Review: Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 18 Years Old and 23 Years Old


Kirk and Sweeney 12 Years Old, imported by Sonoma’s 35 Maple Street, is one of the best artisan rums on the market. And that’s just a babe at a mere 12 years old.

Today we’re looking at the older line extensions of Kirk and Sweeney, including the 18 year old and 23 year old expressions. All three are bottled in similar, urn-inspired decanters, so look for the digits etched onto the glass in order to help keep them straight.

Both are 80 proof.

Thoughts follow.

Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 18 Years Old – Traditional, well-aged rum notes on the nose — brown sugar, vanilla, and some chocolate/coffee overtones. The body starts things off in that direction, then takes an interesting side street toward some curious red wine notes. The coffee character builds as the finish grows, along with some leather notes and a bit of dense sweetness, almost Port-like as it mingles with that wine-like character. Austere and worthwhile. A- / $40

Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 23 Years Old – At 23 years old, this rum is fully matured and ready for sipping on the beach, shoes off. Here you’ll find deep caramel, flecked with barrel char, toffee, intense vanilla, and a touch of baking spice — particularly cloves. They’re all here, from the nose, to the palate, to the rich, silky finish. This isn’t a particularly complicated rum, but it’s got a laser focus on the elements that make rum great. It’s one of the best rums on the market and, at just 50 bucks, quite a bargain. What’s a 23 year old bourbon going to cost you, eh? A / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Tanqueray Bloomsbury London Dry Gin

Tanqueray BloomsburyTanqueray continues to play with the good-ol’ green bottle with its latest limited edition gin, Tanqueray Bloomsbury.

Says the distillery:

For the newest limited edition release of Tanqueray, the juniper-forward Tanqueray Bloomsbury London Dry Gin, Master Distiller Tom Nichol drew inspiration from a recipe created by Charles Tanqueray’s son, Charles Waugh Tanqueray. In 1868, when Charles died, his son Charles Waugh Tanqueray took over his business. He was only 20 years at the time, but was a brilliant businessman and innovator just like his father.

His original recipe on which Tanqueray Bloomsbury was based dates back to around 1880, when the distillery was located in Bloomsbury, England. The new Tanqueray Bloomsbury gin will launch into the on-trade with limited availability at specialty retailers. The launch of Tanqueray Bloomsbury follows the successful release of Tanqueray Old Tom in 2014 and Tanqueray Malacca in 2013.

The recipe is written write on the front label, but it’s in old-timey writing and a bit difficult to make out. The botanical bill includes “Italian berries” (juniper), coriander, angelica, crushed cassia, and just a touch of savory. (Additional elements not on the label may also be present.)

The gin is designed to be juniper forward, but standard Tanqueray is already quite juniper-forward as it is. (That said, though it’s hardly my favorite gin, my 2010 rating now feels a bit low. I’d call it B+ today.)

That helps give Bloomsbury a softer entry, even though it’s built with juniper in mind. That juniper is present both on the nose and on the palate, which folds in clear cinnamon character and a little caramel, too. Is there a nod to the whiskey world here? The juniper is clear and strong, but it quickly fades to a quiet earthiness. The finish offers some dusty coriander character that lingers for a bit.

Bloomsbury is a simple gin, but it’s well crafted and balanced among its component parts. Young Charles Waugh Tanqueray may have just been a kid, but I guess he knew what he was doing.

94.6 proof.

A- / $33 /

Review: Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Kentucky Straight Bourbon 17 Years Old

Master's Keep Bottle Box Hi-Res

Following up on last year’s Diamond Anniversary bourbon, Wild Turkey is releasing Master’s Keep, a 17 year old whiskey that is the oldest bourbon Wild Turkey has ever released in the U.S.

The spirit is the product of Eddie Russell, the son of the famed Jimmy Russell, who was recently appointed to the job of co-Master Distiller alongside his dad. (Jimmy famously doesn’t care for old bourbon, hence releases that rarely topped 10 or 12 years of age.) This is Eddie’s first official release, though he’s had a hand in a number of prior Wild Turkey special editions.

If you read the Master’s Keep box copy, you might be confused of the talk of “distance: 200 miles” and “No.1: Wood, No. 2: Stone, No. 3: Wood.” What does all that mean? Let’s let the Russells explain:

The story of Master’s Keep begins in 1997. Wild Turkey had a surplus of Bourbon and no warehouse space left, so Eddie needed a place to store and age the extra barrels. A friend at another distillery offered his empty stone warehouses, but Eddie knew these would age the Bourbon differently than the wooden warehouses at Wild Turkey. He decided to take a chance and experiment a little, and so the barrels spent several years in stone warehouses before eventually coming back to Wild Turkey’s wooden ones.  After 17 years and 200 miles, Eddie felt these traveling barrels had reached their peak flavor. It is fair to say that this Bourbon is a welcome innovation in long-aged whiskey. And, much to his surprise, when the barrels were dumped they were at a much lower proof than anticipated. Barreled at 107 proof, the whiskey was 89 proof when dumped and 86.8 proof (43.4% alc./vol.) when bottled – a result of the time these particular barrels spent aging in stone warehouses.

