Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Fall 2013)

Garrison Brothers TxSBW Image 1 525x1167 Review: Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Fall 2013)

Hye is one of those tiny towns that everyone from Texas (including myself) has heard of, but no one actually knows where it is. There it lies, on the road from Austin to Fredericksburg, and it’s here where Garrison Brothers is making some fine “micro” whiskey.

The brothers Garrison don’t disclose their exact mashbill on this, their flagship product, but it’s about 3/4 local corn (#1 Panhandle White, in case you’re curious), along with estate-grown wheat and malted barley (not local) making up the rest. At present, the whiskey is aged for two years in American oak barrels before bottling. But intriguingly, Garrison doesn’t just say that its product could change over time, rather the distillery insists that it will.

Garrison Brothers takes a vintage-based approach to whiskeymaking, insisting that each year’s product should be better than the last. That began with its first batch in 2008. Reviewed below is a bottle distilled in 2010 and released in Fall 2013 (bottle number 453). Garrison insists it should be better than the whiskey in 2009, just as the whiskey from 2011 should be an improvement over this. (As of late 2013, six different “vintages” had been released — more than one vintage is produced each year.) The only question is whether it can really deliver on that promise, which we hope to put to the test over the next decade or so. The company says it is now warehousing some 5000 barrels of product.

As for the whiskey we have here, it’s burly, frontier stuff with plenty of kick. The nose is strong with wood, lumberyard notes intermingled with hints of vanilla and caramel. The body reveals far more — eventually. That wood character is powerful up front, to the point where you wonder if that’s the whole show. It isn’t until the finish gets going where Garrison Brothers’ other characteristics begin to shine. As it’s but two years old, there’s plenty of youthful roasted corn here, but unlike many other young whiskeys, those notes are balanced with some more exciting, and more mature, flavors. There’s deep, almost burnt, caramel here, as well as brown butter, cloves, and some chili powder. This all develops more seamlessly and interestingly than you’d think — and all at the end. Give this whiskey ample time in the glass — Garrison recommends a cube of ice — and you’ll see the popcorn settle down and the other components really begin to build up.

Fun, fun stuff, although quite expensive for the drinker used to $25 bottlings from Kentucky. No matter: I’m looking forward to seeing the Garrison Brothers’ next act!

94 proof. Reviewed: Fall 2013 release.

A- / $75 / garrisonbros.com

Review: 2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine and 2008 Cabernet Franc Ice Wine

inniskillin gold vial 113x300 Review: 2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine and 2008 Cabernet Franc Ice WineYears have passed since we last encountered Inniskillin and its masterful Canadian ice wines. We recently had the good fortune to sample two new vintages from Inniskillin, both sweet yet low-alcohol dessert wines made from frozen grapes from way up north. Thoughts follow.

2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine – Gorgeous, with a rush of honey, applesauce, and vanilla. On the body, it’s beautifully sweet with more apple, apricots, ripe bananas, and tropical notes…  all layered with that rich honey character. Lovely complexity with a long, long finish. Be careful with this one. 9.5% abv. A- / $50 (375ml)

2008 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Ice Wine – Red ice wines are always a little strange — sweet, ice cold… and red like tawny port. The nose offers all the honey and jammy fruit notes of white ice wines, and at first the body keeps that rolling, with notes of strawberry, vanilla, and fresh cream. The finish is where things change, that sweetness veering toward sour cherry notes, with add complexity, but leave things on a funky, oxidized note. 9.5% abv. B+ / $100 (375ml)

on.inniskillin.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon Entry Proof Experiments

Buffalo Trace Rye Mash Entry Proof Family 300x159 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Rye Bourbon Entry Proof ExperimentsLast year, Buffalo Trace released a line of Experimental Collection bourbons put into barrel at various entry proofs.

As I explained back then: Entry proof describes the alcohol level of a whiskey when it goes into the barrel for the first time. Generally whiskey is watered down a bit before barreling, often to between 105 and 125 proof, before it’s wheeled into the warehouse.

