Review: Blue Nectar Tequila Complete Lineup (2016)

We first encountered Blue Nectar in 2014. The Lowlands tequila producer had an avant garde approach to production, which included a reposado-anejo blend and a flavored reposado in the mix. Since then, the company has done some rebranding (while keeping the perfume bottle profile), shuffled some labels and product names, and added a full anejo to the mix, while sticking with its “agave forward” flavor profile.

Here’s a fresh look at the full (and now complete) lineup of tequilas. All are 80 proof.

Blue Nectar Tequila Silver – A triple-distilled blanco, this tequila noses with notes of green pepper, some cinnamon, and ample, herbal agave. On the palate, the flavor of roasted agave dominates, with black pepper notes clinging to the back of the throat. Sweetness is present, but elusive, as hot vegetal notes tend to dominate. B / $43

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado Extra Blend – Double-distilled. Aged six to eight months in charred North American oak barrels and blended with three-year extra añejo. This effectively corresponds to the 2014 Reposado bottling. Though the nose is restrained and agave-heavy, it drinks with more oomph, offering notes of vanilla, nutmeg, and ample orange peel. The finish is lingering with notes of cola and barrel char — almost whiskey-like at times with a dusty, coal-fired finish. B+ / $48

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado Special Craft – Double-distilled. Aged six to eight months in charred North American oak barrels and infused with essential oils and a hint of agave nectar. This is the equivalent of the 2014 Special Reserve. This surprisingly noses more like a traditional reposado, with clear cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla aromas. The body is all kinds of crazy, though, very sweet, with notes of marzipan, banana, whipping cream, and saltwater taffy. The finish is gummy and lingering, impossibly sugar-rich. C+ / $53

Blue Nectar Tequila Anejo Founder’s Blend – A new addition. Double-distilled, and aged for one to two years in charred American oak barrels and blended with extra añejo, including a limited production five year old extra añejo. It offers a relatively traditional, old tequila nose, with deep vanilla, dusky barrel char, and sweet caramel notes at the fore. The palate is equally well-formed, offering more dark caramel, some chocolate, a touch of maple, and cinnamon. The agave hangs in there, showing its face on the finish as an afterimage of what’s come before. Nicely made. A- / $67

bluenectartequila.com

Review: Ballotin Chocolate Whiskeys

If ever there was a time of year for chocolate-flavored whiskeys, well, you’re soaking in it.

Former Brown-Forman exec Paul Tuell is the man behind Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey, a set of four flavored whiskeys with chocolate as the connecting thread among them. Each expression starts with aged American whiskey (origin and variety unstated, but these are bottled in Louisville, for what it’s worth) and is flavored with “all-natural essences of classic and contemporary chocolate favorites.” The goal: To create a product that “tastes like a “bourbon expression” of your favorite chocolate indulgences.”

Well, let’s see how they did with that goal. 

Each expression is bottled at 60 proof.

Ballotin Original Chocolate Whiskey – Bittersweet chocolate with a bit of vanilla and just a hint of cinnamon hits the nose first. On the palate, the chocolate is front and center, lingering for a few seconds before the more traditional whiskey notes push their way through, bringing both ample heat and an oaky, vanilla-heavy rush of flavor. The ultimate experience is closer to two different drinks experienced one after another, a silky Mexican chocolate up front, followed by a hit of whiskey — admittedly somewhat anonymous whiskey, but enjoyable nonetheless. A-

Ballotin Bourbon Ball Whiskey – A stronger vanilla profile touched with a lightly toasted almond note kick things off here, giving this a strong amaretto character. Chocolate is restrained and relegated to the back end, after the almond-whiskey mix fades out. B

Ballotin Chocolate Mint Whiskey – Fairly self-explanatory, smells like an Andes mint. This is a nostalgic whiskey, mint-forward up front, with the soothing chocolate notes rolling over you from there. The combination works very well — what’s missing, however, is any real sense of whiskey in this one. Though, to be honest, I think if it was more present, that might ruin some of the fun. B+

Ballotin Caramel Turtle Whiskey – Strong pecan notes give this a straightforward praline nose, and the palate follows suit with nuts first and foremost. The finish sees some whiskey-driven vanilla and caramel, but this time it’s the chocolate that doesn’t ever quite show its face. Quite a departure from most of the above, but not at all unpleasant, with light notes of nutmeg and gingerbread lingering on the back end. B+

each $30 / ballotinwhiskey.com

Review: NJoy Spirits Wild Buck Whiskey and Mermaid Rum

NJoy Spirits, not to be confused with N’Joy coffee creamer, is the brainchild of Natalie Goff, nee Joy, and Kevin Goff, who make two products, a whiskey and a rum, in Weeki Wachee, Florida, which they promise is a real place. The whiskey is a true craft spirit, no sourcing here, made from local grains and purified rainwater and without artificial coloring or flavorings, and it is made in small batches, aged in variously sized, new, charred oak barrels. The rum is sourced, but it is aged in the company’s own whiskey barrels. “We use no automation at our distillery except for a grain grinder. We fill our bottles by eye and hand label, cork, and sanitize all bottles,” says Natalie.

