If you’re driving to Sonoma, Cline is always worth a stop, not just because it’s one of the first wineries you encounter as you drive into the area. We got our hands on four affordable, summer-friendly whites (one’s a rose). Thoughts follow.
2012 Cline Cool Climate Pinot Gris Sonoma Coast – Crisp and refreshing, with lots of fruit. Very slightly pink, something you see in a few Pinot Gris wines, particularly those produced in Alsace. Lovely pear notes here, plus a little peach, with a bit of a creamy, nougaty back end. Think marshmallows. Very nice. A / $13
2011 Cline Marsanne Roussanne Sonoma Coast - This Rhone blend is classically structured with both peach and apricot notes, backed with an aromatic perfume character. The backbone hints at tree bark and rhubarb. Nice complexity and a fresh, easy complexion. A- / $22
Continue reading “Review: White and Rose Wines of Cline, 2013 Releases” »
Today we look at a few more independently-bottled malts from That Boutique-y Whisky Company, courtesy of Master of Malt. All three of these are recent arrivals from Batch 1. Again, all are limited edition single malts bottled without age statements in 500ml bottles (and wacky labels). Thoughts follow.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company Arran Batch 1 – Beautiful nose on this Island whisky, fresh with toasted cereals and touches of heather. A much heavier grain influence than the typical single malt, but that’s not a slight. This Arran offers a richness and depth that’s common to Arran, with a touch of saltwater and seaweed on the quite lasting finish. Fresh and with a good balance of sweet and savory, it’s a solid whisky at a fairly reasonable price. 98.2 proof. A- / $62 (500ml) (Batch 1 sold out)
Continue reading “Review: That Boutique-y Whisky Company Arran, Tobermory, and Tormore” »
Lost Spirits’ Leviathan is one of the most unique whiskeys being produced in America today — if not the world. Made close to Drinkhacker HQ in Monterey, California, Leviathan is a heavily peated single malt that is aged in heavy char barrels previously used for late-harvest wine (the varietal of the wine changed depending on the cask).
Now comes Ouroboros (named after the snake eating its own tail), which is Leviathan with two little twists. First is the peat. This peat is sourced from a close-to-home private island in the delta leading to the San Francisco Bay instead of using Canadian peat. Second is the barrel. Late-harvest wine is out. Former Hungarian oak sherry casks are in. (As with Leviathan, they are re-charred before being filled with whiskey.)
As with its predecessor, it’s fascinating stuff. The nose is intense and gut-punching, a liquid forest fire filled with crude oil, fresh timber, and plenty upon plenty of peat. The body throws many a twist at you. What starts with simple smoke evolves, both in your mouth and in the glass. Cocoa nibs and dark chocolate syrup are the immediate developments, along with a malty extract character like you get in an ultra-high alcohol beer like Utopias. Rum raisin, maybe? Citrus also comes and goes — something like one of those chocolate oranges you get in your stocking at Christmastime.
As with Leviathan, Ouroboros is both an acquired taste and — definitively — not for everyone. I think it’s a bit better than Leviathan (at least Cask #3), with more complexity and better balance. Your mileage, of course, will vary. Haters gonna hate.
A- / $55 / lostspirits.net
Absolut’s boldest move in years doesn’t have anything to do with vodka that tastes like pickles or cupcakes… it’s Absolute Elyx, a single-estate ultra-premium vodka that’s so special it doesn’t even use the traditional cylindrical bottle design.
Elyx is single estate vodka made exclusively from wheat from Rabelof Castle and water from the distillery’s own well. Absolut says everything involved in the creation of this vodka takes place within a 15 mile radius. The vodka is produced in an antique copper column still and bottled at 84.6 proof.
The results are impressive. The nose is very clean, touched with marshmallow. The body is silky and supple, exceptionally clean with shockingly little bite. No harsh medicinal notes, herbal character, or hints of earth, charcoal, and mushroom here: This is a light-bodied, fresh, and easy vodka. Lightly sweet but not overdone, Elyx offers notes of vanilla, some gingerbread, and sweet cream on the finish. Elyx probably won’t be the knockout that massive vodka fans are expecting (a la Karlsson’s Gold 2008), but I can virtually guarantee that everyone will find it totally agreeable.
A- / $50 / absolut.com
Two new brews from our friends at Starr Hill
Starr Hill Grateful Pale Ale – Straightforward, delicious, and crisp with modest citrus character — and not overly bitter (just 26 IBUs). This classic pale ale offers a bounty of hops, backed with just a touch of smoky wood chip character. Nothing earth-shattering, but not every beer needs to be to be memorable. 4.7% abv. A- / $NA per 12 oz. bottle
Starr Hill Red Roostarr Coffee Cream Stout – Surprisingly modest for a cream stout, with restrained coffee character. Malt is much more at the forefront, with some caramel lacing. Moderately big body, but not a knockout that will be particularly overwhelming. Somewhat muddy on the finish, too, with a weird blend of bitterness and sweetened coffee notes. 5.6% abv. B- / $NA per 22 oz. bottle
Today we’re filling a glaring hole in our coverage. While we reviewed one special edition of Jefferson’s Bourbon (which is no longer available, actually) four years ago, we’ve been silent on the line’s other expressions.
