Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: 1800 Milenio Extra Anejo Tequila

1800 milenio 525x908 Review: 1800 Milenio Extra Anejo Tequila

1800 is a top notch 100% agave brand that’s been around for decades, and now the distillery is putting out a new extra anejo bottling called Milenio. 1800 last had Milenio on the market way back in 2000. For this second edition, the spirit is aged traditionally in American Bourbon barrels for five years, then — in a unique spin — finished for four months in former Cognac barrels.

The nose starts off with a rather traditional agave nose, somewhat sharp with fresh herbs, and a brisk, winey character I attribute to the Cognac finishing. Strangely, I also picked up whiffs of what I can only describe as chlorinated pool character, which is either a bizarre anomaly or part of a well-known problem associated with using chlorinated water to bring the spirit down to proof. Either way, it blows off over time.

The body’s largely in keeping with your finer extra anejo tequilas: Rich, layered caramel notes spread atop peppery agave and herb notes. The body does finally wend its way into some secondary characteristics, largely coming along on the finish, but it’s never terribly spicy at any point along the way. As with many extra anejos, the extensive wood regimen has largely shoved the agave into a supporting role, for better or for worse. But what is notable in that finish is a mintiness, almost mint chocolate-like in this spirit, which gives 1800 Milenio even more of a dessert character than most other (admittedly already digestivo-esque) XA tequilas. With all that said, it’s quite satisfying and easy to sip on, and a fairly good value in relation to many other extra anejos.

The bottle design is cute — a taller, elongated version of the iconic trapezoidal 1800 bottle — and comes packaged in a custom display box.

80 proof.

A- / $125 / 1800tequila.com

Review: Kilchoman ImpEx Exclusive

Kilchoman btls Box 525x591 Review: Kilchoman ImpEx Exclusive

This bottling of Kilchoman carries the traditional Kilchoman label (rather than an independent bottler’s label), though it was bottled exclusively for the importer ImpEx (whose indie-bottled Exclusive Malts we regularly cover). You’ll know the difference by the red label vs. the usual Kilchoman blue. Inside, things are a bit different, too. After five years in an ex-Buffalo Trace cask, the whisky was finished in a Pedro Ximenez sherry hogshead for a few weeks. The single cask release (#494 for those curious) is bottled at cask strength.

The nose is pure Islay: Coal fire smoke, earthy peat moss, seaweed, and iodine. Dense and driven by the sea, the sherry makes only a slightly detectable impact here. The body, though, really shakes things up. Here you get plenty of citrusy sherry punch, plus raisins, sour candies, and grapefruit peel, all laced with smoky peat. It’s quite an experience, quite fiery at nearly 60% abv, so consider a touch of water to even things out.

The young Kilchoman is still finding its soul as a distillery, but really seems to be honing in on a formula that works.

119.2 proof.

A- / $125 / impexbev.com

Review: Wines of Chloe, 2014 Releases

chloe wines 170x300 Review: Wines of Chloe, 2014 ReleasesChloe is yet another wine brand designed to appeal to the I-need-a-cutely-named-wine-with-a-cute-bottle-to-take-to-the-dinner-party crowd. Not to be confused with Chloe Wines (a Seattle importer), the Chloe Wine Collection is a new offshoot of The Wine Group, a California-based mega-bottler.

Chloe is starting up with three wines — two California bottlings and an Italian white. Thoughts on each follow.

2013 Chloe Pinot Grigio Valdadige Italy DOC – Mild on the nose, and steely. Tropical notes emerge, namely pineapple, with melon notes emerging on the finish. Easy to enjoy as an aperitif, and works well with food too. A- / $17

2012 Chloe Chardonnay Sonoma County - Big and buttery, almost to a fault. The nose starts off with something akin to butterscotch or cake frosting, before finally settling down into a brown sugar, vanilla extract, oak barrel character. Restrained pineapple notes emerge, but a weirdly herbal, almost astringent, finish wipes them all away. C+ / $17

2011 Chloe Red No. 249 North Coast California – A blend of Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Petit Verdot from the Northern California region. Fruity but not overblown. Big strawberry notes. A touch of blackberry. Some rhubarb. Long, semi-sweet finish, with butterscotch candy notes on the finish. B / $17

chloewinecollection.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #4

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Five more tiny-production, very rare, Scotch whiskys are about to arrive on our shores, courtesy of the independent malt whisky bottlers at Exclusive Malts. As always, total bottles produced tend to number in the low hundreds, so if you see something you like, get it now.

