Review: Caol Ila 30 Years Old Limited Edition 2014

Coal Ila 30YO Bottle

Yesterday we experienced Caol Ila’s unpeated expression; today it’s the full monty, and bottled at a full 30 years of age — the oldest Caol Ila ever released by the distillery itself. #4 in the 2014 Diageo Special Releases is a peat bomb straight outta Islay, distilled in 1983.

After 20 years or so, peated whiskies tend to settle down, and this Caol Ila is no exception. The nose offers notes of sweet citrus, mesquite smoke, and dense toffee. The body continues the theme, with gentle smokiness settling over notes of rum raisin, quince, licorice, and bitter roots. When the smoke settles, it leaves behind a bittersweet character that is paradoxically at once racy and soothing, a maritime whisky that is starting to feel its age — and I mean that in a delightful way.

110.2 proof. 7,638 bottles produced.

A- / $700 / malts.com

Review: Benrinnes 21 Years Old Limited Edition 2014

Benrinnes 21YO Bottle & Box

One of the most anticipated annual events in Scotch whisky is now upon us: Diageo’s Special Releases, antiquities both old and new (mostly old) from some of Scotland’s most storied distilleries. We’ve covered these releases for a few years, and 2014 (as each is formally labeled) presents us a bigger bounty than usual: 11 whiskies from some old friends and some new ones, too.

2014 Diageo Rare Malts

We’ll be reviewing one spirit a day for the next 11 days, so keep coming back to get the lowdown on the whole series.

Our first Diageo 2014 review is from Benrinnes, an active Speyside distillery that was best known for a curious triple distillation method, unusual for Scotland. This was abandoned in the 2000s, but this 21 year old would have undergone the process back in 1992 when it was distilled. There are no ongoing, distillery-issued Benrinnes bottlings produced today, so this release (the first in five years) comprises just a handful of the few casks that will get the “official” seal.

At 21 years old, Benrinnes showcases a mild, malty nose redolent with nuts, toast, and fresh grains. The palate is something else entirely. Huge fruit notes start things off: apple cider, currants, and orange peel. There’s a somewhat musty undertone to this, but it’s beat out by the other elements. The body is chewy and oily, the finish lasting, warming, and grounded by its grainy roots — just hinting at smoke at the very end. This is a whisky with a lot going on — but fortunately the fruit and the malt elements remain in harmony throughout the experience. None of the characteristics here are entirely unexpected, but the way Benrinnes brings them together is well worth considering.

113.8 proof. 2,892 bottles produced.

A- / $400 / malts.com

Review: Arkansas Black Applejack

arkansas HI-RES

As far as local spirits go, for me, there’s nothing more local than Arkansas Black Applejack. It’s made by a husband and wife that live right around the corner from me, from Arkansas Black apples (hence the name) plus some Golden Delicious. The applejack is actually produced in Oregon at Clear Creek, after which it is aged in a mix of French Cognac and American Bourbon barrels.

Each bottle is a limited-cask bottling; the sample I tried came from a 2014 batch of just 2 barrels. (In 2015, 10 barrels are on tap for bottling.)

This is about as pure an expression of applejack as you’re likely to find in America today. The nose if immediately filled with baked apples — and a little bit of the funkiness you expect to see in a craft apple brandy. Bittersweet but authentic, the body is powerful with chewy apple notes, vanilla caramels, and baking spices. Initially quite sweet, almost like a grape brandy, it edges toward bitter as the palate takes hold, with the wood influence becoming more expressive. The finish balances these elements, offering a sugary zing tempered by notes of apple cider, root beer, licorice, and some savory herbs.

98 proof. Reviewed: Batch A, barrel TL-1, bottle #273.

A- / $50 / via facebook

Tasting with Branded Spirts: Hana Gin, Motu Rum, HM Blended Scotch, and Majeste Cognac

Majeste_XO_White Background

Treasure Island, California-based Branded Spirits recently sent us its Arctic Fox Vodka for review… then they stopped by with more — everything the company is currently producing, in fact. Originally a major exporter to China — where it once held the license to sell Heineken beer — it’s now making a bigger, broader push for the U.S. as well.

We tasted through four additional products from Branded, including a gin, rum, Scotch, and Cognac. The company promises more goodies to come, including a single malt and some vintage Cognacs, to boot.