Today we start correcting that, with reviews of Jefferson’s entry-level Bourbon and Jefferson’s Reserve, the two most commonly available expressions from Jefferson’s. While Jefferson’s is traditionally thought of as a wheated line, that’s not always the case. These expressions don’t reveal their mashbills, but neither are reportedly wheated at all. (The mash is said to be 30% rye.) If you want to find wheat in your Jefferson’s, you’ll likely need to look toward the older and rarer expressions… which come from different distillery.
Continue reading “Review: Jefferson’s Bourbon and Jefferson’s Reserve” »
Francis Ford Coppola has become an icon in Northern California’s wine country, but why does a man this important — whose Oscars and Palme d’Or can be seen firsthand at the pool-equipped day resort/tasting room he runs in Sonoma County — need no fewer than five Chardonnays? (In truth there are at least seven.)
While you puzzle over that one, we were tasting the 2011 vintages of these wines. Thoughts follow.
2011 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Director’s Cut Russian River Valley – Surprisingly sweet, with lychee and mango notes up top, some lemon underneath. Modestly buttery body. The finish is a touch bittersweet. Altogether curious, but not overly balanced. B / $21
2011 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Votre Sante California – “Burgundian style” Chardonnay, which is a little flabby and muted on the fruit notes. Some vanilla notes creep into what is otherwise a predominantly butter and wood affair, although a touch of lemon on the nose elevates things a bit. B- / $14
Continue reading “Review: 2011 Chardonnays of Francis Ford Coppola” »
Sage is the fourth product from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, which focuses on creating wholly unique and, sometimes, questionably mixable liqueurs. These liqueurs are often drawn from historical texts and/or are inspired by curious ingredients (like gingersnap cookies). With this product, sage herbs are the focus.
Unlike AitA’s three other spirits, sage is clear. Like them, it’s infused with a vast array of botanicals to give it its character, including elderberry, pine, black tea, rose, dry orange peel, cubeb, angelica, sage (at last!), lavender, spearmint, dandelion, thyme, sumac, rosemary, licorice root, and fennel. Whew!
Continue reading “Review: “Art in the Age” Sage Liqueur” »
Gary Farrell is based on Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, but it makes wines with fruit from all over California. Russian River, however, remains the focus. The 2010 bottlings are now hitting the market. We tasted through a solid sampling of five of them. Thoughts follow.
2010 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Valley Westside Farms – A crisp but modestly oaked California Chardonnay, made in the classic style with a buttery and nutty body, but balanced with a decent amount of acid on the back end. Some lemon notes add character, even if the depth is about average. B+ /$38
2010 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Carneros Ramal Vineyard – Very light, easy (not bright) cherry notes. Fresh, lots of acid, short and crisp finish. Some light black tea notes come along on the outro. A- / $50
Continue reading “Review: Wines of Gary Farrell, 2010 Vintages” »
Elijah Craig is a Bourbon brand on the rise, and its latest release is another knockout, this time bottled at cask strength.
A whopping 12 years old (the age statement is in the text on the back label of the bottle), Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is an amazing whiskey that should (and will) be sought after by those who like their Bourbons big, old, and hot. (George T. Stagg fans take note.)
Continue reading “Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon” »
Yes Virginia, they make gin in Canada. This unique gin comes from Pemberton Distillery in British Columbia, where a smattering of products are produced. None seems more highly lauded than Schramm Organic Gin, an organic dry gin made from distilled potato base and infused with a mere eight (organic) botanicals: juniper, coriander, orange peel, rosemary, angelica root, Ceylon cinnamon, rosehips, and hops.
A more unique infusion bill you’re unlikely to find, but when poured, the immediate nose is none of these but rather — inexplicably — cucumber. A deeper exploration into the aroma reveals that it is the last two elements on that list — rosehips and hops — that strangely meld into this unique cucumber character. Behind it there’s a sort of smoky/earthy character that is likely driven by the angelica root.
On the body, this is a gin that’s overflowing with flavor. That cucumber character dominates here, too, but it takes on a deeper and more smoldering character than you get on the nose. Very much like a tree bark (cinnamon-driven, maybe) character and hints of the forest floor. Not so much juniper berries, but definitely limbs of juniper trees scattered about under the canopy shadows. The finish offers a respite from this depth, with notes of lemongrass and some mint. All of which is curious because none of those ingredients are actually in this gin.
Reviewed: Batch #09 (now sold out), bottle #165. Distilled Dec 2012. 88 proof.
A- / $55 / pembertondistillery.ca
How about some bubbles? Here are two delightful new Proseccos to try out.
2011 Bellenda Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene – Slightly musty on the nose, this Prosecco makes up for that with a tart and fruity body that packs in plenty of flavor. Notes of peaches and light strawberry notes mingle with the simpler apple and citrus character. Pleasant, but the finish brings back a touch of that musty character that mars an otherwise vibrant wine. B+ / $16
NV Carpene Malvolti Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Extra Dry DOCG (pictured) – Fizzier than most Proseccos, but full of fruit character. Big apple notes at the forefront, with a touch of figs and a hint of caramel. Smooth and rich, evening out as the bubbles start to settle down. Quite good. A- / $15
Forget acai and yumberries. Cheribundi is doubling down on good old fashioned cherries as a juice and a cocktail mixer. We sampled a flotilla of cherry juice-based concoctions. Thoughts follow.