The Exclusive Malts Linkwood 1999 14 Years Old – This Speyside distillery is known for providing its casks to blended Scotch producers, and here it turns in a spicy, racy, young-tasting single malt that, on first blush, feels like it would be right at home as a component in Dewar’s or Johnnie Walker. Cereal and heather give way to chewy nougat, finally revealing some restrained apple and banana character. Tough to crack, with a lightly smoky finish. Try some water to coax more out of it. 111.6 proof. B- / $97

The Exclusive Malts North Highland 1996 17 Years Old – A Highlands spirit, matured completely in a refill ex-sherry hogshead. Lots of sherry up front on the nose, of course, but also tar, cigars, and unripe banana. Quite fruity on the palate, it blends orange oil with notes of incense and baking spice, the finish coming across as racy, smoldering, and luscious. Quite fetching. 112.2 proof. A- / $138

The Exclusive Malts Bladnoch 1992 21 Years Old – Lowland whisky from the southwest end of Scotland, aged in an ex-Bourbon hogshead. Malty and grassy on the nose, tinged with lemon oil and a touch of iodine. The body is much fruitier than the nose lets on, a concoction that offers sweet lemonade and sweet(er) tea, with a candy-like nougat character that comes on strong on the finish. More grainy/grassy notes on the back end, also. Well-aged but far from hoary, this malt still has plenty of life left in it, and it drinks hotter than its (relatively) lower proof level would indicate. 96.2 proof. B+ / $170

The Exclusive Malts Glencadam 1991 22 Years Old – Coastal Highlands single malt from an ex-Bourbon hogshead, surprisingly light in color. Pure honey, tempered with touches of smoke. The beautiful nose is complex, adding touches of heather and a hint of granary character. The rounded body is seductive and sweet, pushing the honey notes to the limit. The finish nods at cereal while going out on a smoldering but sweet finale, inviting continued sipping and savoring. There’s not a terribly high level of complexity here, but this Glencadam is so enjoyable it’s hard not to love. 100.8 proof. A / $179

The Exclusive Malts Bowmore 2001 12 Years Old – The only Islay in this release, bottled after 12 years in a refill Sherry butt. Intense smoke and melting wax notes on the nose. Tons of iodine all around. On the palate, it’s an intense dram, blending sweet sherry notes and a Madeirized character with the essence of tire fire. These two characteristics do battle for some time on the tongue. Neither one ends up winning, a shame. 116.8 proof. B- / $138

impexbev.com

Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

1964 Single Harvest Tawny 2 525x802 Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

Even seasoned wine enthusiasts often get confused over the world of Port, and who can blame them? Bottled both in vintage-dated and non-vintage but “xx years old” varieties (and in ruby, tawny, white, and other versions), the topic quickly gets complicated — when all you want to do is enjoy something sweet with dessert.

What’s the difference between ruby and tawny, the two major types of nonvintage Port? As Taylor Fladgate wine director David Guimaraens says, “Most people are familiar with the dark purple, ‘ruby’ Ports which range from very basic up to the storied Vintage Ports.  Rubies are aged in bottles, so they keep their fresh red fruit flavors.  On the other hand, Tawny Ports are aged in wooden casks, so they have more interchange with the air around them.  This process evolves their color to a ‘tawny’ amber color, and changes their flavors from predominantly fruity to predominantly nutty.”

Guimaraens’ comments aside, I’d still characterize most tawny Ports as extremely fruity, but more chocolatey and coffee-like than rubies. These notes come across more distinctly in older bottlings, though. Young tawny can often be just as fruity as a typical ruby.

