Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: Caffe Borghetti di Vero Espresso Liqueur

Borghetti Bottle 104x300 Review: Caffe Borghetti di Vero Espresso LiqueurCaffe Borghetti — or just “Borghetti” if you’re hip — is an espresso liqueur made in Italy — you know, where espresso was invented. Made from real, brewed espresso, the base beverage is made from “a blend of 70% Arabica beans grown at a high altitude in South America and 30% Robusto beans from Africa is placed into a large-scale ‘moka’ machine.” It’s then blended with distillate (unspecified) to create the final liqueur.

It’s a deep, dark liqueur, with considerably chocolate notes on the otherwise coffee-thick nose. The body is rich and authentic, with some fruitiness and a surprising nuttiness that develops atop the mocha notes you get in the nose. An easy sipper, it’s got a pleasant balance of sweetness and a touch of bitterness — the latter of which sticks with you after the rest of the liqueur fades.

Nice body — dense without being mouth-coating — and definitely a worthwhile alternative to Kahlua.

50 proof. (Kahlua is 40 proof, just FYI.)

A- / $20 / branca.it

Book Review: Uncorking The Past

Uncorkingcover2 222x300 Book Review: Uncorking The PastAs I took the opportunity to sample the Dogfish Head Ancient Ales collection, it felt appropriate to enjoy a book written by one of the men whose scholarly pursuits inspired and acted as a catalyst to many of the creations. It’s a nice supplementary companion while drinking and enjoying.

Dr. Patrick E. McGovern is the Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia and for the last several decades has been a pioneer in the field of Molecular Archaeology. Uncorking The Past is an engaging road map of humanity’s fascination with fermented beverages. With narrative passages that would make Indiana Jones proud, McGovern goes to incredible lengths to ensure scientific and anthropological accuracy and integrity with each discovery; travelling the ancient world to reveal the secrets behind beer, wine and other alcohol-based drinks. Through it all McGovern reveals a striking connection between civilizations, ritual, and their intoxicating elixirs. He also develops a new field of anthropology from which to appreciate parallels between cultures.

McGovern’s writing is densely packed and rich in detail, but crafted in a way that is accessible to casual readers and fosters moments of amusement and discovery. More than once I found myself looking up things on Wikipedia or Google for further information on a topic. Best of all, the whole experience is greatly enhanced while enjoying a glass of whatever subject is being discussed (if you can find it).

Though at times it wanders a tad too much into the waters of academia, Uncorking The Past is an incredibly fascinating read and should be on the holiday wish list of every avid reader that enjoys history, alcohol or the history of alcohol.

A- / $16 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Newcastle Cabbie Black Ale

Newcastle Cabbie bottle 100x300 Review: Newcastle Cabbie Black AleThis latest release in Newcastle’s limited edition series is definitively its best, a black ale called Cabbie. Seductively dark, the brew is surprisingly mellow, with chocolatey malt notes and a nutty finish. Think coffee — but freshly picked berries, not dark roast. Cabbie’s got enough bitterness (just 25 IBUs) to keep it mouth-cleansing, but has a big enough body to keep things interesting, rumbling, and fireside-friendly.

Watch for point of sale displays that feature a $5 credit toward Taxi Magic cab fares. Not a bad deal!

4.2% abv.

A- / $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com

Review: Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard Double Bastard Ale

double bastard ale 226x300 Review: Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard Double Bastard AleAs the back label copy of this brew states, “this is one lacerative mother of a beer,” and that’s not far from the truth. The burly American Ale begins with loads of malt and plenty of citrus backing it up. Breathe deep for some evergreen character, too.

On the palate, it’s loaded with malty baked bread, intense citrus oil, some leather and tar, and touches of Skor bar (chocolate + toffee). The finish reminds you how much alcohol there is here, yet it’s not heavy or stifling like many overproof brews. Rather, the clean finish keeps things level and interesting, the malt and chocolate taking things to an almost dessert-like level in the back of your throat… Hard to put down.

11.2% abv.

A- / $5 per 22 oz. bottle / arrogantbastard.com

Review: The Dalmore Selected By Daniel Boulud Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Dalmore Daniel Boulud 525x880 Review: The Dalmore Selected By Daniel Boulud Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Well, here’s a new idea. The Dalmore’s Richard Paterson has teamed up with renowned chef Daniel Boulud to create a bespoke whisky: The Dalmore Selected by Daniel Boulud. This is Dalmore’s first collaboration with a chef.

