Review Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Straight Bourbon

hirsch-bottle

Officially it’s called: Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Selected Straight Bourbon Whiskey Selected Expressly for Connoisseurs of Small Batch Fine Spirits. There are other honorifics on the bottle, but too much for me to type.

That’s a lot of verbiage for an MGP-sourced whiskey, though it is bottled at at least seven years old, per the back label. It’s a blend of two bourbon mashes, one with 21% rye, one with 35% rye, averaging out at about 26% rye.

For the uninitiated, first a history lesson on the Hirsch name. Adolph Hirsch started distilling small batch whiskey in Pennsylvania in the 1970s under the eye of Dick Stoll, a well known master distiller who came up through the Beam system. By 1989, Hirsch was bankrupt, probably because he never sold any of the whiskey he was making. Eventually it was bottled by the van Winkles (yes, those van Winkles) and sold as A.H. Hirsch Reserve. Several editions were released until it was all gone. Today, some of those dusty old Hirsch 16 year old bottles now sell for up to $3,000.

Somewhere along the way, Anchor Distilling acquired the name and started sourcing whiskey from Indiana to bottle anew as “Hirsch.” Nothing wrong with that, but drinkers should know that the Hirsch of today has literally nothing to do with the Hirsch of yesteryear, though it is “inspired by the quality of A.H. Hirsch.” OK!

So anyway, let’s get to tasting this entry-level expression.

On the nose there’s ample vanilla, caramel sauce, and some hints of pepper. A bit strong with eucalyptus notes and a bit of lumberyard character, eventually it settles down, opening up to reveal some butterscotch and red cherry notes. The palate largely follows suit with the nose, though with time in glass it really starts to exude heavy salted caramel notes, plus notes of peanut brittle, cinnamon, and spicy gingerbread. Again, this is a whiskey that really benefits from some settle-down time, and it drinks with more complexity and depth than I had initially given it credit for.

Definitely worth a look.

92 proof.

A- / $40 / anchordistilling.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hopzeit Autumn IPA, Hop Trip (2016), Chasin’ Freshies (2016), and Sagefight Imperial IPA

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A trio of fall releases from Deschutes, starting now!

Deschutes Brewery Hopzeit Autumn IPA – Deschutes’ newest seasonal is fit for fall, an IPA inspired by German Märzenbier, made with loads of German hops instead of the usual fare found in American IPAs. Results are appropriately Teutonic. Rich and malty, with overtones of coffee and cocoa, it starts off slightly sweet before the hops kick in. Though well short of overpowering, the beer drinks with plenty of bitterness but also showcases notes of cherry fruit and some baking spice, particularly on the back end. Seems perfectly autumnal, indeed. 7% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip Pale Ale (2016) – Notably maltier this usual, this year’s Hop Trip has a surprising caramel character that tempers the bitterness in this otherwise racy, pine-heavy pale ale. Some lemon peel notes and some gingerbread spice add a touch of intrigue to a beer that otherwise comes across as a bit British (and quite unusual) in style this year. 6.1% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Chasin’ Freshies (2016) – Chasin’ Freshies features a different hop strain each year. This year, this annual release includes Centennial hops, a classic option (the strain dates back to 1974) that gives the beer an iconic profile. Big pine needles and tarry resin give this a huge bitter profile, but a touch of maple syrup adds a hint of malty sweetness. Some hints of tropical fruit and biscuity cereal round out the brew. 7.4% abv. A-

Deschutes Brewery Sagefight Imperial IPA – This special edition sees a bunch of hops finding companions in the form of added sage and juniper berries. It’s not quite a fight, but it does make for a somewhat strange combination, surprisingly coming across as slightly sweet, with the finish showcasing more herbal elements. The finish is only lightly scented with sage; otherwise the combination becomes heavily earthy on the back end. I’d try it again. 8% abv. B+

each $8 per six-pack / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Bar Keep Bitters

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Greenbar Distillery doesn’t just make vodka, whiskey, and a very cool liqueur, it also makes bitters, all of which are organic and bottled at 48% abv. Each was made in conjunction with a different bartender (or two), part of a series of bitters-designing competitions the company has sponsored for several years. Here’s a look at five of the company’s (many) bitter offerings.

