Review: Chattanooga Whiskey Co. 1816 Cask and 1816 Reserve American Whiskey

chatanooga 1816

Chattanooga Whiskey may be the only distillery operating in the town of Chattanooga, Tennessee (though the label says the company is based in Nashville), but like many upstart distilleries, the whiskey, at present, isn’t actually made here yet. While it seems white dog started flowing here in early 2015 (when it finally became legal to do so), none of that stuff is ready for bottling, of course. What’s actually in the bottles reviewed below instead comes from our friends in Indiana at MGP.

Two versions of Chattanooga Whiskey are presently on offer, and the whiskeys are currently available in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. We tried them both. Should you choo-choose them? Read on!

Chattanooga Whiskey Co. 1816 Reserve Handcrafted Whiskey – Made from a mash of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley, then aged 6 1/2 years in oak. Note that, paradoxically, the “1816 Reserve” is the entry level bottling. This is solid stuff — technically bourbon, I would think, as it is not processed after it hits the barrel, though the label just calls it “whiskey.” Altogether things are showing beautifully. It features a nice collection of rye spices — namely cinnamon and sultry butterscotch, plus some mint — atop a nicely crafted and balanced caramel- and vanilla-heavy core. Some barrel char makes an appearance and offers a very slightly smoky edge late in the game, but otherwise it’s a straightforward and sweet operator from start to finish. Well done. 90 proof. A- / $33

Chattanooga Whiskey Co. 1816 Cask Tennessee Stillhouse American Whiskey – This is a barrel selection of whiskeys that are bottled at cask strength, but it’s unclear if this is simply a small batching of the above 1816 Reserve or if different mashes and/or ages are used. Fruity, with prominent baking spices on the nose. On the tongue, it’s much softer than the over-110 proof alcohol level would indicate, with chewy apple notes, cinnamon, butterscotch, and a little barrel char. As the finish develops, notes of warming cayenne and stronger cinnamon and clove notes start to emerge, fading out on a somewhat racy, peppery note. All in all, it’s an enjoyable and fruit-forward whiskey that makes for a fun solo sipper, but it also mixes quite well. That said, the 1816 Reserve is the more fulfilling experience. 113.6 proof. B+ / $43

Tasting the Wines of Marchesi de’Frescobaldi, Late 2015 Releases

Frescobaldi-Giramonte-zoomUnlike the rest of Italy, our friends at Tuscany’s Marchesi de’Frescobaldi never seem to rest. Today we take a look (via online tasting with winemaker Niccolo D’Afflitto) at four recent releases from this legendary producer’s stables, including some of its most renowned bottlings.

2012 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Pomino Bianco Benefizio Riserva DOC – This is a Tuscan chardonnay, oaked but not overly so due to partial maturation in used barrels. Quite restrained, it evokes gentle fruit flavors and lots of stony minerals, with a moderately buttery finish. The wine ends up somewhere between Old World and New World, straddling these two styles nicely. B+ / $40

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Mormoreto Toscana IGT – 64% cabernet sauvignon, 26% cabernet franc, 5% petit verdot, and 5% merlot. A bit of an “entry level” Supertuscan, this is a classy wine with dense fruit up front and lengthy forest notes that follow. Dark cherry and blackberry flavors, almost raisin-like at times, attack the palate, then notes of tobacco, mushroom, and forest floor bring up the rear. Savory and dense with a lengthy finish. Quite food friendly. A- / $55

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Giramonte Toscana IGT – A blend of merlot and sangiovese, proportions unstated. Lush and lively, this is a wine that showcases the best of two grape varieties, offering dense violet florals from the merlot, and bright cherry fruit from the sangiovese. A bit of coffee ground character comes along on the back end. Slightly smoky and dusty at times, the wine layers on a subtle earthiness that adds complexity without making it austere and overly pastoral. Lovely on its own or with a meal. A / $90

2009 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Ripe Al Convento Di Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva – Showing some nice age, this Brunello (100% sangiovese, of course) is an exercise in restraint: Slightly sour cherries, dried rosemary and thyme, and a slight dusting of black pepper. Everything is dialed back, though — almost an echo of another wine. Earthy, mushroomy notes develop as the finish starts to build, with just a dollop of blackberry jam polishing things off on the end. A- / $100

Revew: Chateau du Tariquet Armagnacs – Blanche, VS Classique, VSOP, XO, and 1993 Vintage

Tariquet XONo longer using the “Domaine du Tariquet” name (see earlier coverage here under the old identifier), Tariquet now produces both wines and spirits under the “Chateau du Tariquet” moniker.

