Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: Breaker Bourbon

breaker bourbon 478x1200 Review: Breaker Bourbon

The town of Buellton, California is better known as part of the Sideways-famed Southern California wine road. But it turns out they’re making whiskey there, too.

Breaker Bourbon is sourced whiskey from our good friends in Indiana, crafted from barrels at least 5 years old. Each batch is a blend of just 8 barrels of whiskey, which makes this pretty small batch stuff, to be sure. There’s no word on the original mashbill, but it’s made from a clearly typical mix of corn/barley/rye, not wheat.

This is easy sippin’ Bourbon, with some surprising nuance to it. The nose is slightly corny, with quiet vanilla behind it. The palate is where this spirit shines. It starts with caramel corn, then takes off with notes of taffy, Sugar Babies, graham crackers, and some menthol. Lots going on here, but it’s all in the same microverse, and the balance is spot on. Fairly soft for most of the way, the finish brings the burlier wood component to the forefront along with a touch of licorice, and the higher proof ensures the whiskey stays with you for a long while. This is an excellent fireside sipper, and overall a solid example of what Bourbon can be, even when it’s bottled on the other side of the country.

Reviewed: Batch #3, bottle #242. 90 proof.

Update: Breaker offers some additional production information: “True we source barrels and they are corn, rye, and malted barley.  What happens when they arrive at our distillery is what we believe has the most impact on the bourbon before our skilled distiller creates his small-batch blends.  Being located in Buellton we have coastal humidity that rolls down the Santa Rita Hills through the evening and early morning. During the days the temperature increases daily between 40-50 degrees. The barrels breathe very heavy and our friends at Cal Poly tell us we age about 4 times faster than they do in Kentucky.  We blend and barrel each batch in Buellton.”

A- / $40 / ascendantspirits.com

Review: Infuse Flavored Vodkas

infuse vodka 525x700 Review: Infuse Flavored Vodkas

Oh man, I’m a sucker for a bottle of hooch with something floating around in it. Long shafts of herbs, whole pears… what doesn’t look amazing bobbing around inside a bottle of alcohol?

Infuse’s flavored vodkas all adhere to this conceit, each with something or other inside, proving, ostensibly, that natural elements are responsible for the flavors within the bottle and not chemical sludge out of a test tube.

Infuse Vodkas, made in California, are distilled from Kansas corn, then flavored with actual fruits and spices (everything goes in dried, so shelf life should be quite lengthy) instead of mysterious “natural flavorings.” There are at least six varieties on offer. We sampled four for review. All 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Infuse Lemon Vodka – Pale yellow color. Tart lemon notes on the nose, fresh and clear like Limoncello. The body sticks closer to the vodka formula, with bracing medicinal notes cut with a touch of lemon peel. That body feels like it could have more of a fruit element to it to balance out the booziness, but otherwise it’s a solid and authentic rendition of a mild lemon vodka. Of special note: The long strips of lemon peel lose their yellow color over time, leaving what looks like limpid white linguine floating in the bottle. B

Infuse Mango Vodka – Again, a super-fresh and authentically tropical nose on this vodka, a moderately pale yellow spirit with three slices of (dried?) mango in the bottom of the bottle. It’s so fragrant it’s hard to stop smelling it. Fortunately the body doesn’t disappoint. Here the fruit and punchy alcohol notes are in balance, the vodka offering silky mango sweetness with a dusting of bite to back it up. This is nice enough on its own but would be gorgeous in a Cosmo-esque cocktail. A

Infuse Cinnamon Apple Vodka – The most visually appealing of the bunch, a whiskey-brown spirit with numerous apple slices floating at the top of the bottle. The nose is pure apple, with touches of cinnamon, just like grandma used to bake. Smooth as silk on the body — the vodka is really only evident on the finish, as the sweet, dessert-like character of the product takes center stage. Not exactly a mainstream combination that you’ll turn to nightly, but a fun change of pace to be sure. A-

