Review: Glasgow Distillery Co. Prometheus 26 Years Old

promehteusGlasgow Distillery Co. is the producer of Makar Gin, but it also put together this one-off single malt, essentially an independent bottling of a 26 year old whisky sourced from a mystery distillery in Speyside. Oddly, it’s a peated Speyside (and one source on GDC’s website says it’s 27 years old, not 26), so it’s already a bit eyebrow-raising.

I had the tiniest of samples of this rarity, which offers a classic honey/citrus Speyside nose, tempered with a lacing of peat smoke. The peat is extremely light-handed, and peat freaks need not apply. It’s more akin to a fire burning in the chimney next door — just enough to whet your appetite for a winter warmer.

The palate is well balanced and firing just right, with fresh apples, flamed orange peel, spicy chutney, and a touch of white pepper. Just the lightest touch of smoke comes along on the back end — think cedar branches or other evergreen needles aflame — before whisking away with a torched brown sugar note.

Nice stuff.

94 proof.

A- / $930 /

Review: Grey Goose VX Vodka

grey goose vx

High-end vodka has been making a move to the even higher end of late, and one of the forerunners is this intriguing option from perennial top shelfer Grey Groose.

The idea with Grey Goose VX is to take Grey Goose and spike it with “a hint of precious Cognac.” (Remember, after all, this is a French product.) What’s a hint? 5%, according to the bottle, leaving 95% remaining for good old vodka.

Grey Goose VX is clear, which indicates that it’s filtered the way white rum and some tequila is to strip out any color.

What’s inside, though, is clearly not just vodka, as that touch of Cognac makes a significant difference to the body — much like adding a dash of bitters to a cocktail takes the flavor in a whole new direction.

On the nose, it doesn’t let on much (particularly if you let it rest in the glass). There’s just a slight nougat and plum character atop what is already a somewhat sweet vodka to begin with. Novices may not notice the difference at first.

On the palate is where Grey Goose VX begins to shine and break away from its lineage. Here you see significantly stronger notes of white flowers, sultanas, cotton candy, and that distinct, raisiny, sugar-cookie sweetness that comes from good Cognac. It’s a surprising effect given the tiny amount of Cognac in the blend, and it just goes to show again how impactful tiny changes in a spirit’s recipe can be. The finish is satisfying and slightly astringent — the vodka coming back to the fore — but significantly shortened by the addition of the sweeter brandy.

With all of that said, while VX makes for a fine little spirit, one has to marvel at the price. This is 5% Cognac, and 95% vodka! $80 can get you some very good stuff that is 100% Cognac and 0% vodka — not the top shelf but damn close to it. It would not be out of line to suggest that you could recreate this mix at home with a regular bottle of Grey Goose and a nice bottle of XO that you add to your Martini by the drop. See where that takes you.

80 proof.

A- / $80 /

Book Review: Craft Beer for the Homebrewer

51CC+rHbJ7L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Homebrew beer cookbooks are legion, but this title from Michael Agnew is special — it’s stuffed with recipes for (real) craft beers, many of which from brand names you’ve probably actually tried. Lagunitas, Allagash, Rogue, Shmaltz — all of them are well represented among the roughly three dozen recipes in the paperback.

Each recipe spends two pages describing the beer then walking you through its construction, step by step, with precise measurements in both English and metric units. The book is sorted into chapters by style, though some beer types — pale ales and Belgians, namely — are over-represented next to less included lagers, rye, and wheat beers.

No matter. Take a flip through the book and see if there’s something you like in the table of contents. If nothing else, it’s worth the price of admission alone for the specifics on how to make Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ at home!


Review: Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18 Years Old

elijah craig 18 2

Elijah Craig 18 Years Old was originally released in 1994 — but you probably haven’t noticed it on the shelves for the last three years, as the expression has been on “hiatus” due to a lack of available 18 year old bourbon barrels.

Now EC18 is finally back, and for my money, this is Elijah Craig drinking at just about the height of its charms. Get much older (see our 20, 21, and 23 year old EC reviews), and the wood begins to get in the way of what can be a delicate and effusive spirit.

Here we find Elijah sporting a lightly floral nose, honeysuckle mixed in with butterscotch and ample vanilla notes plus hints of barrel char. On the palate, things are firing on all cylinders. First a rush of sweetness, but there’s no sugar bomb here. Rather, that sugar takes a darker turn into molasses, dark cocoa powder, and a touch of bitter roots where that dark barrel char makes itself known. The finish is slight sweet relief, a torched, creamy creme brulee that offers a touch more of that floral note alongside an echo of chimney smoke — a balanced whiskey that melds fire and flowers into a cohesive whole.

90 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #4090, barreled on 6/16/97.