This release differs from the last one in two ways. First, the white dog came off the still at 140 proof, not 130. Second, this recipe is BT’s rye bourbon mashbill (aka mash #1), not the wheated one from last year. Same as last time, though, this white dog was split into four batches, one barreled at 90 proof, one at 105, one at 115, and finally one at 125 proof. All four spent 11 years, 9 months in barrel, and when bottled, they were all brought down to 90 proof. (These barrels were distilled, barreled, and bottled all around the same time as the wheated ones.)

Thoughts follow…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 90 Entry Proof – Light and airy, a candy bar of a whiskey with notes of cherry, nougat, and caramel. Finishes smoothly sweet and easy. Not a lot of complexity, but it makes up for it in delightful simplicity. This is one you could drink all day. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 105 Entry Proof - Much different on the nose, with wood-forward aromas and hints of baking spice and menthol. The body is generous and considerably more balanced than the nose would indicate. Caramel and orange are the major notes, with the burly woodiness coming on stronger on the end. A straightforward if unremarkable rendition of an older bourbon. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 115 Entry Proof - Racy on the nose, with Madeira and Port-like notes. Bold on the palate, with notes of sherry, clove-studded orange, and vanilla caramel on the finish. Great balance here, with a rich, well-rounded body. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 125 Entry Proof - This is BT’s standard entry proof, so should be closest to a typical Buffalo Trace mash #1 whiskey at this age. It’s a blazer on the nose, masking leather and wood notes with somewhat raw heat. It settles down with time, however, revealing a fairly traditional profile of vanilla, caramel, and milk chocolate, with some sawdust edges licking up on the back end. A fine effort but one that doesn’t really distinguish itself especially. B+

As with the rye experiments, this is again a fun exercise — and curiously I liked both the 90 proof and 115 proof expressions the best the last time out. Still, my hunch is that barrel variability probably has a bigger ultimate impact than entry proof does.

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Book Review: The Drunken Botanist

DRUNKEN BOTANIST 216x300 Book Review: The Drunken BotanistIt only came out last year, but Amy Stewart’s incredibly obsessive-compulsive tome, The Drunken Botanist, has already become a staple of the spirits obsessed.

The idea is deceptively simple. Whatever you drink — Scotch, rum, tequila, vodka — has its origins in the earth — barley, sugar cane, agave, potato (or whatnot). Where do these plants, fruits, and vegetables come from? What makes them different than what we put on the table? And (of course) can you grow your own?

Stewart is deep in the rabbit hole on this stuff, taking you through the botanical origins of, say, the tamarind, describing how it grows and where, and how it’s used in beverages. Tips for growing your own plants — typically herbs and spices — are proffered, and Stewart of course peppers the text with plenty of cocktail and flavored syrup recipes.

Easily digested and broken up into natural chunks, The Drunken Botanist is both easy to jump in and out of while also making a fantastic reference. What’s lemon verbena, anyway? Mauby? Myrrh?

I won’t spoil the answers.

A- / $16 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Sammy’s Beach Bar Red Head Macadamia Nut Flavored Rum

sammys beach bar redhead 525x750 Review: Sammys Beach Bar Red Head Macadamia Nut Flavored Rum

You gotta love a first. For his first line extension from Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, the “Red Rocker” Sammy Hagar has added a Macadamia Nut-flavored expression to this Hawaii-born product.

What the heck is this stuff?

Distilled from Maui sugar cane, it is steeped with Macadamia nuts and colored blood red (fruit and vegetable juice color is added). Right off the bat, it’s an assault to the senses — the color of wine, but with the nose of crushed nuts. At first the aroma is hard to place — closer to hazelnut than macadamia — with light sweetness underneath.

The body reveals more nuance. Again, the nut notes are the most prominent component here, far overpowering any of the sweet rum elements present. The overall effect is uncannily like a gentler, slightly sweeter version of Frangelico, with a slightly winey, strawberry finish (likely driven by the intense coloring  involved). Rum? It’s difficult to get even a hint of it, particularly the heavy funkiness of Sammy’s, but I trust him that it really is there as a base spirit. I can’t specifically peg macadamia nut here, either, for that matter.

Nonetheless, it’s a well-crafted and quite unique spirit. My recommendation: Use it in lieu of nut liqueurs, not necessarily rum.