We tasted both of NJoy’s products. Thoughts (and more production details) follow.

Wild Buck Whiskey – This is a 100% rye made from local Florida grain (30% grown by NJoy itself); the second distillation (of two) is in a pot still. Again, aging is in new oak barrels of various smaller sizes (5, 15, and 25 gallons), but no age statement is offered (the company says barrels are generally 10 to 24 months old). Distinctly youthful on the nose, the whiskey offers aromas of lumberyard along with eucalyptus, mushroom, and a touch of dried fruit. The essence of rye comes further to the fore on the palate, where hefty baking spices interplay with the whiskey’s significant charred wood influence to create a mixed bag of flavors. In time notes of black cherry, significant mint, and cloves push through the hefty wood notes, but the overall impact is still one of a whiskey that will benefit substantially of a few more years of aging; a 5 year old reserve is planned down the road. 100 proof. B / $60

Mermaid Rum – This is 75% 3 year old Florida sugar cane rum blended with 25% Caribbean pot still rum which is then aged in once-used Wild Buck Whiskey barrels for 90 days. The nose alone could knock you over. It hits with the power of a pure pot still rum, full of intense phenolic solvent notes alongside heady alcohol. Brown sugar and molasses notes bubble through this, but the focus remains squarely on the funky hogo and raw alcohol character. On the palate, the rum explodes with sweetness, showcasing myriad flavors that you just can’t suss out in the overpowering nose. Brown sugar leads the way to gingerbread, ripe banana, coconut, cocoa nibs, orange peel, and, on the finish, more of those cloves. The conclusion has those petrol notes lingering on the palate, but it’s the explosion of flavor beforehand that lingers on the mind. A masterful blend. 100 proof. A- / $40

wildbuckwhiskey.com

Review: Cotswolds Dry Gin

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England has no shortage of gin distilleries, but southern England-based Cotswolds wants to be at the top of your list. Cotswolds is one of the “smallest but prettiest” distilleries in Britain, and if the pictures do it any justice, they’re not wrong on the beauty claim.

Some details:

The expression of the traditional London Dry style comes from the maceration into our pure wheat spirit of juniper, coriander and angelica root, which have been left for 12 hours to allow their flavour characteristics to fully infuse. We then add our unique botanical mix of Cotswolds lavender and bay leaf, grapefruit, lime, black pepper, and cardamom seed into our bespoke Holstein pot still for distillation before finishing with naturally refined Cotswolds water.

As the production notes indicate, this is predominantly a London Dry style gin, heady with juniper up front, but with clear bay leaf notes also showing on the nose. The lavender is quite present on the supple and silky body, which folds in lime zest and a bit of pepper, plus an earthiness (driven by coriander and angelica) that lingers for quite a while on the finish. Other than the lime, there’s not a lot of citrus to find here, which may come as a disappointment to those who prefer more fruit in their gin, but the focus on less common herbs and aromatics in the mix — particularly the fragrant lavender, which manages to avoid coming across like something you put in your bathwater — makes for a unique and engaging experience. The gentle body — despite the relatively high alcohol level — only adds to the appeal.

92 proof. Batch #02/2015. 4800 bottles made.

A- / $35 / cotswoldsdistillery.com

Review: Twang Beer Salt

It’s common to jam a wedge of lime into your beer when sipping on a Mexican lager. Others prefer a lick of salt instead of the sweet-and-sour kick of citrus, and that’s why Twang — “The Original Premium Beersalt” — exists.

Twang, which also makes a line of margarita salts, sells five different flavors of beer salt (none of which are just “salt”), in little bottles that you apply directly to the glass or the rim of your bottle as you drink. New to the game is its Clamato Chili-Lime Salt, which is sold in a small can and which is designed for Micheladas, Bloody Maries, and other tomato-centric beverages. The little bottles are resealable and portable… and should last for quite a while in normal use.

Ideally no beer you drink should need manipulating in order to be palatable, but I know you don’t always have a choice of what to sip on — or maybe you just want to try something new for a change. Either way, keep reading for reviews of all five beer salts, plus the Clamato version.

Twang Michelada Especial Beer Salt – There’s a nice and well-balanced mix of tomato, lime, chili pepper, and salt in this, and it pairs quite well with lager. You really can taste all the disparate elements, which is quite a surprise. It’s clearly a way to make a poor man’s michelada, you bet, but there’s nothing wrong with slumming it once in a while. A-

Twang Lemon-Lime Beer Salt – Leans heavily on the lime, but lemon gives it a stronger kick on the back end. I was less thrilled with it as a pairing companion for any beer, but perhaps experimenting with different beer styles would find a more natural mate. B-

Twang Lime Beer Salt – As the above, without the lemon kick on the back end. I really enjoy a lime in my Pacifico, but this just didn’t replicate the experience for me. Too salty perhaps? B-

Twang Orange Beer Salt – Extremely orange heavy — only a salty kick late in the game distracts from the idea of Pixy Stix — presumably designed for use with wheat beers. It’s not really to my taste, but again, this could be a question of finding the right beer to pair it with. Either way, it’s less versatile than I’d like. C+