The name doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but it’s what’s inside that matters. The single malt is “a unique assemblage of aged stocks drawn from Muscatel, Madeira and Port wine casks,” with spirits aged up to 23 years. The whiskey is meant to complement Boulud’s cooking style, but presumably you can drink it at home with burgers, too.

A deep amber, in keeping with many of Dalmore’s whiskys, it looks rich — and the nose has tantalizing notes of hay, heather, coal fires, and rich malt. Distinct pipe tobacco notes emerge as it sits in the glass. The body ups the ante with some intriguing notes — dark chocolate lightly studded with raisins. The focus on grain — particularly heavy on the finish — is classic Dalmore, and while the overall whisky comes across as a little on the immature side, it’s got enough interest and uniqueness on the whole to recommend it. Presumably you can afford it if you’ve already dined in one of Boulud’s restaurants.

1000 bottles available, all for sale in the U.S. 88 proof.

A- / $200 / thedalmore.com

Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish Head

“Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. For what is the time of a man, except it be interwoven with that memory of ancient things of a superior age?” – Cicero

Thankfully, there are modern day custodians of history keeping the past alive and well, presenting long-silenced voices in time and framing the act of rediscovery as an innovative art. Such is the case with magazines like Lapham’s Quarterly, podcasts like Hard Core History, and Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales series.

Working in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania’s Director of Biomolecular Archaeology for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health Dr. Patrick McGovern, Dogfish CEO Sam Calagione revives long lost recipes and brings to light traditional beermaking methods that folks in the United States would consider highly exotic (you can see their discovery and process in action on their reality show Brewmasters, now streaming on Netflix). More often than not though, the efforts pay off.

jiahu Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish HeadChateau Jiahu – A variation on the world’s oldest fermented beverage recipe, this is an incredibly sweet beer made with hawthorn fruit, sake, barley, rice and honey. The majority of these ingredients are more than evident throughout the experience. Took a bit to get used to, but once invested, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 10% abv. A- / $12 (25.4 oz.)

Midas Touch – “Indiana Calagione” and Dr. McGovern found the molecular evidence of this recipe in a Turkish tomb that was allegedly the property of one King Midas. Incredibly sweet, and as the story goes it’s actually somewhere on the scale between a wine and mead. I’m inclined to believe it. Leaves a bit of a dry finish with a few faint herb notes. 9% abv. B / $12 (12 oz. four-pack)

theobroma Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish HeadTheobroma – Wham bam, thank you ma’am! Taking its recipe cues from a chemical analysis of Honduran pottery over 3,000 years old (it feels kind of ridiculous just typing that), this is a chocolate beer recipe filled to the brim with cocoa, a bit of bitter honey, and a bit of chili spice on the back end. The deceptive light coloring (you’d think a chocolate beer would be a bit darker) teases and lets the chili and cocoa do their dance. Excellent stuff! 9% abv. A / $12 (25.4 oz)

Ta Henket – Bread bread and bread… which makes perfect sense because this recipe comes from Egyptian Hieroglyphics. The yeast stands out with traces of the chamomile and other herbs listed as secondary ingredients. Probably my least favorite of the bunch, but being the weak link in this chain could be the strongest on any other lineup. 4.5% abv. B- / $11 (25.4 oz)

The company also offers a variety of special brewpub only editions, including one involving a whole mess of human-masticated corn and saliva. Hopefully these other experiments will see mass production shortly, but given the time and effort it takes to make them happen, it may just require a visit to Delaware instead.

Dogfish Head has a tendency to sometimes enter the realm of the comically absurd. In keeping with the spirit of the company’s mantra, that’s a risk that unconventional brewing must take in order to stay innovative and interesting. For this series it’s an investment that pays off handsomely and provides an enjoyable education into the complexity of beer history for those willing to pay the cost of admission.

dogfish.com

Review: Maurin Dry, White, and Red Vermouth

Maurin White Bottle shot 115x300 Review: Maurin Dry, White, and Red VermouthVermouth is a beverage on the return, and Anchor Distilling has joined forces with old Maurin (you’ve seen the iconic green devil posters at better French cafes in your neighborhood) to recreate the vermouths once made by Auguste Maurin, back in 1884.