70 proof.

A- / $20 / sammysbeachbarrum.com

Review: Wines of Italy’s Stemmari, 2014 Releases

stemmari pinot noir 94x300 Review: Wines of Italys Stemmari, 2014 ReleasesStemmari is a major winemaker of Sicily, where it produces wines from both native and international varietals, with a ruthless focus on keeping costs down. Most of its wines are available for under $10 a bottle, and some of these are quite good.

The naming system may be a little tricky. The less-expensive, single varietal wines all have Stemmari on the label, and some list Feudo Arancio, an older/alternate name for the company, on the label as well. The blends — which are more expensive — do not use Stemmari on the label but only say Feudo Arancio. Confusing, sure, but either way, they all come from the same company, and the same island… Sicily.

Thoughts follow.

2011 Stemmari Pinot Grigio Sicilia IGT – Crisp. Light peach and pineapple on the nose. The body veers more toward lemon, with a touch of grapefruit. Almost candylike, it’s dangerously easy to drink. A- / $7

2012 Stemmari Feudo Arancio Nero D’Avola Terre Siciliane IGT – Tough and tannic at first, this wine settles down eventually and reveals a quite jammy, strawberry-laden core. Subtle tea and milk chocolate notes add nuance, but the somewhat sweet finish becomes tiresome after awhile. B / $8

2011 Stemmari Pinot Noir Sicilia IGT – Serviceable Pinot, but on the earthy/pruny side of things. Notes of cola and black cherry are also prominent, but the finish is on the tight side. B / $8

2012 Stemmari Feudo Arancio Moscato Sicilia IGT - Super-sweet moscato (just 8.5% alcohol), loaded with peaches, pineapple, and bananas foster. Simple, but it’s what sweet moscato should be. B+ / $9

2010 Feudo Arancio Cantodoro Sicilia IGT - 80% nero d’avola, 20% cabernet sauvignon. Easily the best wine in Stemmari’s lineup, a rich and balanced collection of currants, plums, tobacco, leather, and dark chocolate. It all comes together rather seamlessly, making for a seductive and luscious experience. A- / $18

2010 Feudo Arancio Dalila Sicilia IGT - A blend of 80% grillo (stainless steel fermented) and 20% viognier (aged 8 months in oak barrels). Weird and chardonnay-like up front, with big butter and vanilla notes up front. The body brings out meatlike characteristics that can be a bit at odds with the mild peach and lemon notes that come along on the finish. B / $20

feudoarancio.it

Review: 2010 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder

Mt. Brave Single Bottle Shot with Corkscrew 214x300 Review: 2010 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. VeederNapa’s Mount Veeder has a new resident: Mt. Brave Winery, one of the most difficult and rugged parts of the Napa Valley. Mt. Brave is focusing on Malbec, Merlot, and (of course) Cabernet Sauvignon, the signature grape of Mount Veeder.

This 2010 release is an impressive early effort for Mt. Brave. Intensely dark purple — this stuff will turn your lips almost black! — it’s a bold and quite delicious Cab. The nose offers berries and candied violets, with touches of milk chocolate. The body is on the sweet side, barely, with bold strawberry, vanilla, and blueberry character. Not quite venturing into dessert territory — it paired exquisitely with pasta with creamy marinara sauce — but getting close, which I like to think means it’s versatile.

A- / $75 / mtbravewines.artisanwine.com

Review: Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve Barrel Finished Gin

Beefeater Burroughs Reserve Gin 525x609 Review: Beefeater Burroughs Reserve Barrel Finished Gin

Remember when genever was going to be the next big thing? Of course you don’t. That stillborn trend gave way to aged gin, which is now — cautiously — on the rise. Will barrel-aged gin be successful where genever was not? Let’s take a look at a bottling from one of the biggest names in gin, Beefeater.

Burrough’s Reserve (tagline: “the gin for free thinkers”) is distilled in 268-liter small batches (the botanicals used are not published) before being aged for an unspecified time (not long, I think) in former Lillet aperitif wine barrels.