What does “10 years old” or “20 years old” mean in these Ports? Well, contrary to what you might expect, it doesn’t mean that in 2004 or 1994, Port was dumped into a barrel and a decade or two later was prepped for bottling. Ports with age statements like this are blends of a variety of years, and the number on the label is somewhat meaningless. Most tawnys are a blend of solera-style old stock and young stock, and the years noted on the label are a sort of moving target that the blender is supposed to aim for. There’s nothing requiring any sort of accuracy here, and in many cases no way of even knowing how old the wine is in any given bottle. But a 20 year old should at least taste older than a 10 year old, even if both of those numbers are fudged a bit.

The exception of course is when a vintage does actually appear on the label. That’s the case with the last tawny on the list below, a 1964 single-vintage Tawny Port from Taylor Fladgate. What that means is exactly what it sounds like: This Port was made exclusively from grapes picked in ’64. Yes, 50 years ago. They’ve been mellowing out in barrel ever since, and aren’t blended with other vintages. And unlike non-vintage Tawny, this stuff won’t be around forever, so snap it up while you can.

Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate are all sub-brands of Taylor’s, a mega-Port operation whose CEO, Adrian Bridge, we’ve met on several occasions. He’s a swell guy, and we’re excited to offer notes on several Tawny Ports in current release, as well as the exceptional 1964. Thoughts follow.

NV Croft Aged Tawny Porto 10 Years Old (bottled in 2010) – Bright raspberry and sour cherry notes, just the right amount of vinegar to balance out some very focused fruit flavors. I’ve always thought of Croft as the fruitiest of vintage Ports, and here it produces a tawny that is closer to the ruby style of Port than most others you’ll encounter. Very easy drinking and versatile. A- / $28

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Jammier, with more chocolate notes, and a lightly minty finish. Long, bold, and lightly creamy on the palate, this is a tawny with a little more oomph and more sourness on the back end. B+ / $23

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Somewhere between the fruitiness of Croft and the power of Fonseca lies Taylor Fladgate’s 10 year Tawny, an inviting wine with ample fruit at the core, but with bittersweet edges of licorice, chicory, and coffee bean. These characteristics, plus some chocolate notes, tend to overtake the fruit on the finish, but the body, on the whole, is surprisingly delicate. Complex, yet a bit immature. B+ / $23

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 20 Years Old – Plenty of fruit and body here, but the chocolate notes are pumped up, and the fruit takes on more of a classic, Port-like raisin character. At 20, some of the more rustic elements of the Fonseca 10 Year Tawny are rounded out, giving this Port a slightly more refined construction, albeit one with plenty of lasting sweetness. A- / $40

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 20 Years Old – Lots of intensity here, with an almost bruising sour cherry and tart raisin character that overpowers some of this Port’s more delicate coffee and chocolate notes. The finish is lasting and almost punishing in its mouth-puckering character. This is a step back from the 10 year. B / $40

1964 Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Tawny Port (pictured) – Wow, this is how tawny should be experienced. Drawn from a single vintage that’s 50 years old, this tawny is showing well rounded notes of cinnamon, raisin, and allspice… layered with cedar wood, chocolate, and coffee bean notes. The finish is long and sweetly sour — ending on a note of Cherries Jubilee that has the perfect balance of fruity and winey flavors. Lovely. A / $300

taylor.pt

Review: American Born Moonshine

ABM 3 Bottles on white 525x511 Review: American Born Moonshine

Moonshine continues to grow as a category, and this Nashville-based producer, founded in 2012, is getting its first products on the market in its home state, plus four others. Featuring mason jar bottles with a custom pouring system built into the lid, the company aims to class up an (often intentionally) unsexy industry.

Purportedly made from a 200 year old recipe, American Born Moonshine uses a 100% corn mash that’s sweetened with sugar. Two flavored (and lower-proof) versions are also on the market. We tasted them all, straight out of mini Mason jars.

Thoughts follow.

