Category Archives: Rated A-

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

whistlepig 111 300x300 Review: WhistlePig TripleOne 111 Straight Rye Whiskey Since 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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Review: Monkey Shoulder Batch 27 Triple Malt

monkey shoulder 146x300 Review: Monkey Shoulder Batch 27 Triple MaltMonkey Shoulder is a vatted whisky that — despite being a blend of three distillery’s malts — is so rare that shots on the west coast of the U.S. have typically sold for $20 a glass… when entire bottles sell for under $30. I encountered a bottle of Monkey Shoulder on a recent trip to New York — for all of $27 — and snapped it up. (The name is a reference to a malady suffered by floor malters, who get sore shoulders by working their oversized barley shovels for hours on end.

The whisky has no age statement but is a blend of three Speyside whiskys: Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie, with 27 casks total selected for each bottling by malt master David Stewart.

By and large it’s a classic Speyside whisky. The big malty character offers light, brown-sugar sweetness, backed by notes of heather and, intriguingly, distinct touches of iodine. Undernearth that you’ll find cooked fruits, chewy toffee, and notes of incense. It’s more exotic than you’d think. I keep going back to this malt… it’s an easy whisky to like but one that invites tons of discovery. Now that availability is finally expanding, keep an eye out for it.

86 proof.

A- / $27 / monkeyshoulder.com [BUY IT HERE] [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Update: Brand Ambassador Freddy May clears up some of the info about Monkey Shoulder’s heritage and production in this email:

Batch 27 refers to the original Monkey Shoulder batch which was 27 casks vatted together.  The original vatting was made from our three distilleries we have on our site in Dufftown… Kininvie, Glenfiddich & The Balvenie (sometimes affectionately known as the KGB).

Because Brian Kinsman can’t possibly batch it in those numbers anymore we line up runs of 27 at a time for vatting.  Occasionally using other distilleries in the mix, but always three Speyside distilleries and always in first fill American oak (i.e. first time they’ve been used in Scotland).

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society December 2012 Outturn

The SMWS has released its second outturn for December, including four bottlings of whisky — three single malts and a single grain whisky. Thoughts follow on what is an extremely varied batch of spirits.

SMWS Cask 3.184 – 15 year old Bowmore from Islay – A well-balanced Bowmore, with sugar and spice in good balance with the peat. Think cinnamon toast over open coals, apple strudel, sherried mushrooms, and a touch of campfire. Long finish, lots of depth, but surprisingly drinkable at cask strength — 61% alcohol. Distilled 1996, 122.0 proof, 60 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $115

SMWS Cask 48.26 – 23 year old Balmenach from Speyside – My first experience with Balmenach, a strange and unique Speyside whisky. Perfumed candy is my best attempt at describing it. Take a vanilla milkshake and stir in some jasmine, incense, and a melange of assorted potpourri and you have something approaching this whisky. The finish is a little weird, almost saccharine, with distinct cereal and wood barrel notes. Surprisingly pale. Not my cup of tea… which is, in a way, what this whisky resembles in more ways than one. Distilled 1988, 101.0 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. B- / $115

SMWS Cask 125.51 – 9 year old Glenmorangie from the Highlands – A racy dram. Big peppery character up front mellows into marshmallow tones, with baking spices mixed in. Long and smooth, this drinks like a 15 year old malt instead of a mere 9er. Golden and fresh in the way that Glenmorangie can often be, with lots of citrus fruit, lemon, graham crackers, and toffee, it’s the whisky in this batch that I revisited more than any of the others. Distilled 2001, 114.8 proof, 150 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $90

SMWS Cask G9.1 – 11 year old grain whisky from Loch Lomond in the lower Highlands – A brand made famous by its appearance in Tintin — it’s Captain Haddock’s whisky of choice. Definitely “grainy,” it’s got a light and gently herbal/nutty nose that turns toward the earth when you take a sip. The body is chewy, with intense wood, heather, and young grain notes. Not bad for a grain spirit, but the somewhat mushy and unfocused body just doesn’t compare to the real deal. Distilled 2000, 115.6 proof, 48 bottles allocated for U.S. B / $100

smwsa.com

Review: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 Years Old

Nikka Taketsuru 12 years old 97x300 Review: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 Years OldJapanese whisky fans have long been anticipating the arrival of Nikka, a company which operates two separate distilleries in the north of Japan, one (Yoichi) in Hokkaido and one (Miyagikyo) in Sendai, northern Honshu. Thanks to Anchor Distilling, two of Nikka’s malts are making it to the U.S. We finally got to taste the first, Taketsuru Pure Malt, after a sample experience at WhiskyFest last year.

Taketsuru is a vatting (not a blended whisky) of 12 year old malts from both the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries.

This is a quite round and mouth-filling whisky, big and bold with lots of character. Malty grain is the major component — lots of fresh, apple-infused barley, and a body that reminds me of sweetened breakfast cereal. Less Froot Loops and more Corn Pops, perhaps. The finish is slightly honeyed, with very mild smoke, somewhat in the vein of a Highland malt. Lovely balance with a good balance of sugar and grain on the finish. An excellent everyday malt if the price works for you.

80 proof.

A- / $64 / nikka.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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 / newportstorm.com

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 Absinthes.com Sampler Pack

absinthe kit 300x300 Looking for the Green Fairy with an Absinthes.com 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 Absinthes.com 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

fourvines.com

 

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-

magichat.net

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

smwsa.com

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.

A- / $68 / widowjanespirits.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS!]

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.

A- / $150 / enduringspirit.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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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