Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: Thomas Tew Pot-Still Rum

thomas tew rum 127x300 Review: Thomas Tew Pot Still RumPot-distilled rum isn’t exactly commonplace these days, and pot-still rum from Rhode Island, well, that’s an entirely new one for me.

Rum has a great history in New England, but for the last century or so it’s been primarily a Caribbean endeavor. Now Newport Distilling Co. is bringing back the area’s rich tradition — by 1769, the company says there were 22 distilleries in the city of Newport, the “rum capital of the world.” By 1842, there were none.

Now, as of 2007, there’s one. Rhode Island’s first distillery in 135 years, Thomas Tew, is named after a pirate that was based in Newport in the late 1600s. It’s the kind of rum he probably would have appreciated, intense and a little funky, loaded with all kinds of earth tones — asphalt, coal, burnt wood — that play intriguingly with the deep vanilla-inflected molasses notes.

Made from blackstrap molasses 105 gallons at a time, it’s got a huge body that lasts for ages — lightly bittersweet but with plenty of sugar to keep things appropriately balanced. Fans of big, classically-styled rums — that don’t go quite as far as agricole — will dig this one, big time. Pricey, though…

84 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #86.

A- / $40 /

Kendall-Jackson Offers Apps Alongside New Vintage

Even the wine world is going mobile. Kendall-Jackson has launched a new mobile app called K-J Recommends, with an eye toward pairing its wines with certain events in your life (romance, family, etc.). It’s a fanciful app… and two of the 11 wines recommended are reviewed below. Continue reading

Review: Luna Nueva Tequila

luna nueva tequila 273x300 Review: Luna Nueva TequilaThis Highlands tequila, 100% agave of course, is double distilled — intriguingly — first in a copper pot still, then in a stainless steel still.

We sampled all three expressions on the market. As a side note: Mind the stoppers on these tall bottles — they have a dangerous tendency to come off with minimal effort.

All are 80 proof, have a lot in common, and, oddly, can be found for the same price. Continue reading

Looking for the Green Fairy with an Sampler Pack

absinthe kit 300x300 Looking for the Green Fairy with an Sampler PackInterested in absinthe but don’t know where to start? With bottle prices that can top $100 a pop, it’s tough to justify the price for a bottle if you aren’t exactly sure what you’re getting in to.

Germany-based attempts to correct that with its collection of miniatures — 50ml bottles of absinthe available for about $10 a bottle, well within “experimental” range. Continue reading

Review: 2010 Four Vines Zinfandel Lineup

Think you know Four Vines Zinfandel? This isn’t that Four Vines. That Four Vines sold its name to Purple Wine Corp. The old Four Vines is now called Cypher. The new Four Vines, well, it’s making pretty good Zinfandel in the footsteps of the original owner of the name. Here’s how the new 2010 bottlings of its all-over-California wine production shakes out.

2010 Four Vines Zinfandel “The Sophisticate” Sonoma County - Some smokiness on the nose, plenty of juicy fruit on the palate. Some spicy notes in the palate, plus a touch of cedar box, raisin, and a touch of wood oil round out a food-friendly bottling. B+ / $23

2010 Four Vines Zinfandel “Maverick” Amador County – Very spicy, with a big, extracted fruit character. Not a complex wine, with a moderate to light body that’s packed to the gills with flavors of juicy raisins, pepper, and fresh garden herbs, alongside hefty acidity. B- / $18

2010 Four Vines Zinfandel “Biker” Paso RoblesDense, chocolates and currants, incredibly rich. Amazing depth offers fruit that doesn’t quit — black cherry on the finish, plus brewed tea and cinnamon. Lots to enjoy in this one. A- / $23


Review: Magic Hat 2012 Winter Brews

Magic Hat is back with more seasonal beers, these designed for winter partaking. Thoughts on the three, available as part of the brewery’s Winter Variety Pack, follow.

