Category Archives: Rated A-

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

Review: Corsair Ryemageddon and Quinoa Whiskey

corsair quinoa whiskey 525x525 Review: Corsair Ryemageddon and Quinoa Whiskey

Corsair is probably the country’s most curious and experimental craft distillery (it makes one whiskey that has elderflowers in it), and the two whiskeys reviewed below should be proof enough of its oddball inspirations. Both of these whiskeys are part of Corsair’s standard releases, though that doesn’t mean they’re easy to find.

Corsair Ryemageddon –  An aged version (no statement) of Corsair’s Wry Moon white whiskey, made from malted rye and chocolate rye. This is a fun and — suffice it to say — wholly unique product on the market. The nose is heavy with grain, savory yet spicy and clearly on the hot side. The body starts things off with a traditional, relatively young grain profile, and then the jams get kicked out. A racy sweetness comes on strong — nougat and marshmallows, with a little punch of candied grapefruit — and then it starts to mellow. Here the rye starts to really show its face, with a finish that is long and spicy, full of red and black pepper, with a touch of nutmeg and cloves. This is youthful and brash stuff, yet full of life and punchy with flavor. Worth exploring. 92 proof. B+ / $52

Corsair Quinoa Whiskey – Made with red and white quinoa — the It Grain of the healthy eating craze today. I sampled this before almost in passing and found it somewhat off-putting. Today I’m digging the Quinoa Whiskey quite a bit more. I get immediate chocolate on the nose, with modest spice and indistinct grainary notes. The body is amped up with a mild sweetness, more of that milk chocolate character, and a finish that takes things not so much into young grain notes but rather into an earthy, mushroomy quality that is unique in the whiskey world. This is intense and exotic stuff, definitely worth checking out… but seriously, Corsair, where’s the clever name? Quiskey, anyone? 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5, bottle #109/160. A- / $56

corsairartisan.com / [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Merlet Trois Citrus Triple Sec

merlet trois citrus 225x300 Review: Merlet Trois Citrus Triple SecRecently we took an exhaustive spin through Merlet’s fruit liqueurs… and then the company released one more.

The new Trois Citrus is a triple sec with a twist: It’s made from oranges, blood oranges, and lemon peel — triple the citrus for, perhaps, triple the flavor.

This turns out to be quite a good idea. While this is foremost an orange-based spirit, the lemon comes through surprisingly clearly. The mix of lemon and orange takes this spirit to a slightly elevated level. It might get a bit lost in a complex cocktail, but putting it side by side with standard triple sec, I find myself gravitating to the Trois Citrus.

Now, might I recommend adding for a Quatre Citrus: Grapefruit.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / merlet.fr

Review: Glenfiddich Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask 19 Years Old

glenfiddich age of discovery bourbon cask 525x955 Review: Glenfiddich Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask 19 Years Old

Glenfiddich always puts out a special edition malt whisky around this time, and this year’s bottling is a curiosity indeed. Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask (not to be confused with a prior bottling from 2011, Age of Discovery Madeira Cask) is a 19 year old whisky that’s spent its entire life in ex-Bourbon barrels.

On the surface this may not sound so unusual. The vast majority of Scotch is matured in ex-Bourbon barrels. But like many distilleries, Glenfiddich normally finishes its whisky in sherry casks. This is one of few whiskys the company has released that has spent its entire life in Bourbon barrels without a stint in a finishing cask.

Moving on to the tasting: The nose is mild but rich with well-aged wood and leather, and a few spicy notes. The body follows suit: It is big and rich and lets a moderate touch of the grain come through. As it develops in the glass, I get buttery shortbread cookies, along with just a few hints of toffee and caramel. The finish has touches of charred wood and incense, leaving you with motes of popcorn, a nod to that Bourbon barrel heritage. Overall there is lots to like here, but I think that’s mainly a testament to smart barrel selection.

A third Age of Discovery, Red Wine Cask, is on the way. Note: All Age of Discovery bottlings are travel retailer exclusives, but 15,000 additional bottles of this Bourbon Cask bottling are making their way to general availability in (standard) retail outlets in the U.S. as we speak.

80 proof.

