Review: Wahaka Mezcal Complete Lineup

WAH007 - Tobala

Mezcal is always fun, but it gets really fun when you can compare different styles and species of agave that are used to create this unique spirit.

Wahaka, based in the Tlacolula Central Valley region of Oaxaca, offers five different Mezcals — four joven (silver) varieties, and one reposado. We tasted them all. Thoughts follow.

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Espadin – Espadin is the most common strain of agave used for mezcal, and from the nose you would expect this to be a rather smokily pungent expression of the spirit. The body is quite another experience, though — quite gentle, with ample sweetness, notes of apples, and some green banana. Beyond the smoke-filled nose, it’s as gentle as mezcal gets, with its savory notes quickly fading as it leaves behind a mildly herbal but mostly fruit-filled finish. If ever there was a “starter mezcal,” this is it. 80 proof. B+ / $33

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Tobala – Tobala is a wild, small, high-altitude agave known for fruity notes. Here, the nose offers a distinctly sweeter note, one that is studded with notes of peaches but also herbal rosemary notes. The palate hits the tongue with dried tropical fruits and segues into notes of fresh pineapple and mango, filtered through a smoky lens. These notes go together surprisingly well, with an especially sweet and tropical finish. If the Espadin is starter mezcal, this is the perfect chaser — and quite a little delight that doesn’t just sip well on its own, it also mixes well. 84 proof. A- / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Madre-Cuishe – Another wild agave strain, this mezcal presents with a more pungent and heavily peppered nose, offering ample sweetness but stuffing it with notes of smoked meats and a touch of molasses. On the palate, the sweeter house style endures, but considerable smoke and black pepper manage to dominate. Those looking for a burlier, meaty, and pungent mezcal will find it in this Madre-Cuishe expression That said, it is still accessible and quite engaging. 84 proof. A- / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Ensamble – As the name implies, this is a blend — 50% Espadin, 25% Tobala, and 25% Madre-Cuishe. The nose is straightforward and mildly smoky, fairly in line with the Espadin. On the tongue, some citrus — oddly absent in the single-varietal expressions — leads the way, meandering into more of that green banana, brown sugar, and marshmallow notes. There’s plenty going on here, but balance is something of a concern, with Ensamble turning out to be a bit plain, something less than the sum of its parts. 80 proof. B+ / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Reposado con Gusano – A lightly aged reposado mezcal, origin unknown — worm (gusano) included. The nose offers more of a barbecue sauce character, with an orange juice kick. Much sweeter than the jovens, this reposado offers immediate notes of fresh mango and papaya, banana (again), and that barbecue character hitting hard on the finish. Smokiness takes a distinct back seat here, which is common in barrel-aged expressions. Fun as a diversion… plus you can ponder that worm staring at you. 80 proof. B+ / $47

Review: Alaskan Hop Turn IPA

alaskan hop turnAlaskan’s latest IPA in a seemingly endless procession of IPAs is Hop Turn (cute skiing-inspired name there), which is designed to be a “German-style IPA” — a style of beer that doesn’t readily exist.

It’s made with Pilsner, Vienna, and Munich malts, Magnum and Sterling hops, and is dry-hopped with Sterling — “radical” choices, none of which you’ll find in the typical IPA. It’s a funny mix of styles, starting with an undercurrent of sweetness that flows through the entire experience, backed up by a slug of earthy hops. It isn’t particularly piney, but the forest floor and mushroom notes are surprisingly natural companions with the malt.

All told it’s surprisingly enjoyable, but best (like any German beer) when consumed very cold. As it warms up, the body becomes a bit mushy and muddy.

7.5% abv.

A- / $10 per six-pack /

Review: Suntory The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Single Malt Whisky

yamazaki 2016

In 2014 Jim Murray pronounced The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 the best whisky of the year, and the world promptly exploded. Everybody likes Japanese whisky — why wouldn’t you? — but giving this small bottling a “best in the world” award led to the expected chaos.

All of Japanese whisky has been impacted by the surge in sales — even common bottlings are now regularly allocated — but nothing was hit harder than this specific edition, which was immediately snapped up, with prices on remaining bottles shooting through the roof.

And now there is another.

The Yamazaki is finally back with a new edition of this hot product, Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 vintage. Sherry of course is not a new thing at Yamazaki, but using it exclusively in released expressions isn’t common. Japanese whisky can be quite delicate, and sherry casks provide an effect in the diametric opposite direction. The final blend in this release bears no age statement but starts with the same lot of whiskies (over 100 sherry-aged casks) used to make the Sherry Cask 2013 release. These spent two extra years in cask, to which Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo then added some additional, older sherry-casked stock, some of which were more than 25 years old. So basically, if you liked Sherry Cask 2013, the idea is that you’ll love 2016.

Without further ado, let’s dig into this rarity.

The color is exceptionally dark, a deep amber that verges on mahogany, clearly showcasing both some significant age and the pure impact of the sherry cask. The nose is enchanting — lush caramel malts and bright sherry notes, cocoa-dusted nuts with some oxidized notes, leather, and cigar tobacco — all told, the picture of a very old and well-sherried Highland single malt.

The palate sticks with the theme, offering intense nuttiness, quite bitter, with notes of wet leather, tobacco leaf, incense, and spicy cloves. The finish goes on and on with notes of Madeira wine, prunes, well-steeped black tea, and bittersweet cocoa powder. After one sip my mind immediately raced back to my experience with Highland Park 50 Years Old, which remains seared into my brain. Many of the same notes are there, a licorice kick nagging at the back of the throat.

As with HP50, Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is a hoary old beast that presents itself as brash and punchy, unashamed of its majesty. Give it the respect it deserves.

