Review: Lagavulin 25 Years Old 200th Anniversary (2016)


Islay is rife with 200th anniversaries this year. Up next is Lagavulin, which is putting out a special 25 year old anniversary bottling to commemorate the occasion. Some details from the distillery:

Lagavulin 25 Year Old, matured exclusively in sherry casks and bottled at cask strength, pays homage to the contribution Lagavulin’s distillery managers have made in crafting Lagavulin over the years. This limited-release offering honors the many craftsmen and great skill behind producing Lagavulin’s renowned whisky. Dr. Nick Morgan, Diageo’s Head of Whisky outreach states, “To continue this special birthday we wanted to release a brand new bottling to Lagavulin enthusiasts worldwide. The 25 Year Old is a sublime expression of Lagavulin, I couldn’t think of a better way to pay homage to the distillery managers.”

No surprises are in store for the reader on this one. This is classic, well-worn Lagavulin, which kicks off on the nose with both heavy peat and more luxurious notes of brown butter, fresh herbs, tobacco, and lanolin. On the palate, it’s quite sweet up front, offering notes of spiced nuts, clove-studded oranges, and cinnamon toast. The peat slowly rolls in like waves hitting the shore, bringing with it iodine, meaty barbecue smoke, all dusted with a salt-and-pepper sprinkling. The biting peat notes haven’t been dulled out of this one despite its time in barrel, the experience ending on a toasty, fireside character that really lingers.

All told: It’s nearly textbook Lagavulin, exactly as it should be.

101.8 proof. 1200 bottles available in the U.S.

A- / $1200 /

Review: Vizcaya Black Rum Reserva

Vizcaya Black Rum Bottle

The Dominican Republic’s Vizcaya is a little-known but very high-end producer of rum, and its latest expression, Vizcaya Black, is no letdown. Some details:

Crafted in small batches in the Dominican Republic using the traditional Guarapa method, Vizcaya Black Rum features pressed sugar cane juices as the primary ingredient, not molasses that is used for producing lower quality rums. The ingredients are carefully blended, then aged for 12 to 21 years in premium charred oak barrels. The aging time determines the richness of the rum’s dark color.

It’s a beautiful rum, not quite black but coffee brown, with a touch of crimson to it. The nose is intense and rich — burnt marshmallow, chocolate syrup, and roasted nuts, hallmarks of nicely aged rum. On the palate, the rum takes you even deeper. Honey sweetness adds a kind of graham cracker note, then along comes more of those dessert elements: syrupy chocolate, caramel sauce, and Vietnamese coffee.

There’s a distinctly unctuous character that runs throughout the rum — but the finish is particularly mouth coating, which causes it to linger for probably a bit too long. Otherwise, I can’t really complain about Vizcaya Black. It’s a knockout of a rum that features incredible depth and versatility — and an impressively low price tag.

A- / $29 /

Review: Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XVIII 28th Birthday Reserve


Deschutes keeps having birthdays and it keeps putting out experimental porter to commemorate it. This year’s Black Butte is less outright wacky than some of the recent releases, brewed with cocoa, vanilla, peated malt, and sweet orange peel. Half of the batch, as always, is aged in barrels — this time used bourbon and Scotch barrels.

Lots of licorice on this imperial porter, along with very, very dark, bittersweet chocolate notes. The vanilla adds a slightly sweet kick to the finish (more so as it warms up), but Black Butte takes little time celebrating the sweet stuff. This my be a celebratory beer, but it’s always dark as Hades, often drinking like the last dregs in a cup of espresso, perhaps filtered through a charred, woody reed.

That may sound like a difficult time, but there’s lots to be enchanted by in BB XVIII — particularly the way the whole package comes together with relatively disparate flavors that manage to work well as a whole.

11.5% abv.

A- / $17 per 22 oz. bottle /

Review: Attems 2015 Pinot Grigio and 2014 Pinot Grigio Ramato



Two wines from Attems, located in the Venezia region of Italy. Both in fact are made from the same grape — pinot grigio — but one is made in the traditional dry white style, the other as a ramato, or orange style.

Let’s taste both.

2015 Attems Pinot Grigio – Surprisingly buttery, to the point where this comes across like a baby chardonnay. Floral notes emerge over a time, but oaky vanilla lingers on the finish, coating the palate. B- / $15

2014 Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato – Orange wine is essentially a white wine made in the style of red, with the skins. Here it’s used to create a curious combo, fresh and fruity and amply acidic up front, then stepping into herbal territory, with notes of rosemary, thyme, and sage. These characteristics become particularly pronounced as the wine warms up, leading to a rather intense and dusky finish. A- / $19

Review: Plantation O.F.T.D. Rum


For the record, that’s Old Fashioned Traditional Dark. The rum itself may be old-fashioned, but its creation is decidedly newfangled. Constructed by a crew of seven self-described “rum geeks,” the team behind Plantation’s OFTD includes Plantation’s rum master Alexandre Gabriel, plus David Wondrich, and five rum-centric bar owners, including Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (New Orleans’ Latitude 29), Martin Cate (SF’s Smuggler’s Cove), and Scotty Schuder (Paris’s Dirty Dick). Their goal: To create a rich, flavorful, and strong rum, something that might be given out to old navy sailors back in the era of clipper ships.