Recently we received a monster shipment of the Tariquet lineup, from the unaged blanche to a vintage offering distilled 22 years ago.

Away we go!

Chateau du Tariquet Blanche Armagnac – Made from 100% folle blanche grapes, and bottled unaged as an eau de vie. Floral and fruity on the nose, with medicinal overtones. On the palate, it offers notes of honeysuckle, lavender, and the essence of canned peaches and pears. A musty, green character emerges with time, tempering the up-front sweetness with a finish that veers into vegetal character. Think of a white whiskey that’s lighter on its feet and more balanced and you have an idea where this white brandy is headed. 92 proof. B- / $50

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac VS Classique – 60% ugni blanc and 40% baco, aged 3 years at least. Reviewed last year here, this entry level brandy offers a nose of raisin and spice, citrus fruit, and sweet vanilla. The body is simple but plenty enjoyable, with nutty notes compounding the above fruitier notes, all mixed with a rustic brush that evokes some ethanol and hospital notes from time to time. I like it somewhat less today than my prior rave would indicate, but for a daily brandy at a solid price, it’s still worth a look. 80 proof. B / $35

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac VSOP – Same grape breakdown as the above, but this bottling is at least 7 years old. Here we see the Tariquet house style pushing harder on its deeper, nuttier characteristics. Brown butter, sweet pastries, and stronger vanilla notes give this brandy a more rounded and fully-formed character, with touches of roasted marshmallows, marzipan, and banana bread coming to the fore. There’s lots to enjoy here, with the racy finish giving it an edge (and some fruit) that keeps the experience alive. 80 proof. A- / $46

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac XO – Same grapes, at least 15 years in barrel. Again, the level of depth gets pushed further, and deeper, with intense notes of nuts, plus chocolate and coffee. The fruit is darker, restrained, and more brooding, heavy with plum and cassis, and dusted with cloves and ground ginger. Dark chocolate rules on the finish. I usually prefer my older Cognac showing a bit more fruit, but this expression offers its own enjoyable, though different, drinking experience. 80 proof. A- / $70

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac 1993 Vintage – Again the same grapes, all harvested in 1993. Bottled in 2010, making this a 17 year old spirit. There’s more heat on the nose, which might make you fear for a heavy, alcoholic bomb. Push through to the body, where you’ll find a lush brandy awaits you. Dense caramel and huge raisin notes start things off, followed by chocolate, lighter coffee, vanilla, and a mix of baking spices. The finish is lengthy and sweet, with orange Dreamsicle notes and a touch of black pepper. In need of a touch more balance, but lovely nonetheless. 90.4 proof. A- / $100

Diving into Sherry: Hidalgo Fino and Bodegas Dios Baco Oxford 1.970 Pedro Ximenez

WFS_InfographicsSherry is slowly making inroads into the U.S., but even those who enjoy it don’t know a whole lot about Spain’s classic fortified wine. Fortunately, our friends from Wines From Spain have put together a handy infographic outlining and explaining the six major varieties of sherry, along with general information about how Jerez (Spanish for sherry and also the name of the town nearest to where many sherry grapes are cultivated) is produced. Check it out by clicking the image to the right.

While you’re reading, here’s a look at a couple of popular bottlings of the stuff, produced in two very different styles.

Emilio Hidalgo Fino Jerez Seco – Fino is the lightest and driest of sherry styles, made from Palomino Fino grapes and lightly aged with a blanket of yeast, called flor, on top of it. In many ways this is sherry at its purest, and it’s what most people likely think of when they think about sherry. Dry to an extreme, this Fino presents notes of nuts, melon, and a bit of sea spray — in many ways it reminds me of sake, and it can be consumed in similar fashion. The finish is Pedro Ximénez (1)where things go a bit off-track for me — that dryness turning astringent, with some petrol notes overstaying their welcome. 15% abv. C+ / $16

