Review: Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old Rye, 2 Year Old Blended, and 2 Year Old 100 Proof Whiskeys

LG_100ProofThe mad microdistillers at Craft Distillers keep rolling with the Low Gap line. These whiskeys began as white dog releases in 2011, and the company has been putting out progressively older and more interesting expressions in the years since. Today we got to sample a trio of two year old whiskeys, including a rye, a blend, and an overproof (wheat) rarity. As with all of the Low Gap line (six bottlings are currently on the market), all of these spirits are made in Craft’s 16 hectoliter cognac still, fermented on site from scratch, and brought to proof using filtered rainwater(!).

Thoughts follow.

Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old Rye Whiskey – Malted rye with some corn and barley, aged in new and used bourbon and cognac barrels. The nose is quite grainy, but mellowing out as it settles down, with some smoky notes along with some interesting almond and graham cracker characteristics. The body is initially sweet with just a touch of cognac-driven raisin character that adds a lot more nuance than you might expect. The finish gets a bit hoary though, a clear showcase of this whiskey’s youth, with dried herbs and some baking spice finishing things off. 88.2 proof. B / $65 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old Blended Whiskey – Malted corn and barley, aged in used Van Winkle bourbon barrels and new Missouri oak bourbon barrels. The nose exudes some notes of classic — but very young — bourbon. Corny and woody, but also racy with spices and sharp vanilla extract. The body is somewhat brash and still showing itself as a young gun, but one with lots of charm. Think caramel corn, vanilla cream soda, and some maple syrup. Still plenty of lumberyard notes here, but there’s enough character to get me excited, not just for today, but to see where this goes in the next couple of years. 92 proof. A- / $65  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old 100 Proof Whiskey – This is Low Gap’s Bavarian wheat whiskey, aged two-plus years, bottled from a selection of just three barrels (comprising new and used oak) at 100 proof, of course. This whiskey starts off demure and restrained, but give it a little time and a wealth of fruit notes emerge on the nose: Apples and orange flowers, some banana, backed up with a bit of cereal. On the palate some coconut notes mingle with cinnamon, cloves, nougat, and milk chocolate. Wood makes a belated appearance on the back end, but in a gentle and approving way. The evolution on the palate is both fun and intriguing as an exploration. Arguably the best Low Gap expression Craft Distillers has put out to date. A / $75

craftdistillers.com

Review: Painted Stave Distilling Candy Manor Gin and South River (Red) Gin

candy manor ginBased in Smyrna, Delaware and founded only four years ago, Painted Stave Distilling is an artisan craft distiller that is dipping its toe into all manner of spirits. For now Painted Stave has a collection of white spirits in production, with aged offerings en route. Today we’re looking at two products, Candy Manor Gin — the company’s year-round release — and South River (Red) Gin — part of its experimental, avant garde spirit collection.

Available only in Delaware. Thoughts follow.

Painted Stave Distilling Candy Manor Gin – Described by Painted Stave as a “Western style dry gin with strong noted of lavender, sweet goldenrod and lemon-balm to compliment traditional flavors from juniper, coriander, angelica, and orris root.” The nose is a blend of something old and something new — fresh juniper and some earthier coriander, but also floral notes that approximate honeysuckle, iris, and jasmine. I’m not altogether familiar with goldenrod, but I would have expected more of a lavender note than I could sniff out here. The body plays up those florals quite a bit, coming off as almost perfumed with all the delicate botanical elements. Up front it’s a candied, mixed bouquet of flowers, then behind that builds more sweetness — almost chalky in texture. The finish hints at citrus, pine needles, mushroom, and a touch of baking spice. Initially a little scattered, I came to quite enjoy its bracing complexity in the end. 80 proof. B+ / $30

south river red ginPainted Stave South River (Red) Gin – This is a limited-edition “juniper-forward” gin that is aged for 5 months in former red wine barrels. (There’s also a South River (White).) It’s closer to pink than red, but who’s fact-checking? The nose is quite sharp, loaded with notes of pine tar, vanilla, and Vicks VapoRub. The body is initially fiery, with more of that menthol note, but it slowly settles into a more seductive groove. Intriguing notes of chocolate and caramel, licorice, and some slight rhubarb notes all bubble up as it develops. Really quite unexpected and enchanting, and the reddish hue makes it quite a conversation piece. 80 proof. Bottled 5/16/14. A- / $22 (375ml)

paintedstave.com

Tasting the Wines of Round Pond, 2015 Releases

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The brother-sister team of Miles and Ryan MacDonnell have grown grapes at their Rutherford property in Napa as part of their family’s business since 1983 and began running the Round Pond Estate together in 2003. In 2002, Round Pond branched out from growing grapes into making its own wine, and today the family continues to expand its winemaking operation as well as selling grapes to some of the region’s blue chip wineries.

