Review: Koloa Hawaiian Rums, Coffee Liqueur, and Ready-to-Drink Cocktails – Complete Lineup

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The tiny Hawaiian island of Kauai is home to Koloa Rum, a small operation with a surprisingly robust line of rums, a coffee liqueur, and ready-to-drink cocktails. All five rums are made from the mash of raw cane sugar, double distilled in a copper pot still, and cut with filtered water from Mount Waialeale. That said, there’s no aging or other information on how the white, gold, and dark rums differ from one another.

Here’s a look at the entire Koloa lineup of (5) rums, (1) liqueur, and (3) premixed cocktail products. Whew!

Koloa Kauai White Hawaiian Rum – Lots of vanilla, chocolate, and coconut notes give this the character of a flavored rum, with unexpected coffee notes emerging in time. Moderate sweetness gives way on the palate to notes of hazelnut and a lingering coffee note on the back end. Very easy to sip on — but not at all what I was expecting from a white rum. 80 proof. B / $27

Koloa Kauai Gold Hawaiian Rum – There’s more fruit on this one, but more astringency, too, particularly on the sharper nose. All told this rum has a more classic (and youthful) construction, with some dusky coconut husk notes and a somewhat raw, ethanol-heavy character, but on the whole it’s a passable mixer. 80 proof. B- / $27

Koloa Kauai Dark Hawaiian Rum – Heavy on notes of molasses and coffee, with chocolate overtones. Like any good dark rum, it’s built with lumbering sweetness in mind, rich and chewy and appropriately dessert-like. That said, it’s relatively light on its feet, but short on complexity. 80 proof. B / $27

Koloa Kauai Spice Hawaiian Rum – Yes, it’s “spice,” not “spiced.” Said to be a response to other “oversweetened spiced rums,” but Koloa’s rendition feels amply sweet to me, studded with cinnamon, cloves, honey, cola, and tons of vanilla. It comes together a lot like a Vanilla Coke, or perhaps a Vanilla Diet Coke, with lightly artificial overtones on an otherwise rousing, somewhat fiery finish. Surprisingly, it’s overproof, not under, making it a solid mixer, for sure. 88 proof. B+ / $27

Koloa Kauai Coconut Hawaiian Rum – Heavy coconut, as expected, here backed with a touch of banana (particularly on the finish), and vanilla milkshake notes. Unctuous and rolling on the palate, it’s got ample (but not overblown) sweetness, hints of pineapple, and — as you’d expect (and desire) — plenty of coconut. As good as any other coconut rum out there. 80 proof. A- / $27

Koloa Hawaiian Kauai Coffee Liqueur – This is a collaboration with Kauai Coffee Company, and it’s a robust and lightly-sweetened but otherwise quite pure expression of coffee in classically alcoholic form. The finish finds a surprise in some slightly peppery notes, with nutty and dark chocolate overtones. The whole affair comes together quite beautifully and with sophistication. 68 proof. A- / $27

Koloa Hawaiian Mai Tai Cocktail – Gatorade-green in color, this offers a pungent, overwhelming almond character on the nose, then segues to a vague tropical character with lemon/lime overtones. Somewhat bitter on the finish, the citrus notes veer toward notes of bitter lime zest. 34 proof. C+ / $15 (1 liter)

Koloa Hawaiian Rum Punch – Grapefruit and pineapple are heavy here, with a squeeze of lemon and a touch of vanilla. It’s a credible punch, but quite light on its feet, with a light nuttiness that lingers on the finish. Perfectly sippable, though it’s quite low in alcohol, making it feel a bit frivolous. 20 proof. B / $15 (1 liter)

Koloa Hawaiian Pineapple Passion Rum Cocktail – Another simple punch, this one punching up the fruit component with a stronger pineapple and passion fruit character, giving it a slightly floral edge. What you think of when you imagine a drink with an umbrella in it, it’s a slurp-’em-down beverage that will offend no one, though I think the standard Rum Punch is a bit better balanced. 20 proof. B / $15 (1 liter)

koloarum.com

Review: 2015 Matchbook Old Heads Chardonnay Dunnigan Hills

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Matchbook’s latest Chardonnay, born in the heat of Yolo County, California, is dubbed “Old Heads” because it is aged for 8 months in barrels previously used for an older vintage of the wine. So, older bodies, too. The used barrels give this wine a softer — and much-needed — attack, offering gentle floral notes on the nose and a plump fruitiness on the tongue. Notes of lemon and pear find a counterpart in a light pineapple note, with gentle vanilla notes emerging more as the wine warms up. An outstanding value.

