Review: Jameson Crested Irish Whiskey

Jameson has long made a rare and special bottling called Jameson Crested Ten, which includes a lot of pure pot still whiskey along with some sherry cask-aged stock. While the distillery calls this “a little known minor classic,” the rest of the world is about to get to know it a bit better — or, at least, it’s newborn little brother, Jameson Crested.

As Jameson puts it, “Jameson Crested is a celebration of the first drops of whiskey that were bottled, sealed and labelled at the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin, marking the moment in time in 1963 when Jameson took full control of the whiskey making process, from grain to glass.” (Until that point, Jameson was bottled by others who then sold it to consumers.)

Jameson Crested is a triple-distilled whiskey, mixing pure pot still and grain whiskey, and it is matured in both sherry casks and bourbon casks. I haven’t had Crested Ten, but Crested’s recipe clearly sounds like it was inspired by it.

Let’s give it a taste, shall we?

On the nose, the whiskey is rich and dense. It’s a little hot, but approachable thanks to a complex melange of aromas — roasted nuts, cloves, ginger, oxidized wine notes, orange marmalade, and a thick slathering of honey. On the palate, the pure pot still component comes through clearly, offering a malty character balanced by notes of citrus peel, coconut, and spiced nuts. Big and bold, the sherry influence lingers on the finish, which offers up notes of caramel and some light chocolate notes over time.

A complex yet soothing and well-balanced whiskey, Jameson Crested lies somewhere between the brooding intensity of Redbreast and the simple drinkability of standard Jameson. The more I think about it, the more I realize that a middle ground is surprisingly lacking in Irish whiskey today, and Crested fills it with impressive aplomb. I am sure I could (and will) drink this with regularity.

Also of note: Jameson is revamping its labels, and this is the first one out of the gate. Looks nice.

80 proof.

A- / $43 / jamesonwhiskey.com

Review: Virginia Dare/American Pioneer “American Myth” Releases – Two Arrowheads, The White Doe, The Lost Colony, Manteo

ManteoRecently we covered the inaugural wines from Virginia Dare, a new offshoot of the Francis Ford Coppola empire. Turns out that some wines hit the market before those namesake wines, all bottled on the sly under the new American Pioneer label — at least in fine print.

These four wines, all named after places and events in American history or folklore, are all blends. Each was designed as a “teaser” wine that had something to do with the Virginia Dare legend. Never mind the history. Let’s check out the wines.

2014 Two Arrowheads – 71% viognier, 29% roussanne from Paso Robles. Doesn’t taste like a viognier at all (I guessed it might be chenin blanc), with floral notes of honeysuckle backed by almond character. Somewhat vegetal and chalky late in the game, the finish pulls it back together with some cleansing acidity. B / $20

2013 The White Doe – 80% chenin blanc, 20% viognier, a “California” bottling. This is a straightforward but surprisingly drinkable blend, with citrus and peach notes, all in solid balance. Brisk but complex with aromatics and a touch of nutmeg, there’s plenty going on here without being overpowering. Fresh and lovely, great price. A- / $13

2014 The Lost Colony – A red blend of syrah, malbec, and cabernet franc sourced from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County. Tart, with hefty sour cherry notes, rhubarb, and a little tobacco. That lightly sour tartness endures for the long haul, adding an herbal component to the cherries on the finish. The balance feels a bit off unless you’re pairing with an appropriately acidic dish. B / $19

2014 Manteo Sonoma County – A blend of 8 different grapes, the largest proportion being syrah, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon. Tastes a bit like a mutt, though its notes of violets and unripe blackberry come through the clearest. The finish is exceptionally tart and echoes notes of balsamic vinegar and sour cherry. B- / $17

thefamilycoppola.com

Review: Singani 63

singani 63The story goes that when Steven Soderbergh was shooting the movie Che in Bolivia, he tasted a traditional Bolivian spirit and fell in love with it. So much so that he decided to import it into the U.S. and market it on our shores.

What’s Singani 63? Distilled from Muscat of Alexandria grapes, it is classified as a brandy by the U.S. but it more closely resembles Pisco, which is common right next door in Peru and Chile. (Also of note, it is bottled at 80 proof, not 63.) What did Soderbergh see in all of this? Let’s find out.

If you’re familiar with quality Pisco, you’ve got a head start on everyone else. The nose is fragrant and aromatic, racy with heady perfume notes, lemongrass, a touch of almond, and incense character. On the palate, again it’s quite brisk with buzzy perfume character, a squeeze of citrus, and some sandalwood. The finish features just a touch of mushroom and a wisp of menthol, but otherwise winds things up nice and clean, with a surprisingly refreshing finish.

Pisco isn’t something I use with any regularity, and Singani 63 will likely meet the same fate in my home bar. That said, if Pisco’s your bag, this is a fun spin on a spirit that’s rising in popularity as an alternative to vodka and gin. Wholly affordable, too.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / singani63.com

Review: Van Ryn’s Brandy 10, 12, 15, and 20 Years Old

Van Ryns 12 yearI say brandy. You say… Stellenbosch, South Africa?

The Van Ryn’s brand dates back to 1845, when it was founded in Cape Town. It’s been producing brandy from chenin blanc and colombar (same as colombard) grapes in its current facility since 1905.