Infuse Chili Pepper Vodka – Three lonely chili peppers float at the top of this (again) pale yellow vodka, the only hint that something spicy’s going on. Even the nose is not particularly pungent, the most clearly vodka-like — medicinal, but tempered with some sweetness — of the bunch with just a hint of red pepper on the nose. The hospital notes hit you first on the tongue, then the pepper arrives. It’s a pleasant heat — moderate, a little more biting than gentle, particularly if you take an especially large sip, which gnaws a bit at the back of the throat. I’ve never been a huge fan of pepper vodkas, but Infuse’s rendition is as good as any. Spicy Bloody Mary? Sure. Beyond that, I’ve no idea how to use it. Grows on you, though. B

each $28 / infusevodkas.com

Review: Thatcher’s Prickly Pear Liqueur

 Review: Thatchers Prickly Pear LiqueurLet’s start with the obvious: What is a prickly pear, anyway? It’s the fruit of the paddle cactus, the iconic desert plant that sometimes grows little red bulbs on its ends.

Thatcher’s makes a wide variety of oddly-flavored liqueurs (yumberry, anyone?), all of which are organic and most of which are at least intriguing. The latest version turns to the prickly pear, filling out a gaping hole in the “pinkish-red” section of the rainbow-like collection of Thatcher’s liqueurs.

I couldn’t tell you what prickly pear is supposed to taste like, but Thatcher’s does a pretty good job with it either way. The nose is something of a cross between raspberry and sweet tea. The body is lightly sweet and fruity, a vague strawberry character. I’ve read that prickly pear is a said to taste like a cross between watermelon and bubble gum, and while that may be a stretch with this liqueur, I can see where they’re going with that description. What that doesn’t capture is the little kick of cayenne that you get on the finish… something that separates this from a strawberry liqueur, and in a fun way.

What to do with it, then? Not a lot of cocktail recipes call for prickly pear liqueur, but try subbing this in for just about any fruit liqueur (even triple sec) to see what you get… or sub for a fruit vodka to create a less potent but more flavorful version of something like a cosmopolitan.

Colored with organic carrot extract. 30 proof.

A- / $20 / thatchersorganic.com

Review: Cruzan Distiller’s Collection Rum Lineup

Cruzan Bottles Distillers Collection 2013 525x372 Review: Cruzan Distillers Collection Rum Lineup

Cruzan, based in St. Croix, is something of an underrated distillery in the world of rum. Now it’s moving ever so slightly upmarket, with the launch of three new premium rums, all part of the new Distiller’s Collection.

All three of these rums start with the same base stock — a blend of rums from barrels that are aged from 5 to 12 years old. They’re then treated in different ways, as we’ll discuss below. Each of these rums is a winner, and all are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Cruzan Distiller’s Collection Estate Diamond Light Rum - This is the base 5-12 year old rum stock, charcoal filtered to white. There’s a massive amount of flavor here for a white rum, with a deep woodiness, and notes of raisins, brown sugar, caramels, and chocolate. There’s still a touch of funk to remind you it’s actually rum, with that big and burly body keeping things on a woody keel. It’s a unique rum with lots of depth; worth exploring. A- / $20

Cruzan Distiller’s Collection Estate Diamond Dark Rum - This is the same stock as the above, bottled as a dark rum without the filtration. Good color here, though not as dark as you’d expect given its age. This is a more well-rounded rum, with more prominent almond notes and a little coffee to even out some of the tannic wood character in the light rum. Plenty sweet, this rum has its edges smoothed out and presents itself as a refined and balanced sipping rum. An utter steal. A / $20