A- / $15 / crewwines.com

Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Single Malt 14 Years Old and 18 Years Old

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Tullamore D.E.W.’s 14 Year Old and 18 Year Old Single Malt expressions aren’t new — but they are new to the U.S., having launched here only in the last few weeks. These are distinctly different from traditional Tullamore releases, which are primarily composed of blends, and include finishing in four different types of barrels.

Says the D.E.W.:

Intensely rich and smooth Irish whiskeys, both Tullamore D.E.W. single malts are characterized by their rare, four cask recipe, which sees the whiskey finished in Bourbon, Oloroso Sherry, Port and Madeira casks [for up to 6 months]. Thanks to triple distillation, which is mainly unique to Irish whiskey, the malts are particularly smooth with a character quite distinct from other single malt whiskeys.

Let’s give them both a taste. Both are bottled at 82.6 proof.

Tullamore D.E.W. Single Malt 14 Years Old – Malty but rounded, with notes of fresh grain, brown butter, and some applesauce on the nose. The palate is heavily bourbon-cask influenced, with rolling notes of caramel that lead the way to a lightly wine-influenced character late in the game. The finish finds Tullamore 14 at its most enigmatic, surfacing gentle florals, white pepper, and a touch of burnt rubber. All told, this drinks heavily like a relatively young single malt Scotch (which shouldn’t be surprising), fresh and enjoyable but often anonymous and lacking a specific direction. Nothing not to like here, though. B / $70

Tullamore D.E.W. Single Malt 18 Years Old – This expression grabs hold of you much more quickly, starting with a racier, spicier nose that evokes sherry and Madeira, bolder pepper notes, fragrant florals, and a sharp orange peel character. The heavier aromatics find their way into palate, which showcases much more of that Madeira character, with old red wine notes balanced by exotic rhubarb, incense, tangerine, and green banana. Sharper throughout and longer on the finish, the whiskey offers a power you don’t often see in Irish, but which is wholly welcome. A- / $110  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

tullamoredew.com

Review: Bully Boy Estate Gin

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We’ve written about a number of products from Boston-based Bully Boy Distillers. Today we turn our attention to the company’s gin, a unique offering in the world of this juniper-infused spirit.

First, some details from the company:

We start with a base of neutral grain and apple brandy, which we make from distilled hard cider fermented at Stormalong Cidery. We then add standard botanicals such as Albanian Juniper, Coriander, and lemon, and more unique botanicals like local Juniperus Virginiana, Hibiscus, Pink Peppercorn, and a few others we like to keep secret. The end result is a bouquet of aromas and flavors that are both exotic and firmly rooted in New England.

The nose is immediately exotic, offering notes of modest juniper, crisp apple, and a smattering of mixed herbs and floral elements. On the palate, ample juniper again leads the way to some unexpected flavors, including lemongrass, pepper, tobacco leaf, and dried flowers. There’s just a hint of sweetness here, taking the form of light honey notes, which are particularly present on the lasting and lightly herbal finish.

All told, this is a well balanced gin, and it’s one with extra versatility thanks to its hefty 47% abv, letting it find an easy home in a martini or a more complex cocktail.

94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1

A- / $30 / bullyboydistillers.com

Review: Beaujolais Wines of Georges DuBoeuf, 2015 Vintage

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Georges DuBoeuf is an icon of France’s Beaujolais, and every year around this time the winery’s new releases hit the market. Today we look at six of them, including two offerings from DuBoeuf’s Domaine selection — smaller producers owned by the winery and still bottled under their own labels.