The two companies adapted Maurin’s traditional recipe for these new vermouths, which are available in three styles. Per the company’s press release, “The Maurin Dry, White and Red Vermouths are fortified wines blended from various regions across France, then infused with coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, Maurin’s absinthe and other traditional herbs and spices.” We tasted the trio, and thoughts follow.

Each is bottled at 17% abv.

Maurin Dry Vermouth – Fragrant with notes of incense, coriander, and cloves. Ample spice on the palate, with a light astrignency and a drying finish. Over time the wine develops a holiday character, as the cinnamon and nutmeg warm up, giving it a mulled wine sensibility. But the bittersweet finish leaves no doubt that you’re drinking vermouth, not glogg. Pairs better with gin over vodka. A-

Maurin White Vermouth - Much like the Dry, but with a richer body and sweeter from start to finish. The bitter conclusion is absent here, as the vermouth takes on a more peachy/mango character as it fades from view. (This has the side effect of dulling some of the spice character, but that’s really just a different approach.) Overall, as a mixer I find I have a preference for the dry — and I’m not alone, which is why sweet white vermouths are relatively rare in comparison to the other two varieties — but if I was drinking vermouth straight (people do this), I’d easily pick the White. Better with vodka; gin demolishes what spice it has left. B+

Maurin Red Vermouth - Aka “sweet vermouth.” Indeed it’s quite red in color, and the spice is thick on the nose, very much offering a mulled wine character, with cloves easily the strongest component. On the palate, there’s gingerbread, anise, and brandied raisins bobbing in and out. Classic gluhwein flavors, but with refinement (and lower alcohol levels), it’s sweet but not overly so, offering a bit of fruit punch without quite making you think about that cartoon guy in the Hawaiian outfit. Acquits itself well in a Manhattan. A-

each $19 / anchordistilling.com

Review: Le Grand Courtage Sparkling Wine, Brut and Rose

LGC Bottle Fam Portrait 231x300 Review: Le Grand Courtage Sparkling Wine, Brut and RoseLook closer: Le Grand Courtage (“the great courtship”) is sparkling wine made in Burgundy, not Champagne, which means it’s made from different grapes… and priced at about $20 a bottle. Thoughts follow.

NV Le Grand Courtage Grande Cuvee Blanc de Blancs Brut - A blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, and Ugni Blanc. Lots of tart, green apple character here, with lemon peel also evident on the nose. The body is heavy on the aforementioned fruit, but it also has an interesting bakery character to it akin to cream puffs, with touches of yeast. The mellow conclusion takes things to a simple and easy finish. Altogether a solid choice for a nice, restrained aperitif. B+ / $20 (also available as a 187ml mini)

NV Le Grand Courtage Grande Cuvee Brut Rose - A pink blend of Chardonnay, Ugni Blanc, and Gamay. Fresh and fruity, with clear strawberry notes on the nose. A bracing and lasting acidity comes along quickly on the palate, offering some floral elements — almost green and grassy at times. The finish is clean and inviting, that strawberry element lingering, along with some rose petal notes. Lovely and difficult to put down; even works well with spicy meals. A- / $22

legrandcourtage.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select

sinatra bottle and giftbox 003 525x787 Review: Jack Daniels Sinatra Select

 

Many contemporary drinkers are surprised to hear that Frank Sinatra was a Jack Daniel’s man — through and through, that’s really all the legendary singer drank. But in the revised Sinatra mythos, many now think of Ol’ Blue Eyes as holding a martini, with Jack Daniel’s seen as a commoners’ drink. Back then, that wasn’t the case, of course. Sinatra even kept a stash of JD on his plane and was buried with a bottle when he died.

If you’re forgotten about the Sinatra-JD connection, this special release will remind you of how it all went down. In honor of the legendary crooner, Jack has released a special bottling of Old No. 7. Previously for sale only at travel retail, Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select is now hitting eight major U.S. metro areas in general release. (They are: Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, New Jersey and Tennessee.)

The whiskey is different from standard Jack Daniel’s in a key way: A portion of the spirit is aged in special “Sinatra barrels,” which feature staves that are cut with a sort of “speed bump” pattern of peaks and valleys on the inside. This exposes more of the whiskey to wood than a standard stave, ostensibly giving it a richer, woodier profile. These Sinatra-barreled whiskeys are mingled with standard JD to produce the final blend.