Magic Hat Wooly ESB with Spruce – I was expecting a forest-fueled bomb but got, well, a fairly standard ESB, a mildly bitter brew with solid hops to it. Spruce? Tiny, tiny touches of it on the finish. Fine, nothing unique, though. 4.5% abv. B

Magic Hat Heart of Darkness Stout – A lovely chocolate stout, dark as night and flavored lightly with coffee grounds. Moderately rich finish, with ample sweetness and just a touch of the bitter stuff. 5.7% abv. A-

Magic Hat Encore American Wheat IPA – Another wheat-imbued IPA from Magic Hat, combining bracing hoppiness with bready wheat beer flavors. Brisk and hardly short of hops, it’s a lightly malty brew with plenty of kick. Solid IPA. 6.4% abv. A-

Tasting Report: Aromatic and Dessert Wines from Quady WInery

With the holidays nigh upon us, celebrations will be in full force. Don’t forget the sticky stuff for dessert. Quady, which has been making its wines in Madera, California since 1975, offers a huge slate of dessert, fortified, and aromatic wines. We tasted a panel of six of its most popular offerings. Thoughts follow. (All prices are for 750ml bottles, except Deviation.)

Quady Vya Vermouth Aperitif Sweet – Made from Orange Muscat, Colombard, and Valdepenas grapes, and spiced with cinnamon, gentian, galangal, and nutmeg. Tawny, moderately brown color. Deeply herbal, like mulled wine for Christmas. Pleasant, with notes of brewed tea to counter the Christmas spices. 16% abv. B+ / $20 Continue reading

Review: Amaro Tosolini

Amaro tosolini 154x300 Review: Amaro TosoliniGrappa impresario Bepi Tosolini is expanding into the U.S. with its amaro, and an amaretto which we’ll be reviewing soon.

The amaro, Amaro Tosolini, boasts a recipe that dates back to 1918, is made with 15 different herbs and spices, is aged in ash barrels for four months, and is finally brought down to proof with water from the Alps. Continue reading

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society “Holiday Parcels” Winter 2012 Outturn

Ho! Ho! Ho! Santa’s here, and he wants to give you whisky. As Christmas approaches, the SMWS is offering this year-end parcel, chock full of goodies. Thoughts follow.

SMWS Cask 27.97 – 13 year old Springbank from Campbeltown – Amazing color, amazing nose, amazing everything. It’s hard to go wrong with Springbank, this one bottled from a refill gorda. Lightly nutty/marzipan on the nose, then an explosion of flavors on the tongue. Creamy sherry notes, orange peel, and buttered toast on the palate. Long, long finish with a hint of smoke — but not overly hot despite an alcohol level over 57%. Do not pass up if you’re a Springbank fan.  This outturn’s “President’s Choice.” Distilled 1998, 115.2 proof, 180 bottles allocated for U.S. A / $110

SMWS Cask 9.62 – 8 year old Glen Grant from Speyside – Young and a bit brash, but worthwhile. Classic Speyside, with big nougat character, some coconut and banana, fired with coal smoke. Touches of toffee on the finish, leading to a lingering and smoldering finale. Not overly complex, but a solid, young spirit. Distilled 2002, 124.2 proof, 149 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $85

SMWS Cask 42.10 – 7 year old Ledaig from the Highlands – Traditional Highlands malt, but very young, and very, very hot. Not really a thrill without water, which brings out notes of heather, orange, and fresh-cut grains, plus touches of cedar box, leather,tar,  and light matchstick smoke. Nothing unexpected though. A fairly simple dram. Distilled 2005, 125.4 proof, 60 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $175

SMWS Cask G2.2 – 35 year old grain whisky from Carsebridge in Clackmannanshire (Lowlands) – Carsebridge was shuttered in 1983 and torn down in 1992, making this some of the last stock from this distillery available. Unique and a bit strange, it’s all over the map. My notes run from sea brine to tar sands, cigar smoke and sour cherries. That probably doesn’t help you, I realize, but SMWS’s tasting notes are equally cryptic: school art-room, leather dancing pumps, and “newly crafted coffin.” Lots going on here, and certainly something you can talk about at length… but, typical of single grain whiskys, it’s pretty well off the beaten path for Scotch, for better or for worse. Distilled 1976, 107.2 proof, 60 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $250