A- / $120 /

Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas 200th Anniversary Edition 2015

Laphroaig_Cairdeas_October 2015

This year’s limited edition Cairdeas bottling from Laphroaig commemorates the distillery’s 200th anniversary. This year, the distillery eschews avant garde wood finishes and goes with a decidedly traditional approach: “The 2015 is produced from our finest malting floor’s malt, distilled using only the smaller stills, and fully matured in our famous No. 1 warehouse, right by the sea. Cairdeas 2015 is John Campbell’s interpretation of how Laphroaig would have been produced at the distillery 200 years ago.”

That’s kind of a neat idea, but it turns out Laphroaig 200 years ago tastes a lot like Laphroaig today. (This makes sense, as consistency is often the avowed goal of any master distiller.)

Cairdeas 2015 offers a heady nose of gentle fruit and sweet peat, mixed together beautifully, with notes of lively wood fires and barbecued meats. The body drinks easy — though it’s bottled at over 100 proof — and is initially heavy with fruits — apples, clementines, and some banana. As the finish arrives, some notes of spiced nuts come along — almost offering a Christmas-like character. The denouement features drying notes of ash and tar — nothing surprising for Laphroaig, but perhaps a bit heavy on an otherwise fruit-heavy whisky.

Nice stuff on the whole, and totally in line with the house style. Laphroaig fans should grab it while they can.

103 proof.

A- / $75 /

Review: Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 and This Is Not a Luxury Whisky

Flaming Heart_pack shotCompass Box is probably the most exciting whisky blender in Scotland right now, and these two new limited releases, if nothing else, show just how avant garde the company can be.

Let’s take a dip into the blending pool, shall we?

Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition – Flaming Heart is a semi-regular blend, released every few years, which takes predominantly Islay and Highland malts and mingles them together in a variety of wood types (including sherry casks). Last made in 2012, this edition really raises the bar. Sultry smoke, laden with iodine and salt spray, kicks things off — with a particularly old school, medicinal character on the nose. On the palate, gentle sweetness — think older Laphroaig — tempers the beast, pumping in a wild collection of flavors: orange candies, rose petals, nougat, marzipan, and some gingerbread/baking spice notes on the back end. There’s just a lovely balance of flavors here, that floral character the most enchanting (and enduring) part of the dram. Incredibly drinkable from start to finish, this is one that both peat freaks and fans of less smoky whiskies can thoroughly enjoy. 97.8 proof. A / $130

This is not a luxury Whisky_pack shotCompass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky – Compass Box CEO John Glaser actually got in trouble with the law when this whisky was first unveiled in Britain. An unorthodox gentleman through and through (you need only consider the name of the spirit, inspired by Magritte, to see that), Glaser published in explicit detail on the back of the bottle the full details of the four whiskies that make up this spirit: 79% Glen Ord (first fill sherry single malt) 19YO, 10.1% Strathclyde (grain) 40YO, 6.9% Girvan (grain) 40YO, and 4% Caol Ila (refill bourbon single malt) 30YO. The problem? Scottish law only lets you write about the youngest whisky, not anything older. Whoops. Labels are being redone, but meanwhile TINALW is getting out there, including this sample to us. Results are scattered. The nose has a deep graininess, with notes of light barbecue smoke, mushroom, and forest floor. On the palate, the spirit is incredibly complex, with initial notes of evergreen needles, mushroom, and tar — but also sweetened grains and soft heather. As it develops on the tongue, the sweetness becomes more intense, developing notes of coconut, banana, marzipan, and baked peaches. Following that comes more smoke — think wet wood trying to ignite, and a rather intense and funky canned vegetable character that really takes a wild departure and ultimately saps the life out of the spirit. At first, TINALW is an exotic but quirky little dram that’s fun to tinker with. By the end, I was ready for something else to liven up the party. 106.2 proof. B / $185

Both on sale November 12.

Review: 2013 Fortress Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County

Fortress BottleSolid effort here from this Sonoma producer, with a layered wine that offers notes of currants, raspberry, and Christmas spices up front. A bitter edge winds through some distinct vanilla notes before settling down for a somewhat racy, almost peppery character on the finish — a nice counterpart to the denser, almost macerated fruit notes up front. I like the way this wine showcases two sides, but works well as a balanced whole. A great food wine, too.

A- / $25 / [website inactive]

Review: Expresiones de Corazon Barrel-Aged Tequila (Blanco, Buffalo Trace Reposado & Van Winkle Anejo) 2015

Corazón_OldRip_Añejo_Bottle_NoStripBack in 2013, Corazon Tequila had the curious idea to take fresh tequila and age it in high-end bourbon barrels rather than the typical Jack and Jim barrels. With five tequilas aged in a variety of casks — including Sazerac 18, George Stagg, and Old Rip Van Winkle — the project was an exercise in pushing 100% agave tequila even further upmarket.

In 2015, Corazon is back at it, but with a more limited approach. Just three expressions — one of each tequila variety — are being offered this time out. Stagg and Sazerac are out this time around.