Bodegas Dios Baco Oxford 1.970 Pedro Ximenez Jerez – The other side of the sherry universe, made from Pedro Ximenez grapes and ages without flor (the 1970 is just a brand name, not a vintage), then sweetened up for bottling. Deep brown/almost black in color, the Oxford 1.970 is loaded with notes of spiced raisins, coffee, chocolate, and lots of figs. A cousin to Port, it’s less brooding and more fruit-forward, those fig notes elevating the sherry into a livelier less intense experience. 17% abv. A- / $17 (500ml)

Review: Ke Gin

ke ginFort Worth, Texas-based Ke Spirits’ Ke Gin “is going to change how people think about gin,” at least according to the company. Made from a purported 500-year-old recipe, the goal is to make a gin with softer juniper notes and less evergreen character — “a rich, smooth, and refreshing experience,” as the founder puts it.

The complete botanical bill isn’t disclosed, but in addition to juniper, Sicilian lemon, bitter orange, cardamom, and coriander, there are four other ingredients in the mix.

Sure enough, it is a citrus-forward spirit, and as soft as Ke promises. The nose offers bergamot notes and a dusting of marshmallow, very gentle and almost innocuous. The body takes that citrus and runs full bore with it. Orange and lemon notes hit hard and build; after a time, some lightly earthy/herbal notes come into the fold and offer some added nuance. The finish is clean and rather short.

What’s missing here? Juniper is all but absent in this gin, but that shouldn’t be surprising, really — Ke tells you at the start that it’s trying to temper the arboreal notes in this gin, and that’s where they’ve succeeded admirably.

If your tastes run to oranges over evergreens, give Ke a shot.

80 proof.

B+ / $28 /

Review: 4 Pearl Vodka Flavors – Lime Basil, Strawberry Basil, Chocolate Hazelnut, and Pumpkin Spice

pearlIntroducing four new flavors from Luxco-owned Pearl Vodka (which recently rebranded all its bottles with a more streamlined design) — two fruity/basil blends, two dessert-focused for winter sipping. Let’s give them all a sample.

All are 70 proof.

Pearl Vodka Lime Basil – Gentler than you’d think. Heavy on candied lime peel, with just a hint of racier, Thai-style basil on the back end. Modest in structure, pure in its flavor elements, and offering a crisp body with a short finish. It’s a fine alternative to Hangar One Kaffir LimeA

Pearl Vodka Strawberry Basil – Somewhat chemical-smelling on the nose, a common problem with strawberry vodkas. There’s no hint of basil in the aroma, but on the palate it offers a heat more akin to black pepper than any kind of herb. A heavily sweetened finish washes that away, though, leaving behind a bit of a medicinal character. B

Pearl Vodka Chocolate Hazelnut – So, Nutella vodka! Nails it on the nose — though it’s heavier on hazelnut than chocolate. The palate isn’t far off, either. Cinnamon is a distinct secondary character but otherwise this vodka exudes lovely hazelnuts dusted with cocoa powder. Some vanilla marshmallow notes emerge on the finish. Dessert-focused vodkas like this are often largely undrinkable, but this is a surprising winner. A-

Pearl Vodka Pumpkin Spice – Far more restrained than I’d expected, with classic brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and clove notes. The sweetness is at first dialed back, but it doesn’t take long to start building up on the palate. As it begins to coat the mouth, it leaves behind a saccharine character that eventually becomes too much and hangs around for far too long. B-

each $13 /

Review: 21st Amendment El Sully Mexican Style Lager

el sullyYou needn’t head all the way down to Mazatlan to get a Mexican beer: 21st Amendment is making a Mexican-style brew right here in San Leandro, California. One sniff of El Sully and you’ll be transported to your favorite beach — or, probably, your local sports bar — wherever it is you tend to sip on Mexibrews.

Rich with lightly sweet malt and slightly vegetal in that way that all Mexican beers are, it sure smells authentic from the get-go. The body is richer and more rounded than your typical Modelo or Corona — it comes across as almost German at times — but otherwise cuts a familiar profile — sweetness, some popcorn, a touch of mushroom, and a long, lightly bitter and mildly hoppy experience. The finish is quite lengthy for this style, but nothing if not refreshing.

4.8% abv.

A- / $8 per six-pack of 12 oz. cans /