Cruzan Distiller’s Collection Single Barrel Premium Extra Aged Rum - Again, this is from the same stock as the above, so how can a blend of rums spanning a seven year aging period be a “single barrel” rum? Because that rum is aged for a second time in new American oak barrels (for an indeterminate time), and then those barrels are bottled as single barrel rums. (Note that no barrel number is noted on the label.) The rum has an almost sherried, orange-peel character to it, along with ample wood character driven by that second stretch of aging in oak. The body offers a wealth of experiences, including a caramel core laced with cinnamon and cloves, plus brown butter and brown sugar crumble. Touches of coffee develop over time in the glass. The most whiskey-like rum of the bunch, it’s also the most satisfying, a deep and sultry rum with a long and soothing finish. Much to love at this price. A / $30

cruzanrum.com

Review: Jim Beam Single Barrel Bourbon

jim beam single barrel 525x1008 Review: Jim Beam Single Barrel Bourbon

It’s hard to believe Jim Beam doesn’t already have a single barrel offering under the Beam name, but I suppose the vast array of premium whiskeys the company makes (some of which are single barrel) — including Knob Creek, Booker’s, Basil Hayden’s, and more — have fit that bill rather well over the years.

Now Beam is finally filling that hole, as the Jim Beam brand has moved upscale, by giving it its own Single Barrel edition. Drawn from hand-selected barrels of Beam stock (the company says less than 1% of barrels qualify for Single Barrel bottling), the bourbon is bottled with no age statement, presumably because it varies from bottle to bottle. Otherwise, what’s in Single Barrel, at least from a mashbill standpoint, is likely the same as you’d find in any bottle of white label Jim Beam, only bottled at a higher proof.

So on to the review. The nose of Jim Beam Single Barrel is ripe with dense wood (a bit sawdusty) and flecked with orange peel notes. The palate offers more traditional bourbon notes — lots of vanilla and caramel, modest wood notes, and plenty of popcorn character coming along later in the body. Here the wood element is well-integrated into the rest of the spirit, offering a distinct oakiness that isn’t overwhelming or hoary. The higher alcohol level isn’t particularly pushy, offering a slightly sharper character without an overwhelming amount of burn. I’d say it’s just about right, giving Single Barrel a somewhat rustic, frontier character, while still offering a refined drinking experience.

95 proof. Available March 2014. Reviewed from pre-release sample (no barrel number available).

A- / $35 / jimbeam.com

Re-Review: Cynar Liqueur

cynar 187x300 Re Review: Cynar LiqueurDon’t like bitter amari? Well, you’ll hate Cynar, which isn’t just bitter, it features a picture of an artichoke on its label. You like drinking artichokes, don’t you?

We last reviewed Cynar in January 2011. This is a fresh look at the classic spirit.

Meant to be consumed either with soda or straight but “always on ice,” Cynar is unique in the spirits world. As I previously reported in my coverage of Jagermeister, Cynar is perfectly drinkable at room temperature, where its various components are more detectable and nuanced.

The artichoke component is more of an indistinct vegetal earthiness, tempered by cinnamon notes, bitter roots/bark, and some bitter orange peel. The 13 components of Cynar come together well — particularly surprising since on of those components is artichokes. The bitter finish is bracing and lasting and Cynar works exceptionally well as a digestif. On the whole, I have to double down on everything I said about it in 2011, reaffirming my rating.

33 proof.

A- / $22 / camparigroup.com

Review: Lake Champlain Milk Chocolate Apple Cider Caramels

lake champlain happy valley orchard citizen cider caramels 300x257 Review: Lake Champlain Milk Chocolate Apple Cider CaramelsWhiskey chocolates? Been done. How about chocolates studded with caramel and apple cider?

Lake Champlain Chocolates’ latest concoction brings in apples from Happy Valley Orchard and cider from Citizen Cider to create an all-Vermont seasonal confection sensation.

These dense caramels start with silky milk chocolate and burst open to reveal intense apple pie flavor inside, rich with cinnamon/allspice notes and fresh apple puree. If anything’s missing it’s the “cider” element — though it seems impossible to get the real essence of tart, fresh cider into a package this small.

Delicious stuff, though perhaps a bit pricey….

A- / $15 per sleeve of 7 caramels (2.4 oz. total) / lakechamplainchocolates.com

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

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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

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