Round Pond grows primarily Cabernet Sauvignon but also cultivates a smattering of other wines, a number of which we tried at a recent lunch at the Gotham Clubhouse, a private club located in the outfield of San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Round Pond also offers a lunch called Il Pranzo at its winery, where you can experience its wines paired with a meal as well as its estate-made olive oils and vinegars.

Miles led us through the afternoon, with Gotham’s chef pairing each of these wines with a small plate. The food was uniformly excellent. More detailed thoughts on the wines tasted follow.

2014 Round Pond Rosato di Nebbiolo – One doesn’t find a lot of Nebbiolo in Napa, much less Nebbiolo rose. This wine is so pretty and lush, with fresh berries, peaches, and floral notes, that I wish you could get it somewhere besides Round Pond’s winery. A-

2014 Round Pond Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc – A crisp and herbal Sauvignon Blanc, nice acidity and a bracing finish; great pairing with a smoked salmon dish. A-

2012 Round Pond Kith & Kin Cabernet Sauvignon – Round Pond’s entry level Cabernet (priced at $30), powerful and dense with notes of chocolate and tons of jam. A straightforward wine, but quite a delight. A-

2012 Round Pond Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon – This mid-level wine offers more nuance, with some pepper notes amidst the currants. Silky and lush. A-

2012 Round Pond Proprietary Red – A red blend, and surprisingly light on its feet, with its silky tannins pairing nicely with a small filet of beef. Raspberry on the finish. A-

2010 Round Pond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – The top of the line, but this was the only wine in the lineup that wasn’t quite on fire for me. Dense with lots of tannin and menthol notes, it offers opulence but needs several more years in the bottle before it hits prime time. B+

roundpond.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM WINE.COM]

Review: Starr Hill Reviver Red IPA, Bandstand Barleywine, and Little Red Roostarr (2015)

Reviver_bottleStarr Hill keeps cranking them out. Here’s a look at three limited and seasonal releases for spring 2015.

Starr Hill Reviver Red IPA – A hybrid, amber-hued IPA, this is a great example of how blending beer styles can turn out well. Up front, the brew offers semi-sweet notes driven by malty caramel and chocolate note… then the hops take hold, slowly turning things bitter and slightly citrus-focused. There’s no big piney notes like you see in the typical IPA but rather a more harmonious bitter finish that balances out the sweeter notes up front. Really well-balanced and deftly crafted — and just 6.2% abv, too. A / $NA

Starr Hill Bandstand Barleywine Ale Volume 1 – A big American barleywine, dry-hopped and aged in bourbon barrels from Smooth Ambler Spirits. Unsurprisingly massive, this bomb of caramel and chocolate offers gentle coffee notes and a touch of bitter on the back end. Nice little number with a solid balance between its sweet and savory components — but a glass of this will go an awfully long way. 13.5% abv. A- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

Starr Hill Little Red Roostarr Coffee Cream Stout (2015) – This is our third annual look at this coffee stout, and it doesn’t cut a terribly different profile in 2015 as it has in the last couple of years. It may be a little milder in 2015 than in previous years — with a bit less malt, slightly more watery coffee notes, and a touch of dark chocolate on the back end — but my primary issue, the lack of “creaminess” promised by the name, remains. Drinkers will likely remain divided. 5.8% abv. B / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

starrhill.com

Review: 2013 Kalfu Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

kalfuKalfu is a new Chilean wine brand hailing from the Leyda Yalley on the country’s coast. Here’s a look at two of the winery’s inaugural releases.

2013 Kalfu “Kuda” Chardonnay Unoaked Leyda Valley Chile – Engaging, tastes expensive. Quite neutral, apple notes on the nose, with light creme brulee, kumquat, and some light tropical character on the back end. Really easy to enjoy. A- / $19

2013 Kalfu “Sumpai” Pinot Noir Leyda Valley Chile – Meaty, with notes of figs and prunes, touched with notes of tobacco, pencil lead, and leather oil. Not much Pinot varietal character here, but fans of flavors that run to sour cherry and spiced meat may find something here. C- / $24

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Review: 2010 Mesa Cantina Buio Buio Isola dei Nurachi IGT

Buio Buio2010 Mesa Cantina Buio Buio Isola dei Nurachi is produced in Sulcis, on the southwestern tip of Sardinia. Produced from 100% carignano (the Italian name for carignane), it’s part of a vanguard of wines from Sulcis that are just now making their way to the U.S. Buio Buio is restrained and almost floral on the nose, but the body is lush with notes of juicy Port, balsamic vinegar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. The palate stretches on for quite awhile, leading to a slightly sweet and supple finish with modest tannins. Worth exploring.

