Review: Wines of Silver Palm, 2016 Releases

silver palmThis new brand is another Jackson Family creation, focusing on the sub-$20 segment with wines heralding from the North Coast and Central Coast regions. Thoughts on four of the current offerings from this winery follow.

2014 Silver Palm Chardonnay North Coast – A garden-variety chardonnay, with heavy apricot notes that are heavily buried in brown butter and oak notes. Some lemon character midway along adds a touch of something brighter, but the sugar bun sweetness on the finish comes across as overblown. B- / $15

2014 Silver Palm Pinot Noir Central Coast – A simple wine with modest ambitions, this pinot noir features gentle cherry cola, very light herbs, and not a whole lot else. The wine goes well enough with a light meal, but on its own the almost watery character drives it to only minor inspiration. B / $18

2013 Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast – Surprisingly capable, this North Coast cab offers notes of cracked black pepper, blackberry, and a touch of violets. Just a hint of cocoa nibs gives the wine just a bit of sweetness and fun. I was surprised how enjoyable this was, considering the price point. A- / $19

2013 Silver Palm Merlot North Coast – A quite fruity wine, with notes of blackberry and tar at the forefront. The floral notes of merlot are largely lacking here, but what remains is a fairly straightforward expression of California at its most generic. B / $18

silverpalmwines.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project The Gifted Horse American Whiskey

Gifted Horse American Whisky

Some time ago at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Ky., a batch of beautiful 17-year-old Kentucky bourbon was accidentally mixed with barrels of much younger whiskey. This error turned out better than anyone could have expected as the older bourbon wasn’t marred, but was transformed into something surprisingly special. Realizing this unique liquid deserved a home, The Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co. today announced the seventh addition to its portfolio, The Gifted Horse American Whiskey.

So goes the story.

Now this isn’t the first “accidental” whiskey to come out of Kentucky, and it won’t be the last, but ultimately the truth behind how this whiskey was made doesn’t matter much. Note that it’s not a bourbon — it’s a blend of 17 year old bourbon, 4 year old bourbon, and 4 year old corn whiskey, which disqualifies it from being called a bourbon, legally speaking.

Here are the specifics:

The Gifted Horse is comprised of 38.5% 17-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, distilled at the Bernheim Distillery historically located at 17th and Breckinridge in Louisville, Ky., while operated by United Distillers. It also contains 51% four-year-old bourbon and 10.5% four-year-old corn whiskey, both produced at a high-quality distillery in Indiana. Initially, these individual whiskeys were stored at their original distilleries before being moved to Stitzel-Weller, where the mingling error occurred.

How does this Orphan turn out? Let’s look this gift horse square in the mouth and find out.

I was skeptical that this would be any good, but was really surprised right from the start. The nose is dense with both fruit and spice — baked apples mingling with cinnamon and brown sugar, plus burnt caramel. It’s engaging without coming across as either too old and hoary or as something redolent with popcorny youth.

The palate follows suit — more of a barrel char influence hits up front, followed by more of that fruit — again apples, plus some cherry notes. The brown sugar character takes on a slightly granular texture, with toffee and a bit of chocolate mint character. A slightly raisiny note emerges on the finish, which does feature some heat, though nothing unmanageable. As it settles in the glass, more wood notes tend to emerge from the whiskey over time, but its sweetness grows in kind, creating an even denser, more powerful spirit as the night wears on.

The finish finally evokes some caramel corn notes, but these are gentle and integrate well into the spirit as a whole. Old and new come together awfully well here, it turns out. Gifted horse indeed.

115 proof.

A- / $50 / orphanbarrel.com

Review: Cannonborough Beverage Co. Sodas and Mixers

cannonborough

Charleston-based Cannonborough Beverage Co. started making its fresh fruit sodas in 2012, where they are sold for drinking soda and for use as cocktail mixers. These all-natural sodas come in 750ml bottles (the crown caps can be a problem unless you’re preparing drinks for a party or a punch bowl), and can be purchased online from the company.

We tasted all three varieties of the Cannonborough lineup. Thoughts follow.