A- / $150 / glenfiddich.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Complete Lineup

Calvados XO Apreval 135x300 Review: Manoir dApreval Calvados Complete LineupDon’t call it apple brandy: It’s Calvados, the most exclusive of apple-based spirits and the only fruit brandy with a serious pedigree. Created by a family-owned estate of 25 hectares of apple trees (17 varieties are grown here) in France’s Pays d’Auge, on the banks of the Seine River, this French classic is making its way to the U.S. for the first time, with a staggering selection of expressions available… suitable for any price point. Apreval’s Calvados brandies are double-distilled, then aged in French oak barrels.

We got to to try them all… nine expressions of Calvados in total, ranging from a two-year old youngster to varieties aged nearly half a century (and priced as you’d expect). So, how do they acquit themselves? Thoughts follow, ordered from youngest to oldest.

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Blanche – Aged 2-3 years. Crisp apple aroma, but there’s plenty of heat here as well. The body offers tart apple (think Granny Smith), lemon peel, some floral elements, and a touch of wood on the back end. Rustic, almost pastoral. This is clearly young stuff, particularly on the slightly rubbery and lightly vegetal finish, but it still drinks well. I’d consider it primarily for cocktailing, sipping neat in a pinch. 80 proof. B / $55

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Reserve – Aged 4-6 years. Slightly nutty, almost Amaretto-like, on the nose, with clear apple cider coming through behind. A clearly stronger wood influence lends this Calvados a bigger and bolder body, with a rounded mouthfeel and stronger vanilla notes on the palate. The finish is still a little tough, though the more vegetal notes have started to balance out with the sweet ones. 84 proof. B+ / $67

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Grande Reserve – Aged 10-12 years. The nose is mellowing out here, with more of an applesauce and gentle honey character to it. The body offers strong apple flavors, balanced by hazelnuts, chocolate, and a light herbal quality. Good balance, with a bit heat on the back end. It’s definitely a Calvados I’d have no trouble sipping on, offering the best of both the orchard and the world of brandy. 84 proof. A- / $92

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados XO – Aged 15-20 years, noticeably darker in color (from here on out). Becoming increasingly Cognac-like on the nose, with sweet caramel, gingerbread, and incense notes… but still those unmistakable apples shining through beautifully. Robust on the body, with thick cinnamon-apple notes and a big Christmas cake character that lasts for a long while. The finish builds dramatically to something that is both sweet with notes of cake frosting, and savory, with a woody, almost earthy conclusion. Lots going on here, and probably my favorite expression in this lineup. 84 proof. A- / $134

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados 1980 – Single-vintage (harvest?) brandy from 1980, 33 years old. Just imagine, when these apples were picked, Jimmy Carter was President. Sultry nose, with a slight licorice note to it, along with ample wood. The body is vast, with the wood notes taking center stage.There’s even a touch of astringency here, as the deep oak character muscles aside the fruity apple cider core from time to time. Intriguing but a much different animal than the XO. Try the two side by side for a real mindbender. 84 proof. A- / $230

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Cuvee Victor – A blend of brandies, each at least 30 years old. Coffee and licorice notes on the nose lend this a Spanish brandy feel. There’s lots of dried fruit — not just apples but raisins, too — on the palate, but the finish takes things toward a winey character, almost like a Marsala, with some balsamic touches. Quite the curiosity — rich and austere. 82 proof. A- / $283

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Cuvee Gustave - A blend of brandies, each at least 40 years old. Dense coffee, mixed nuts, and dark chocolate notes. You won’t catch much more than a bare whiff of apple character on the nose, but it comes across on the body — dried, baked, then chocolate-covered and baked into an almond torte. Another intriguing, hoary, and unexpected spirit. 82 proof. A- / $356

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Brut de Fut 1974 – Single-vintage Calvados from 1974, 39 years old.  Stronger apple character here than in some of the other old expressions, with a distinct vegetal note on the nose. Spicy on the palate, with some cinnamon notes, but also a tougher, more rubbery finish. Not as successful as the blends. This is no longer in production. 84 proof. B / $NA

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Brut de Fut 1967 – Single-vintage Calvados from 1967, 44 years old (bottled 2011). This is a bit of an anomaly. This is a 44-year old 1967, bottled two years ago. It’s no longer on the market, but a 46-year-old version of the same spirit, bottled 2013, is available. Since this version spent 2 years less in cask, it’s not going to be identical to the new bottling, but it should be in the vicinity (the proof level may differ, also). A much hotter spirit, it’s got a more alcoholic nose that mutes some of the fruit from the start. The palate offers heavily woody notes with touches of mint, with a big lush apple in the core (ahem) of the brandy. But that that tough and tannic finish creeps in as the body begins to fade, dulling the fruit. 102 proof. B+ / $650 (current version)

apreval.com

Review: 2bar Spirits Vodka and Moonshine

2bar moonshine 525x525 Review: 2bar Spirits Vodka and Moonshine

Seattle-based 2bar Spirits is a craft distillery named after a ranch that was part of the owners’ family for generations… before they decided to trade South Texas for Washington and hooves for hooch. The company makes two spirits, both unaged. We got ‘em both. Thoughts follow.