The color is a light gold, not unlike Lillet Blanc, with a nose reminiscent of modern gins. The intense juniper notes of Beefeater are absent here, replaced with notes of camphor, licorice, citrus peel, and some curious sea salt notes. The more seaward components are what linger in the nostrils, even as you sip it to reveal some of the classic gin components, including angelica, light lemon and orange notes, white flowers, and vanilla on the finish. The body is on the sweet side, and surprisingly creamy. Juniper? Frankly it’s hard to find at all here, just a vague evergreen character that develops on the nose over time.

The only sticking point with Burrough’s Reserve, an otherwise excellent product that both gin and brown spirits fans should like, is the price. At $70 a bottle it’s a hard sell, even if you’re a gin fanatic. If the price is too rich, maybe stick with the genever then?

86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5, bottle #74.

A- / $70 / pernod-ricard.com

Review: Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 21 Years Old

Redbreast 21 Bottle 525x668 Review: Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 21 Years Old

Redbreast is one of the most beloved of high-end Irish whiskeys there is, a triple-pot distilled whiskey made of malted and unmalted barley that wins pretty much every “Best Irish Whiskey” award that comes around. That said, the 12 year old expression has always been a bit too chewy and pungent for my taste, a malty monster in a category prized for being gentle and easygoing.

On the other hand, I respect Redbreast. Different strokes and all. And now a sure-to-be much desired 21 Year Old version is about to hit the market. What can an extra 9 years do to a whiskey that’s already a beast?

Let’s put it this way: If you like Redbreast 12, you’ll love Redbreast 21. All of Redbreast’s classic notes are intact: ultra-ripe banana, coconut husks, and butterscotch, to name but a few. But there’s also burnt honey, coal fires, and a powerful caramel note on the finish. The citrus notes — driven by partial aging in first-fill sherry casks — are particularly present here. No matter what you think about Redbreast, there’s always something new to discover lurking somewhere in a dram of this whiskey.

Rest assured: Redbreast’s DNA runs through this expression like a river, but I’m honestly hard-pressed to find a lot of difference here vs. the 12 year old version. It’s a bit more pungent and funky, but it’s just not overwhelmingly different than the 12. The 12 is just such a massive whiskey already that the extra age simply doesn’t change things as much as it otherwise might. Either way, Redbreast fanatics should give it a try before deciding whether the extra age merits more than twice the price.

92 proof.

A- / $180 / irishdistillers.ie

Book Review: The New Old Bar

the new old bar Book Review: The New Old BarChicago-based restaurateurs Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh go by the moniker of “The Hearty Boys,” an homage to the restaurant they run, Hearty. In this, their second book, Smith and McDonagh focus on the bar, offering 200 cocktail recipes (including all the ones they serve at Hearty), plus a chapter or two that cover the basics of how to run the bar.

The recipes run the gamut from classics that have recently made a comeback (Pegu Club, Boulevardier, Corpse Reviver #2), as well as newfangled recipes of the Hearties’ devise. Grilled fruits are a common and interesting theme, as are flavored syrups (recipes are included for these separately). One even uses roast beef (as a garnish). By and large the selection is interesting, skimmable (recipes are not sorted but are mere alphabetized by name), and fairly easy to replicate.

The final portion of the book features a welcome collection of bar snack recipes, with 25 items offered, each sounding more delicious than the next. Poutine and Kix Mix… breakfast of champions!

A- / $14 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Fresh Origins Hibiscus and Cilantro Crystals Cocktail Rimmers

Herb Crystals Cilantro 136x300 Review: Fresh Origins Hibiscus and Cilantro Crystals Cocktail RimmersFresh Origins, the maker of a unique set of herb-flavored cocktail rimmer crystals, is back at it, with two new “MicroGreens” flavors that are on the rise in the cocktailverse: Hibiscus and Cilantro. As with its original four flavors, these are natural flowers and herbs mixed with cane sugar crystals, creating crunchy, edible garnishes for your cocktail glass rims. We put these two new versions to the tongue to see how they measure up as ingredients of your next cocktail creation.