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Macon-Villages – Brisk and acidic, this wine is loaded with lemon and grapefruit notes, delving from there into a lightly herbal character, plus some light notes of brown sugar. The finish is heavy with slate notes, and lightly bittersweet, which dials back the impact of the finish a bit. B+ / $20

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Pouilly-Fuisse – Lovely fruit and light mineral notes find balance here atop a moderate to bold body that offers distinct buttery notes. Relatively California-esque in style, it builds to a vanilla-scented crescendo. The finish is a bit too brooding making it a bit overpowering on its own, but it does stand up well to food. B / $35

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages – The focus is squarely on fruit here, but it’s dialed back unlike, say, a Beaujolais Nouveau’s brash and overpowering jamminess. Light cherry and currant meld with fresher, juicier strawberry notes, dusted with a bit of lavender and a touch of orange peel. A solid wine at a great value. A- / $13

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Fleurie – Youthful, with a simple structure that focuses on dried plums, violets, and overtones of saddle leather. The body is fine but nothing special, round and a bit flabby with a gumminess that tends to stick to the sides of the mouth. B- / $22

2015 Emile Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse – A fine Pouilly-Fuisse, offering ample minerality, to the point of light saltiness, plus overtones of melon and hints of roasted meats. Notes of slate and bouqeut garni alternate on the finish, which give the wine an uncommon complexity. B+ / $40

2015 Domaine les Chenevieres Macon-Villages – A gorgeous wine, loaded with notes of lemon, quince, and tangerine, and layered with alternating notes of brown butter, baking spice, and a hint of woody vanilla. A perfectly balanced body kicks out floral notes and a touch of white pepper from time to time, all beautiful accompaniments to the fruit-forward main event. Beautiful on its own but a standout with lighter fare. A / $22

duboeuf.com

Review: Boodles London Dry Gin

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Founded in 1845, Boodles is a venerable, classic gin — and though it’s been off and on the market from time to time, it’s never been one you much hear about. Perhaps the name, which seems better suited for a cat than a gin, just doesn’t roll off the tongue the way, say, Beefeater does? Show me a red-blooded man that can confidently order a “Boodles Martini” at a bar and I’ll show you, well, a guy that’s probably drinking whiskey.

Named for a famous London gentlemen’s club and reportedly the favorite gin of Winston Churchill (a member there), the Boodles recipe is unique for containing no citrus. Botanicals include juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, angelica seed, cassia bark, caraway seed, nutmeg, rosemary, and sage. It is bottled in two strengths; the higher proof version, designed for the U.S. market, is reviewed here.

Crisp juniper on the nose is balanced by a healthy amount of rosemary, plus some classic earthy notes driven by angelica and various spices. On the palate, things more or less fall into place about as expected for a London Dry. Despite the lack of citrus in the botanical bill, it does show a hint of lemon-like character, which is effective at balancing out the more moderate juniper notes. A touch of cinnamon is present here as well, along with a twist of white pepper. As the finish builds, Boodles takes on a clearer herbal character — think lemongrass vs. lemon peel — and perfumed overtones of white flowers and more gentle pepper notes. The fade-out is clean, but the impact is lasting.

All told, Boodles is an outstanding London Dry that offers uniqueness, but doesn’t stray too far from the course, tweaking the recipe just enough to distinguish itself from Tanqueray, Beefeater, and other staples of the style. Give it a try on its own or in a cocktail, as its gentler juniper character gives it lots of versatility.

90.2 proof.

A- / $23 / boodlesgin.com

Review: Graham’s Tawny Port 10 Years Old (2016)

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Graham’s 10 year old tawny has been repackaged and relabeled in a squatter, fatter bottle since we last saw it in 2012, but little seems to have changed with this engaging, entry-level tawny. (Though prices are coming down a bit.) Prominent notes include the expected raisin notes, backed up by spicy gingerbread, cloves, and tea leaf notes. The finish is leathery and cherry-driven… all of which makes for a lot of consistency in this venerable brand, despite the altogether new look.