Both spirits are 80 proof.

2bar Spirits Vodka – Distilled from local Washington wheat, this vodka has a strong white dog character to it, full of grainy cereal notes on the nose. But the body is balanced by a silky body and some sweetness — think of a very lightly sweetened breakfast cereal — giving it a touch of marshmallow character. The finish brings on some of the lighter medicinal notes that vodka fans will find familiar… while fading out with a return to light notes of grain. The overall impression is closer to a white whiskey than a vodka, and maybe that’s OK. White lightning is often too harsh and overpowering for easy consumption. Here things are dialed back enough to make it easier to sip on, while still residing in the vodkaverse. 80 proof. B+ / $33

2bar Spirits Moonshine – Distilled from local corn instead of wheat. Very easygoing nose, slightly sweet. The body is downright shocking: It’s milder and sweeter than the Vodka, a little flabby in its construction, the palate offering an easy mix of Corn Pops cereal and the lightest dusting of honey. This is a much more easy-to-sip spirit, and while it isn’t the most complex of things, its light notes of licorice and milk chocolate add nuance to what is often a straightforward and unsatisfying category. With its moonshine, 2bar proves that white whiskey can be engaging and fun, leaving the drinker with nary a grimace to be made. A- / $30

2barspirits.com

Exploring the World of Madeira with Blandy’s

Blandys5YRSercial 89x300 Exploring the World of Madeira with BlandysLike you, I don’t often think much about Madeira. If I want a dessert wine, I drink Port almost exclusively. When I see Madeira on a menu I invariably ignore it. But maybe I shouldn’t be. And maybe you shouldn’t be either.

Madeira is one of the most venerable wine styles from history which is still being produced. Its origins like in the 1400-1500s, when explorers began visiting the Atlantic island of Madeira as a port of call during trade runs. The fortified wines made here traveled well and lasted basically forever, even once they were opened. (Blandy’s says an open bottle of Madeira will last indefinitely.) Madeira was the It Wine of the 1700s in America, and was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The wines came in all sorts of styles, driven by the grape used to make them. There are dry(ish) Madeiras, and their are sweet Madeiras. Despite being made on one tiny island, these wines comprise a wide range of styles.

Madeira isn’t Sherry, and it isn’t Port, although it has a lot in common with both of them. The best way I can explain it is that Madeira is somewhere between the two of them — not as sweet as Port, but not as funky and off-putting as Sherry (usually) is.

Madeira is unique in the wine world in that the wine, while aging, is kept hot. Very hot — up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit — for a long, long time. This has to do with the traditional way in which Madeira was made, vinified and put into barrels, then shipped on long sea voyages to the tropics and back. They got lots of heat on these trips, and that gave Madeira its signature nose and taste.

Most Madeira you’ll find on sale now is nonvintage, like the 4 bottles from Blandy’s tasted below. This is the easy-to-find, very affordable stuff. But vintage Madeira also exists, and if you’re looking for a really old bottle of something as a gift, Madeira is invariably your best bet (both on price and the odds that it will still be drinkable). The stuff really does last forever and it gets better and better. In fact, the best Madeira I’ve ever had was a Bual-varietal expression made in 1922.

Blandy’s recently sent a sampling of its simplest Madeiras, all five years old, each made from a different grape: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey. These are all basic, simple Madeiras, but they do showcase how variable this wine can be, from its dryest version to its sweetest. I gravitated to the sweetest (aka “richest”) versions personally, but see the charms in all of the varieties.

Thoughts follow.