Bar Keep Apple Bitters – Solid apple flavor, with a healthy grating of cinnamon on top. It fades away fairly quickly into a more general bitterness, taking the fruit character with it. B+

Bar Keep Lavender Bitters – Finally, some bitters you can use in your spa! Floral notes like this can be overpowering, but if you can find a cocktail where you want a pop of lavender, you’ve got a wholly credible candidate here. B

Bar Keep Fennel Bitters – A really like the licorice kick on this one, and it’s got quite a bit of cayenne spice to back it up. Don’t want to bother with an absinthe rinse? Try a drop of these bitters… but be careful with the quantity. A little goes a long way. A-

Bar Keep Saffron Bitters – Subtle flavors here, but they linger for quite a while. A little saffron always goes a long way, and in a cocktail it can be hit or miss. A tricky product with a distinctive flavor. B

Bar Keep Chinese Bitters – Inspired by Chinese five spice blend, but heavy on cloves, with a bit of cinnamon and anise. The more I toy with it, the more I like it, particularly the lingering but relatively mild finish. A-

each $13 per 8 oz bottle / greenbar.biz

Review: 2013 Rotari Brut and Rose

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The Trento DOC is part of Italy’s Alto Adige, and it is home to Rotari, a well-distributed sparkling wine made using traditional methods. Generally gentle in style, these are wines that drink well on their own, with food, or in cocktails like Mimosas. As for these specific bottlings, here’s a look at two new, vintage-dated releases from Rotari. (Rotari also makes a lower-end nonvintage wine, so be sure you’re looking at the right bottling.)

2013 Rotari Brut Trentodoc – 100% chardonnay. Surprisingly light on its feet, this drinks like Prosecco crossed with Cava. Fresh and fruity with an apple-heavy core, the dry wine also offers notes of almond, lemon, and a bit of coconut. Gently fizzy with fine bubbles, it’s refreshing and cleansing on the lightly bubbly finish. The bottle may not look like much, but this is an easy go-to sparkler that won’t break the bank. A- / $20

2013 Rotari Rose Trentodoc – Made from pinot noir and chardonnay. Not nearly as much fun as the Brut, the rose has an overly creamy character that makes it a bit muddy at times, and which dulls the fruit profile. Notes of red berries and flowers on the nose give way to an odder body, which offers notes of peaches, bananas, and whipped cream. The finish is short, though harmless. B / $20

rotari.it

Review: 3 Mezcals from Craft Distillers – Alipus Ensamble, Mezcalero #16, and Mezcalero Special #2

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Craft Distillers has doubled down on mezcal, and it imports both the Alipus and Mezcalero lines of mezcal. Alipus is generally available, but the Mezcalero line is a series of limited production releases, numbered in sequence. 1 through 14 are now sold out; you can still get 15 and 16, the latter of which is reviewed below, along with a new “special bottling” of Mezcalero.

Let’s dig in to all three.

Mezcal Alipus San Andres Ensamble  – The first blended Alipus (all the others being single-village bottlings), Ensamble is a blend of 20% wild bicuishe agave harvested at 5300 feet plus 80% traditional espadin. It’s hard to miss the powerful sweetness here, coming across like honey for starters and almost maple syrupy at times. The smoke grows from there. What is palpable on the nose is well-integrated into the palate, where it takes on a fruitlike character not unlike sherried Islay Scotch. This, however, goes too far, pushing overripe fruit elements that culminate in a somewhat saccharine mishmosh of flavors that hit strong citrus notes before diving into a finish of salt spray and cigar smoke. A bit scattered on the whole. 94.4 proof. B / $65

Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel –  Angel takes semi-wild madrecuishe (agave karwinskii) from a 5200-foote high soil and turns it into this, an elegant and truly gorgeous mezcal. The nose is restrained and citrus-focused, with clear notes of lemon and grapefruit. The palate weaves gentle smoke into the picture, meandering from wood fires to clean citrus and back again. The body is modest but fulfilling, the finish clean and lightly sweet, with just a hint of that sour citrus juice squeezed on top. So easygoing, it’s hard to put down — and a perfect example of what quality mezcal should be. 94.2 proof. A / $96