All spirits are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Hana Gin – Triple distilled (presumably from corn, like Arctic Fox Vodka), this gin is infused with just four botanicals: Albanian juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, and lavender. The lavender note is quite fragrant up front, leading to a floral-driven nose. Juniper is big on the finish, but modest medicinal notes creep in as the finish fades. B / $20

Motu Rum – Distilled from Polynesian molasses, then rested in used French oak barrels for two months. A hint of hogo up front, with some agricole character at first. The rum sweetens out as the body builds, offering tropical and coconut notes. Quite chewy, with a lasting, slightly fruity finish. Quite unique and sophisticated for this price level. Some proceeds go to support Tongan conservation charities. A- / $20

HM The King Blended Scotch Whisky – A Highland style blend which includes some peated malt along with other Highland malts mingled with Lowland grain whisky. Leather saddle notes start off what develops into a rustic nose, with a slight smokiness and plenty of earth. The body offers honey and toffee, plus some floral elements, making for a spirit with two faces — brooding and leathery on the nose, but sweeter and gentler on the palate. Curious. B+ / $25

Majeste L’Empereur Cognac XO – A 10-plus year old Cognac sourced from Dupuy Bache-Gabrielsen in Cognac. Delightfully minty on the nose, followed by the expected raisin notes, plus hints of cloves. The body builds to a sultry, leathery note, studded with tobacco character but balanced with fruit, lots of sweetness — a bit of vanilla, with some burnt marshmallow — and a perfectly crafted finish that pushes out gingerbread, baking spice, and a bounty of those sultry raisins. Great stuff. A / $110

brandedspirits.com

Review: Mezcal Amaras

mezcal amarasThis new brand of mezcal hails from San Juan del Rio in Oaxaca. It’s a blanco made in a decidedly traditional style. To wit:

This traditional mezcal is made from Espadín agave plants grown on the hills surrounding San Juan del Rio, which are harvested at their optimum maturity by Jimadores, and roasted for 5 days in conical stone ovens over sustainable Holm Oak logs. Next, the agave hearts are ground on a horse drawn Egyptian mill, which creates an extract that naturally ferments in open pine containers for up to 13 days.  Finally, the liquid is slowly distilled twice in copper pot stills, a process which removes impurities, refines the character of the mezcal, and produces a soft, smooth flavor with a slightly smoked, citric aroma.

Amaras (“you will love”) is a bit more smoked than that description would indicate, but it does indeed have a citrusy, barbecue-like aroma that pushes right along as the palate gets a grip. Notes of pineapple, honeycomb, and melon make for some interesting appetizers before the smoky body really begins to dig in. It isn’t overbearing or particularly harsh, but it does offer a sizable amount of campfire flavors. Notes of Mexican chocolate build on the finish if you give it time, adding a layer of complexity to an otherwise fairly straightforward but extremely well-made mezcal.

82 proof. Reviewed: Lot #1 (2014), bottle 147/3300.

A- / $50 / mezcalamores.com

Review: 2013 J Vineyards Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

RRVPinotNoirProduct220x680Two new wines from our friends at J Vineyards, located in Sonoma County, California. Thoughts follow.

2013 J Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Rich, currant-laced fruit pops beautifully in this well-crafted Pinot Noir, offering notes of slightly sweetened tea up front and coffee bean and chocolate on the back end. Touches of cloves round out a wine that sounds dense but is actually quite light on its feet. An easy sipper, it also pairs well with food. A- / $40

2013 J Vineyards Chardonnay Russian River Valley – Initially on the meaty side, this wine settles down to reveal more caramel notes, laced with applesauce and quince. Dense and chewy, it’s a big wine that wears the Russian River right on its sleeve, but ultimately reveals more charm than you’d think. B / $28

jwine.com

Review: Bittermilk Mixers No. 5 and 6

bittermilk 5

Two new Bittermilk mixers for your approval. As always, these are non-alcoholic syrups and tonics that make high-end mixology embarassingly easy. Thoughts follow.

Bittermilk No. 5 Charred Grapefruit Tonic – Made with lemon and lime juice, cane sugar, charred grapefruit peel, cinchona bark, and Bulla Bay sea salt. Designed as a mixer with vodka and soda water (all three in even proportions). This has a nice mix of sweet, sour, salt, and bitter, all in one package. The sweet is what comes through the strongest, though — I might use this in somewhat lower proportions than the packaging advises. Better yet, skip the vodka and mix this with rum or even whiskey. I used it to make a cocktail with aged rum, mango lemonade, and the tonic (roughly 1:2:1) and it was a huge, punch-like hit. A- / $15 (17 oz.)