NV Blandy’s Madeira Sercial Dry 5 Years Old – A pale, light amber/orange color. Fresh, Madeirized-sherry nose, with notes of orange, apricot, and wood oil. The body is mostly dry, offering an initial slug of woody fruit (or fruited wood), with a moderate finish that trails off, leaving behind a somewhat rubbery, oily conclusion tinged with blood oranges. Not at all unpleasant and dry enough to drink with dinner (oysters, maybe?). B

NV Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho Medium Dry 5 Years Old - Considerably darker, a ruddy honey/bronze color. Milder nose. More orange and toffee, and hints of chocolate. On the tongue, clear raisin notes offer a slight sweetness that may have some thinking this is a young tawny Port, but there’s less oxidation in this, along with a sharper finish and that classicly rubberized character in play. B+

NV Blandy’s Bual Verdelho Medium Rich 5 Years Old - Darker still, the color of brewed tea, tinged with a touch of red. Inviting, Port-like nose rich with raisins and spice. This follows through on the tongue, revealing Christmasy cinnamon, vanilla, and slight gingerbread notes, with just a hint of classic Madeirized character at the very end. Easily mistaken for a mild tawny Port, in a good way. B+

NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey Rich 5 Years Old - A shade darker again, almost (but not quite) a cola brown. Quite a different animal. Ample wood and cocoa powder notes on the nose, with hints of cola. The body offers all sorts of good stuff — walnuts and hazelnuts, more cola, chocolate, and a big, raisin-infused finish. A lot like a port, but backwards. Here the sweetness comes along in the end, not up front. Very drinkable and complex, and a natural fit with dessert or the cheese plate. A-

each $24 / blandys.com

Review: Jagermeister Spice (+ Jagermeister “Classic”)

Jägermeister Spice Bottle Image High res 525x1029 Review: Jagermeister Spice (+ Jagermeister Classic)

Few spirits are as misunderstood and mis-consumed as Jagermeister. A classic of every dive bar (and upscale ones always have a bottle behind the bar, too), this “Krauter-Liqueur,” essentially Germany’s answer to Italy’s amaro, is a digestive, bittersweet liqueur with lots to recommend. And yet it is served primarily in shot form, and frequently ice cold from wild contraptions that chill it down while advertising the classic green-and-orange bottles, which are installed into the machine three at a time. (Yes, a home version is now available for $199.)

But Jagermeister is now out with its first ever spirits line extension. And why not? Jager is, as its importer notes, “the #1 selling imported liqueur in the United States and the 7th largest selling premium spirit in the world.” Whoa.

How does the new spirit measure up to the original? And how does the original measure up against the competition in an honest-to-god tasting? I took the plunge. My revisionist thoughts follow. No Red Bull was harmed in the making of this review.

Jagermeister – The “master hunter,” launched in 1935, is a complex thing , flavored with cinnamon, star anise, ginger and cardamom — the full recipe covers 56 herbs, roots, blossoms and fruits — and aged in oak casks for one year. But it’s a surprisingly easygoing liqueur when you’re not downing it next to a PBR at sub-zero temperatures. At room temp, it reveals its charms: light anise notes, plenty of cinnamon, prunes, orange peel, almonds, and dried ginger. A chocolate and gingerbread character rumbles along on the finish, bringing with it thoughts of Christmas and warm fires. It’s altogether well balanced, yet complex. Sure, you can drink this ice cold, but that dulls most of the flavors aside from licorice and prune. Give “Jager” a try straight off the shelf instead of “ice cold” as instructed on the bottle and you might be pleasantly surprised with how complex yet balanced it is. 70 proof. A- / $17

Jagermeister Spice – The bottle says this is a “Cinnamon and Vanilla Blend,” which are clearly two of the major components of standard Jagermeister, so what’s the difference between the two? In addition to those two components being pumped up in the mix, the biggest difference is right on the label: At 50 proof, this is a dramatically less alcohol-laden product. This is clear from start to finish. The color of the poured spirit is substantially lighter, the body considerably less powerful. Cinnamon, allspice, and a buttery vanilla cookie character are very strong on the nose, which starts it off as a very holiday-focused spirit which is quite inviting. But the body, while it offers those same notes on the tongue along with touches of anise (the only real taste of the original Jagermeister to be found), is quite flat. It tastes a little watery, not nearly as rich and warming as the classic version of the spirit. The finish fades rather quickly. The end result is not at all unpleasant, but it just doesn’t take the Jagermeister brand to anywhere unexpected and new. (Curiously, the label invites you to drink Jagermeister spice at room temperature. Told ya I was on to something.) B / $23

jager.com

2013 Pumpkin Ale Roundup

in bottle with pumpkins 200x300 2013 Pumpkin Ale RoundupAh, Halloween approaches, and that means pumpkin-based beers are hitting the shelves en masse. We’ve had a fridge-load show up at Drinkhacker HQ in recent weeks, which can mean only one thing: Roundup Time!