American Born Moonshine Original White Lightning – Unaged and overproof, this moonshine is the legit stuff. Popcorn and cane sugar on the nose, it’s got a surprising level of refinement lacking from most moonshines, presenting some measure of balance from the start. On the tongue, the popcorn fades to reveal more sweetness, almost like that from grape juice, plus notes of toasted marshmallow, marzipan, and nougat. Sippable on its own, but more intriguing as a mixer, and one of the best white corn whiskeys you’ll find on the market right now. 103 proof. A-

American Born Moonshine Apple Pie – One of the most popular of flavors for moonshines these days, American Born’s apple pie flavored ‘shine is heavier on tart apple notes and lighter on those traditional apple spice characters like cinnamon and cloves. The nose hints at more, but the juicy body is more akin to cider than pie. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not exactly what’s on the label — and who wants a glass of juice when they could be eating pie? 83 proof. B

American Born Moonshine Dixie Sweet Tea – Tea flavoring has been fading from the vodka world for a while, but here it shows its face again. In fact, the company claims this is the first sweet tea-flavored moonshine on the market. ABM’s rendition is sweet first, tea second, though both components come through in spades. The slightly corny finish adds an interesting spin, but I can’t say I prefer it to a more straightforward tea-flavored vodka. As with its compatriots, it’s easily enjoyable on the whole. 83 proof. A-

each $25 / americanbornmoonshine.com

Review: 2011 Uproot Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Uproot Cabernet Sauvignon 1721 94x300 Review: 2011 Uproot Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyLast week we reviewed the initial releases from boutique winery Uproot, a pair of Sauvignon Blancs. Now the company is expanding with the de rigueur Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa-sourced and priced for collecting.

Thoughts: It’s seductive, with red berry notes on the nose. Very light tannin, with some sweetness evident even before the first sip. On the palate, it’s a bit chalky up front (a surprise), before building its berry core up. As the wine opens up, the fruit turns more toward jam, while secondary notes of licorice, cedar, and milk chocolate emerge. Some sweet marshmallow notes also present themselves on the finish.

A- / $78 / drinkuproot.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric Bourbon 20 Years Old

rhetoric bottle 525x679 Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric Bourbon 20 Years Old

For the third whiskey from its controversial Orphan Barrel Project, Diageo has chosen another odd name (though perhaps not as odd as Old Blowhard): Rhetoric. Rhetoric has a number of meanings, but the most notable is “language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.”

Probably not what I’d call my new whiskey, but anyway.

This release is a 20 year old spirit sourced from Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, where Barterhouse was also sourced. Differences in aging are said to give this release a different character. How different? Let’s find out.

Interesting nose here, with lots going on: oak resin, mint leaves, cherries, apple cider, and a sherried character. Well-aged but not past its prime, Rhetoric hangs on to its fruit without giving everything up to the tannins of the wood. The body is silky and full of fruit — caramel apples, milk chocolate-covered cherries — and features a finish that brings its cinnamon and nutmeg elements alive. Exuberant and fun, it’s not a dusty, hoary old beatdown like so many well-aged bourbons. It’s hanging on to its youth, and doing a damn fine job of it by melding well with the wood in its barrel. Easily my favorite of the three Orphans to date.

90 proof.

A- / $85 / diageo.com

Review: Piccini 2009 Brunello and 2008 Brunello Riserva

Piccini Brunello Riserva NV 2 94x300 Review: Piccini 2009 Brunello and 2008 Brunello RiservaTwo new Brunello releases from Piccini, a huge Tuscan producer that still manages to carve out time for these rarities, 100% sangiovese wines from the Montalcino region, aged at least 2 years in oak.

Some thoughts follow.

2009 Piccini Villa al Cortile Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – A beautiful wine, showing a complex collection of cherries, blackberries, violets, and menthol on the nose. The body adds to that with hints of earthy mushroom, spicy licorice root, and touches of tobacco and cedar box on the finish. Over time, hints of prunes and raspberry emerge, too — this is a wine that evolves beautifully in the glass and is well worth exploring over the course of an evening. All in all, it’s a moderately dense wine with lots to recommend it, a Brunello that’s close to a benchmark for the style. A / $60

2008 Piccini Villa al Cortile Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG – Similar to the standard bottling, but tougher to parse. There’s more herbal character on this one, with those violets really pumped up to create quite a perfumy experience. The body still packs in plenty of tannin, and it doesn’t quite give up its grip even after an hour in glass. Notes of coffee and leather send the fruit into dried plum and dense, dried cherry areas. Still tough on the finish. This’ll probably be hitting its stride in 2018. A- / $80

aveniubrands.com

Review: Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon

Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon March 2014 525x911 Review: Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon

This new whiskey from Sazerac-owned A. Smith Bowman is a semi-experimental offering from the Virginia-based distillery. It involves putting the spirit into two separate barrels… both of them newly-charred oak.