The blend the septet came up with includes rum from Guyana, Jamaica, and Barbados, and it’s bottled at “a full 20 degrees overproof” according to Royal Navy measurements. At 69% alcohol, it’s really designed for cocktails — to serve as the definitive dark, overproof cocktail ingredient.

Let’s see what Gabriel and this motley crew have come up with.

The color is a nice toffee-coffee brown, which seems like it should be nice and easygoing, not an overproof bruiser. The nose quickly proves you wrong, offering a mix of Madeira, burnt sugar, black coffee, coal fire, and a mix of Caribbean spices… cloves, anise, and salty licorice. Very hot with alcohol (as it should be), this heat spills over into the palate, which offers a heavily charred barrel influence to dry out the rich molasses underpinning it. The secondary character includes some lingering orange peel, more of those heavy cloves, ginger, some petrol. It’s slightly nutty at times, and even a little floral if you can push past some rather intense and tarry licorice notes. If nothing else, at least the heavy amount of alcohol makes for a finish that gently burns away anything lingering on the palate, leaving behind some light but not unpleasant notes of tar and coffee grounds.

It is tough to make a great overproof rum, but our friends at Plantation have done quite a good job of it. Let us honor their hard work of delving through hundreds of samples and historic reference points by taking a hearty pull from the OFTD flagon, no?

138 proof.

A- / $32 (1 liter) /

Review: No. 3 London Dry Gin (2016)

no3 gin Martini w_bottle LR

Five years ago we sampled Berry Bros. & Rudd’s classic gin, No. 3. Little seems to have changed; this is still a pot-distilled gin with a mere six ingredients: juniper, orange peel, grapefruit peel, angelica root, coriander, and cardamom. Recently I had the good fortune to attend a lunch hosted by No. 3 at San Francisco’s Wingtip club, where the meal was paired with three different (very small) martinis, designed to showcase different presentations of No. 3 in a classic cocktail. My favorite, surprisingly, was the Dukes Martini, which is ice-cold No. 3, an atomized spritz of dry vermouth, and a lemon twist — the lemon peel just really popped with the citrus notes in the gin, really elevating the spirit

I was less of a fan of the “Classic” Martini with more dry vermouth and orange bitters, but the Martinez — with sweet vermouth, maraschino, and angostura, also shined, particularly as a pairing with creme brulee. (See photos below.)

As for the gin itself, my notes have changed little since the initial release. It’s a juniper-forward spirit with a bitter river running through it — likely driven heavily by the grapefruit peel — with a finish that offers both oily citrus notes and light floral elements. Some earthiness creeps in toward the back, along with a slightly sweet, fruity kick. This is gin without a lot of fluff, stripped down to its basics, which makes for a clean and refreshing spirit.

92 proof.

A- / $35 /

Review: Mount Gay Rum Origin Series Vol. 2 – Copper Column vs. Copper Pot

mount gay origin series volume two

One of my favorite things in the world of whiskey is when distilleries start to get experimental. Buffalo Trace has become legendary for putting out all manner of experimental whiskeys that you can sample side by side. The idea isn’t just to see what different barrel treatments or mashbills do to a spirit — but to see how the various experiments compare to one another.

Last year, Mount Gay decided that whiskey shouldn’t have all the fun, that rum could do the experimental thing, too. It released Volume One of what has turned into an ongoing Origin Series of releases, two half-bottles of rum, identical in every other way, except one was aged in virgin oak and one was aged in a charred barrel. This release was a Barbados-only release and never made it to the U.S., but now Volume Two is out, looking at another variable in the distillation process.

For rum, this is a major one: The impact of the column still vs. the pot still. The two rums in this release are identical in ingredients and maturity (though none of that information is made public), they simply vary by the type of still used to create them.

So, let’s try these guys side by side and see how they compare. Fun, fun stuff!

Both rums are 86 proof.

Mount Gay Rum Origin Series Vol. 2 Copper Column – This is a fairly straightforward rum, sweet and slightly woody on the nose with a slightly winey note to it. On the palate, it’s a bit duskier than I expected, taking on a slightly burnt brown sugar character plus notes of coffee, light licorice, and cloves. The finish is still on the woody side, lightly astringent but otherwise clean and balanced — not too sweet, but plenty rich. When I think of a good rum for simple mixers, this is the kind of rum I look for. Bottle #6566/7200. A-

Mount Gay Rum Origin Series Vol. 2 Copper Pot – An immediately different experience. On the nose, some funk, with hints of hospital character, green vegetables, and piquant astringency. The body immediately shows off fruity notes of apricots and some grapefruit, offering a curious sweetness that verges toward bubble gum at times. The finish is dusky, with notes of gunpowder and pencil lead, also showing the wood that the column rum offers but with a hoarier, more forest-floor undertone. Normally I gravitate to pot-distilled rums over column-distilled rums, but this one shows how pot-distilled expressions might need and benefit from more barrel time. Bottle #0797/7200. B+

$95 for set of two 375ml bottles /