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Grapefruit Elderflower – Sweet elderflower hits the nose, and with a sip the grapefruit quickly takes over. The sugar-meets-flower notes of the elderflower do battle here, with sweetness shining brightly for a second, before the sour grapefruit finishes things off. My clear favorite of the bunch, I’d love to mix with this versatile product. A-

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Honey Basil – Herbal and sweet on the nose, but the earthy, spicier basil notes run the show on the palate. Seemingly built for mixing with gin, it’s a combination that works very well — as a sweeter alternative to a gin and tonic. Less fun on its own, though. B+

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Ginger Beer – A complex mixer compared the relatively straightforward remainder of the lineup, made with ginger, habanero, vanilla, and cloves. Quite foamy, and much sweeter smelling than I was expecting. Sweet citrus notes — sugared lemon/lime, primarily — hit the palate first, with the racy ginger — crushed bits of ginger root are readily visible in the liquid — providing a fiery, bracing finish. A bit scattered. B

each $10 per 750ml bottle / cannonbevco.com

Review: Kinahan’s Irish Whiskey – Blended and Single Malt 10 Years Old

kinahans

The rise of Irish continues with the relaunch of Kinahan’s Irish Whiskey, a brand that dates back to 1779 and was called for by none other than Jerry Thomas in some of his iconic cocktail recipes from the 1800s.

Kinahan’s went under in the early 1900s but was revived in 2014, and for obvious reasons: Irish whiskey is riding high, and new brands are popping up right and left to jump on the trend.

While Kinahan’s clearly isn’t making its own stock yet — sourcing for these bottlings is undisclosed — it’s out the door with two quite different releases. Both are worth a taste if you see them. Thoughts follow.

Kinahan’s Blended Irish Whiskey – A blend of grains; aged at least 6 years. A fairly standard Irish, this light-bodied whiskey features notes of rich honey, coconut, and banana, plus overtones of walnuts. Gentle baking spices emerge with time, but so does a bit of acetone influence. The finish offers a touch of red pepper on the tongue — thanks in part to the slightly higher proof — but otherwise makes a callback to those initial honey notes. Works well enough. 92 proof. B+ / $40

Kinahan’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old – Bolder, as one would expect, but with remarkably different character. Distinctly tropical on the nose with a pronounced tangerine note, the whiskey kicks things off with a fruit bomb. On the palate, the traditional honey notes come on after the citrus character fades a bit, with the finish offering curious notes of graham crackers and brewed tea. Considerably more interesting than the blend. 92 proof. A- / $69

kinahanswhiskey.com

Review: Few Spirits Anguish & Regret Liqueur

Few Anguish and RegretAnguish & Regret — what a name! — is a spin on a liqueur known as malört. Malört? It’s a liqueur introduced in the 1930s in Chicago by a Swedish immigrant who was obviously pining for his aquavit in some fashion. The name malört is Swedish for wormwood.

Today, Chicagoans still love malört, and a small cottage industry has grown up around it. Few Spirits is part of that, and while it can’t call Anguish & Regret “malört” due to legal issues, the idea is the same: A full-proof grain-originated liqueur that is floral, bittersweet, and unlike anything you’ve likely ever experienced if you don’t live in Chi-town. (The company describes it as “something like Chartreuse but without any sugar,” and that’s not wrong.)

Anguish & Regret, specifically, is an “infusion of a house-made ras al hanout Moroccan spice blend” with no sugar added — ras al hanout being akin to Moroccan curry powder. So, in a sense, curry liqueur.

Now relax a bit: Anguish & Regret does not actually taste like curry. It is, however, quite complex. The nose is sharp and pungent, highly perfumed but not particularly flowery — more grassy, with odd evergreen notes, plus bitter roots and a touch of dried cherry. The nose is closer to a contemporary gin than anything else — or maybe like walking into a Turkish rug shop.

The palate is something else entirely, with a lightly bitter, amaro-like punch up front. This quickly fades, however, revealing more of those herbal notes, which again are pungent and powerful. Here that grassy, evergreen character evolves complicated notes of cardamom, mushroom, Madeira wine, harissa, vanilla bean, and almond extract. It may be unsweetened, but some mild honey notes do come along to smooth out the finish.

All told, this is one of those spirits that gets more complicated as you dive deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. It’s not for every taste, but I found myself enjoying it as a strange spin on amaro, far more than I expected.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / fewspirits.com

Review: Chieftain’s Batch #9 – Linkwood 1997, Mortlach 1997, Braeval 1996, Fettercairn 1996, Glen Grant 1995

chieftains

Don’t look now! It’s our biggest single review of indie bottler Chieftain’s yet — five new releases of well-aged single malts, all distilled in the late 1990s, all but one hailing from Speyside.