From the company: “Originally put into barrels on December 12, 2006, this bourbon was transferred to new barrels on April 17, 2013.  After aging an additional six months in Bowman’s standard Warehouse (A1), the barrels were then moved to the mezzanine of Warehouse K, and aged for an additional 5 months where they experienced increased air-flow and scrutiny.” Total time in barrel is 7 years, 2 months.

Barrel finishes are common in the whiskey world and are increasingly part of the bourbon landscape, but usually the second barrel is a former wine, rum, or cognac barrel — something to add a little special something to an otherwise standard whiskey. What’s the point then of aging a second time in a new oak barrel? To point out the obvious: It pumps up the “wood” character. Put simply, the longer an oak barrel is in use, the more whiskey it soaks up, and the less of the wood components it gives back. An oak barrel probably does most of its work in the first few years. After that, you’re dealing with diminishing returns. By moving the aged bourbon into a brand new barrel, Bowman is essentially doubling down on the aging process.

The results are interesting, and not really what I expected. On the nose, there’s ample wood, but it’s not overwhelming. Notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves are all readily available. There’s lots of alcoholic heat here, too, so it might be wise to come prepared with water.

The body is quite sweet. You would be forgiven for assuming there’s a sherry influence here, with orange notes strong up front. (The color is even more orange than you’d expect.) Caramel and marshmallow follow on that, with just hints at cinnamon-sugar spice after that. Expecting heavy wood notes on the palate? I was shocked to find them quite muted. Aside from the vanilla components that are laced throughout the body, the expected sawdust and lumberyard notes are surprisingly restrained. Heavy on the nose, sure, but almost absent on the body. That’s not a slight, but a sign of how surprisingly well-balanced this spirit is. Bowman has hit on something here that works well, drinking like a mature bourbon, but not one that’s so old it’s growing hair out of its ears.

100 proof.

A- / $70 / asmithbowman.com

Review: Villa Massa Limoncello

villa massa limoncello singolo con scorza no ombra piccolo 195x300 Review: Villa Massa LimoncelloVilla Massa is real limoncello from Sorrento, Italy. Reportedly it is the best-selling lemon liqueur in Italy, so that’s promising.

The slightly greenish liqueur (you can even get a sense of this in the photo) is largely transparent, with some modest cloudiness, typical of real limoncello. There’s a fresh lemon nose here, with touches of lime. These both carry over to the body — the lime is particularly evident — along with ample sweetness, but none of it is overblown the way some limoncellos can be. All in all it’s quite a simple digestif, its fresh citrus notes finding a wonderful balance between sweet and sour.

Every home should have one bottle of limoncello around to cap off a good Italian meal — and this one won’t break the bank. (Good limoncello really beats grappa, guys…)

60 proof.

A- / $23 / villamassa.com

Review: 2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose

Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose 2012 109x300 Review: 2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon RoseThis rose of Cabernet hails from Mulderbosch, located in the Stellenbosch region of coastal South Africa. This wine has been in release since 1999 and was the first of its kind from South Africa.

Fresh and fruity, this rose offers crisp notes of strawberry, with undertones of lemon, lime, and tangerine. There’s only the lightest touch of floral notes underneath, which lets the fruit really shine.

Complex? Not exactly, but that’s par for the course for rose — bright, lively, and ready for summer fun and sun. And dirt cheap, to boot!

A- / $8 / mulderbosch.co.za

Review: Celtic Honey Liqueur

celtic honey 300x300 Review: Celtic Honey LiqueurCeltic Honey is Ireland’s other answer to Scotland’s Drambuie. As with Celtic Crossing, it’s a mild blend of Irish Whiskey and honey that goes down easy and won’t harm any sensibilities.

