Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

beer barrel bourbon 118x300 Review: New Holland Beer Barrel BourbonMichigan’s New Holland Brewing Company puts my thoughts about its Beer Barrel Bourbon right on the label: Beer finished in Bourbon casks: Sure. Bourbon finished in beer casks: Sounds a little weird.

Beer Barrel Bourbon (no mashbill provided) is first aged in new oak for “several” years at a relatively low 110-115 proof. It’s then finished for 90 days in barrels that were used for the company’s Dragon’s Milk stout — which, in turn, was itself aged in a former Bourbon barrel. The cycle is endless!

The provenance of barrel from whiskey to beer to whiskey may be a little tricky to full grasp, but the results speak more clearly, and for themselves.

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Review: Master of Malt Origin Single Estate Gins

origin single estate juniper series 300x232 Review: Master of Malt Origin Single Estate GinsIt’s well known that Pinot Noir from California tastes different than Pinot Noir from France — even if the wines are made identically. But does the concept of terroir extend to spirits like gin, too? Can juniper berries sourced from the far ends of the world really express their differences after going through the long process of distillation and bottling as gin?

Master of Malt sets out to find the answer with this, the Origin Series of Single Estate gins. Seven versions are on offer, each made with juniper sourced from a single location, each in a different country (all are in Europe). Each batch arrives in a bottle that is distilled just from juniper, with no other botanicals added. However, a small add-on vial of distilled botanicals (the usual gin stuff) comes with each bottle. To turn your juniper-flavored spirit into real gin, just add the vial to the bottle and you’ve got single-estate gin, with all the fixings. (Note: You can buy them as minis if you don’t want to shell out for full bottles of seven experimental gins.)

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Book Review: Extreme Brewing

 Book Review: Extreme BrewingWe presented Alt Whiskeys previously. Now we have Extreme Brewing. Written by Sam Calagione, owner of the highly-esteemed Dogfish Head Brewery, Extreme Brewing is a treatise on how to make beers that push the boundaries of the beverage. Several dozen recipes are included, ranging from the expected pilsners and lagers to stuff that includes pumpkin, cranberries, and Port-soaked oak chips. A number of recipes for commercially-available brews, like Dogfish Head’s prized 60 Minute IPA and Allagash’s Belgian Wit, are in the mix, too.

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Review: Aviation Gin (2013 Bottling)

aviation gin 2013 label 142x300 Review: Aviation Gin (2013 Bottling)“New Western Dry Gin” from House Spirits in Portland, Oregon, Aviation has been a popular spirit across the U.S. since its launch in 2006. We’re finally getting around to reviewing it seven years later, just in time for a brand new bottle design (pictured at right), which is being rolled out later this year. (The recipe hasn’t changed, mind you.)

The botanicals in this gin (distilled from rye) are by and large traditional, though they offer enough uniqueness to be evocative of the Pacific Northwest, where Aviation is made. The roster includes: Juniper, cardamom, lavender, Indian sarsaparilla, coriander, anise seed, and dried orange peel.

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Review: 2009 Michael David Sloth and Gluttony Zinfandels

We last covered Michael David’s top-end, big-dollar, sin-monikered Zins in late 2011. This time around (Lust is absent, sorry), the ratings are reversed. Thoughts follow.

2009 Michael David Sloth Zinfandel – Made from 30 year old vines located in Mendocino. Blended with a small amount of Petite Sirah. A really drinkable wine, the jamminess is surprisingly restrained vs. most Zins. Instead you get a supple, modestly tannic wine with a decent amount of acid. Fruit character is primarily in the blueberry realm, with some spice on the back end. Good stuff. A- / $55

2009 Michael David Gluttony Zinfandel – Made from 86 year old vines in Amador County, again with Petite Sirah blended in. A wildly different wine. Very woody and very pruny, with a cloying, almost medicinal finish. Black as night. Simply too overpowering, even for Zinfandel. B- / $55

Review: Yao Ming Family Wines, 2009 Vintages

Yao Ming Bottle Shots 211x300 Review: Yao Ming Family Wines, 2009 VintagesIt’s not every day we get to try a $625 wine made by a former pro basketball player. OK, it’s never when that happens.