Here are some thoughts on three new, and wildly different, pumpkin brews.

Hermitage Brewing Company Fruit Crate Pumpkin Ale – A standard pumpkin ale brewed with no additional spices, just organic pumpkins. Strong malt on the nose, big body, moderately bitter on the palate. There’s a very minor baking spice component driven by the gourd itself, and present mostly on the back end. But as for pumpkins? I don’t really get them at all in this weighty, wintry brew. 9% abv. B / $4 (16.9 oz)

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale – Brown ale brewed with pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Those looking for a more festive brew — where the spicy components are more at the forefront — will enjoy this one. The cinnamon sugar notes are pronounced, particularly on first pour. The sweet stuff works well with the modestly malty body, and the hops on the finish offer a respite from the sugar. 7% abv. A- / $3 (12 oz.)

Hangar 24 Local Fields Gourdgeous – Imperial porter brewed with pumpkins, molasses, and spices. Very dark color, quite exotic on the nose. The molasses makes itself known right away, heavy and dense on the nose. Beneath that, ample nutmeg and allspice notes… more clove-oriented than the Dogfish Head. A somewhat dense beer, it takes things to a curiously chocolaty place in the finish… but leaves the pumpkin behind along the way. 8.5% abv. B+ / $8.50 (22 oz.)

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2013) and Chasin’ Freshies (2013)

chasin freshies 300x221 Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2013) and Chasin Freshies (2013)Deschutes Brewery’s new limited releases are out, both part of its anticipated Bond Street Series of brews. They’re both made with fresh hops, freshly picked then turned into beer pretty much immediately. As such, it’s important to drink these brews right away. Having them sit around in a pantry for months will do them a great disservice. Thoughts follow.

Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2013) – This year’s Hop Trip offers, as one would expect and hope, plenty of hops, but the bitterness is shorted out (for better or worse) by tons of malty caramel character and a finish that offers bitter orange peel notes. Appealing, but by the end of the glass I was finding the body to run on the watery side, particularly as it warmed up. 5.4% abv. B+ / $9 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Chasin’ Freshies (2013) – Fresh amarillo hops give this IPA a slight lemony kick, with a bracingly bitter backbone to keep things on the right and narrow. Some evergreen character adds nuance, but the fresh hops and citrus notes do most of the talking. Slight touch of malt on the finish. 7.4% abv. A- / $6 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: 2011 Vineyard 29 Cru Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

CRU CS 2011 94x300 Review: 2011 Vineyard 29 Cru Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyInitially quite mild for a Napa Cab, the nose comes across as almost watery, but with time in glass a fun peppery, blackberry-driven spiciness comes to the forefront. On the palate things liven up a bit further, offering restrained fruit — blackberry and blueberry — with undertones of black pepper and sweet vanilla cream. The finish is lightly tannic — this wine could use a year in bottle — but is just about balanced. Close enough, anyway.

A / $54 / vineyard29.com

Re-Review: Citadelle Gin and Citadelle Reserve Gin 2012 Vintage

citadelle reserve gin 2012 153x300 Re Review: Citadelle Gin and Citadelle Reserve Gin 2012 VintageIt has been many years since we last checked in with Citadelle, a French gin that comes in two varieties, a standard rack bottling and a vintage “Reserve” version that’s aged in Cognac casks for six months, giving it a pretty yellow hue. I won’t delve too deeply into the botanicals and production process behind Citadelle (see the above link for all that info), but did want to update my reviews for 2013, particularly my dated coverage of the 2008 and 2009 Vintage reserve bottlings. The standard gin decanter has been updated lately, too. Both expressions are 88 proof. Fresh thoughts follow.

Citadelle Gin – With fresh eyes (and nose and tongue), my thoughts on the current bottling are that the spirit is much more lemon-forward now, with the juniper dialed back considerably. The nose does feature a pine element, but it’s strong lemon oil, with touches of orange, that are clearest to me. The body is forthright and not entirely complicated. I catch some floral notes alongside the citrus, but juniper is more prevalent in the finish, not the attack. It’s curious that my notes are so different from those in 2009. Whether it’s the spirit that’s changed or my palate that’s evolved is hard to say. My money’s on both. B+ / $23

Citadelle Reserve Gin 2012 Vintage – Here I can tell you things have been changing over the years. The proof has gone up and back down again. For 2012 the recipe has been altered, with yuzu, génépi, and bleuet (cornflower) added to the mix. (For 2013, bigger changes are afoot as the aging regimen is changing. Citadelle 2013 is solera aged, such that the spirit within spends from 2 to 5 months in ex Cognac and Pineau de Charente casks. In the long run this will even out the way the individual vintage bottlings taste.)

