — but counterbalanced by notes of mushroom and wet earth. On the whole it drinks like a very light style of blended Scotch, which isn’t a slight, but which isn’t the biggest compliment I have in my pocket, either. 80 proof. B / $50

Port Dundas Single Grain Whisky 18 Years Old – A clear step up from the 12, this is single grain firing on all cylinders. The nose is much more dense, with aromas of nuts, toffee, flamed orange oil, and a wisp of smoke. On the palate, the slightly higher alcohol level makes all the difference, rounding out the mouthfeel with some welcome oiliness and punching up the body with notes of spiced nuts, more toffee, vanilla custard, cinnamon toast, and some menthol, particularly on the finish. Unlike the simplistic 12, this expression drinks closer to a quality single malt, offering both complexity and boldness, elegance and power. Definitely worth seeking out. 86 proof. A- / $100

malts.com

Review: Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK American Brandies

Craftwerk Bottle Lineup

American brandymaker Copper & Kings is up to something wild with this line of four new brandies, each of which is aged not in old bourbon barrels or new oak but rather barrels that come from craft beer companies. Each of these four bottlings spends 12 months in a different beer barrel; the resulting brandy bears the name of the brewery on its label.

We sampled all four of these unique spirits. Thoughts on each follow.

Each is bottled at 111 proof.

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK 3 Floyds “Dark Lord” Russian Imperial Stout – Munster, Indiana’s 3 Floyds provides stout barrels for this experiment. Immediate notes of chocolate and cloves arrive on the nose — there’s definitively the essence of a stout here — along with a significant and dusty wood influence. This expands on the palate, eventually becoming almost overwhelming. I like the slightly smoky, sweet-and-savory notes on the nose considerably more than the palate, but both make for an interesting spin on brandy — something that feels like what Kentucky would come up with if you gave them a pot of molasses to work with. B

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK Sierra Nevada Smoked Imperial Porter – Straight outta Chico, California, C&K uses a smoked porter from Sierra Nevada instead of the expected IPA. This brandy exudes a strong nuttiness alongside some chocolate notes. Although the nose is restrained, the body showcases more flavor, a stronger focus, and a better balance than most of this field. Cocoa-dusted walnuts, some juicy raisin notes, and a hint of baking spice give this brandy some real staying power — and a character that feels closer to a real brandy than some of the other expressions here. A-

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK Oskar Blues “G’Knight” and “Deviant Dale’s” Imperial IPA – This brandy spends time in two different types of IPA barrels from Oskar Blues’ Brevard, NC facility. I was skeptical that a bitter, hoppy beer like an Oskar Blues’ IPA would be a good companion to brandy, and I was right. This combination doesn’t work all that well, kicking things off with a sweet and spicy attack that is almost immediately dampened by a hugely bitter, earthy element. As it evolves on the tongue, that bitterness becomes overwhelming and enduring, sticking to the back of the throat with a fiery and vegetal character that comes together with a character akin to fresh cigarette ash. Water is an absolute must with this one.. C-

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK Against the Grain “Mac Fanny Baw” Peated Scottish Ale – Finally, it’s a peated Scottish ale from Louisville, Kentucky whose barrel is the final vessel for this brandy. Peat and brandy didn’t sound like a natural fit, but on the nose this brandy gives up few clues about how it will all come together. The aroma is at first hard to place, offering a variety of herbal notes that evoke an aged gin more than a brandy. The body is a bit whiskeylike, but unlike the more bourbon-like Dark Lord expression above this one is by way of Islay as you might expect (and hope). That doesn’t entirely correspond to a perfectly balanced body, the smokiness of the peat playing somewhat unhappily with the base spirit, giving the ultimate combination something closer to an essence of rotting fruit and some raw vegetal notes. C+

each $50 / copperandkings.com

Review: Jordan 2014 Chardonnay and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

jordan

Iconic Sonoma winery Jordan has two new releases on tap. Let’s listen in…

2014 Jordan Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A crisp and citrusy chardonnay, aromatic and fresh, with notes of peaches and apricots, with lemon juice on the finish. The butter and oak notes add body but only to a degree — on the whole this is a rare Russian River chardonnay that still keeps the focus on the fruit. A- / $32