SMWS Cask 29.104 – 20 year old Laphroaig from Islay – Dark color for Islay, but 20 years in cask will do that for you. Classic older Islay (bottled from a refill Sherry butt), with its peat finally mellowed out like a fire on its last legs. An easy sweetness draws instant comparisons to Laphroaig 18, loads of molasses impregnated with saltwater and seaweed. Some apple undertones, with slight touches of lemon. This doesn’t add a lot to the Laphroaig heritage, but it’s worthwhile if you find yourself wanting to put the 18- and 25-year-old distillery bottlings up against something slightly different. Distilled 1990, 116.4 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $140

Review: Widow Jane Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey 7 Years Old

Widow Jane bourbon whiskey 2 202x300 Review: Widow Jane Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey 7 Years OldBetter known for its exotic cacao liqueurs (we’re reviewing them in the coming weeks), Cacao Prieto also makes a highly regarded artisan Bourbon whiskey in limited quantities in its compound in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

How then does Widow Jane come to say “Kentucky Bourbon” on the label? Widow Jane is distilled in the Bluegrass state then shipped to New York for bottling, where it is cut down to bottle proof with local water. It’s that water that gives the whiskey its name and its distinction vs. other spirits.

Where does the name come from? Per the company:

The water used to create this product comes from the Widow Jane mine in Rosendale, New York. Rosendale Limestone possesses an even higher ratio of beneficial minerals than that found in Kentucky and its sparkling waters are as pure as its namesake, the Widow Jane. The greatest structures in New York are from the gargantuan caissons that allowed the Brooklyn Bridge to soar, to the Statue of Liberty’s 27,000 ton pedestal, to the Empire State Building itself are all held fast and strong by that Rosendale stone.

A combination of unfiltered 91 proof Bourbon and highly mineralized water can lead to a very slight cloudiness (calcium) in the bottle which appears when agitated. It is yet another attractive part of this package. Widow Jane Whiskey is a true New York City whiskey, evocative of both the rock that created the foundation for this city of skyscrapers and the forward looking, DIY spirit that has made Brooklyn the center of a new artisanal food and beverage movement.

However, despite all this, they can still put “Kentucky Bourbon” on the label… Funny thing, those liquor laws!

The company has previously sold a 5 year old version of Widow Jane. Here we have the new 7 year old for review.

Deep copper in color, this is serious whiskey from the get-go. I didn’t detect any cloudiness. The nose is rich with cherry and wood, with light touches of menthol and camphor.

It’s got a gorgeous and lush body, lots of heavy caramel and vanilla, backed up by ample cinnamon and baking spice, orange peel, and banana. Spicy and racy, this is a bit of a bruiser, and I would have pegged the proof level at considerably hotter than it really is. Water goes a long way with Widow Jane. But even then it’s a burly and punchy spirit. This is a whiskey that’s lots of fun, and perfect for reminiscing about what ye olde saloon might have been like — in Kentucky or New York.

91 proof.


Review: MacKinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky “Shackleton: The Journey” Second Edition

mackinlays old highland malt shackleton the journey 177x300 Review: MacKinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky “Shackleton: The Journey” Second EditionLate last year, Whyte & Mackay undertook unfathomable effort to recreate a 100-year-old spirit (using modern stock) based on whisky that Ernest Shackleton took with him on his expedition to the South Pole… and left there when he departed. We covered it extensively in November 2011.

The first run sold out and raised nearly £250,000 for the Antarctic Heritage Trust. Now, the AHT has asked W&M to make another version of The Shackleton to continue funding its conservation efforts in the Antarctic.

Version two is here: “The Journey,” and as a whisky it is meant to be as identical as possible to The Shackleton 1.0. However, buyers of the new whisky have new treats in store for them: The bottle design and label are the same, but the packaging has now been upgraded with period-appropriate accuracy. The Journey comes packed in a sheath of straw, just the way the original was discovered. It’s also packed in a custom hexagonal cardboard box and includes an envelope stuffed with historical documentation regarding Shackleton’s journey.

As noted, the replica spirit inside is not the same as the original Shackleton, but I put The Journey next to what I had left of the original (not much), to see what differences I could find. There are a few.

First, the color of The Journey is a bit — and noticeably — lighter. Nosing them reveals similar notes, but The Shackleton is more citrus-forward, and The Journey offers more distinct smokiness on the nose. They’re both relatively woody, coal-infused, fruity whiskys with distinct banana character, but The Journey feels a bit more island-inflected, saltier with more of a peaty tang. I think I prefer the original blend — which is sweeter and more complex — a bit better. For whatever that’s worth.