The whiskey hits you first, vanilla and light wood tones, before the honey kicks in. Alongside the usual lightly earthy, caramel-driven notes, there are interesting lemon and peppermint hints to be found here. What starts off as almost plain becomes more intriguing as it evolves in the glass, its various flavors melding into a cohesive, and quite enchanting, whole.

That said, as with many honey-infused spirits, Celtic Honey is far from complex, but it manages to keep everything in balance while presenting a gentle, pretty picture.

60 proof.

A- / $18 / celtichoney.com

Review: Starr African Rum

starr african rum 525x525 Review: Starr African Rum

The strikingly-bottled Starr African Rum hails from Mauritius, home to Penny Blue and Pink Pigeon, the only other African rums I’m familiar with.

At first blush, this is a fairly typical white rum. The nose is lightly woody, with notes of coconut, black tea, and caramel. Slightly unusual, but nothing insane. The body really punches things up. Here a more fruity, tangerine-heavy character takes hold, along with a big herbal component. Think anise, cloves, and cardamom. Lots of depth, and it gets more intriguing as it opens up in the glass, the finish folding everything together nicely into an almost punch-like package.

I like it better and better, the more I sip on it.

80 proof. Fair trade certified.

A- / $30 / africanrum.com

Review: Vodka DSP CA 162 – Straight and Flavored

vodka dsp 162 straight 525x347 Review: Vodka DSP CA 162   Straight and Flavored

In 2010, California-based Craft Distillers sold its highly-regarded Hangar One Vodka line to Proximo Spirits. (You may not have even realized this, but now you know.) At the time, Craft signed a strict non-compete agreeing not to make vodka for three years. Well, the three years are up, and Craft is now back at work with some vodkas which incorporate flavors that might sound a bit familiar.

No frills here, and that’s by design to keep the focus on what’s in the bottle; the brand name refers to an old federal designation for the distillery. The scientifically-named spirits are distilled in the company’s copper cognac still from a wheat base, and the flavored vodkas are made with real macerated fruits. They’re filtered, but these spirits do still have a slight yellow tint to them. All of the botanicals are grown in the rare-fruit orchards of John Kirkpatrick in the San Joaquin Valley.

Each vodka is 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Vodka DSP CA 162 Straight - This vodka takes the wheat-base spirit and blends it with vodka made from wine grapes (riesling and viognier). You can smell the pot still character right from the start. Mineral notes play with a bit of grainy character, marshmallow, and nougat on the nose. The body is silky with a pungent character common to grape-based vodkas, balanced by modest sweetness and, curiously, some stronger cereal notes on the finish. You’re left with a character that is, surprisingly, not unlike a white whiskey or a blanche cognac. B

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Hystrix – Flavored with Malaysian limes and their leaves. Brisk lime character on the nose, like candied lime peel. Bracing on the body, with crisp lime balanced with the right amount of sweetness. The lasting finish really brings out the leaf component, with just the right of grassiness poured over the tart body. The old Kaffir Lime vodka was always the most popular Hangar One flavor (at least in my experience in the field), and the company hasn’t strayed far from a successful formula. Big win here. A

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Medica var. Sarcodactylis – Flavored with Buddha’s Hand citrons. The aromatics are somewhat muddier than my memory of the crisp Hangar One Buddha’s Hand, but otherwise it’s very aromatic and unusual — almost perfumed — on the nose. The body has a creaminess to it — like lemon meringue pie — with a vaguely tropical character going on. Herbal notes or rosemary and sage emerge over time, particularly on the nose. A-

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Reticulata var. Sunshine – Flavored with tangerine and tangelo. A pretty orange nose recalls mild mandarines, but the body pumps it up with a brightness that almost hits a Tang-like quality. Sweet but not sugary, this is probably the most “modern” vodka in the lineup, but it’s also the most approachable on its own. Cosmo lovers would be calling this vodka all night long, but I doubt many cosmopolitan drinkers could pronounce the name. A-

each $38 / craftdistillers.com

Re-Review: Botran Reserva Rum

botran 15 reserva 300x200 Re Review: Botran Reserva RumHere’s a fresh look at Guatemala’s Botran rum and its Reserva bottling, which we last considered in 2010.