2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – Surprisingly restrained, there’s a nice core of currants, tobacco, leather oil, and oregano — but none of these really tends to rise to the top. The wine on the whole is dialed back and tamped down, but not difficult to enjoy, at least today, with its smattering of milk chocolate on the finish. Drink now; cellar time probably won’t do this wine much justice. B / $55

jordanwinery.com

Review: Samuel Adams Spring 2016 Releases

sam adams rev_noble_bottle (2)Seven new releases from our friends at the Boston Beer Company, including a number of Brewmaster’s Collection releases and two additions to the Rebel IPA group.

Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Crystal Pale Ale – An pale ale made with Crystal hops, fairly representative of the style. Rather earthy up front, this hoppy brew offers notes of mushroom, leather, and dried herbs, without any of the evergreen notes you see in west coast style IPAs. Rather, the finish heads into a slightly sweet and malty character, with a touch of juicy orange. Simple, but quite drinkable. 5.3% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Noble Pils – A classically-structured Czech pilsener, made with all five varieties of Noble hops. This takes that golden, malty character you expect from a pils and punches up the bitterness quotient, though it feels far from overblown hop bomb, instead offering lightly floral notes, some grassiness, and a slight touch of citrus on the otherwise malty finish. 4.9% abv. B

Samuel Adams Escape Route – An unfiltered kolsch, this beer offers a bold attack with a healthy slug of malt, plus notes of lemon juice, wet earth, and some vegetal character that endures on the finish. A fair enough example of the style, offering solid (if uninspiring) refreshment. 5% abv.  B

Samuel Adams Session Ale – A lower-alcohol Extra Special Bitter (note the fine print), malty and hoppy and decently balanced between the two. The beer showcases a fairly strong nutty character that grows on the palate as you drink it. The finish culminates with a superfine level of fizz on the tongue, which feels almost soda-like at times. Overall, however, the beer is fully drinkable, but ultimately quite harmless.  5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Scotch Ale – A fairly typical brown ale, heavily nutty, malty, and slightly raisiny on the back end. The finish leaves behind a smokiness that catches in the back of the throat. It’s not a style I typically gravitate to, but should a cold snap hit this season, it’s worth a look. 5.5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA – Grapefruit peel and juice give this IPA a nice burst of citrus, but almost in passing. The fruit can sometimes get lost amidst the sizable amount of hops in the beer, but on the whole the IPA feels balanced and eminently drinkable, elevating the experience the way a squeeze of lime in your Pacifico can give a little something extra to it. My only complaint: The finish comes across as a touch muddy. 6.3% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Rebel Cascade IPA – IPA made with Cascade hops, big and west coasty. This is a bold and very citrus-forward IPA, with ample bracing bitterness riding high on the back end. Juicy and lush, it’s a great example of the IPA style without feeling like it was hopped to within an inch of its life. 7.3% abv. A

each about $8 per six-pack samueladams.com

Review: Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength

bulleit barrel strength

It’s probably long overdue, but one of the biggest success stories in bourbon is finally coming out with a barrel strength release.

Bulleit Barrel Strength is made from the same high-rye mashbill as its primary expression (roughly 1/3 rye), with no age statement provided. Batches will vary in alcohol content, but will hover around 60% abv.

We got a first look at the new edition. Thoughts follow.

As with any cask strength offering, this is initially a bit of a blazer on the nose and tongue. When the alcohol blows off, notes of butterscotch, honey, and cinnamon emerge — all classic components showcased here with impressive balance. On the tongue, give it time to settle down a bit to reveal red pepper, some barrel char notes, more cinnamon, and a sweet but spicy finish. This is a big bourbon, full of fire to be sure but approachable enough for anyone with any level of experience with cask strength bourbons.