That’s next year, though. For the 2012 Vintage bottling, here’s how things are shaping up. There’s a much bigger nose on it than the standard variation, with considerably stronger juniper and evergreen notes up front, and a more viscous and lush body backing it up. Some sweetness builds as the spirit develops on the tongue, driven by its time spent in barrel. The juniper is really quite strong overall, though, and it might be dialed up a big high in the 2012 expression, lending the gin a bit of a bitter finish. Tragically, I get virtually no bleuet flavor at all, as notes of vanilla, apple cider, and lemon peel kick in after the juniper bows out. A- / $35

citadellegin.com

Review: The Arran Malt Devil’s Punch Bowl Chapter II – “Angels & Devils”

DevilsPunchBowl II Bottle Box 525x729 Review: The Arran Malt Devil’s Punch Bowl Chapter II   Angels & Devils

Last year’s limited edition Devil’s Punch Bowl from Arran was one of my favorite whiskys of the year, and it all but vanished from the market in months. Now Arran is back with a sequel — Chapter II, “Angels & Devils.”

This is crafted from a collection of whiskys put into cask in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2004. A combination of peated whiskys and sherried whiskys are used to create the finished product.

As with the original, what a product it is. The nose offers an initial rush of malt, then fruit — banana and citrus — followed by a mild slug of peat. On the body, it’s warming but soothing, offering notes of peated grain, sherry, and toasty cereal. Compared to my notes (I’ve none of Chapter I remaining), the whisky isn’t as spicy and peppery as the original bottling, coming across as a rather more straightforward, moderately-well-aged malt whisky. That’s not such a bad thing. Chapter II has a wonderful balance to it that drinks just as easily, even if the story it tells isn’t quite as nefarious.

106.2 proof. Another 6,600 bottles produced.

A- / $130 / arranwhisky.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Three 2012 Sauvignon Blancs from Chile

Cono Sur Organic Sauvignon Blanc Bottle 199x300 Review: Three 2012 Sauvignon Blancs from ChileJust because summer is over doesn’t mean you should stop drinking white wine. These three Sauvignon Blancs are all highly drinkable offerings from the world’s greatest remaining budget wine region: Chile. Here’s what 10 bucks will get you at your local purveyor of affordable hooch.

2012 Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc San Antonio Valley - Fresh and fun, with notes of pineapple, lemon cake, and creme brulee. Modest acidity gives balance, but the sweetness keeps things simple. Easy to enjoy. A- / $10

2012 Root:1 Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley – The brand takes its name because its rootstock is ungrafted. This Sauv Blanc is slightly creamier on the body, but features more of a tangy, lightly bitter edge on the finish. Otherwise, it’s tropical and lemony, with an easygoing structure. B+ / $9

2012 MontGras Reserva Sauvignon Blanc San Antonio Valley – There’s quite a bit of restraint here — with less fruit, and a more moest body — but the fresh pineapple and coconut flavors that come along in the finish give this wine plenty of tropical fun to it. Probably the most food-friendly wine in this bunch, and the least effective on its own. B / $11

Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2013

Ho ho ho, Merry, uh, Halloween?

Deschutes annjubelale Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2013ual winter brew release, Jubelale, is is here… a tad early, but who’s complaining? We missed the last couple of releases of this seasonal beer, but like an old glove it still fits well. This year’s release is nutty and malty, with a chocolatey core that wavers between milky and bittersweet. The finish drives toward a coffee character, with chewy, woody notes to it (Deschutes’ tasting notes use chicory as a reference, which I think is just about spot on). I could use a little more sweetness in the mix, but overall, as usual, this is a satisfying and warming “festive” brew.

The only problem is that as I sip on this here in Northern California, it’s 90 degrees outside. Should I drink it now in the heat or wait a couple of months til things chill down? Ah, decisions…

6.7% abv.