A- / $25 / grahams-port.com

Review: WhistlePig “The Boss Hog: The Independent” Rye Whiskey 14 Years Old 2016

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As Raj Bhakta and WhistlePig contend with internal corporate squabbles (Update: the lawsuit has been settled, so war pigs can stand down), the company is plowing ahead, business as usual, continuing to plant rye on its own Vermont farm for eventual mashing and distillation into rye whiskey, while also continuing to release new products. Its latest limited edition is a third release of Boss Hog, another very small offering composed of 30 barrels of 14 year old rye.

Every release of Boss Hog is different, and for The Independent, WhistlePig finished the already well-aged rye (sourced whiskey from its signature 100% rye mashbill) in hogsheads formerly used for Scotch. For those not in the know, a hogshead is about 50% bigger than a barrel, holding roughly 250 liters of liquid. (Because multiple barrels are married in the hogsheads, this does not qualify as a single barrel release.) Bottles are stoppered with a custom pewter “war pig,” complete with cannon, a nod to Bhakta’s current legal battle, one which, in conversation to me during a preview of Boss Hog III, Bhakta largely dismissed as a “distraction.”

The 2016 Boss Hog is quite a delight, though as with previous Hogs, it’s quite hot and benefits immediately from a touch of water. The nose is bold and heady with spices, and dense with lumberyard-heavy oak notes. Shades of red wine, perhaps some Madeira, waft up from the glass as well. On the palate, intense rye-loaded notes of cloves and red pepper dominate, with a rush of licorice following. Again, water helps to smooth this out considerably, but it does leave the whisky laser-focused on wood, even becoming ashy at times. The finish is naturally woodsy but it’s not overblown, coming across as lightly mentholated and clove-heavy — and showcasing a hint of malt whiskey out back.

Fans of big whiskies that don’t hold back on the wood profile will find plenty to like here, but those in search of balance and restraint may want to invest elsewhere. There’s more than one reason why there’s a pig with a cannon on the stopper.

120.6 proof.

A- / $300 / whistlepigwhiskey.com

Review: Craneo Organic Mezcal

craneo-mezcalDavid Ravandi, the man behind 123 Tequila, has at long last stepped into the world of mezcal. Craneo is a 100% organic espadin mezcal that is harvested at 5600 feet in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca. Traditionally processed, it is bottled at slightly-above average proof, at 42% abv.

Classically structured on the nose, the mezcal offers aromas of sweet barbecue smoke character layered with hints of citrus. The palate is fairly traditional, though it dances on the tongue thanks to a light and silky body. Notes of orange and grapefruit peel, green banana, and spun sugar punctuate the modestly sweet smokiness, while the finish adds on hints of iodine and a touch of anise.

What is most striking about Craneo is how light on its feet it is. While many mezcals can be overpowering with their intense smokiness, Craneo is balanced and quite restrained. Some may see this lightness as a sign that this is intended as a “starter” mezcal, but ultimately I think its gentle body it adds a ton of versatility to an often difficult spirit — try it in a cocktail — while ensuring it can serve quite nicely as a less overbearing sipper, too. Definitely worth a look.

84 proof.

(Note: If the tasting notes on the Craneo Mezcal website seem familiar, that’s because they were adapted from an earlier version of this review, based on a preliminary sample tasted earlier this year. This review has been updated based on the final, shipping version.)

A- / $60 / mezcalcraneo.com

Review: Zonin 1821 Prosecco “Dress Code Collection”

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Quick, what grape is Prosecco made from? If you said Glera, well, you know more than most drinkers — but it turns out Prosecco can be made from more than just this varietal. In fact, Italian law specifies that up to 15% of the juice in a bottle can come from a number of grape varietals, including Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera Lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Noir.

How does the secondary grape impact the finished product? Zonin attempted to find out by bottling a trilogy of nonvintage Proseccos, each using a different secondary varietal. Bottled as the “Dress Code Collection,” each in a different-colored bottle, the trio showcase how much a tiny bit of something else can change the finished product. (Turns out, plenty!)