Mezcalero Special Bottling Release #2 – A higher-end, even more limited production. This release comprises “552 liters distilled in October and November of 2012 by Don Valente Angel from semi-wild Dobadaan (agave rhodacantha). It was harvested from a south-facing slope of a hill known as Loma de la Mojonera comprised of sandy, ferriferous soil at 5350 feet of elevation. The agaves were wood-fire roasted in a stone horno, shredder-crushed, fermented with wild yeasts, double distilled using artisan methods on a 200-liter copper potstill, and bottled in March of 2016. 736 bottles produced.” To clarify, this is tank-rested (not barrel-aged) for over three years before bottling. The results are impressive. This is a soft, seductive mezcal that starts slow and builds to a crescendo, kicking off on the nose with gentle notes of black pepper, simple smoky notes, and a basic citrus character. The palate follows suit, dialed way back at first with just a short, simple sweetness, some orange peel, and pepper. From there, it builds up to quite a hefty, mouth-filling body, rolling in notes of mint, gunpowder, apple, and campfire smoke. The mezcal goes out not with a whimper but with a bang, finishing sharply and scorching the back of the throat. Exciting stuff, and fun to explore. 97.52 proof. A- / $135

craftdistillers.com

Review: The Macallan Double Cask 12 Years Old

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Macallan fans, as a rule, love its sherry-casked expressions but bemoan the existence of its bourbon-casked ones, namely the Fine Oak line (although the latter sees a bit of sherry finishing). At last Macallan has come up with a way to bridge the gap between the all-sherry Sherry Oak line and the sherry-minimal Fine Oak. The new line: Macallan Double Cask, a new style of whisky from the company. And it’s even got an age statement, folks.

Some notes on its production, per the distillery, “This is the first time The Macallan has used American Oak Sherry-seasoned casks as the most prominent flavor style in one of its expressions. To create Double Cask, The Macallan brings new oak from America thousands of miles to Spain, where the oak casks are crafted and Sherry-seasoned before traveling to the Macallan’s distillery on Speyside to mature for at least twelve years. These whiskies are then harmoniously united with those aged in the very best sherry seasoned European oak casks.”

So, to clarify, it’s a blend of whisky held in two types of casks: new American oak that’s been sherry seasoned, and standard European oak sherry casks. Note that there are no bourbon casks used in any of this; it is, in one sense, a 100% sherry-aged whisky, albeit an unconventional one.

As of now, there’s only one whisky in the Double Cask collection: this 12 year old bottling. Macallan hasn’t said anything about a line extension yet, but all signs seem to point to this as merely a starting point, presuming it does well in the market.

Let’s taste!

This is a well-rounded, even delightful expression of Macallan, showing off a nice balance between traditional American wood and sherry cask aging. On the nose, the sherry influence clearly dominates, though sharp orange peel and winey notes find balance in some caramel underpinnings. On the palate, a complex array of flavors await, beginning with fresh cereal before moving into more citrus, plus notes of coconut, caramelized banana, and even a curious touch of mint. The finish is lengthy but soothing and gentle, surfacing more of those new wood-fueled vanilla notes, a bit of leather, and some black pepper, which adds some grip to the otherwise lithe and supple body. Great balance from start to finish, and though it drinks a touch on the young side, it’s quite enchanting as a whole.

All told, it does “taste like Macallan,” the malt and sherry components combining for a surprisingly familiar (and somewhat simple) experience, double casking be damned. Die-hard Macallan fans won’t have any complaints here. The rest of you ought to give it a try, too.

86 proof.

A- / $65 / themacallan.com

Review: 2014 Owsley Single Block Pinot Noir

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Sonoma-Cutrer has been quietly producing a “grand cru” inspired pinot noir from its own prized Owsley Vineyard for four years, bottling it of course under the name of Owsley. This isn’t a second label — it’s kind of a zeroth label, a step up from garden-variety S-C, made with a single block of grapes and with decidedly unique winemaking practices. For example, for this 2014 release, “fermentation involved a unique combination of three different methods: oak tank, stainless steel tank and new French oak barrels with the heads removed. Each was allowed to ferment separately for several weeks before being ‘mingled’ together and aging for 16 months in the French barrels.”