“Master’s Keep is the result of a lot of experimentation, patience and faith,” said Eddie Russell. “The sweet spot for Bourbon aging is usually between 8 – 12 years because older Bourbons tend to become too woody or spicy from sitting too long in the barrel. What I was able to do with Master’s Keep was retain the Bourbon’s rich caramel and vanilla flavors by aging the barrels in both stone and wood warehouses, sampling from them every few months to decide their next move.”

Well, all that preamble aside, Master’s Keep cuts a curious figure. The color is exotic with a deep orange/amber hue — it looks old, to be sure. The nose says something else: Rich vanilla and caramel notes, but with ample fruit, and not a ton of wood. The body is fat with butterscotch, brown butter, tons of baking spices, and a surprisingly mild dusting of sawdust. Perhaps Russell is right that significant aging in cooler stone warehouses has tempered Master’s Keep, enough to keep it going for 17 long years and still come out the other side as a youthful and exuberant spirit. The finish is sweet and mild, quite fruity and fresh.

This is a fun whiskey that you’d never guess had 17 years of barrel age on it, but which you’ll really enjoy from start to finish. Price becomes a bit of a concern at this level — at $150 I want my head to spin — but I don’t think anyone could sample Master’s Keep and not ask for a second glass.

86.8 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.


Review: Corbin Vodka

corbinYou can make vodka out of anything, they say. Potato’s a common base starch. How about the sweet potato, then?

Corbin Vodka, made in Atwater, California, is column distilled from the gold old sweet potato. (Don’t call it a yam!)

The nose is fairly neutral, sharp with a moderately medicinal character, but balanced by some notes of brown butter. Interesting undertones of unripened grapes, perhaps gooseberry. On the palate, it’s got a creamy texture that pairs well with a kick of brown sugar and a little baking spice. Just a hint of citrus up front. The finish is long and warming, dusted with light medicinal notes and a kick of sweetness. Nice way to go out.

80 proof.

A- / $30 /

Review: Q Soda, Q Ginger Beer, and Q Grapefruit

q grapefruitQ Drinks is well known for its tonic, but like Fever-Tree, the company makes a wide range of cocktail mixers, all high-end products made with legitimate ingredients and botanicals. (You’ll notice the solids settling out in the ginger and grapefruit products, so be sure to gently mix them up a bit before serving.)

Thoughts on three of Q’s mixers follow.

Q Soda – A classic club soda, heavy on the fizz, with no minerality to speak of, or any other overtones. Drinks like a solid sparkling water, with large, gently foamy bubbles rather than tiny, spicy ones. A fine product on all fronts — and enjoyable on its own. A-

Q Ginger Beer – Nicely sweet up front, then this ginger beer builds to a strong, authentic ginger bite with significant, growing heat. There’s a good balance between the two components, making this an easy go-to for Dark & Stormy cocktails and other ginger-fueled libations. A-

Q Grapefruit – Very mild, with a minimal citrus bite to it. Squirt is a much bolder grapefruit soda than this, which comes across like club soda with a modest squeeze of grapefruit in it. As such, it can’t hold its own in a cocktail and quickly finds itself overpowered. C+

each $7 per 4-pack of 8 oz. bottles /

Review: Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon (2015)

wild turkey 101It’s been five years since I last reviewed Wild Turkey’s iconic bottling, Wild Turkey 101, and seven years since my first (early) review of the stuff.

Here in 2015, it’s time to look at one of the mainstays of the bourbon world with fresh eyes and palates, no? (And to see if the whiskey has evolved in that time. The bottle has changed, but what about what’s inside?)

Wild Turkey 101 — in its 2015 incarnation — remains restrained on the nose. Alcoholic vapor obscures a bit of what’s underneath, which is redolent of barrel char, bacon, and vanilla custard, but give this one some time if you can, as a little air helps the nose develop more fully. Wild Turkey 101’s palate is rich though boozy, loaded with butterscotch, vanilla caramel, and ample baking spice.

At this point in my career, sipping on WT 101 without water is painless and enjoyable, but a bit of H2O may not hurt in bringing out the spicy and fruity elements, which meld pepper and cloves and cinnamon with a bit of applesauce — a note I continue to pick out on the 101 — with plenty of barrel char notes that add a rustic intensity to the proceedings.

Still a fan.

101 proof.

A- / $19 /

Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm Third Release


The third annual release of Kilchoman’s Loch Gorm is here. As before, Loch Gorm is matured fully in ex-Oloroso sherry butts — but this year, a larger proportion of smaller sherry hogsheads were used to mature a portion of the whisky, as opposed to larger sherry butts. That’s a small change but it should increase the sherry influence on the whisky. This edition is “marginally older” than last year’s Second Edition, coming from whiskies distilled in 2009-2010 and bottled in March 2015.