Yes, it is still expensive for a blended malt (even though some of the blend is clearly from 30-year or older stock), but let’s be frank: It’s pretty much as cool as a bottle of whisky can get.

94.6 proof.


Review: Zignum Anejo Mezcal

Zignum Anejo mezcal 112x300 Review: Zignum Anejo MezcalWe last encountered Zignum’s mezcal earlier this year in its reposado incarnation. Now the brand is back, this time with an anejo version.

Made from green agave and aged more than a year, this is mezcal with much of the smokiness aged right out of it. You’ll find lots of exotic, tropical, and caramel notes on the nose — and no smokiness to speak of — enough to make you think this is standard tequila, not mezcal at all.

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Review: Loca Linda Wines of Argentina

loca linda wine Review: Loca Linda Wines of ArgentinaLoca Linda is a new brand of Argentine wines that come to us from semi-professional nomad/wine guru Brian Smith. The focus with these wines is on two unassuming bottles that each hold a full liter (“uno liter”) of wine — yet contain just 30 grams of additional glass vs. the typical 750ml bottle.

The wines are also, for the most part, surprisingly outstanding. Continue reading

Review: South Sea Rum

South Sea Rum 227x300 Review: South Sea RumRum from Australia? Why not? It’s plenty hot and there’s even Aussie sugar. South Sea rum, lauched earlier this year, is made from first-press Queensland sugar cane which is twice-distilled, once in a pot still and once in a column. It’s finished in a mix of new and used American oak barrels for a minimum of two years before bottling, unfiltered.

Solid amber in color (the photo is considerably too yellow), it’s a big rum, reminiscent of agricole-style rum without so much of the funk. Great balance here: Lots of sweet vanilla and caramel, touched with light smoke and vague earth and spice elements.

Overall, I’d never be able to peg this as a non-Caribbean rum. It’s closest in style to Jamaica, with a bit more smoothness to it. An easy winner with a unique story behind it.

80 proof. Available now in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.


Review: PunZone Vodka, Lemoncino, and Originale Liqueur

Ppunzone vodka and liqueurs 300x234 Review: PunZone Vodka, Lemoncino, and Originale LiqueurunZone (accent on the e) is a new Italian brand that produces vodka and a pair of spirits, all organically. The vodka is actually the newest part of the equation. The liqueurs are old family recipes — blends of vodka, sangria, and fruit essences. We tasted all three spirits. Thoughts follow.

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Review: Master of Malt Benrinnes 14 Years Old Single Cask

benrinnes 14 years old 194x300 Review: Master of Malt Benrinnes 14 Years Old Single CaskSpeyside’s Benrinnes Distillery was washed away by a flood in 1829 and burned down in 1896. Somehow they keep making whisky there, including this independent bottling of 14 Year Old malt, a single cask release from Master of Malt.

Wow, what an unusual and unique malt. Big Tawny Port and sherry wood character on the nose — if it weren’t for all the alcohol you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for Tawny if you nosed it blind. The palate speaks of similar notes — lots of madeirized wine, roasted nuts, raisins, and orange peel. Touches of coffee, salted caramel, and rum cake on the finish, which is long, lasting, and wonderfully warming.

This is a real fireside malt that’s ready-made for the holidays ahead. I can’t think of another whisky quite like it, and it’s got all kinds of charm going for it.

115.6 proof. 548 bottles made.

A- / $89 (700ml) / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Germain-Robin Pear de Pear Liqueur

germain robin pear de pear 80x300 Review: Germain Robin Pear de Pear LiqueurThe pear gets minimal respect in the booze biz. Heck, even apples have high-end brandies dedicated to them — in multiple countries, no less. In comparison, pear brandies are normally unaged quickie spirits. Finding a pear spirit that’s spent time in oak is almost unheard of. Craft Distillers’ Joe Corley cares not for any of this: He’s put together this limited edition aged pear liqueur (not a straight brandy), and it’s a mighty success.