Fresh Origins MicroGreens Hibiscus Crystals – Quite sweet, with the hibiscus notes understated. The flavor comes across as more of a cherry/strawberry mix than a floral one, though hibiscus is always a tricky flavor to work with. This would be exemplary on a Cosmo or other fruit-focused cocktail. A-

Fresh Origins MicroGreens Cilantro Crystals - Appropriately bittersweet, but the addition of sugar makes cilantro tough to pick out. The attack is more akin to celery or perhaps even artichoke, but even that is quite muted compared to the sugar component. The company suggests pairing this with a margarita, but rimming a shot of Cynar with it is also interesting. B+

each $10 per 4 oz. jar / freshorigins.com

Review: Chambord French Black Raspberry Liqueur

Chambord 218x300 Review: Chambord French Black Raspberry LiqueurDrinkhacker finally takes a look at one of the classics, a staple of the back bar and an inimitable ingredient in any number of amazing cocktails. Need a dash of color and a kick of jammy fruit in your drink? A drop of Chambord (actually made from both raspberries and blackberries, along with currants, vanilla bean, Cognac, and some other additives) from its iconic Holy Hand Grenade bottle will do the trick.

The nose of this liqueur features big, burly, well, raspberry notes. Not so much bright, fresh fruit but rather raspberry jam, dense and well-sugared. Sipped straight, the body is more dessert-like than you might expect, offering an almost candylike character that mixes darker raspberry notes with clear vanilla and somewhat lighter chocolate notes. Ultimately, the berry fruit is what sticks with you. Not quite Jolly Ranchers, but not quite fresh berries, either. Chambord lands somewhere in between, which might be what makes it perfect for cocktailing.

31 proof.

A- / $30 / chambordonline.com

Review: Booker’s 25th Anniversary Edition Bourbon

Bookers 25th 525x1187 Review: Bookers 25th Anniversary Edition Bourbon

If Colonel Blanton is the Louis Armstrong of the bourbon world, there is no question that that bellowing, boisterous Booker Noe is its John Coltrane. His larger-than-life presence dominated the bourbon world during a time when personalities were less idolized than today. So it is most appropriate that on the silver anniversary of creating the small batch bearing his name, an amplified version of the original Booker’s arrives for consideration.

(Before we begin, it should be mentioned that in 2012 our editor in chief recently placed kindred bourbon Baker’s above Booker’s in a blind taste test. That would not have happened with your faithful author. Booker’s is easily my favorite thing to originate from Team Beam, and one of my top go-to bourbons went introducing new folks to the spirit. Chris’s comments on Booker 25 are at the bottom of the review.)

What’s different? Whereas most Booker’s hovers around the 6-7 year mark at about 125-127 proof, this 25th anniversary edition clocks in at 10 years, 3 months and 130.8.  These were the last of the barrels Booker personally oversaw, and Beam master distiller/son-of-a-Booker Fred Noe wished for something special: an uncut, unfiltered no frills beast of bourbon with a deluxe upgrade in packaging and presentation. The dark colors, gold ornamentation, and wooden box are equally enjoyable to stare at while taking everything in. The presentation does the product justice.

However, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and this certainly delivers. The extra years of aging certainly make a difference, with a nose heavier on the oak and a bit of pepper to make its presence felt. The taste is straightforward and demanding, very hot with resonant notes of cinnamon, cayenne, leather and tobacco all mixed in leading up to a smoky finish which holds for quite some time. Actually, it really doesn’t hold. Much like a good Coltrane solo, it keeps the listener braced and gripped attentively, while waiting patiently for the eventual rest in the hope of starting the experience all over again.

The only real drawback is the cost of admission. I found my bottle at a local store for a whopping $100 plus tax. The price point is questionable. Four Roses 125th Anniversary edition and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection are priced lower. That bit of trivia aside, it stands head and shoulders above any new product Beam has introduced in recent years. Making a separate annual release at this age and proof would be another welcome addition to an already growing, soon-to-be Suntory stable. However, at an edition of around 1000 cases, this will be here, gone and on black market auction sites before too long, so if you’re hesitating: Don’t.

This is Booker’s masterpiece.  It’s a beautiful sun-setting encore — a time-released final farewell from one of the greatest titans to ever run a distillery, and a heartfelt love letter from a son to a father.