The wine presents itself with loads of old world character, kicking off with a meaty, lightly smoky nose, and laying in balsamic notes. On the palate, the wine exudes austerity, offering notes of dark cherry fruit, more balsamic, some dusky spices, and a bit of black pepper. On the finish there are notes of tea leaf and tobacco. All told it’s a well-rounded wine that does indeed echoes great Burgundy, but with a unique, Sonoma spin.

A- / $50 / sonomacutrer.com

Review: Glenfarclas 12 Years Old, 17 Years Old, and 105 Cask Strength (2016)

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Recently I looked back at my early reviews of Glenfarclas 10 and 12 year old single malts and was a bit appalled at their naivete. An upgrade was required, and I got my hands on a trio of expressions: Glenfarclas 12 Years Old, 17 Years Old, and the coveted 105 Cask Strength expression.

For those unfamiliar with this Speyside classic, Glenfarclas is all single malt, 100% sherry cask matured (using both oloroso and fino sherry barrels). Consistently underrated, it’s a distillery that’s always worth a look no matter what age you see on the bottle.

Glenfarclas 12 Years Old – Classic Speyside. On the nose, there’s lots of honey and maple notes, with a biscuity character that offers lightly buttery, grainy notes. The sherry influence is slight, offering some punch on the nose but also just a hint of orange peel on the finish, following a body that offers tastes of chocolate malt balls, lightly roasted peanuts, and some dried ginger. This is a perfect “everyday” dram — not overwhelming, but with enough nuance to merit continued exploration — and affordable. 86 proof. A- / $47

Glenfarclas 17 Years Old – There’s an immediately stronger sherry influence on the nose with this older expression, ripe with aromas of orange peel and oil which complement the underlying grain character. On the palate, the bold body kicks off with classic Glenfarclas biscuits and honey, moving from there into notes of lemon peel, gingerbread, and walnuts. Stronger sherry notes build with time in glass; the finish finds this in relative balance with the barley character. 86 proof. B+ / $70

Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength – This is a 10 year old expression of Glenfarclas bottled at 120 proof (not 105, which refers to its original proof under the old British system). The bottle and label have changed in recent years, but what’s inside seems to have stayed the same. This is a richly sherried whisky, complex with notes of Christmas spices, marzipan, honeycomb, brown butter, and ample orange peel — both on the nose and the palate. Boldly malty at its core, the whisky finds intrigue in the way it builds upon that, folding in nuts, spice, fruit, and more. Cask strength gives the whisky the level of heat and the complexity that you’d expect, which you can either embrace with both arms or, perhaps more sensibly, temper it with a healthy splash of water. (It can handle plenty.) Either way — or perhaps both ways — it’s well worth exploring. 120 proof. A- / $92

glenfarclas.co.uk

Review: Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition Irish Whiskey

Redbreast Lustau

What a fun idea from Redbreast. For the tasting experience of Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition, the distillery sent out three bottles: A bottle of classic Redbreast 12 Years Old, a bottle of the new sherry-finished Redbreast Lustau, and a bottle of actual Lustau Oloroso Don Nuno sherry. In this way one can follow the creation of Redbreast Lustau pretty much from start to finish.

Redbreast Lustau is a permanent addition to the Redbreast line. Though it is officially a NAS release, it includes single pot still whiskey that is aged in both bourbon and sherry casks for 9 to 12 years. It is then finished in an Oloroso sherry butt from Bodegas Lustau which was crafted from Spanish oak, where it sits for an additional 12 months.

Now Redbreast has a long history with sherry casks; the 12 year old is aged in a variety of cask types (including both bourbon and multiple types of sherry casks). The finishing is a new spin — as is, of course, the loss of an age statement.

Tasting reveals a dramatic departure from the 12 year old expression, as Redbreast Lustau takes that classic, malty pot still character and gives it a serious spin. The nose is only slightly off from the expected, showing a stronger and more pungent orange peel note plus a nose-tickling pepper note to back up the malt, nougat, and toasty grains. On the palate is where things really start to diverge, the sherry giving the whiskey an intense nuttiness, along with notes of raisins and figs, again backing up that bold, malty body. The finish is lengthy, creamy, and spicy — all at once — everything building to a cohesive whole that is well worth exploring, age statement or no.

As for the actual sherry sample included here, well, I have no idea how people drink this stuff.

92 proof.