So, how is it? JD Sinatra Select offers a honey/butterscotch nose that’s immediately appealing, just touched with popcorn notes. The body is classic Jack, dense with vanilla caramel character, light orange zest, and malted milk. That corny character rolls along after a while, building on the finish. All in all, an excellent example of Jack at its finest, rich without being overly wooded, young without tasting brash.

The price is a bit hard to swallow, mind you. At $165 for a liter bottle, it’s a good 6 times the price of a regular liter bottle of JD. You do get a fancier label and box, an orange stopper with a fedora on it, and a neat little booklet about Sinatra (and it’s 90 proof instead of the usual 80 proof of Old No. 7). Does that add up to $165? Even Sinatra may have balked at that one.

90 proof.

A- / $165 (one liter) / jackdaniels.com

Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and Moonshine

BATCH206 VODKA BOTTLE 114x300 Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and MoonshineSeattle-based Batch 206 is a craft distillery focused on hyperlocal raw materials — just about all of its source materials are from the Pacific Northwest. The company cooks up its goodies in a variety of stills, including a unique hybrid pot/column still, and most are filtered heavily through coconut husk charcoal before bottling. Thoughts on four of the company’s primary spirits follow.

Batch 206 Vodka – Hand-crafted and micro-batched it may be, this vodka, crafted from red winter wheat and malted barley, is one of the sweetest I’ve seen. Lush with honey notes up front, it isn’t until you’re well into tasting that the more traditional medicinality comes forth. You’ll have to push past lots of marshmallow notes to get to this vodka’s core… but it’s there, if you go a-huntin’. 80 proof. B / $25

Batch 206 Counter Gin – A modern American gin. The core is seemingly based on 206′s vodka as a base. It’s then flavored, per the company, with “juniper berries from Albania, whole cucumbers from Seattle’s Pike Place Market, tarragon and verbena leaves from Provence, lavender flowers from Sequim, Washington, and orange peel from Seville, Spain, along with Floridian Meyer lemon peel and English orris root as minor constituents.” The fresh nose is driven by the orange peel and juniper, but neither is overdone. These are also big on the body, and some floral characteristics come along next, slightly earthy (the verbena?) notes overwhelming the lavender, which can be a real downer in a gin. The finish is long, slightly sweet (just like the vodka), with some spiciness evident as well. I’d love to see this gin with a little black pepper in it to pump that component up a bit. Meanwhile, try it in a sweeter cocktail. 80 proof. B+ / $25

Batch 206 See 7 Stars Moonshine – Old-school white whiskey, crafted from a mash of Columbia Basin corn and Washington malted barley. Sweet, distinct caramel notes on the nose. The body’s got ample popcorn and plenty of peppery heat, thanks to its higher, heftier proof level and finishes with hints of sugar. Not terribly overwhelming, but not overly complex, either. This is a credible white dog driven by its constituent grain components. Treat appropriately. 100 proof. B / $28

Batch 206 Mad Mint Vodka – Peppermint-infused, overproof vodka, sweetened with local beet sugar. (The mint is Washington-grown, too.) The nose is a perfect recreation of an Andes mint — chocolate and mint, sandwiched together. It’s almost enough fun just to smell it. Of course, the body can’t compare… it’s half alcohol, after all. It’s got the essence of mint and a touch of cocoa here, injected with plenty of raw power. It grows on you wickedly… I presume driving the name of the spirit. Not exactly refined, but it is fun stuff. 100 proof. A- / $27

batch206.com

Review: BarSol Pisco – Quebranta & Italia

barsol pisco 191x300 Review: BarSol Pisco   Quebranta & ItaliaPisco is a spirit on the rise, and Peru’s BarSol makes a huge range of them — seven varieties at present. Below we look at two single-grape varieties, a quebranta and an italia, which are probably the two most common pisco grapes grown. Thoughts on each follow. Both are 80 proof.