There’s nothing not to like here. The sherry influence is palpable, loading the spirit up with sweet, winey citrus notes before diving headlong into the peat. The nose is surprisingly restrained — offering some Mexican chocolate character atop the mild smoke elements — but the body plays up the peat and the sweetness at once, folding things together in well-balanced form.

This is Kilchoman at its best and a showcase of how sherry and peated whisky can do magical things together. It’s not a remarkable digression from last year’s glorious bottling, but since you won’t find that expression on the market anywhere, well, best to snap this one up instead.

92 proof.

A- / $100 /

Review: Appleton Estate Signature Blend, Appleton Estate Reserve Blend, and Appleton Rare Blend 12 Years Old Rum (2015)


It’s been six years since we last reviewed Appleton‘s Jamaican-born rums, and the company has recently done some label and nomenclature updates across the line. The distillery tells us that the recipes and the juice inside (nor the Rubenesque bottle design) haven’t changed, so let’s take a fresh look at one of the icons of the rum business and see how things are shaping up in 2015.

appleton1Appleton Estate Signature Blend – Formerly Appleton V/X. A blend of 15 rums, average age 4 years old. No age statement. The entry level Appleton is a bit rustic and punchy, with some sharp medicinal character to it. Clearly designed as a mixer, this nicely golden rum offers big molasses backed by barrel char notes and some burnt marshmallow. A touch of banana on the back end. It’s got more than a bit of a weedy finish due to its significant youth, but it does give this rum some funky character that’s fun to play with in a cocktail. 80 proof. B / $18

appleton3Appleton Estate Reserve Blend – Formerly Appleton Estate Reserve. A blend of 20 rums, average age 6 years old. No age statement. Quite a bit more refined than the Signature, with its rough edges filed down a bit. The Estate Reserve Blend offers a sherried note up front, full of citrus and cloves, that winds its way slowly into bold vanilla and Christmas spice character. Deftly balanced between the sharp attack and the festive finish, it manages to keep a foot in both the rustic and refined worlds. Great on its own or in cocktails. 80 proof. A- / $26

Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Years Old – Replaces Appleton Extra 12 Years Old. The youngest of Appleton’s age statement rums, this one (obviously) 12 years old. No blending information offered. This is top notch rum here, and easily the best of the bunch. Refined tropical notes — banana, coconut, brown sugar, vanilla-fueled barrel char — it’s all there, right on the nose. The body takes on a fruitier character, with chocolate lacing and more of a flame-kissed/charred fruit note, giving the rum a distinctly sweet, dessert-friendly character, yet it offers a little extra oomph thanks to the slightly higher proof. This one’s hard to put down — and so beautiful it’s a perfect candidate for straight sipping. 86 proof. A / $32

Review: 3 White Wines from Kim Crawford, 2014 Vintage

kim crawfordThree new whites from New Zealand’s Kim Crawford — each made from one of three different varietals. On with the show…

2014 Kim Crawford Pinot Gris Marlborough – Fruit-forward, with both bright tropical and crisp apple notes. There’s a bit of nougaty sweetness that creeps in and grows in power as the body develops. That sugar, unfortunately, lingers on the tongue for a bit too long, cutting the much-needed acidity down to almost nothing. B / $16

2014 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Crisp with lots of tropical character, classic New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Again that sweet nougat character emerges, though here it is less overbearing and better integrated into the wine. Pineapple notes and modest acidity finish things up. B / $11

2014 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay East Coast New Zealand – The best wine in the bunch here, with everything restrained appropriately, from tropical fruit to sugar. Rather, touches of lemon, apple, and pear give this wine approachability both on its own and with food. Simple, but not without a level of refinement. A- / $14

Review: Gordon Biersch SommerBrau and Zwickel Pils

gb-zwickel-pils-limitedTwo new summery brews from our friends at Gordon Biersch — one ready to go in six-pack form, the other an oversized bottle designed for sipping and sharing.

Gordon Biersch SommerBrau – A delightfully refreshing Kolsch (made with 80% malted barley and 20% malted wheat), this German-style beers balances its malty beginnings with a touch of citrus — almost reminiscent of a witbier. Soothing, bread-heavy notes dominate the finish, but the overall impact is light and, indeed, summery. 4.6% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Gordon Biersch Zwickel Pils – This one’s a limited edition, bottom-fermented unfiltered pilsner “made by tapping directly into an aging tank of pilsner via the Zwickel — German for ‘sample valve.'” Previously only available at the GB brewery, it’s a fresh and fizzy brew that’s part of the Uberbier Series at Gordon Biersch. Pilsner fans will love this bottling, which seems extra-carbonated and celebratory in the way Champagne does. The character otherwise runs to simple grains, with gentle barley notes, easygoing bitterness, and just a touch of herbal character to give it a hint of spice. Note: It will continue to age and mellow out in the bottle. 5% abv. A- / $7 (750ml bottle)