A- / $69 / irishdistillers.ie  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Thorberg Five Hop Belgian IPA

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Belgium’s Brouwerij Anders says the quest for the perfect Belgian IPA is over, and here it is: Thorberg Five Hop, which take Golding, Mosaic, Equinox, Willamette, and Citra hops and brews them up with Belgian techniques.

The results are impressive, offering aromatic layers of citrusy and lightly piney hops that meld beautifully with the heavier, relatively malt-laden body. Notes of applesauce and brown butter mingle with a hint of roasted vegetable character on the palate, offering a quick break from the bitterness of the hops. The hops however make a return appearance on the finish, which is mouth-filling and rounded, refreshing and clean but not nearly as palate-cleansing (or enamel-stripping) as a typical west coast style IPA. All in all, a nice treat as well as a break from the norm.

6.5% abv.

A- / $4.50 (11.2 oz bottle) / thorbergbeer.com

Book Review: Quench Your Own Thirst

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Ever wonder how Jim Koch got Samuel Adams started? Now you can, in Koch’s memoir that is part business story, part insider guide to the booze trade. It’s a relatively straightforward work as Koch meanders from his first act as a management consultant to the founder of a scrappy brewing operation to the CEO of the largest independent brewing company in the U.S.

It’s all quite linear, starting in 1983 and ending in the near present. The book really flies by: Some chapters are just a three or four pages long. Some aren’t even a full page. All the while, Koch focuses on his mantras about doing what you believe in, focusing on quality, the value of experimentation, and making do with as little as possible. A lot of it is standard business/management/go-get-’em sentiments, but all of it is still good advice.

Throughout, Koch offers anecdotes about what he knows about beermaking, plus gossip about the beer industry at large. Did you know that German beers exported to the U.S. had sugar in them (at least at once)? That Sam Adams could have ended up with the name of Sacred Cod?

If you’re a businessperson or aspiring entrepreneur who enjoys beer, Quench Your Own Thirst will be right up your alley. Hell, you don’t even need to like beer that much — the stories from the trenches are fairly universal. If, however, you’re a beer fan looking to better understand what goes into what it is you’re drinking, I would probably suggest a more general tome on the topic over Koch’s memoir.

A- / $17 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Tequila Siete Leguas (2016)

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Tequila Siete Leguas — then billed as 7 Leguas, before a label change — was an early review on Drinkhacker way back in 2008. I’ve felt odd about it for a long while, because Siete Leguas seems to be so beloved in bars, and it regularly appears on top shelf pour lists among the tequilarati. My original comments on the anejo were quite positive, but I rated the blanco and reposado expressions as lackluster. Was I naive? It’s been eight years and much in tequiladom has changed. Let’s take a fresh look at Siete Leguas — established in 1952, harvested in the Highlands, and named for Pancho Villa’s horse — and see how it fares today.

All three are 80 proof.

Tequila Siete Leguas Blanco – Surprisingly thin. I could never really embrace this blanco, which starts off slow, with a simplistic, agave-forward but decidedly flat nose, and doesn’t go very far from there. On the palate, the tequila lacks any real bite or peppery notes, offering the essence of green beans and bell peppers instead. The pure vegetal notes feel like they’re trying to burst forward, the way an unripe fruit holds promise, but they’re kept in check and dialed much too far back. My original comments now seem overly optimistic. B- / $40

Tequila Siete Leguas Reposado – (Still) aged 8 month in white oak barrels. There’s a surprising amount of red pepper on this one, giving some much-needed spice and punch to a tequila that is, in its silver version, quite dull around the edges. Black pepper creeps in on the nose, along with a healthy punch of vanilla. That vanilla also adds sweetness to the body, but the vegetal core still manages to push through those added flavors. There’s more of a sense of balance (and intrigue) in this expression, but it’s still got a ways to go. B+ / $45

Tequila Siete Leguas Anejo – 24 months of age on this one. For my money, this is the essential expression of Siete Leguas, which takes those youthful agave notes, spicy pepper, and supple vanilla, and whips them all into a cohesive and engaging whole. There are hints of toasted marshmallow, flamed orange peel, some golden raisins, and fresh cigars. These flavors congeal impressively into a bold but approachable body with a lengthy and lightly peppery (and slightly minty) finish. It’s also a solid value for an anejo of this caliber. A- / $50

tequilasieteleguas.com