BarSol Primero Quebranta Pisco – 100% quebranta grapes, BarSol’s entry-level Pisco. Fresh nose, with notes of powdered milk, and some pine needles. Piney on the tongue, with some lemon notes in the mid-palate. Altogether this is mild on the pisco spectrum, with a short finish that is reminiscent of pear. Overall it’s a solid choice for a mixing pisco, offering classic pisco character without being overwhelming with the brash and young funkiness that’s typical of this spirit. B+ / $20

BarSol Selecto Italia Pisco - 100% italia grapes, a step up in price. Much bigger on the nose. Big citrus notes, some evergreen aromas, but more of it than the quebranta. On the palate, the body is much more viscous than the quebranta, with a honey bent to it. Racier all around, spicy, with a longer finish and a certain chewiness to it. A good choice if you’re looking for less neutrality in your spirit and more indigenous character, without a whole lot of funk. A- / $35

barsolpisco.com

Review: 3 Banfi Chiantis, 2013 Releases

BT Chianti Classico 112x300 Review: 3 Banfi Chiantis, 2013 ReleasesThree new wines from Chianti under the Banfi banner (though only one has the Banfi name on the label), all recent releases. Thoughts follow.

2011 Placido Chianti DOCG – A very pretty, lightly floral Chianti, with bright fruit and hints of leather on the nose. The palate is all cherries, all the way, lightly tart on the finish with just a touch of chocolate. An easy winner, easy drinking solo or with a meal. An absolute steal at 7 bucks. A- / $7

2008 Cecchi Riserva di Famiglia Chianti Classico – Initially quite earthy, with dried herb notes. Notes of licorice and fennel on the nose, with dried raisin and cherry making its way in on the leathery tongue. Some oxidation evident, as the wine is already well into maturity. Drink with food. B / $26

2011 Banfi Chianti Classico DOCG (pictured) – A more dense example of Chianti, this raisin-inflected wine offers pepper and bay leaf on the nose, with chewy prune and tart currant on the body. Surprisingly sweet for Chianti, the traditional cherry notes are understated here. B / $12

Tasting the Wines of Emiliana’s Coyam

Chile’s Emiliana produces wines under a number of labels, but few are as popular as Coyam, an organic and biodynamic wine that’s blended from up to six indigenous grapes.

The neat thing about Coyam is that the blend varies — sometimes wildly — from year to year, and resident winemaker Noelia Orts recently traveled to San Francisco to explain how the wine was made and, intriguingly, to showcase the six component varietal wines in their primitive, barrel-sample form. The idea: Taste how these very different wines, when sampled separately, combine to form a unique whole.

Tasting the 2013 barrel samples was eye-opening. The syrah was far from finished, dense and undercooked, while the carmenere offered good acidity. I was most taken by the mourvedre, which had impressive balance and fruit already. While we didn’t get to start blending the wines directly — what a mess that would have been at a restaurant — the experience did aid in the understanding of how complicated blends are made.

Over lunch at San Francisco’s Hakkasan, we turned to tasting the finished wines, a range of vintages dating back to 2001. (Also sampled in brief was Emiliana’s Ge, one of the most prized “cult” wines of Chile.) Thoughts on those finished wines follow.

2001 Coyam – 36% merlot, 21% carmenere, 21% cabernet sauvignon, 18% syrah, 4% mourvedre. Aging but still lively, lots of wood, quite tannic on the finish. B+ / $NA

2007 Coyam – 38% syrah, 21% cabernet sauvignon, 21% carmenere, 17% merlot, 2% petit verdot, 1% mourvedre. A big Chilean vintage, some floral elements, with a bit of licorice on the back end. Complex, somewhat Burgundian in style, with a nutty finish. B+ / $45

2009 Coyam - 41% syrah, 29% carmenere, 20% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 2% mourvedre, 1% petit verdot. Fresh, some mint, with big berry notes and a rush of wood. Slightly huskier than the 2010. A- / $30

2010 Coyam - 38% syrah, 27% carmenere, 21% merlot, 12% cabernet sauvignon, 1% mourvedre, 1% petit verdot. Some jam, growing in balance as it evolves. Fresh fruit, with blackberry and spice. A- / $30

2012 Coyam (barrel sample) – 46% syrah, 21% carmenere, 16% cabernet sauvignon, 5% mourvedre, 2% mablec. Quite a different recipe, with no merlot. A bit muddy as it develops, somewhat pruny, with leather notes. B- / $TBD

2010 Ge - 48% carmenere, 38% syrah, 14% cabernet sauvignon. Revelatory. Chocolate, licorice, and incredible depth, featuring touches of almonds and cinnamon. I could drink this all day. A+ / $75

emiliana.cl

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Review: Santa Teresa 1796 Ron Antiguo de Solera Rum

santa teresa 74x300 Review: Santa Teresa 1796 Ron Antiguo de Solera RumSanta Teresa 1796 is a blue-chip rum made using the solera process by Venezuela’s oldest rum producer. Aged in ex-Bourbon and Cognac casks, Santa Teresa 1796 was primed with a “mother rum” that was already between four and 35 years old. That’s been being passed down through the solera since 1992 when this brand was launched, and the stack of barrels has been topped off with new rum, which flows down the solera until it finally makes its way into a bottles.