Chris says: As Rob alludes, this is remarkably different stuff than standard-grade Booker’s. While Booker’s pours on the heat and never lets up — even with water — Booker’s 25th Anniversary Edition is full of nuance — even without water. In lieu of the brash chocolate-covered-plum character (how I’m describing it today) of standard Booker’s, Booker’s 25 comes across as nuanced and layered. At proof I get notes of rich caramel, cinnamon toast, cafe au lait, and Fred Noe’s flop sweat (just kidding!). A little water amplifies the wood notes, particularly on the finish. I’m with Rob on his rating, and might even kick it up to a full A, even at $100. (GOOD LUCK!) And I still love Baker’s. -Ed.

130.8 proof. Edition of 1000 cases.

A- / $100 / smallbatch.com

Review: Alaskan Brewing Co. Hopothermia and ESB

alaska Hopothermia 106x300 Review: Alaskan Brewing Co. Hopothermia and ESBAlaskan Brewing Co., arguably Alaska’s most noteworthy brewery, is releasing these two beers this spring — with Hopothermia now joining the ranks as a year-round release. Bold, bitter, and hoppy, they’re both worthy sippers no matter what the weather is like.

Alaskan Brewing Co. Hopothermia Double IPA – A stellar IPA, a little citrus, a little piney — particularly on the finish, when the evergreen notes really start to show. Big and bright and loaded with hops, this one’s a rich and delicious dazzler. 8.5% abv. A / $NA per 12 oz. bottle

Alaskan Brewing Co. ESB Extra Special Bitter Ale – This amber ale offers bracing bitterness without being overly hoppy. Dark chocolate and mild coffee notes dominate the body, while the bitter finish cleans up any lingering savory components, leaving a chewy and almost woody character behind. 5.3% abv. A- / $NA per 22 oz. bottle

alaskanbeer.com

Book Review: Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course

windows on the world 273x300 Book Review: Kevin Zralys Windows on the World Complete Wine CourseSituated at the top of One World Trade Center, Windows on the World was a restaurant-bar-entertainment venue that was beloved by just about everyone until the tower’s tragic destruction. Its resident cellar master was the equally beloved Kevin Zraly, and for the last 25-plus years he’s been publishing his own book on wine. Actually, it’s a “course,” designed to teach newcomers on wine everything they need to know to get comfortable with wine in a relatively slim volume.

Annually updated, the book combines timeless information with current events. Here you’ll find a page on how weather impacts the grape harvest, along with a sidebar digesting recent storms around the world. This contextualizes Zraly’s lessons while giving the dedicated fodder they can conjure up at cocktail parties.

It’s a breezy book, often presented in Q&A format and with lots of headings followed by a quick paragraph or two of detail. There are plenty of pictures and maps, but Zraly keeps things simple and easy to digest. (The book’s errors — Napa doesn’t have an “Atlas Creek,” but rather an “Atlas Peak,” last time I checked — are curious, but not deal killers.)

One of my favorite things about the book are the nuggets you simply don’t get anywhere else — and would be hard-pressed to dig up online, even. A map of the U.S. with the number of wineries and AVAs in each state? It’s here. A list of the major wine conglomerates and all the brands they own? Got it. The wine grapes native to Hungary? Perhaps less useful, but it’s here too.

Zraly deserves his reputation and should be praised for condensing a complex subject into just over 300 pages (plus online extras) while covering far more than “just the basics.” You may not need to buy it every year, but one copy will get you a long way.

A- / $30 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: The BenRiach Horizons, Septendecim, Solstice 2ed, and Authenticus

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It’s been over 5 years since our last serious look at BenRiach’s distillery bottlings, and things have been afoot. This Speyside distillery has recently launched four new expressions, retiring a few and updating a couple with older versions.

Let’s not delay. Thoughts follow.