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

Review: 3 Amigos Tequila

3 amigos tequila 525x349 Review: 3 Amigos Tequila

3 Amigos, based in the Jalisco Highlands, produces a veritable plethora of tequilas, all of which we got a chance a experience.  These tequilas are double-distilled instead of the usual three. All expressions are 80 proof and 100% agave. (Note: Prices on this lower-cost brand tend to vary wildly.) And so, without further ado…

3 Amigos Blanco Tequila – Straightforward nose of agave touched with lemongrass. Mild pepper and spice. On the body, surprisingly mild, almost to the point of being watery. The agave takes on an earthy, almost mushroom-like character, with a rustic and hot finish. I’m not thrilled with the balance, which offers just a touch of citrus against a muddy backbone. C+ / $20

3 Amigos Blanco Tequila Organic – Certified USDA (and European Union) Organic, but still a straight silver tequila. Overall similar notes to the non-organic version, but I think there’s more life to this expression. It’s got a better body and a more rounded mouthfeel, with a more harmonious balance of flavors — though the overall notes of agave, citrus, mushroom, and mild spice — are all still there. Fortunately, here the focus is more on the citrus, and less on the ‘shrooms. B+ / $25

3 Amigos Reposado Tequila – Spends 11 months in charred oak barrels, quite a spell for reposados. The color isn’t particularly dark, and the somewhat sharp, peppery, agave-laden and slightly smoky nose hints at a more powerful experience ahead. It’s quite a surprise then with this tequila reveals a more layered journey on the palate. Agave is up front, again with a touch of smoke, and plenty of lime and orange citrus underneath. Sweetness takes hold from there, with the palate becoming increasingly creamy and sultry, with notes of vanilla creme brulee. The finish continues this journey, balancing the sugar with just a touch of pepper. A very inviting reposado with lots to offer the explorer. A- / $25

3 Amigos Anejo Tequila – Aged for two years in oak, though again the color is surprisingly light considering that. Very well aged, the nose has lost most of its pungency, leaving behind a nose of vanilla and butterscotch, flecked with red pepper flakes. The agave’s still there, though. Breathe deep. The body follows suit, plenty sweet but not overdone, with a huge vanilla-meets-gingerbread character, with a return of that mushroomy, vegetal character on the back end. Kind of like the reposado, but in reverse. I think it works better the other way around. B+ / $30

3amigostequila.com

And now, even more Three Amigos

Review: Laphroaig QA Cask and Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013

laphroaig travel tube bottle 04131 525x350 Review: Laphroaig QA Cask and Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013

It’s not every day we get to experience a new Laphroaig expression, and it’s pretty much never when we get to try two of them. At a recent Laphroaig Live event, these two expressions were introduced by Laphroaig Distillery Manager and Friend of Drinkhacker John Campbell.

The night started with Quarter Cask, Laphroaig’s fastest growing expression, now accounting for 25 percent of the company’s sales just nine years after introduction, then moved on to the new stuff. Maker’s Mark, which supplies the used barrels to Laphroaig which it uses for its primary aging, was also on hand to let us taste Maker’s 46 by way of comparison.

Here are some thoughts on the new stuff.

Laphroaig QA Cask – A travel retail exclusive launched in April 2013. Like Quarter Cask, this is double matured, but rather than finishing this whiskey in small casks it is finished in unused, new charred oak barrels, a la Bourbon. (QA stands for quercus alba, the scientific name for white oak.) Compared to Laphroaig 10 or Quarter Cask this is a much different whisky, immediately striking the palate with more of a wood smoke character than a peaty one. It’s chewy and bold — yet bottled at just 80 proof — a surprisingly nutty whisky with notes of coal, chocolate, and light spice notes — nutmeg, perhaps — with a little toffee and burnt sugar on the finish. The saltiness of Laphroaig adds balance and curiosity, but it’s far from overdone. At first it’s quite jarring in comparison to Quarter Cask, but its charms grow on you, and fast. Definitely one to keep experiencing and contrasting against other Islay whiskys. A- / $84 (1 liter)

Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013 – It’s easy to see why Laphroaig bottled this, which is finished in Port pipes, in a clear bottle instead of its typical green: The rosy orange color is unique and really quite lovely. Wow, one sip and this is an instant, utter knockout. It starts with sweet strawberries and cream, jam on toast, light rose petals — then that characteristic Laphroaig DNA kicks in on the back end, with its salt and brine balancing things out perfectly. The brain barely knows what to do with this. Is it Islay? Is it a strange Highland whisky? Is it a Port cocktail? The mind boggles, but the tongue is happy. Incredibly hard to put down, and so pretty to look at, too. Stock up. 102.6 proof. A+ / $75

laphroaig.com

Review: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon – 2nd Edition, 2013

Angels Envy Cask Strength 2nd edition 525x787 Review: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon – 2nd Edition, 2013

Last year, cult favorite whiskey Angel’s Envy was released in a super-rare cask strength edition. The catch: a whopping 600 bottles were made and released only in Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee.