The barrel’s not the only twist here. There have also been some upgrades to the agave harvest itself. Says Corazon:

Using 100 percent blue agave from the highlands of Jalisco, the brix for Expresiones del Corazon was measured to determine sugar levels before harvest, rather than a traditional clear cut.  Two sets of agave were harvested, one with a lower sugar content and flavored a little drier, and one with a higher sugar content considered a little sweeter for agave, resulting in more floral notes. The result was a harmonization of the two sets of agave in the amazing Blanco, which was then used as the base for the other Expresiones del Corazon.

We were pretty high on the 2013 bottlings. Let’s look at the 2015s, all 80 proof and poured from individually numbered bottles.

Expresiones de Corazon Artisanal Edition Small-Batch Distilled Blanco – Again, this is unaged tequila that sees no barrel time at all, so it’s a bit strange that it’s part of this collection — and with such a lengthy name, too! Nonetheless, let’s look at this base spirit for the rest of the collection. Unlike 2013’s release, this expression comes across on the nose as relatively mild — and quite fruity, with lemon-heavy notes and a dash of pepper. On the palate, the tequila is very soft, almost to the point of simplicity. Dry and lightly sweet, it’s as harmless a blanco as they come. B / $60

Expresiones de Corazon Buffalo Trace Reposado – Aged in ex-Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels, no time stated. Last edition was 10.5 months. This version is just as strangely pale in the color department, but it’s loaded with aroma and flavor — quite intense vanilla notes, some black pepper, toasted marshmallow, and a gentle herbal, slightly earthy backing that’s driven by the agave. Mild, but quite pleasant. B+ / $70

Expresiones de Corazon Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo – Aged in Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon barrels, time unstated (2013’s was 23 months). Again, this is the palest anejo you’ll ever see. Racier on the nose, it’s got baking spices, tree bark, and some apple cider notes. This leads to quite a full body which folds together salted caramel, gingerbread, and gentle agave notes into a cohesive and well integrated whole. The collection of flavors are a lot like those in the 2013 edition, but here they’re more in balance and, in the end, they lead to a much more worthwhile spirit. A- / $80

Review: Sukkah Hill Spirits Etrog and Besamim Liqueurs

etrog bottleSukkah Hill Spirits is a new, artisan producer of eastern-inspired liqueurs that is based in southern California. These spirits are both sweet liqueurs, with no corn syrup added, all natural ingredients, no preservatives, and all the other good stuff that you’d expect from a company with a name like Sukkah Hill.

We checked out both of the company’s offerings for review. Thoughts follow.

Sukkah Hill Spirits Etrog Liqueur – A citrus liqueur, pale yellow in color. The nose offers both lemon-lime and floral elements in a heady mix. The body however is more specific, loaded with key lime notes, a healthy slug of cane sugar syrup, and a flowery note that evokes orange blossoms. The balance takes things a bit closer to sweet than sour — making this more evocative of a triple sec than you might expect. Use in lieu of that liqueur, Cointreau, or even Grand Marnier in your favorite cocktails. Or try straight as an alternative to Limoncello. 76 proof. A- / $24 (375ml)

Sukkah Hill Spirits Besamim Aromatic Spice Liqueur – A glass of chai, without the cream. Cinnamon and cloves dominate the nose, taking it well beyond the level of “Christmas spices.” As the body builds, it takes those spices and folds in a touch of vanilla and some dark brown sugar. Initially a bit overwhelming, it eventually settles into its own. Besamim isn’t as sweet as Etrog, but it can still hold its own solo or as a component in a more exotic cocktail. Consider coffee, cream, and/or whiskey in your mix. 74 proof. B+ / $28 (375ml)

Review: Russell’s Reserve 1998 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

RR 1998 HiRes Email

Right on the heels of Master’s Keep comes Russell’s Reserve 1998, Wild Turkey’s rarest expression yet. Back in 1998, Jimmy and Eddie Russell laid down some “special occasion” casks — and only now are they getting around to actually bottling them, 17 years later.

These whiskies predate the Russell’s Reserve brand altogether, so it’s not really right to think of this as a line extension (though there is a natural familial resemblance between the 1998 and the Russell’s Reserve 10 Years Old bottling). What this is, really, is a very small batch expression of Wild Turkey bourbon from a single vintage distilled in the previous millennium.

From all angles, this is intense and powerful stuff. The nose is spicy and nutty — heavy vanilla-focused bourbon through and through — with some mentholated notes adding warmth. On the palate it’s an outright sugar bomb, loaded with baked apples, a double dose of vanilla-infused sugar cookies, some fresh ginger, and only on the back end, some barrel char influence. Hugely expressive and loaded with flavor from start to finish, I can understand if some actually find it to be too much of a good thing.

102.2 proof. 2,070 bottles produced.

A- / $250 /