For a spirit this well-aged, the rum is surprisingly fresh and light on the nose, with touches of almonds, coconut, and caramel corn. Hints of evergreen. The palate reveals smooth caramel, with mild vanilla notes, and a supple, well-balanced finish. Any harsh character has been aged out in the solera process, leaving behind a supple, if surprisingly simple, yet nicely aged rum. Complex enough without being overblown.

80 proof.

A- / $40 / ronsantateresa.com

Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon Lineup

With Pappymania 2013 reaching a fever pitch, we figured we would review some wheated bourbon alternatives to satisfy those not fortunate enough to get their hands on a bottle so they could re-sell it for simply ludicrous prices.

WSR 145x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupW.L. Weller Special Reserve - Formerly carrying a 7 year old age statement (Buffalo Trace has since removed the age statement on the label, though claim it’s still aged around the same span of time), this is the value edition of the trio, clocking in at about $12. However, unlike most lower shelf bourbons, the quality isn’t really sacrificed here. A very honey and vanilla infused nose turns into a mellow palate, with traces of caramel and cinnamon. There’s a sharp, almost peppery burn at the end, which punches and fades away quickly. 90 proof. B / $12

107 141x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupOld Weller Antique 107 – The middle child often gets unfairly overlooked, and Weller is no exception. Weller Antique has been a mainstay on the shelf for an every-day bourbon for quite some time, with really good quality at an affordable price point. The nose has a bit more cinnamon and molasses than Special Reserve, and less vanilla than the 12-year edition. The taste brings the heat without too much emphasis on the alcohol. Get on the train before the fare increases and goes the way of its older sibling, the 12 year. 107 proof. A- / $22

weller 12yr 142x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupW.L. Weller 12 Years Old – The one that many folks in the know have lovingly christened “baby Pappy” (close in age, same mash bill) has garnered quite a following itself, with supply so low it’s only being offered semi-annually if you’re lucky. There’s a heavy dose of vanilla from start to end, which is accentuated by oak and cinnamon in the palate. The finish is sharper and lingers a bit more than its siblings, with more smoke and char for a finale. A raised proof could make it a serious contender and increase its fan base. Definitely worth picking up should one spot a bottle in their local store. 90 proof. A- / $26

buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: The Real McCoy Rum 5 Years Old

real mccoy rum 525x349 Review: The Real McCoy Rum 5 Years Old

The Real McCoy is a new brand that’s just made its way into the U.S. “The Real McCoy” is sourced from Foursquare Distillery in Barbados, where column and pot still rum is aged for five years in oak ex-bourbon barrels. The name refers to Bill McCoy, a Prohibition-era bootlegger and, as bootleggers go, a real stand-up guy.

As for the rum, it’s swell stuff. The nose is at first blush a touch hot, but it settles down with a few minutes of air time, revealing gentle wood notes, some incense smoke, and a slightly winey character that balances out that traditional caramel. On the palate it’s very appealing and easy to sip on. Classic rum structure, with a healthy slug of caramel, and a racy back end with touches of fresh apple, cinnamon, and red pepper. The body and mouthfeel are easy, and the rum has a simple and sweet finish.

It’s solid stuff, completely appropriate for sipping or mixing. It doesn’t reinvent rum’s wheel — it’s ultimately a bit too mild to aspire to top-shelf greatness — but it covers all the bases with a gentle ease and winds up as one of the more refreshing rums on the market.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / realmccoyspirits.com

Review: Magnum Exotics Coffee

magnum exotics 147x300 Review: Magnum Exotics CoffeeMagnum Exotics recently debuted its new line of coffees in California, with a national expansion on the way. The company behind these products is a major private label coffee supplier, but this is its first original brand being marketed directly to the public. Thoughts on two of these offerings follow.