This solera-aged rum goes through a range of barrel types — American whiskey, sherry, and Port — and is composed of rums aged 5 to 14 years old. That makes for lots of complexity, with the nose exuding coffee, dark chocolate, and vanilla notes. The body offers coconut, rich coffee, tobacco leaf, and a charred, almost burnt sugar finish. There’s lots of depth here, and the full package is quite rich and brooding. Good stuff.

80 proof.

A- / $24 / ronesdeguatemala.com

Bar Review: Trick Dog, San Francisco

trick dog cancer 300x225 Bar Review: Trick Dog, San FranciscoA quick pre-dinner stop at San Francisco’s new Trick Dog became a fun diversion into oddball mixology. The cramped space is carved into the newly resurgent corridor surrounding the unfathomably popular restaurant Flour + Water, and many of the patrons (like me) seem to be folks who come here while they’re waiting for their table at F+W.

There’s beer and wine to be had here, but the focus is on a collection of 12 cocktails, each named for a sign of the zodiac. My wife and I sampled three of the dozen, and enjoyed them all. The Gemini was my least favorite, a bit overpowering and featuring two kinds of amaro, Noilly Prat vermouth, a sour orange tincture, sesame, and cava.

My favorite: The Cancer (pictured), including Black Grouse, Ardbeg 10, salted pineapple, peanut, and sage, all on a big fat block of ice. This was the strangest sounding conflagration on a list that features a lot of really oddball combinations (sherry and kiwi soda? guava and stout? whiskey and whey?) and I ordered it just for that reason. The combination of pineapple and smoky scotch was surprisingly on point — and the peanut notes were just as much fun.

Good but not great: The Libra, which serves tequila, tangerine, dill, lime, egg white, and maccha powder in a coupe. This fell somewhere between a margarita and pisco sour… and works quite well on the whole.

Trick Dog has a variety of bar snacks on offer (table service is available upstairs for diners), but you’ll need to arrive early if you want a seat downstairs in order to nosh on them, otherwise it’s standing room only.

Fun place.

A-

Review: Wines of Bianchi, 2011 Vintages

bianchi cabernet sauvignon 233x300 Review: Wines of Bianchi, 2011 VintagesBianchi is a Paso Robles-based winery making some impressively high-quality wines at around the $20 price level. We got a taste of the latest releases, three reds from the 2011 vintage. Thoughts follow.

2011 Bianchi Zinfandel Paso Robles – Initially quite jammy, intense strawberry and raspberry notes on the nose and the front of the palate. Things settle down with a bit of time, revealing a somewhat more balanced wine in the end, with notes of tea leaf, dark chocolate, and licorice, with a gentle, pleasing finish. B+ / $18

2011 Bianchi Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Garey Vineyard – Seductive. Nose of rosemary, thyme, and even cloves. The body is lighter than you’d expect — much lighter — with an easy strawberry, raspberry, and subtle chocolate note. The finish hints at spices again, and even rhubarb. Lots going on, but well balanced in the end. Quite lovely. A / $22

2011 Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – A solid, if young wine. Notes of greenery, chicory, pepper, and incense are layered atop a fruit-forward core, adding layers of complexity (and ample tannin) over a fairly berry-rich wine. Modest finish, with notes of black pepper and green pepper. Well-made. B+ / $19

bianchiwine.com

Review: Italian Wines from The Order of Malta, 2014 Releases

bottiglia monterone 82x300 Review: Italian Wines from The Order of Malta, 2014 ReleasesThe Order of Malta. The Knights of the White Cross. There’s a whole lot of mystery from the get-go with this collection of Italian wines, all of which bear the distinct white-on-red, stylized, squared-off cross on their labels… but which reveal nothing about what that insignia means.

What’s it all about? The Sovereign Order of Malta is an ancient Catholic Religious Order that continues today to provide global relief efforts to areas affected by natural disasters. There are different chapters of The Order around the world. One of the things the organization does is make wine. For the first time, wines from The Order of Malta are now becoming available in the United States, courtesy of Fritz Cellars (Clay Fritz was a member of The Order for a number of years before deciding to import the wines).