Twang Hot Lime Beer Salt – Less fiery than I was expecting (and hoping for), but the addition of spice gives the lime flavor more versatility and intrigue. A reasonable pairing with lagers, but still quite tart and lingering beyond its welcome. B

Twang Clamato Chili-Lime Salt – Again, this is a slightly different product intended for more than just beer, but as with the Michelada salt above, it fights above the expected weight. The two products are actually quite similar, though this one has less salt, larger granules, and just a hint of that briny shellfish character. Definitely a keeper for bloodies, (real) micheladas, and other exotic drinks. B+

$2 per 1.4 oz bottle (Clamato version is 1 oz) / beersalt.com

Review: A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon

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Nearly three years ago our friends at Virginia-based, Sazerac-owned A. Smith Bowman released a unique finished version of their whiskey, which included 12 months of finishing in gingerbread stout barrels sourced from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

Now Bowman is adding a new version that complicates things much further. Allow them to explain directly:

Marrying two Virginia gems, this limited edition bourbon was aged in a special batch of barrels used by A. Smith Bowman Distillery and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Virginia.  The barrels originated at A. Smith Bowman in 2010, where they aged bourbon for four and a half years.  The barrels were emptied and sent to Hardywood Park Brewery to be filled with two special beers: six barrels aged Gingerbread Stout and four barrels aged Foolery Imperial Milk Stout.

Both of the beers aged inside these barrels for eight months before being emptied again and sent back to A. Smith Bowman in December 2015. They were then finally filled for the last time with bourbon that had aged for nine years inside of new charred white oak barrels. This bourbon was distilled in December of 2006 and was allowed to finish for 17 months inside these special barrels. Master Distiller Brian Prewitt determined through periodic tasting evaluations that the rich caramel and oak flavors of the bourbon had intermingled with the spice notes of gingerbread and hints of cocoa in an extraordinary way.

He’s not wrong. This bourbon has a powerful cocoa experience that really can’t be missed (and yeah, some gingerbread too). The nose is redolent with dark chocolate and spice — ginger, but also cinnamon and cloves and perhaps some cardamom in the mix, too. All of this is laid atop a classic bourbon profile of vanilla and heavy lumberyard notes, making for quite a complex aroma.

On the palate, the bourbon plays with the same set of flavors, but in a somewhat different configuration. Those vanilla and caramel notes are up-front and unavoidable on the tongue, and only after this initial straight-bourbon rush do the chocolate and gingerbread notes emerge. But emerge they do, hitting the palate with force and lingering for quite some time. As the finish arrives, it’s bitter dark chocolate notes that hang around the longest, making for a truly unique but also quite compelling experience. Snap up a bottle if you happen to encounter one. It’s a novelty, yes, but a truly worthwhile one.

90 proof.

A- / $46 (375ml) / asmithbowman.com

Tasting Affordable Bordeaux, Late 2016 Releases

Hey folks, don’t want to spend big bucks for wine for the holiday table? Check out this quintet of affordable Bordeaux wines — which generally fared much better than the last round of affordabordeaux that we reviewed.

NV La Fleur de Francois Cremant de Bordeaux Rose Brut – A sparkling rose made from 90% merlot and 10% cabernet franc. Rather malty and yeasty, but balanced by floral notes and notes of fresh berries, this wine drinks much like the better-known Cremant d’Alsace, melding cereal character with fresh fruit. Simple but versatile, with a round body that can stand up to heavier foods. B+ / $16

2013 Baron Philippe de Rothschild Mouton Cadet Bordeaux Blanc – Fresh and grassy, this blend of 69% sauvignon blanc, 28% semillon, and 3% muscadelle drinks with its sauvignon blanc foot forward, a grassy and lightly tropical experience, with light lemon juice notes clear and strong on the finish. Highly drinkable but definitely simple, it’s a versatile wine that works as a summer sipper or as a pairing with lighter fare. A- / $10

2011 Chateau le Calvaire Bordeaux Superieur – This wine (a 64% cabernet/36% merlot blend) may have no pedigree, but it’s an outstanding bottling that I recommend without reservation. Silky, fresh fruit, heavy on cherries, finds companionship with very light currant notes, some floral elements, tea leaf, and a bit of cinnamon. Well-balanced from start to finish, it showcases fruit without being at all jammy, its tannins deftly folding in on the wine as it fades out with a gentle, lingering floral touch. An amazing value wine. A- / $11

2012 Chateau Timberlay Bordeaux Superieur – 85% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% cabernet franc. This is a fairly workaday Bordeaux, with fruit dialed way back so that only some tart, unripe cherry notes remain. Notes of tobacco and balsamic fill in the gaps, but the dusty and mildly astringent finish isn’t much to look forward to. C / $16

2014 Barton & Guestier Bordeaux – 85% merlot, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Another simple wine, and young. That said, fruit is dialed down a bit, leaving this wine to showcase mild herbs, some wood, and a significant amount of tannin. Watch for raspberry on the back end, which helps the wine rise to the occasion with a bit more gusto. B / $10

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