Bittermilk No. 6 Oaxacan Old Fashioned – Quite a departure from Bittermilk’s other products. Made with can sugar, raisins, lemon peel, cocoa, chiles, spices, and cinchona bark. Designed to be mixed with mezcal, 1 part mixer to 4 parts spirit, it’s dark and chunky, with solids floating in it. This is an intriguing one, but probably as an acquired taste as straight mezcal is. Sweet and chocolaty with a distinct raisin punch, the mixer adds a complexity to mezcal without masking its unmistakable smokiness. It’s not a cocktail I’d drink every day — and the solids settle out much too quickly — but it’s a fun diversion on a Friday night. B / $15 (8.5 oz.)

bittermilk.com

Review: Merlet Cognac Selection Saint-Sauvant Assemblage No. 1

merlet

Cognac’s Merlet is back with another new brandy, Selection St. Sauvant, a limited-edition blend that is made… well, we’ll let Merlet do the talking:

“Assemblage N°1” (Blend N°1) was bottled in 2013. This delicate cognac is a marriage of “eaux-de-vie” from the Petite Champagne and Grande Champagne aged over 10 years as well as from the Fins bois (1992 and 2001) and from the Petite Champagne (1993). The alcohol strength is then slowly reduced to allow a perfect balance of flavors. This cognac is unique and produced as a limited edition.

Quite fruity on the nose, the Cognac offers notes of peaches, tropical fruits, vanilla extract, and intensely perfumed aromatics. The body is immediately engaging, offering deep fruit notes atop quite a bit of bite, and a growing nutty character that emerges more clearly as the finish reaches its climax. The extra alcohol here is evident throughout, giving this brandy a headiness and punch that more gentler, lower-proof brandies simply don’t provide. But it’s the aromatics that lend a special character to St. Sauvant, melding gentle wood notes with clove-studded oranges, apricots with chocolate sauce. It’s a bit punchy from start to finish, but fun stuff, through and through.

90.4 proof. Less than 800 bottles available in the U.S.

A- / $100 / merlet.fr

Review: Magipatch Hangover Recovery Patch

magipatch

Zaca and Bytox have new competition in the burgeoning hangover preventive market: Magipatch.

Magipatch says it’s a “hangover recovery patch,” but that’s a bit misleading — like Zaca and Bytox, you have to apply the patch before you start drinking for it to work. The day after is simply too late. Leave it on until the following day and you’re supposed to be fine.

Comparing the ingredient list to Zaca reveals lots of similarities. Magipatch includes Thiamin, Vitamins C, E, A, D, Bs 2, 3, 5, 6, and 12, Green Tea Extract, Milk Thistle, Globe Artichoke Extract, and Chromium Picolinate. Lots of commonalities, but lots of other oddities in there too — and the active ingredients are in generally higher concentrations than Zaca. What’s the key component? For my money, milk thistle is where it’s at when it comes to offsetting the damage of alcohol consumption. (I’m not alone here.)

Magipatch comes with a plastic backing vs. Zaca’s cloth backing. It sticks on well — but it does leave a bit of residue on the skin after you take it off.

The results? Not bad at all. I wore Magipatch as instructed for a long night out and had little more than a dry mouth the next morning. My dreams were exceptionally strange that night — though it’s tough to pin that on any specific patch or ingestible — but otherwise I slept fairly soundly. Judging on history, Zaca does seem slightly more effective — provided you can keep it from falling off at night — but your personal mileage may vary.

In my analysis, as unscientific as it may be, preventive patches do seem to work — and they’re far more effective than pills or beverages you drink after the damage is done. While moderation is the best way to avoid a hangover, if you think things could get messy, Zaca or Magipatch are an excellent insurance policy.

A- / $28 for 10 patches / magipatch.com

Review: Molinari Sambuca Extra and Caffe Liquore

Molinari Sambuca ExtraAh, sambuca, the creepy Italian cousin of Greece’s ouzo — pure licorice in a clear-as-day spirit… and something we’ve managed to avoid for over seven years here at Drinkhacker. Until now!

Molinari, based in Rome, is best known for two products — “Extra,” its sambuca, and Ceffe, an anise/coffee liqueur. There’s also a limoncello, bottled under different packaging, which we’ll be reviewing in a separate post.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at the light (Sambuca Extra) and the dark (Caffe Liquore) of Molinari…

Molinari Sambuca Extra – Sweeter than a pastis, with a candylike licorice character to it. That said, the sugar isn’t overpowering, offering a chewy cotton candy character up front that fades fast to a clean finish. There’s not much to it, just punchy anise (star anise in the case of Molinari, actually, along with other herbs and oils) atop an almost fruity base. Surprisingly drinkable despite the lack of complexity. 84 proof. B+ / $20

Molinari Caffe Liquore – A dark brown blend of Sambuca Extra and coffee, this liqueur brings two classic flavors together in one spirit. (Sambuca is commonly served with coffee beans floating in it as a garnish.) The coffee dominates both nose and palate, though the anise notes offer a distinctive aromatic note as well as an herbal, mintlike essence on the finish, which is much lengthier than the sambuca’s. As with Sambuca Extra, Caffe Liquore is sweet, clean, and unmuddied, but the addition of coffee gives this a more exciting complexity that’s more fun to sip on well into the after hours. 72 proof. A- / $22

molinari.it