Chinese phenomenon Yao Ming recently got the celebrity winemaker bug and launched his own wine label, but with a twist: His primary market is his homeland of China, and the U.S. is almost an afterthought.

Now don’t get the impression that Yao is making wine in his garage for kicks. He’s partnered with longtime winemaking guru Thomas Hinde to craft Yao Family Wines, which lovingly pay homage to his affection for Napa Cabernet. Yao is involved in the process, particularly regarding blending decisions.

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Experiment: Ice vs. Whiskey Stones vs. Tilt Chilling Sphere

ice stones and spheres oh my 300x224 Experiment: Ice vs. Whiskey Stones vs. Tilt Chilling SphereThe drinking industry’s war on ice is in full force. Fearful that ice will water down their precious booze, entrepreneurs are suggesting alternative chilling systems to bring the temperature of their hooch down.

But do they work? Ice is effective at chilling a drink because it melts, releasing near-frozen water into your dram. Can alternative technologies do the job, too? There are whiskey stones (soapstone cubes), or the new Tilt Chilling Sphere, a metal spheroid that you fish out of your drink with an included hook, which doubles as a cocktail pick. How effective can these non-melting chilling systems be?

We did the science, folks!

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Review: Dalwhinnie 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2012

Dalwhinnie 25 Year Old 212x300 Review: Dalwhinnie 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2012Last released in the special edition Classic Malts series as a 20 year old in 2007, this central Highlands whisky (from one of the highest distilleries in Scotland) strikes again as a well-aged 25 year old in its fourth edition. Aged in a rejuvenated American oak hogshead.

Quite light, golden color. Nutty, lightly herbal on the nose, with touches of cinnamon rolls. The body has more of a grain element to it,  rich with more of that distinct nuttiness, but it’s a bit difficult to peg many specifics within. A bit of cherry, rich malted grains, and a bit of cocoa powder on the finish. It’s a whisky that invites rediscovery and continued exploration, though it’s a step down from a knockout.

104.2 proof.

A- / $289 /

Book Review: Lapham’s Quarterly: Intoxication

LQIntox Book Review: Laphams Quarterly: IntoxicationFor nearly three decades, essayist and author Lewis Lapham steered the good ship Harper’s as its editor-in-chief and figurehead. He stepped down from the masthead five years ago, and went on to establish a journal of history and ideas, Lapham’s Quarterly, tackling contemporary topics and placing them in a historical context. He calls on voices across time to establish an educational and entertaining narrative in an attempt to build a compelling case that there is truly nothing new under the sun. In every issue Lapham asserts and presents evidence that many of the issues and events we face today have happened before in some incarnation on the dotted timeline of our past.

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Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2012

Lagavulin 12 Year Old 212x300 Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2012Diageo’s Classic Malts Selection is an annual line of very rare and exotic single malt whiskys, all bottled at cask strength, and the 2013 releases are just now starting to arrive.

Today we start our look at these releases — eight total, seven available in the U.S. — with one reviewed each day.

First out of the gate is a perennial part of the Classic Malts Selection, a 12 year old from Lagavulin on Islay. This is the eleventh Lagavulin 12 Year Old in this series (now called Limited Edition instead of Distillers Edition), and fans of the island distillery will find ample familiarity here. Ultra-pale sunlight color, plenty of smoky peat burning on the nose. It’s a very hot whisky, all fire and ashes at bottle strength. Water helps tame the beast, turning up lots of sweetness. There’s burnt marshmallow, iodine, some lemon (lemonade), and black tea notes, too. It’s all filtered through peat, of course, but in a complex, exciting, and engaging way. Worthwhile.