Zonin 1821 Prosecco White Edition – 91% Glera & 9% Pinot Bianco. Crisp and pretty, with bold apple notes. Fresh and fruit-forward, with a slight herbal edge on the finish. The closest wine in this group to “classic” Prosecco, it’s a lush wine tailor-made for celebrations. A-

Zonin 1821 Prosecco Grey Edition – 87% Glera & 13% Pinot Grigio. A bigger body here, with slight tropical overtones. The more aggressive body also offers a clearer display of yeastiness, and leads to a somewhat plainer finish. B+

Zonin 1821 Prosecco Black Edition – 90% Glera & 10% Pinot Noir. The dryest of the bunch, the fruit is quite restrained here, showing notes of pear, fresh herbs, and a touch of baking spice. Very clean and crisp, it finishes with aromatic notes and hints of perfume. Quite elegant. B+

each $16 / dressyourfeelings.zoninprosecco.com

Review: Rebel Yell Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old

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Once a largely ignored bottom-shelf bottling, Rebel Yell continues its march up-market with this latest release, a 10 year old single barrel bottling crafted from its wheated bourbon recipe. 2000 cases will be made available this year. In 2017, production will expand to 4000 cases.

The nose offers oak first, then layers of anise and tobacco leaf. The iconic vanilla caramel character is here, but it is burnt and crispy, with mild eucalyptus notes — though all in all, fairly steady hallmarks of well-aged bourbon. The palate is where things start to get more interesting. The anise character is distinct and heavy, before notes of peppermint, cloves, and cinnamon red hots come along. The finish is burly with wood, but not overpowering — more barrel char than sawdust — though there’s a bit of lingering gumminess that mars things a bit.

All told, this is a bourbon for fans who like things on the distinctly — even heavily — savory side, and even though it’s not exactly an everyday sipper, it marks a nice change of pace from some of the sugar bombs that tend to be more popular.

Reviewed: Barrel #4744359, distilled September 2005.

100 proof.

A- / $50 / rebelyellbourbon.com

Review: Ohishi Brandy Cask and Sherry Single Cask Whisky

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The southern Japanese island of Kyushu is home to the Kuma River, and it’s here that the Ohishi distillery, founded in 1872, turns rice into whiskey. Much like Kikori, Ohishi eschews the traditional barley for something that Japan knows well: rice, which is partially malted before fermentation. This ain’t Uncle Ben’s, mind you: Says GRC Imports, which is now bringing Ohishi into the country, “In addition to mochi rice from Kumamoto, they also use gohyakumanishi which is grown with an organic farming method that involves koi carp to control weeds in paddy fields.”

Sounds fancy!

Today we look at two of the company’s newly imported expressions, both NAS offerings.

Ohishi Brandy Cask Regular Whisky – This is a vatting of a small number of casks that were formerly used for brandy (unknown which or from where) for an indeterminate amount of time — though based on the pale color, not for long at all. This is a light and fragrant spirit, with a nose reminscent of very dry sherry, filtered through a bit of sugar and anise. The palate features marzipan notes, the lightest touch of sweet caramel, and another wispy hint of licorice on the back end. This expression has a much lighter touch than Kikori, with a milder body, less sweetness, and less of a distinct fruit character. While some of the aromatics invite a comparison to sake, it isn’t nearly as direct a connection as it is with Kikori. 83.2 proof. B / $75

Ohishi Sherry Single Cask Whisky Cask #1257 (pictured) – This is a single cask release from a first-fill sherry butt, a brilliant copper in color and a dramatic departure from the light gold of the Brandy Cask release. Nutty and a bit chocolatey on the nose, it offers a big oloroso sherry aroma — lighter on the citrus and heavier on the baking spice. The body pushes forward with the motif, striking the palate immediately with notes of spiced and roasted nuts, coffee, and dates. After a time, it moves on as the finish develops, showing a somewhat more exotic, eastern characters of incense and spice bazaars. All told, it’s really engaging stuff that takes what we’ve come to expect from a heavily sherried profile and totally makes it its own. 86.6 proof. 506 bottles made. A- / $75

grcimports.com