Inspired by the pear liqueur of the same name from the now defunct RMS Distillery in Napa (sold only at its tasting room, it was never released to the open market), Corley uses Lake County and Mendocino County Bartlett pears as the basis for this rich and exotic liqueur.

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Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society November 2012 Outturn

Another five-whisky month from the SMWS. Thoughts follow on each spirit in the outturn — easily the best month in recent memory for the SMWS.

SMWS Cask 16.32 – 10 year old Glenturret from the Highlands – Lightly smoky Highlands whisky finished in (refill) Port pipes? I never would have thought of the combination, but it works well here. The nose comes across as more sherry-like than Port, orange peel is heavy but it offers dark chocolate character, too. Some salty, briny notes on the palate quickly lead into lots of dried fruit — plus a big baking rack full of clove and cinnamon, pancakes with syrup, and Mexican coffee on the finish… the Port showing its face a bit in the end. Amazing depth and balance — much more than I would have thought possible from a 10 year old malt and surprisingly easy-drinking even at full cask strength. This is one whisky that brings everything together in a remarkable way, offering more and more with each sip. Wish I had more. Distilled 2001, 114.2 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. A / $95

SMWS Cask 25.63 – 21 year old Rosebank from the Lowlands – Ultra-pale… who’d have thought this was 21 years old? It’s hard to follow 16.32, but this one does: Bright apple on the nose, with lots of citrus (Meyer lemons?) to back it up. Sugar and spice on the palate, a big rush of marshmallows and nougat, with touches of fresh black pepper, incense, and cedar box notes. The long finish is warming and lush. It’s hot stuff at nearly 60% alcohol, but drinks like a dream. Distilled 1990, 119.6 proof, 108 bottles allocated for U.S. A / $145

SMWS Cask 106.18 – 27 year old Cardhu from Speyside – Yet another winner. Gorgeous nose just from opening the bottle. Creamy orangesicles, heather, and marshmallow aromas lead to more of the same on the tongue, with plenty of citrus, tropical fruits, and a touch of sandalwood. Hints of grain flicker on and off in the finish. This Cardhu is simpler than the previous two whiskys, but still definitively worthwhile. Feels hotter than the 105 proof would indicate. Water is recommended. Distilled 1984, 105.2 proof, 78 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $175

SMWS Cask 128.3 – 5 year old Penderyn from Wales – Quiet on the nose, with little hint of the sugar and fruit rush beneath. Take a sip and an explosion of flavors erupt — like a fruit salad filled with cherries, apple, oranges, and banana. Some cereal notes follow, with more dessert characteristics — pie crust and light toffee notes — on the finish. Lots going on, and a bit muddied. A few more years in cask might have brought the balance into focus. It’s a bit of an eye-opener for now. Distilled 2006, 122.6 proof, 78 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $85

SMWS Cask 129.1 – 5 year old Kilchoman from Islay – How exciting to get the first privately-bottled Kilchoman to sample! Modest smokiness on the nose, with citrus hints. Similar on the body to most other Kilchomans I’ve experienced — modest smokiness, backed with ample sugar. Worth a look if you want to try Kilchoman but can’t find the distillery bottling. Distilled 2006, 120.4 proof, 114 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $85

Review: 2009/2010 Zinfandels of Ravenswood

It’s been three years since we’ve sat down with Ravenswood and its surprisingly exhaustive lineup of Zinfandels. Best known for its sub-$10 Vintners Blend, the winery produces a wide range of Zins, including seven single-vineyard designates. We got our hands on two of the “Old Vine” wines from 2010 and four of the single vineyard wines from 2009 to see how things were shaping up for the winery. Thoughts follow. Continue reading

Review: Journeyman Ravenswood Rye Whiskey

journeyman rye 130x300 Review: Journeyman Ravenswood Rye WhiskeyJourneyman Distillery operates in Three Oaks, Michigan, where it makes a wide range of white spirits and this rye, its only “brown” liquor at present (though numerous more are on the way).

Formerly made at the Koval Distillery, Journeyman is now making it at home. The mashbill is an unusual blend of Minnesota rye and (heavy) Michigan wheat, no corn. It is aged for an unstated amount of time in 15-gallon new oak barrels, then bottled at 90 proof.

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