Today the company produces a surprisingly delicious line of four brandies, all bottled with an age statement. Below we look at the complete Van Ryn’s lineup, from bottom to top. I have not seen these marketed in the U.S., but persistence at your local booze merchant may pay off.

Take note: All of these expressions are bottled at 76 proof.

Van Ryn’s Vintage Brandy 10 Years Old – Pretty, with notes of brown sugar, caramel, golden raisins, and a dusting of baking spice. Classic brandy, with no trace of alcoholic burn (courtesy of the lower proof, I think) but with gentle chocolate notes emerging on the increasingly nutty, spicy finish. Perfectly fine as a simple digestif. B+ / $48

Van Ryn’s Distillers Reserve Brandy 12 Years Old – Aged in small French oak casks, which makes it much more “old world” in style than the other brandies in this family. The nose is more intense, with a slight astringency driven by the wood. Still strong with raisin, well-baked apple, and spice notes, the wood notes grow heavier to the point of overpowering the spirit’s gentle fruit core. With time, the body offers up surprisingly tough notes of leather and furniture polish, with a slightly bitter bite on the finish. B / $61

Van Ryn’s Fine Cask Reserve Brandy 15 Years Old – Immediately more austere, with a distinct, but slight leathery character on the nose along with heavier notes of cloves, chocolate, and dark raisins. On the palate, it surprises with more sweetness than you’d think, again sticking with the chocolate and raisin theme before offering up some notes of cherry, Port wine, and ample vanilla. Well balanced, with enduring baking spice on the finish. A- / $72

Van Ryn’s Collectors Reserve Brandy 20 Years Old – Definitely reaching a more elevated maturity level, with a restrained nose that starts off a bit hot before running to notes of wood, spice, honey, and a touch of chocolate. On the body, things really pick up: dried fruits galore, chocolate milk, tea leaf, coffee, some leather, and a lengthy, honey-sweet finish with echoes of raisin, cherries, and dried plum. You can definitely feel the family resemblance flowing through these brandies (the 12 year old is a bit of an outlier), culminating in an impressively satisfying conclusion here at the 20 year old expression. A- / $97

vanryn.co.za

Review: 2012 Cheval des Andes Mendoza

cheval de andes

Sunday is World Malbec Day, so why not celebrate with one of the most refined expressions you’ll find — from its spiritual home in Argentina?

Cheval des Andes is a joint venture between Chateau Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux and Terrazas de los Andes in Argentina. For 2012, the wine is 66% malbec, 26% cabernet sauvignon, and 8% petit verdot — kind of a red Bordeaux turned inside out.

Supple and restrained, the nose of the wine balances ripe fruit with gentle earth and spice. The body is rich — on the sweet side but balanced well enough — showcasing blueberries, some cherry, and elements of tobacco and leather showing on the moderate finish. This is a wine with depth, but its tannins are restrained and supple, making for some remarkably easy enjoyment.

A- / $95 / chevaldesandes.com

Review: Brora 37 Years Old Limited Edition 2015

Brora 37 (Medium)

Our final (final final) bottling in the Diageo Special Editions, this 37 year old Brora, from the northern Highlands of Scotland, is the oldest (of 14 releases) of Brora ever bottled in this series, following a series of 35 year old expressions. Distilled in 1977, it has been aged fully in refill American oak hogsheads.

Brora has long been my favorite in the Diageo Special Editions, and the last few years’ releases of 35 year old bottlings have been second to none in Scotch whisky.

At 37 years of age, though, something seems lacking. The nose offers a familiar mix of honey and citrus, yet comes off a bit astringent, with a heavily perfumed element on the back end. The body is more successful, with gently peat layered atop notes of honey buns, crisp apple, blood orange, and toffee. Yet, there’s something the slightest bit off here, the flavor profile being pulled in a few too many directions, and the finish taking things in a slightly vegetal bent.

I enjoyed the whisky immensely, but it’s a step back from some of the most recent, stellar Broras we’ve seen. Not exactly a tragedy, but perhaps it’s a triple when you were hoping for another home run.

100.8 proof. 2976 bottles produced.

A- / $1800 / malts.com

Book Review: The Year of Drinking Adventurously

year of drinknigWriter Jeff Cioletti wants you to put down the Budweiser and the shot of JD. “Drinking adventurously” means exploring the vast array of beverages the world has to offer, and Cioletti guides you through 52 of them in a guidebook that is meant to be consumed one chapter (and type of drink) each week.

Cioletti starts us off with Scotch, exploring the islands in addition to safer Speyside. From there it’s on to bourbon and rye, then quickly into such exotic categoris as baijiu, soju, pulque, and blueberry wine. It’s an adventure indeed: Some of these categories (namely the blueberry wine) I’ve never even encountered myself.

As a primer on the entire world of drinking, some areas (gueuze) are naturally far more adventurous than others (Canadian whisky), but Cioletti ultimately shows himself more interested in taking you on a global trek of alcoholic drink exploration, not just forcing Korean snake wine down your throat. There’s even a chapter on vodka included.

And that’s not a slight. Not every book needs to be a nerd-level deep dive into the rabbit hole of wine, beer, and spirits. So long as you understand going in that you’re not going to learn everything there is to know about Scotch in nine pages of text, this book is definitely worthwhile and often lots of fun, to boot.

A- / $14 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]