Now the company is back with another cask strength released, and this time it won’t be quite so scarce, with about 4,000 bottles released in California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Tennessee, and Texas. That said, considering this is the final project completed by recently deceased Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson and that Paul Pacult just named the 2012 Cask Strength bottling his #1 spirit of the last year, I’d expect this bottling to vanish just as quickly.

For those unfamiliar, Angel’s Envy is a bourbon made from 4- to 6-year old stock, finished for 3 to 6 months in Port barrels. Normally an 86.6 proof whiskey, this cask strength release hits 123 proof (1% hotter than the 2012 version, which is pictured above).

I think this is a touch better than the 2012 bottling. There’s so much depth of flavor here and so much to explore. First comes a very deep sweetness, driven by burnt sugar and deep raisin notes. (Of course, there’s plenty of alcohol to work your way through, too.)

On the palate, the whiskey takes on deeper, more nefarious notes. Heavy wood char, prune, roasted nuts, and a lasting, wood-driven finish. It really spins the AE formula on its head. In the standard bottling the wood comes first, the raisiny sweetness after. Here it’s sugar, then wood. How does that happen? Ah, what a country.

A- / $149 / angelsenvy.com

Review: Powell & Mahoney Blood Orange and Ginger Cocktail Mixes

powell and mahoney blood orange 229x300 Review: Powell & Mahoney Blood Orange and Ginger Cocktail MixesPowell & Mahoney makes high-end, non-alcoholic cocktail mixers, and recently it’s expanded its lineup to a full 10 different bottlings. Today we look at two of the latest expressions.

All of the company’s mixers are made with natural juices, cane sugar, and a smattering of natural flavors, making them a convenient yet high-quality shortcut to cocktaildom when you’re short on time. (It happens!)

Thoughts follow.

Powell & Mahoney Blood Orange – Made with blood orange, (regular) orange, and tangerine concentrates. Brisk and tangy, but not specifically “blood” orange in either taste or color. Standard Valencia orange is more the order of the day, with sub-notes of lemon and grapefruit. Still, this is a mixer that’s easy to drink and which makes for a mean screwdriver… or, dare we suggest, a Harvey Wallbanger? A-

Powell & Mahoney Old Ballycastle Ginger -  Ingredients include ginger, fennel, elderflower, and milk thistle. An odd idea. If I want ginger in my drink, I add ginger beer, or Canton, when punch is desired. P&M’s ginger provides that punch and bite of ginger, sans the alcohol or the fizz. Some earthiness starts this mixer out, then that heavy, authentic ginger bite grabs you. There’s a light lemon character on the finish that helps temper the ginger’s spice (perhaps from the elderflower), but otherwise this is both straightforward and authentic. Anyone looking to spike a cocktail with a touch of ginger — without adding alcohol — will find this a good option. A-

each $9 / powellandmahoney.com

Review: Wines of Fancy Pants, 2013 Releases

Fancy pants wine 261x300 Review: Wines of Fancy Pants, 2013 ReleasesA new ultra-cheap wine label from Trinchero: Fancy Pants! The only thing that isn’t fancy is the price, amirite fellas!?

Anyway, here’s what they’re like should you fancy a bottle.

2012 Fancy Pants Pinot Grigio California - Lemony nose, with very slight musty notes. The palate offers more citrus, plus distinct peaches and cream. No mustiness here; it’s replaced with a light sweetness that goes well with this style of wine — clean, crisp, and summery. If you can get around the name, you’ll probably enjoy it as much as I did, particularly at this price. A-

2011 Fancy Pants Red Wine California – Although it doesn’t say so on the label, this is a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Merlot. And sugar, from the taste of it. This ultra-sweet wine is designed to appeal to the “ladies’ night” drinker, a big strawberry jam of a finish that will take your teeth out by the root. A stunning failure alongside the well-made Pinot Grigio. Half a glass is about my max. D+

$10 each / tfewines.com