Review: Iichiko Kurobin Shochu and Yuzu Liqueur

iichiko Kurobin

We last visited with two of Iichiko’s shochus in 2013. Today we look at a third variety from Iichiko, plus a liqueur made from yuzu fruit. Thoughts follow.

Iichiko Kurobin Shochu – No production information available; “Kurobin” means “black bottle.” Heavy melon notes on the nose, with a touch of sugar distinctly sake-like. Nose and palate are both very, very mild, offering basic of honeydew notes, a pinch of sea salt, and just the barest essence of citrus. The most neutral shochu I’ve encountered, this is an elegant, if uncomplex, spirit that would work well as a lower-alcohol alternative in any drink that calls for vodka. 50 proof. A- / $32

Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur – An Asian spin on triple sec, made from barley and natural fruit juice; this is essentially watered-down, flavored shochu, tinted just the faintest shade of yellow. On the nose, distinctive notes of lemongrass, lightly tropical elements, and a bit of Meyer lemon rind. The body folds in a slightly vegetal cilantro character which adds some balance to what could have been overly sweet The very low alcohol level might cause this to get lost in a complex cocktail, but give it a try in a margarita, sidecar, or similar. 16 proof. A- / $11 (375ml)

iichiko.co.jp

Review: Highland Park ICE Edition 17 Years Old

ICE Bottle Cradle 700ml LR

Highland Park continues its release of rarities with ICE Edition, a limited release of 17 year old single malt whisky. Now that it’s exhausted the Norse pantheon, more or less, it’s moving on to the elements. This is the first in a series, though how far it will go is a mystery for now.

HP offers a mountain of information about the inspiration behind the release. While it’s short on actual production data (we do know it’s a 17 year old, and seems to be fairly traditionally produced in the Highland Park style), it does tell quite a story to at least get you in the mood:

Highland Park, the award-winning single malt whisky, is proud to announce the launch of ICE Edition.  This stunning expression celebrates the Viking roots of the brand’s Orkney Islands home, where the Norse influence and culture existed for hundreds of years before Highland Park single malt whisky was even created.

Naturally vivid and radiant in color with a 53.9% abv, this special edition is limited to only 3,915 bottles for the U.S.

In blue tinted, bespoke glass reflecting dazzling and glittering ice, the bottle shape has been designed to evoke the distinctive sharpness and coolness of the mythical, magical Ice Realm.  The bottle is encased in a stunning mountain-shaped wooden cradle with an accompanying wooden stopper.

The intricate circle design on the label itself represents the circle of life – the creation of the world, protected by a dragon, which is a mythical creature often central in classic Norse mythology.  A booklet accompanying this new expression, recounts the story of the realm of the Ice Giants and their colorful battle against the Gods to rule the world.

ICE Edition will be followed by FIRE Edition in 2017 and follows on from the recent Valhalla Collection, which championed the stories of the four legendary Gods of Asgard:  Thor, Loki, Freya, and Odin.

OK, ready to visit the magical Ice Realm with me?

First up, the whisky is quite light in color, with a bit of a greenish cast even when it’s not in the blue-tinted bottle. The nose is moderately briny, but also quite sweet — simple brown sugar notes engaging curiously with iodine and just a touch of peat smoke. A touch of orange blossom notes add a floral element after the whisky gets some air.

On the palate, the sugary sweetness initially dominates, quickly morphing into a fruity, citrus character. Some tropical notes grow in time as well. Lightly oily, the emerging iodine kick is heavy, giving the whisky a solid sense of the sea, complete with an ashy, coal-fired cruiser putting around in the water. The finish is light in comparison to the typical Highland Park bottling, despite the relatively high alcohol level, though the lingering smokiness is both unusual and somewhat enchanting.

HP fans will easily find it worth a look.

107.8 proof.

A- / $300 / highlandpark.co.uk

Review: Beronia 2011 Rioja Crianza and 2010 Rioja Reserva

beronia

These affordable Rioja wines actually include the grape breakdown on the labels, a rarity for Spanish wines. Naturally, both expressions are mostly tempranillo, with some other native grapes added for kick. While I did not try pairing them with seafood, Beronia is suggesting they would pair well thusly. If you try them with the other, other, other white meat, please let us know how the pairing turns out!

2011 Beronia Rioja Crianza – 90% tempranillo, 8% garnacha, 2% mazuelo. A somewhat dusty wine, but pleasant and rounded with currants, brambly berries, tobacco leaf, and licorice notes, all in reasonable balance. The fruity finish comes off a bit young, and slightly immature. B / $16

2010 Beronia Rioja Reserva – 94% tempranillo, 4% graciano, 2% mazuelo. The wine starts off a touch thin but it reveals more of its charms after a moment, taking dense fruit notes and layering on notes of tobacco, leather, and a touch of coffee bean. Nicely balanced between fruit and more savory notes, its long finish adds a lightly herbal and balsamic element to the mix. A- / $21

beronia.com

Review: Wicked Dolphin Coconut Rum and Spiced Rum

Wicked Dolphin

Never mind the cringeworthy name: Wicked Dolphin is a quality rum made not in the Caribbean but in Florida (Cape Coral, specifically), where it has been distilled from local sugar cane since 2012.

Wicked Dolphin makes a white rum (not reviewed here), but it’s best known for its spiced version. Below we’ve got a review of both it and Wicked Dolphin’s coconut-flavored rum below. Thoughts follow.