112.2 proof.

A- / $111 /

Review: Kirkland Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 20 Years Old Sherry Cask Finish

516 224x300 Review: Kirkland Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 20 Years Old Sherry Cask FinishOne of the questions I get asked the most is, You don’t buy much booze, do you?

Well, no, I don’t. I give away and pour out more wine and spirits than I could possibly keep on hand, a natural by-product of having reviewed close to 2000 products over the last several years. (Heresy, some say, but how big is your house?)

That said, I actually do buy stuff from time to time — products that I really like, products that aren’t available for review, and products that are just too interesting to pass up. This product fulfills two of those criteria: Whenever I’m at Costco, I check the whisky aisle for private label Scotch. These are invariably pretty good and, more to the point, very cheap. They are rarely on the market, though — the last one I saw was a private-label Macallan 18 in 2008 (though others have been produced) — so when I saw this year’s offering, a 20-year-old for $45, I snapped it up.

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Review: Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters

woodford reserve spiced cherry bitters 214x300 Review: Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry BittersI’m not sure why it’s taken so long for a whiskey company to get into the bitters business, but Woodford Reserve has finally opened that door, introducing its first bitters, barrel-aged and spiced cherry-flavored. Crafted in conjunction with Bourbon Barrel Foods, the bitters are specifically designed for use in a Manhattan cocktail (and presumably one with Woodford Reserve Bourbon in it).

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Review: Russell Henry Gin Lineup

Who the heck is Russell Henry? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing Craft Distillers is referring to this guy, a chemist and expert in digestion from the late 1800s. Not sure he had anything to do with gin, but in a funny coincidence, there is a Henry Russell who wrote about the cotton gin in this book.

Think about all of that while you sip on these gins, namesakes of, er, somebody (but not distiller Crispin Cain). One is a London Dry. Two are flavored gins — unusual, but since gin is really just flavored vodka, not a crazy idea. Both of the flavors are, per Craft Distillers, “works in progress” that they will continue to tinker with.

Thoughts follow on the state of these gins as of January 2013.

Russell Henry London Dry Gin – More piney than juniper, like a walk through an evergreen forest. You don’t get the overwhelming prickliness of juniper-heavy gins, instead finding sweetness, citrus, and cardamom notes. Hints of pepper on the nose. Great overall structure and balance, but very light on the body. It will stand up to simple tonic but is likely too delicate for more complex cocktails. 93.4 proof. A-

Russell Henry Malaysian Lime Gin – Made with leaves and fruit from limau purut limes from, yes, Malaysia. Not much lime on the nose here, and it’s very slight on the body, too. Slightly earthy and with just a touch of lemon/lime character, but otherwise difficult to distinguish from the London Dry. 94 proof. A-

Russell Henry Hawaiian Ginger Gin – The ginger is organic, from Kauai. Far stronger and more unique, with a distinct ginger character on the nose that melds nicely with the citrus elements. The notes from the London Dry still apply, plus a spicy kick in the end. I like the way it all works together. This is the gin to use in that exotic cocktail you’re making — or even something to spice up a simple G&T. 94.6 proof. A-

1200 bottles of each are initially being produced. Arriving this month nationally.


Review: Ventura Limoncello and Orangecello

Based in Ventura County, California, Ventura makes limoncello year-round from SoCal lemons and produces orangecello from local blood oranges on a seasonal basis. (A limoncello crema is also made.) We sampled the two main products. Thoughts follow.

Both are 58 proof. No artificial colors or flavors added. Continue reading

Review: Bulleit 10 Bourbon 10 Years Old

Bulleit Bourbon 10 years old Bulleit 10 133x300 Review: Bulleit 10 Bourbon 10 Years OldOne of the biggest success stories in recent years in the Bourbon world has been Bulleit, a brand that came from nowhere and has since become ubiquitous on back bars throughout the country. Bulleit is affordable, good, and easy to drink straight or as a mixer. It doesn’t hurt that Tom Bulleit is one of the nicest guys in the business, and his daughter Hollis is one of the most flamboyant.