Let’s dig in to these morsels and have a taste.

Chieftain’s Linkwood 1997 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish – Speyside. Exotic and nutty with notes of old sherry on the nose, with a touch of mothball — though not in a bad way. The sherry pushes through to the palate, almost bruisingly so, bringing on notes of baking spices, roasted grains, stewed fruit, and more nuts on the finish. Everything is delightfully well integrated, with a lengthy, warming finish. 92 proof. A / $90

Chieftain’s Mortlach 1997 18 Years Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Finish – Speyside. Mortlach is one of my favorite distilleries, but here things are blown out by the overwhelming PX sherry notes, which kick things off with notes of malted milk, carob, and burnt almonds. The body has a slightly bitter, acrid tone to it, again with notes of burnt — burnt nuts, burnt grain, burnt wood. Touches of classically honeyed Mortlach sweetness offer plenty to enjoy, but the sherry finish is just a bit too far off to make this the knockout it should be. 92 proof. B / $90

Chieftain’s Braeval 1996 19 Years Old Beaune Cask Finish – Speyside, with a red Burgundy wine cask finish. A quaint operation in central Speyside that’s part of Chivas Bros., dating back to only 1973. The red wine finish runs the show here, starting with a nose that mingles toasty grain with raisin and cherry notes. The nougat-laden body is loaded with fruit, more of that raisin-cherry compote with a touch of lingering cinnamon and clove. Fun and unexpected. 92 proof. A- / $110

Chieftain’s Fettercairn 1996 19 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish – Eastern Highlands. A classic, big, and burly whisky, heady on the nose with florals, fresh cut apple, and caramel sauce. The body is unctuous and creamy, offering hot and nutty marzipan notes plus a vegetal character. The finish layers on the slightest touch of smoke. 114.8 proof. B+ / $121

Chieftain’s Glen Grant 1995 20 Years Old Bourbon Finish – Speyside. I’m unclear if this is finished in a second bourbon cask or if it just spends the full 20 years in one, but this is a bit off the beaten path of your typical Speyside single malt. Zippy and spicy on the nose, it offers notes of gunpowder and matches, plus well-torched caramel and hints of licorice. On the palate, again it showcases red and black pepper, creme brulee notes, and crispy caramel — with a touch of mint. It’s a relatively straightforward whiskey, but one that is well-balanced and enjoyable throughout. 110.2 proof. A- / $143

ianmacleod.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2015 Edition and Red Chair NWPA (2015)

abyss 2015Two major winter seasonals from Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes are here, including the new Abyss aged Imperial Stout and Red Chair, Deschutes’ northwestern spin on an IPA.

Thoughts follow.

Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2015 Edition – For the 10th installment of The Abyss, there are no major recipe changes — although the beer has seen some additional aging. This special release is brewed with blackstrap molasses, licorice, cherry bark, and vanilla as always, then 21% is aged in oak bourbon barrels, 6% aged in oak barrels, and 21% aged in oak wine barrels. (Altogether 50% of the beer is aged for 2015, but last year only 28% of the total brew saw barrel time.) Note that to commemorate the 10th anniversary of The Abyss, two additional versions were created — one aged in rye casks, one in Cognac casks — though we did not receive these for review. The “regular” version of Abyss, however, is a real standout. As always, pungent licorice hits the nose first, but the treacle-and-fig-jam notes that often follow close behind are tamped down here, replaced instead with bracingly bitter hops, very bitter chocolate, and wood barrel notes. The Abyss is always a beer that sticks around for ages, but this year that finish is seemingly unending. Fans of this style — and just about anyone else — should seek out a couple of bottles. One for now, one to keep in the cellar for next year. 12.2% abv. A / $15 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA (2015) – A December-released seasonal, this year’s Red Chair “Northwest” Pale Ale doesn’t seem to have rocked the boat when it comes to its recipe — but nonetheless the beer seems more fully-realized than some of its forebears. Bitter but not aggressively piney, Red Chair uses citrus notes and some late-arriving florals to punctuate its malty base with style and structure. Quite a pleasure. 6.2% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

deschutesbrewery.com