Wicked Dolphin Coconut Rum – Made with real coconut water. The rum offers a fairly standard nose for this style, sweet and authentically coconut, without harsh overtones. The body offers a mild departure from the expected — with the distinctly milky, creamy notes of coconut water vs. the harsher, biting notes of more widely used coconut extracts. This makes for a fairly gentle rum in a world where not a lot of nuance is the norm, fresh on the fiish, with lightly nutty notes lingering as it fades. 60 proof. A- / $23

Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced Rum – Tastes like Florida? (Gators and tourists?) Actually, the white rum is flavored with honey, oranges, and various spices — plus a bit of aged rum to round things out. Unlike most spiced rums, it is bottled at full proof. The honey notes are clear and striking both on the nose and palate, with a heavy cinnamon and clove character underneath. Initially somewhat bitter with heavy orange peel notes, it opens up over time as the citrus becomes juicier and more floral, lending the rum a somewhat soothing character. The finish offers a touch of sweetness, but it’s held in check by the more savory herbal notes. Definitely worth experimenting with in cocktails. 80 proof. B / $25

wickeddolphinrum.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric Bourbon 22 Years Old

rhetoric 22 years old

Diageo’s Orphan Barrel project has an ambitious goal with the Rhetoric brand. First released as a 20 year old in 2014, it was further aged and reissued as a 21 year old last year, and as a 22 year old this month. 23, 24, and 25 year olds will be forthcoming through the remainder of the decade.

We have had the good fortune to taste the new release alongside both the 20 and 21… a practice we hope to keep running over the course of the six whiskey releases (supplies in our stock permitting).

Here’s how Rhetoric 22 (still 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye, distilled at Bernheim in the early 1990s) shapes up against its forebears.

At age 22, Rhetoric is showing ample wood — one might say it’s become the primary focus of the bourbon at this point in its life — though the nose backs that up with some aromas of Port wine and a touch of orange peel. On the palate, barrel char and lumberyard hit first, followed by soothing vanilla and toffee notes. Secondary notes run to red fruits, namely raspberries, plus heavy notes of cloves and mint chocolate. This is a quite complex whiskey, with a lengthy finish. There’s ample heat here, which is surprising given that the whiskey is barely 45% abv, but a couple of drops of water help it open up.

Looking back, I like the 21 a bit less now than I did upon last year. It is now showing a bit heavy on winey notes up front, though the lovely brown sugar character that cascades on the lightly woody finish are still working well. The 20 year old is still showing well, with stronger menthol notes and sizable wood character on the finish.

90.4 proof.

A- / $110 / diageo.com

Tasting Summer Wines from Germany – 2013 S.A. Prum Luminance and 2013 Guztler Pinot Noir

sa_prum_luminance_ries_mv_750

German wines are only made for roast pork knuckles and boiled sausages with lots of kraut, right? Not so. Here’s a look at a couple of German bottlings that are down-right cool for the summer, designed for lighter fare.

2013 S.A. Prüm Luminance Dry Riesling – A lovely Mosel riesling, offering a mix of citrus and tropical character, with ample acid to back up all that fruit. I wouldn’t exactly call it “dry” — there’s plenty of juicy fruit here to give at least the impression of sweetness, and just a touch of caramel sauce particularly on the nose — but it works well as a food companion and as an aperitif on its own. A- / $15

2013 Guztler Pinot Noir Dry – Germany’s not my go-to region for great pinot (note the prominent “dry” indication on the label), but this bottling from Gutzler, in the Rheinhessen (western central Germany), isn’t half bad. Up front it offers fruit, but restrained, showing a hint of spice atop its easy cherry core. The finish has a little of that classically German, mushroomy funk, but otherwise offers a clean and food-friendly profile. B / $20

Review: Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve, Complete Lineup (2016)

milagro single barrel

Milagro is a run-of-the-mill tequila brand that nonetheless produces one of the most expensive product lines in Mexico, the Select Barrel Reserve line, which comes packaged in an elaborate bottle designed to look like an agave plant erupting from the interior of the decanter. It’s a neat trick that earns some premium coin for these three expressions.

We previously reviewed the silver Milagro SBR bottling back in 2010, but have never covered the rest of the lineup. Until now.

Here’s a fresh look at the 2016 silver bottling of the Select Barrel Reserve, plus the reposado and anejo versions.

All expressions are 80 proof.

Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Silver – Mellowed for 30 days in French oak before bottling (presumably after filtering back to clear). Strongly peppery and a bit vegetal on the nose, with no trace of sweetness. The body tells a much different story, offering cotton candy, marshmallows, and bubble gum notes, leading to a lingering vanilla-scented finish. A curious and often engaging sipping tequila, though one that doesn’t drink much like a silver at all. B+ / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Reposado – Aged from three to six months in a combination of French and American oak. Similar aromas to the silver, though some baking spice aromas develop with time in glass. The body offers some wood notes, with notes of chocolate, coconut, and lemongrass. Some peppery agave bite endures on the finish, giving this more complexity than the silver shows off. A- / $56  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Anejo – Aged from 14 to 24 months in a combination of French and American oak. Here we see the SBR really showing its strengths. The nose melds sweet vanilla with peppery and herbal agave notes, all put together with inviting and enticing balance. On the palate, the yin-yang story continues — a more intense version of the reposado presenting itself. The sweetness is relatively restrained, its vanilla and spun sugar notes pulling back into a sort of sugar cookie character. The finish nods at herbaciousness, but this too is minimalistic in tone, adding a slightly savory balance to what is otherwise a sugar-forward spirit. All told it works very well, showing off many of anejo tequila’s more engaging characteristics at their best. A / $100  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

milagrotequila.com [BUY THEM ALL NOW FROM CASKERS]