The BenRiach Horizons 12 Years Old Triple Distilled – Most Scotch whisky is distilled twice, but Horizons was born in the ’90s of an experimental run that toyed with triple distilling. Afterward, the finished product was aged in standard ex-bourbon barrels for 12 years. The results are delightful. Though the overproof entry is racy, offering notes of honey, brown sugar, fresh-baked bread, and modest vanilla. All in all, the nose of a classic Scotch whisky. The body offers more of the same, with an orange peel note on the finish. It’s hard to tell if that third distillation has done any magic here, but the finished product is crisp, clean, and satisfying beyond its 12 years of age. 100 proof. A- / $80

The BenRiach Septendecim Peated 17 Years Old – A new addition to BenRiach’s peated range, 17 years old and aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Heavy peat and barbecue smoke on the nose, with modest apple notes. The body is unique, starting with that smoky peat before quickly building distinct cantaloupe notes, something that’s quite rare for malt whisky. Spiced nuts and a melange of raisins, cloves, and Madeira wine notes bring up the rear. 92 proof. B+ / $80

The BenRiach Solstice 2nd Edition 17 Years Old – This 17 year old bottling is heavily peated, then aged in bourbon barrels before finishing in Tawny Port casks. It succeeds a 15 year version of the spirit that used the same overall technique. The nose brings peat at first, though less pungent than in Septendecim. On the tongue, things are considerably different: Smoked meats play with plums, ripe raisins, applesauce, and touches of caramel and toffee. This whisky is a true delight, and it improves as you sip it, opening up to reveal more and more fruit, while leaving the smoke to play in the background like a roaring fire in the living room on Christmas Eve. A winner. 100 proof. A / $100

The BenRiach Authenticus Peated 25 Years Old – Formerly available as a 21 year old, Authenticus is back at a full 25 years of age. Peated and bourbon barrel aged. Unique nose, with more fruit and less peat than all of the above (including Horizons) — with a chocolate-covered apple slice, orange peel, and currant character to it. On the palate the spirit builds to offer distinct raisin and chocolate notes, burnt caramel, and a touch of mint. The finish is a bit woodier than expected, which leaves a bit of tannin on the back of the throat. Hardly a deal-killer, though. This is amazing stuff on the whole. 92 proof. A / $250

benriachdistillery.co.uk

Review: 2012 Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and 2011 Trilogy

flora springs trilogy 70x300 Review: 2012 Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and 2011 TrilogyMore new releases from our friends at Napa Valley’s Flora Springs, including the 2011 vintage of its flagship wine, Trilogy, a Bordeaux style blend.

2012 Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay - Initially quite oaky, this barrel-fermented Chardonnay opens up with notes of figs, peaches, vanilla, and creme brulee. Time in glass is the friend of this wine, which starts out quite dense — you might even decant it! — as the brooding body eventually reveals more of its fruit over an hour or so. B+ / $35

2011 Flora Springs Trilogy Napa Valley - 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec. A pretty and restrained Trilogy this year offers modest currants and dried cherry notes, plus tobacco, tea leaf, and cocoa bean notes. Quite a bit of tannin is hanging out on the back end, where a bit of touch of blackberry jam awaits. Good stuff. A- / $75

florasprings.com

Book Review: Bitter Brew

bitter brew 197x300 Book Review: Bitter BrewI really had no idea that the Busch family had gone through such a turbulent century, with the fortunes of Budweiser careening up and down. But then again, like most readers of this blog, I don’t give Budweiser a whole lot of thought, anyway.

But with Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer, author William Knoedelseder grabs you right from the start (with the ultimate fall — the company’s foreign takeover in 2008), before backtracking to 1857 when Adolphus Busch took over a small, bankrupt brewery and launched the A-B empire. While some tales, like the Busch’s obsession with and purchase of the St. Louis Cardinals, may not carry much weight with readers who are more interested in the sudsier side of things, but Knoedelseder’s gifts with the pen will keep you flipping the pages nonetheless.

One tragic oversight: No mention of Spuds MacKenzie.

A- / $13 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Camus VSOP Elegance and VSOP Borderies Cognac

Here’s something you don’t see every day: A Borderies Cognac… that’s a youngish VSOP. Borderies, for those not in the know, is a small, very renowned grape-growing subregion of Cognac. Normally, Borderies bottlings are old XO expressions — which command even higher prices due to their regional pedigree. vsop camus borderies Review: Camus VSOP Elegance and VSOP Borderies CognacAnd while Camus does offer an XO Borderies, it has recently (and quietly) put out this VSOP Borderies expression, a rarity I’ve never seen before now.