After extending the line with a fine, if uninspired, rye whiskey, Bulleit is back with a third expression, Bulleit 10. Put simply, it’s a 10 year old version of the standard Bulleit mashbill (heavy on the rye), set aside for a few extra years to see what would happen. (“Orange label” Bulleit has no age statement, but it is bottled at six years old.)

That’s a lot more time in barrel, so how does it all pan out? Well, we tasted it.

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Review: Cacao Prieto Single Origin Cacao Rum Liqueurs

 Review: Cacao Prieto Single Origin Cacao Rum LiqueursSingle-origin coffee beans? Sure. Single-origin chocolate bars? Why not?

How about single-origin cacao liqueur, then?

Can turning cacao beans from a single estate really make a difference? Is it actually possible for the individual character of a cacao bean to make it through the distillation process and into the finished product? Well, we’re about to find out, thanks to Brooklyn’s Cacao Prieto, which produces three cacao and rum liqueurs, all made from cacao beans sourced from different estates in the Dominican Republic.

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Review: The Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 6 Single Malt

balvenie tun 1401 batch 6 225x300 Review: The Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 6 Single MaltBalvenie’s Tun 1401 is a series of special releases that have been hitting the market, each batch typically a regional release exclusive to an individual country or two. Batch 3 was the first U.S. exclusive. Now there’s Batch 6, another U.S.-only bottling composed of whisky from seven traditional (ex-Bourbon) casks and two sherry butts.

Balvenie tells you the barrel number of each of these casks, but nothing more, only that the casks selected for this batching span “a number of decades.” For reference, Batch 3 had whisky in it as well-aged as 45 years old. And it was a knockout.

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Tasting the Craft Brews of Hangar 24

Not to be confused with Hanger One, Hangar 24 is a beermaking operation in Redlands, California, where it creates some 30 different brews. The company sent us 6 of its beers — in various size bottles — to check out. Thoughts follow.

Hangar 24 Amarillo Pale Ale- Straightforward American pale ale, hoppy but not overwhelmingly bitter, and sweeter than most pale ale styles. Some nuttiness on the nose leads to a modest orange character on the finish. In between: tasty hops. I’m not sure they drink anything like this anywhere near Amarillo (yes it’s named for the hops, not the town), but I’ll take it. 5.5% abv. A- / (12 oz.)

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Review: Georgetown Trading Co. Pow-Wow Botanical Rye

pow wow botanical rye 116x300 Review: Georgetown Trading Co. Pow Wow Botanical RyeFrom Georgetown Trading Company (the importer of the masterful John L. Sullivan Irish Whiskey), comes this extreme oddity — a flavored/infused rye whiskey.

Flavored whiskeys are growing in popularity as a category, but they’re mainly Bourbon or Irish, and honey and cinnamon are the predominant flavoring agents. Pow-Wow Botanical Rye is a straight rye whiskey that’s infused with saffron, orange peel, and other whole botanicals (not oils or other flavoring agents), which makes it doubly unique in the world o’ whiskey. (The specific mashbill is not specified, nor is the barrel aging program; the whiskey is warehoused in Kentucky.) Continue reading

Review: WhistlePig “TripleOne” 111 Straight Rye Whiskey 2012

whistlepig 111 300x300 Review: WhistlePig TripleOne 111 Straight Rye Whiskey 2012Since its release two years ago, WhistlePig has garnered a well-deserved reputation for producing one of the best 100% rye whiskeys in the biz — spicy, yet sweet and balanced. Now the company has upped the ante, with a slightly older (11 years instead of 10 years) and slightly hotter (111 proof instead of 100 proof) spin on the original. One feels that if WhistlePig could have figured out a way to squeeze 111% rye into the bottle instead of 100%, it would’ve.)

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