Cheribundi Cherry Juice – 100% juice (mostly cherry, with a bit of apple juice added for sweetness), so you better prepare your palate for the tart rush of authentic, smashed cherries. (The company says there are 50 cherries in an 8 oz. mini-bottle. Sour-sweet, authentic, and a big rush of fruit. Use sparingly as a mixer. 130 calories. A- / $12 for four 8 oz. bottles
Continue reading “Review: Cheribundi Cherry Juice Mixers” »
Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery, in Valatie, New York, focuses like so many other operations in this region on using local fruits to produce artisinal, farm-to-bottle spirits. The lineup below represents a full farmers’ market of goodies. Thoughts on the bulk of Harvest Spirits’ production follow.
Continue reading “Review: Harvest Spirits Core Vodkas, Liqueurs, and Brandies” »
This Belarusian vodka dates back to 1993, and hails from a 100-year-old distillery in Minsk. Distilled six times “for your pleasure” from a blend of 75% rye and 25% winter wheat, this budget brand offers lots of quality plus Eastern European street cred.
Belaya Rus (literally “White Russian”) is surprisingly easy, especially considering its birth in a former Soviet nation. The nose offers a bracing medicinal character balanced with sweetness — more like a sweet cream than typical sugar. On the tongue, more of the same, but leaning more toward the sweet side. The finish brings in some vanilla notes, and some slight nuttiness.
Those anticipating a bracing, Stoli-like character will find this a far different experience, milder, sweeter, and easier to both sip on and mix with. At all of 11 bucks a bottle, that’s a tough value to ignore.
A- / $11 / belayarusvodka.com
This bottle was given to me as a gift, brought back directly from St. Lucia. Bottled by St. Lucia Distillers, it is named after Admiral Georges Rodney, a British seaman who fought against the French in the 18th century.
This rum is continuous column distilled, then aged for an average of 12 years in American oak casks used at Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Buffalo Trace.
Continue reading “Review: Admiral Rodney Extra Old St. Lucia Rum” »
Never mind the goofy name and goofier bottles. This is good, 100% agave, Highlands tequila that has partnered with the famous Baja hotel for its name and branding.
These are unusual bottles, to say the least. Mind the intriguing-looking yet wholly dysfunctional stoppers. The only thing harder than getting them out of the bottle (that tapered top makes gripping them impossible) is getting them back in.
All three expressions are reviewed below. All expressions are 80 proof.
Continue reading “Review: Hotel California Tequila” »
I am Don Quixote, a booze of La Mancha!
Chip Tate at Texas’s Balcones Distilling isn’t the only guy on the cob that’s using exotic blue corn to make Bourbon. Said to be especially difficult to work with due to its high oil content, blue corn makes for unique and memorable whiskey.
Made in New Mexico, Don Quixote is made from 75% local organic blue corn, 23% wheat, and 2% barley. The grains are naturally malted and uncooked before mashing. Made in a unique, moonshine-era “thumper” still, Don Quixote goes into new American oak barrels for four years before bottling.
Continue reading “Review: Don Quixote Blue Corn Bourbon Whiskey” »
To obtain this unique Macallan expression you’ll have to buy the flask that it comes with. Designed by Oakley, it is made from food-grade steel, then wrapped in a carbon fiber composite “treated to an intensive passivation and electro-polishing procedure to ensure perfection.” At last it is clad in “black anodized 5-axis machined aerospace grade aluminum” before, finally, a $1,500 price tag is put on it.
I can’t tell you much more about the flask, but I can tell you about the companion whisky that comes with it. Aged entirely for 22 years in ex-sherry casks, this single malt is a departure from Macallan as you likely know it. The nose offers a heavily smoky (but not peaty) character, with deep wood and nutty notes behind it. The body tends more toward dried fruit and raisins, developing quite slowly in the glass. The orange/sherry components you’d expect are there but, miraculously, kept at bay by some honey sweetness and a surprisingly lasting but dry finish. This is a really interesting expression but steps away from what you might expect from Macallan. Hope you need a fancy flask in which to enjoy it.
400 flask/bottle combos available in the U.S. (150 flasks — no booze — available in the UK.)
A- / $1,500 / themacallan.com
Bacon salt rim? Boring. How about a basil rim on your cocktail? Or fennel?
Fresh Origins, a micro-greens and edible flowers creator, is launching Herb and Flower Crystals, a sort of freeze-dried herb-meets-sugar idea that results in colorful, exotic, and wholly unique crystals that can be used as cocktail garnishes. Two sizes of the crunchy crystals are available, a coarse grind that is mainly intended as a flavoring ingredient for culinary recipes, and a finer grain that can stick to the rim of a moistened cocktail glass.
Continue reading “Review: Fresh Origins Herb Crystals and Flower Crystals” »