It just so happens I had a fresh bottle of Camus VSOP (now known as Camus VSOP Elegance) to compare against this limited-edition Camus VSOP Borderies. Here’s how they shake out.

Camus VSOP Elegance – Recently cleaned up with strong “Elegance” labeling and more modern styling, the off-the-rack Camus VSOP bottling offers classic younger Cognac notes: oak, Christmas cake, and lingering citrus notes, tinged with cinnamon. It’s an easygoing sipper that doesn’t overly complicate things. B+ / $40

Camus VSOP Borderies – More fruit up front here, growing considerably as it gets some air to it. Cinnamon apple, apricots, even coconut and pineapple notes come across. You don’t get much of that with the standard VSOP, which keeps its cards closer to its vest. The finish only builds up the fruit component. 15,000 bottles made. A- / $57

camus.fr

Review: 5 Whiskies from Japan’s Nikka Distillery

Nikka Coffey Grain 750ml 300 389x1200 Review: 5 Whiskies from Japans Nikka Distillery

An old part of the Asahi empire, Nikka (est. 1934) suddenly finds itself part of the new guard of Japanese whiskys positively flooding into the U.S. Nikka makes a massive number of whiskys in a wide variety of styles and ages. What we present here is but a small selection of Nikka’s world, reflecting the most common Nikka expressions you’ll find in our shores today.

Thoughts follow.

Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt 12 Years Old – A classic single malt (100% malted barley from Nikka’s newer distillery) with tons to love. The nose is pretty and modern, offering well-integrated grain, oak, and nougat elements. The subtle smokiness starts to develop primarily on the palate, which offers crisp citrus notes, butterscotch, and some floral notes. Beautiful integration here, on a creamy, sexy body. Vanilla custard sticks with you for ages after a few sips. Feels far more accomplished than its 12 years of age would dictate. 90 proof. A / $120

Nikka Yoichi Single Malt 15 Years Old – Single malt, older distillery than Miyagikyo, which explains how this 15 year old whisky can be priced the same as its little brother. Quite a different spirit, the Yoichi brings a bit more smokiness, and a more rustic composition, with a racier nose and a considerably bigger smoke profile. The body offers big citrus notes, applesauce, cloves, and a chewiness driven by the barbecue-like smokiness. A fun and flavorful whisky, but it pales next to the refinement of the Miyagikyo. 90 proof. B+ / $130

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Years Old – I’m an avowed fan of the Taketsuru 12 Years Old, a pure malt (a blend of single malts from multiple distilleries), so this 17 year old expression sounds delightful right off the bat. The smoke-and-sweetness of this malt’s nose remind me of the Yoichi 15, but the body is a different animal. Here, that rusticness has faded away to reveal a satin body, mouth-filling with thick caramel, vanilla custard, and just wisps of smoke. There’s an almost lemon candy-like character around the edges that’s hard to pin down… but is quite delicious. 86 proof. A- / $150

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 Years Old – Lots of grain on this older expression of Taketsuru, which is surprising. The nose initially feels hot, heavy with old wood character. The body is equally laden with heavy woodiness, a tannic and tough spirit that just feels “too old” — almost sour at times with past-its-prime cherry, burnt cocoa beans, and charcoal notes. Not at all my favorite of this lineup. 86 proof. B- / $180

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – This is a huge departure from the above, a grain whisky (corn, barley, wheat) made in a continuous still instead of a pot still. It’s what blended whisky is blended with, but this is a 100% grain whisky, with no single malt added. Sharp on the nose, with lemon notes, vanilla, and strong menthol character. The body is surprisingly easygoing, a fruity whiskey with notes of hazelnuts, coffee bean, sea salt, and modest smokiness. There’s a lot going on here, that menthol character bringing it all into (for the most part) balance. Worth exploring, and it’s a bargain compared to the rest of the Nikka stable. 90 proof. B+ / $70

nikka.com