Magnum Exotics Organic Fogcutter Dark Roast – Relatively mild, in fact I was surprised to see this described as a dark roast. Fruity, with a touch of cocoa bean on the back end. I enjoyed this brew quite a lot more than I expected. While I normally drink coffee with a touch of sugar, the fruity character in Fogcutter gives it enough balance for me to forgo any sweetener at all. A-

Magnum Exotics Kona Blend Medium Roast – A simple coffee, lightly nutty with a little cocoa bean element to it. Moderate bitterness and mild acidity offer interest to the palate, but the somewhat thin body seems to ask for cream. B+

each $10 per 10-12 oz. bag / magnumexoticscoffee.com

Review: Camus Family Legacy Cognac

camus family legacy 525x328 Review: Camus Family Legacy Cognac

Camus Family Legacy arrived at Drinkhacker HQ with the most unfortunate typo. On our sample bottle, the price was listed as $12.99. That’s a mistake of two orders of magnitude. Camus’s latest is a full $1299 — the company’s entry into ultra-luxe spirits.

The production process sounds impressive — five crus involved in an eight-step maturation process that adheres to “ancestral rules of perfect blending”  – but is short on usable details. Given the price tag it’s safe to expect some truly old stock from Cognac’s greatest vineyards. It’s just not clear how old it is.

The nose is surprising in its initial level of heat, a blazer that eventually blows off to reveal a quiet and understated brandy. On the body — as with the nose it needs some time and air to settle down — this Cognac eventually mellows out to reveal a surprisingly nuanced Cognac with light sherry notes, gentle floral notes, raisins, creme brulee, and a modest, sandalwood character on the finish. Restraint is the order of the day here. This is a Cognac that’s considerably dialed back, an elegant and easy spirit that is marred only by an initial rush of alcohol that is bafflingly out of place.

81.6 proof.

A- / $1299 / camus.fr

Review: Tributo Tequila

tributo tequila 210x300 Review: Tributo TequilaTributo, aka Tributo a Mi Padre, is a new tequila brand – 100% agave, of course — with a bit of the twist. It’s high-end stuff, with serious production values and heavy attention to detail (the bottles alone look fancy fancy if you know what I mean)… but with prices designed to move. When’s the last time you saw a $30 anejo, eh? (Too bad the well-aged Extra Anejo doesn’t stick with the value theme.)

We reviewed three of Tributo’s expressions (the Blanco was not available). All expressions are 80 proof.

Tributo Reposado Tequila – Aged 7 months in white oak. Very modest straw yellow color. A little hot on the nose. Let the vapors blow off a bit before tucking in. Here you’ll find a nose of modest caramel and some cinnamon. The body is considerably more forward with the agave, but the sweeter finish gives it an almost candied feel. The finish is lengthy and quite vegetal, but not unpleasant, with a mild mint character to it. B / $28

Tributo Anejo Tequila – Aged 20 months in white oak. A touch darker in color, but still quite light. Considerable caramel on the nose, with just a hint of agave on it. Quite sweet on the body, with some whiskey character to it. Notes of vanilla, tea leaf, and a finish that heads toward that of caramel popcorn. Very enjoyable, and surprisingly and enticingly complex. A- / $30

Tributo Extra Anejo Tequila – Aged 42 months in a combination of white oak and French oak. Again there’s lots of caramel on the nose, but a surprising spicy-agave undercurrent persists. The sweet stuff grows in power, both on the nose and on the tongue, as you sip this well-aged tequila. The mouthfeel is round and full of caramel apple character, with subtle cinnamon notes. Agave makes its return on the finish, though more vegetal than it is spicy, but the herbal character is well integrated into the spirit — if for no other reason than to ensure you realize you’re drinking tequila and not rum. I’m not sure the final analysis adds a ton over the Anejo bottling — particularly at this price — but it’s definitely a worthwhile spirit on its merits. A- / $140

tributotequila.com

Review: 2010 Ladera Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Reserve

Ladera 2010 HM Reserve Gray 198x300 Review: 2010 Ladera Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain ReserveThis is a classic Howell Mountain Cab, loaded with intense fruit, black cherries and currants all the way. Laced with notes of leather, chocolate, and menthol (particularly on the powerful nose), it offers a supple body and a balanced yet powerhouse finish that lasts for quite a while. This is a nice return to form for Ladera, and a well structured Napa Cab that drinks well now but will also last for many years in bottle.

A- / $85 / laderavineyards.com