Tempering with water brings more of the wood components to the forefront — which takes it closer to the classic, somewhat rustic Bulleit “frontier” character. At full strength, the whiskey is a bit sweeter and more dessert-like than the standard bottling, which is a bit of a surprise. That aside, I like the new release quite a bit — both at the full force of cask strength and in its tempered form with some water added.

119.2 proof as reviewed.

A- / $50 / bulleit.com

Review: Jameson Crested Irish Whiskey

Jameson has long made a rare and special bottling called Jameson Crested Ten, which includes a lot of pure pot still whiskey along with some sherry cask-aged stock. While the distillery calls this “a little known minor classic,” the rest of the world is about to get to know it a bit better — or, at least, it’s newborn little brother, Jameson Crested.

As Jameson puts it, “Jameson Crested is a celebration of the first drops of whiskey that were bottled, sealed and labelled at the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin, marking the moment in time in 1963 when Jameson took full control of the whiskey making process, from grain to glass.” (Until that point, Jameson was bottled by others who then sold it to consumers.)

Jameson Crested is a triple-distilled whiskey, mixing pure pot still and grain whiskey, and it is matured in both sherry casks and bourbon casks. I haven’t had Crested Ten, but Crested’s recipe clearly sounds like it was inspired by it.

Let’s give it a taste, shall we?

On the nose, the whiskey is rich and dense. It’s a little hot, but approachable thanks to a complex melange of aromas — roasted nuts, cloves, ginger, oxidized wine notes, orange marmalade, and a thick slathering of honey. On the palate, the pure pot still component comes through clearly, offering a malty character balanced by notes of citrus peel, coconut, and spiced nuts. Big and bold, the sherry influence lingers on the finish, which offers up notes of caramel and some light chocolate notes over time.

A complex yet soothing and well-balanced whiskey, Jameson Crested lies somewhere between the brooding intensity of Redbreast and the simple drinkability of standard Jameson. The more I think about it, the more I realize that a middle ground is surprisingly lacking in Irish whiskey today, and Crested fills it with impressive aplomb. I am sure I could (and will) drink this with regularity.

Also of note: Jameson is revamping its labels, and this is the first one out of the gate. Looks nice.

80 proof.

A- / $43 / jamesonwhiskey.com

Review: Virginia Dare/American Pioneer “American Myth” Releases – Two Arrowheads, The White Doe, The Lost Colony, Manteo

ManteoRecently we covered the inaugural wines from Virginia Dare, a new offshoot of the Francis Ford Coppola empire. Turns out that some wines hit the market before those namesake wines, all bottled on the sly under the new American Pioneer label — at least in fine print.

These four wines, all named after places and events in American history or folklore, are all blends. Each was designed as a “teaser” wine that had something to do with the Virginia Dare legend. Never mind the history. Let’s check out the wines.

2014 Two Arrowheads – 71% viognier, 29% roussanne from Paso Robles. Doesn’t taste like a viognier at all (I guessed it might be chenin blanc), with floral notes of honeysuckle backed by almond character. Somewhat vegetal and chalky late in the game, the finish pulls it back together with some cleansing acidity. B / $20

2013 The White Doe – 80% chenin blanc, 20% viognier, a “California” bottling. This is a straightforward but surprisingly drinkable blend, with citrus and peach notes, all in solid balance. Brisk but complex with aromatics and a touch of nutmeg, there’s plenty going on here without being overpowering. Fresh and lovely, great price. A- / $13

2014 The Lost Colony – A red blend of syrah, malbec, and cabernet franc sourced from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County. Tart, with hefty sour cherry notes, rhubarb, and a little tobacco. That lightly sour tartness endures for the long haul, adding an herbal component to the cherries on the finish. The balance feels a bit off unless you’re pairing with an appropriately acidic dish. B / $19

2014 Manteo Sonoma County – A blend of 8 different grapes, the largest proportion being syrah, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon. Tastes a bit like a mutt, though its notes of violets and unripe blackberry come through the clearest. The finish is exceptionally tart and echoes notes of balsamic vinegar and sour cherry. B- / $17

thefamilycoppola.com