92 proof. 5000 bottles produced. The MSRP is $300, but $2000 is about the best you’ll find at retail. I’ve seen up to $3000 so far. Good luck, gents.

A- / $2000 /

Review: 2012 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley

stonestreetThis latest release from Stonestreet showcases an incredible turnaround from last year’s lackluster slate. This cabernet is drinking wonderfully already, showcasing notes of chocolate-covered cherries, solid vanilla notes, and a touch of eucalyptus. The body is round and mouth-filling, the finish moderate in length but gentle and lightly bittersweet as it fades out. Worthwhile on its own, but it’s also a delightful natural companion for food.

A- / $45 /

Review: Wines of Silver Palm, 2016 Releases

silver palmThis new brand is another Jackson Family creation, focusing on the sub-$20 segment with wines heralding from the North Coast and Central Coast regions. Thoughts on four of the current offerings from this winery follow.

2014 Silver Palm Chardonnay North Coast – A garden-variety chardonnay, with heavy apricot notes that are heavily buried in brown butter and oak notes. Some lemon character midway along adds a touch of something brighter, but the sugar bun sweetness on the finish comes across as overblown. B- / $15

2014 Silver Palm Pinot Noir Central Coast – A simple wine with modest ambitions, this pinot noir features gentle cherry cola, very light herbs, and not a whole lot else. The wine goes well enough with a light meal, but on its own the almost watery character drives it to only minor inspiration. B / $18

2013 Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast – Surprisingly capable, this North Coast cab offers notes of cracked black pepper, blackberry, and a touch of violets. Just a hint of cocoa nibs gives the wine just a bit of sweetness and fun. I was surprised how enjoyable this was, considering the price point. A- / $19

2013 Silver Palm Merlot North Coast – A quite fruity wine, with notes of blackberry and tar at the forefront. The floral notes of merlot are largely lacking here, but what remains is a fairly straightforward expression of California at its most generic. B / $18

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project The Gifted Horse American Whiskey

Gifted Horse American Whisky

Some time ago at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Ky., a batch of beautiful 17-year-old Kentucky bourbon was accidentally mixed with barrels of much younger whiskey. This error turned out better than anyone could have expected as the older bourbon wasn’t marred, but was transformed into something surprisingly special. Realizing this unique liquid deserved a home, The Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co. today announced the seventh addition to its portfolio, The Gifted Horse American Whiskey.

So goes the story.

Now this isn’t the first “accidental” whiskey to come out of Kentucky, and it won’t be the last, but ultimately the truth behind how this whiskey was made doesn’t matter much. Note that it’s not a bourbon — it’s a blend of 17 year old bourbon, 4 year old bourbon, and 4 year old corn whiskey, which disqualifies it from being called a bourbon, legally speaking.

Here are the specifics:

The Gifted Horse is comprised of 38.5% 17-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, distilled at the Bernheim Distillery historically located at 17th and Breckinridge in Louisville, Ky., while operated by United Distillers. It also contains 51% four-year-old bourbon and 10.5% four-year-old corn whiskey, both produced at a high-quality distillery in Indiana. Initially, these individual whiskeys were stored at their original distilleries before being moved to Stitzel-Weller, where the mingling error occurred.

How does this Orphan turn out? Let’s look this gift horse square in the mouth and find out.

I was skeptical that this would be any good, but was really surprised right from the start. The nose is dense with both fruit and spice — baked apples mingling with cinnamon and brown sugar, plus burnt caramel. It’s engaging without coming across as either too old and hoary or as something redolent with popcorny youth.

The palate follows suit — more of a barrel char influence hits up front, followed by more of that fruit — again apples, plus some cherry notes. The brown sugar character takes on a slightly granular texture, with toffee and a bit of chocolate mint character. A slightly raisiny note emerges on the finish, which does feature some heat, though nothing unmanageable. As it settles in the glass, more wood notes tend to emerge from the whiskey over time, but its sweetness grows in kind, creating an even denser, more powerful spirit as the night wears on.

The finish finally evokes some caramel corn notes, but these are gentle and integrate well into the spirit as a whole. Old and new come together awfully well here, it turns out. Gifted horse indeed.

115 proof.

A- / $50 /

Review: Cannonborough Beverage Co. Sodas and Mixers


Charleston-based Cannonborough Beverage Co. started making its fresh fruit sodas in 2012, where they are sold for drinking soda and for use as cocktail mixers. These all-natural sodas come in 750ml bottles (the crown caps can be a problem unless you’re preparing drinks for a party or a punch bowl), and can be purchased online from the company.

We tasted all three varieties of the Cannonborough lineup. Thoughts follow.

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Grapefruit Elderflower – Sweet elderflower hits the nose, and with a sip the grapefruit quickly takes over. The sugar-meets-flower notes of the elderflower do battle here, with sweetness shining brightly for a second, before the sour grapefruit finishes things off. My clear favorite of the bunch, I’d love to mix with this versatile product. A-

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Honey Basil – Herbal and sweet on the nose, but the earthy, spicier basil notes run the show on the palate. Seemingly built for mixing with gin, it’s a combination that works very well — as a sweeter alternative to a gin and tonic. Less fun on its own, though. B+

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Ginger Beer – A complex mixer compared the relatively straightforward remainder of the lineup, made with ginger, habanero, vanilla, and cloves. Quite foamy, and much sweeter smelling than I was expecting. Sweet citrus notes — sugared lemon/lime, primarily — hit the palate first, with the racy ginger — crushed bits of ginger root are readily visible in the liquid — providing a fiery, bracing finish. A bit scattered. B

each $10 per 750ml bottle /