I wasn’t able to attend a formal tasting with Fritz, but I did receive a number of the newly imported wines for review. Thoughts follow.

2012 Rocca Bernarda Ribolla Gialla Friuli DOC – Ribolla Gialla is an indigenous grape to Italy, and at first this white wine drinks like an indistinct blend, fruity and moderately acidic, but a bit touch to parse. As it warms, notes of honeydew and white flowers develop, adding some mystery to an inexpensive and drinkable wine. B+ / $27

2012 Castello di Magione Monterone Grechetto Colli del Trasimeno DOC – A brilliant gold wine with massive fruitiness all around. The nose is rich with apples, pears, apricots, and bright honeysuckle notes. The body is tart and rich with all of the above, but also laced with buttery vanilla. The finish is zippy and alive, like a lemon meringue pie. Good stuff.  Amazing value. A- / $25

2008 Castello di Magione Morcinaia Vendemmia – An Umbrian blend made from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Gamay. It’s the Sangiovese that pops the brightest, with bright cherry notes at play with some earthy, slightly herbal character (Gamay, maybe?). Solid body, but nothing mind-blowing. The finish is a bit tart for my tastes, but it works well with food. B / $40

2012 Castello di Magione Sangiovese Umbria – A brisk, classic (albeit young) Sangiovese. Floral notes on the nose interplay with cherry fruit, while a brambly character brings nuance to the body. Some dried herbal notes hang around on the finish. Very food friendly and well-crafted considering the price. A- / $25

fritzwinery.com

Review: Beers of Peak Organic Brewing Company

peak organic ipa 79x300 Review: Beers of Peak Organic Brewing CompanyWest coast readers can be forgiven for never having heard of Peak. The brewery is based in Maine, about as far from our shores as you can get. Things are changing, though, and Peak is making its way west. As part of its expansion to Northern California, we got to sample six of Peak’s (many) brews.

Thoughts follow.

Peak Organic Fresh Cut – Peak’s latest, a seasonal release. This is a dry-hopped Pilsner, with an apropos name. It’s grassy to extremes, almost to the point of being meadowy, if that makes sense. The sharpness of the greenery eventually gives way to a sort of mushroom character on the mid-palate. The finish offers modest hops. Fairly refreshing and reasonably restrained. 4.7% abv. B+

Peak Organic Hop Blanc – A Belgian white IPA, made with Belgian wheat and a cluster of hops. This is a lovely, hybrid-style beer, citrusy up front with a slug of Christmas spice. The finish: Bracing and bitter, with earthy overtones (a bit of a “house style” in Peak’s brews, it seems). 6.4% abv. A-

Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale – A bold and, indeed, nutty ale from Peak. This one starts right off with notes of fresh-from-the-oven wheat and rye bread, walnuts and almonds, and a dusting of brown sugar. Dense with lightly chocolate notes on the finish and modest bitterness. Touches of banana bread, even. A completely solid effort on a style that can be a little shopworn at times. 4.7% abv. B+

Peak Organic IPA – Made with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Nugget hops. Quite citrusy for an IPA, but with plenty of forest floor-laden bitterness to back up the fruit. Easy to slug on despite a high alcohol level (which you don’t really notice), with very light floral tones on the back end. 7.2% abv. A-

Peak Organic Simcoe Spring Ale – A Pale Ale dry-hopped with Simcoe (as you might expect) hops. Nutty up front, with notes of pine needles and tree bark. A little muddy on the mid-palate, with a finish that heads more toward the forest floor than the canopy. The IPA is similar in style but suits me better with its balance of citrus. 5.4% abv. B

Peak Organic King Crimson Imperial Red Ale – A unique duck in this lineup, maltier than the rest with cherry, root beer, and licorice notes. The finish is long, bitter, and malty, with subtle citrus notes. Heavy on the alcohol. Fun, but a bit much in the end. 9% abv. B

prices all NA / peakbrewing.com