A- / $25 / cantinamesa.it

Review: Deep Eddy Lemon Vodka

deep eddy lemonI love that Austin-based Deep Eddy makes flavored vodkas that look like flavored vodkas, all bright colors, with nothing to hide. The latest expression, Deep Eddy Lemon, looks like a glass of fresh lemonade, translucent and golden and flecked with just a tiny bit of pulp.

The nose plays it cool. Light, slightly sour-smelling lemon plus a bit of orange — more like Meyer lemon — with hints of a sugar. The body is more tart than I expected based on the gentle aroma, offering a sweet-and-sour kick up front that fades into a sort of brown sugar character as the finish builds. The back end offers more of a classic vodka kicker, slightly astringent and just bold enough to muscle past those brisk lemonade notes, if only for a few seconds.

Think of it as limoncello light and try it with lots of ice and something sparkling (be it soda or Prosecco) on a hot day this summer.

70 proof.

A- / $16 / deepeddyvodka.com

Review: Mahon Gin

Mahon Gin Bottle USAOn the Spanish island of Menorca, they make gin. Have been, since 1708. Also known under the brand name of Xoriguer (say it five times fast), Mahon Gin — aka Gin de Mahon — is one of the only gins in the world (alongside Plymouth Ginupdate — Plymouth is no longer geographically protected, whoops!) to have a specific geographic designation. “Mahon Gin” will be the worldwide brand name going forward, so look for it under that label.

Gin got its start on this Mediterranean island back when it was a British colony. Given it was a popular waystation for sailors, all the more reason to crank out the juice. Under Spain’s ownership (which became formal in the late 1700s), gin continued to be produced here, and now it’s going global after just 300 years.

Mahon is distilled from grapes in small copper pot stills and is flavored with juniper and other, undisclosed herbs. It is also rested in American oak barrels (neutral, I presume) before bottling.

This is a pretty and very simple gin, but it’s not without some serious charms. The nose is driven by juniper, but not in a heavy-handed way. Fresh pine mingles with some earthier notes — coriander, I’m guessing — plus a slightly soapy character underneath it. On the palate, it’s very gentle, offering more fresh juniper, some lemon peel notes, a touch of sea salt, and some more of those earthier, almost nutty elements, on the back. The finish is clean and just ever so bittersweet, with a slight hint of cinnamon and chocolate lingering on the back of the throat.

That all sounds more complicated than Mahon really is — which is a simple and versatile spirit with lots to recommend about it. Try it in just about any gin-based concoction you can come up with.

82 proof.

A- / $42 (1 liter) / xoriguergin.com

Review: Woodchuck Cheeky Cherry and Gumption Hard Cider

Gumption six pack

It’s time for two new ciders from Vermont-based Woodchuck. Here they are.

Woodchuck Cheeky Cherry Hard Cider – Fresh apple melds with tart, sour cherry notes in this surprisingly balanced cider, which offers nothing unexpected aside from those two simple notes — apple to start, cherry to finish — but which drinks more like a grown-up soda than a typical cider. That said, it’s one of the better ciders I’ve experienced in recent memory thanks to its vibrant fruitiness. 5.5% abv. B+

Woodchuck Gumption Hard Cider – This cider, named in honor of an old-timey drink that P.T. Barnum pushed on his crowds, pairs dry and bittersweet cider apples with fresh apple juice from common “snack apples.” The result is a sweeter cider than most, a fresh-tasting brew that starts with some sweet caramel notes, moves into classic, tart cider character, then finishes with a touch crisp Granny Smith bite. Again, this has a nice balance — but of a much different sort than Cheeky Cherry — offering a kind of tour of the apple universe and a pleasantly summery finish. 5.5% abv. A-

each $9 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

Review: MarkThomas Double Bend MT Selection Glassware

markthomasAustria’s MarkThomas is bringing its ultra-luxe line of hand-blown stemware to the U.S. If you’ve got a taste for quirky designs and exceptionally high prices, well, maybe it’s for you.

The Double Bend collection is defined by, well, the double bend in the bowl of each glass. Rather than curve inward gradually, the glasses just out then back in sharply, making for a sort of double trapezoidal design. (The picture will explain this much better than I can.) Whether this is to your liking or not is going to be a matter of individual taste, but the idea is that the point of the bend is where you are supposed to fill the glass to. I found the glasses a bit homely, but others thought they were modern and stylish.

Either way, they perform admirably. They’re light as a feather but feature big bowls and razor-thin walls. The larger red wine glass worked beautifully with numerous wines, really concentrating the aromas in the center while remaining easy enough to drink out of. I also worked with the beer glass, but found I preferred a little more heft in my beer glassware, particularly given that beer glasses are filled much fuller.

The glasses feel as fragile as could be, and I consider it a minor miracle that I didn’t break one during my week of testing. I’d happily sip from them again… provided I could scrape together a grand to set up a 12-piece collection.

A- / $65 to $85 per glass / markthomas.at