Category Archives: Rated A

Review: Tequila Espolon Anejo

Espolon Anejo Hi-Res

Tequila Espolon was relaunched in 2010 as one of the first of a wave of high-quality, 100% agave tequilas that were far less expensive than most any other 100% agave tequilas on the market. But there was a hole in the lineup: No anejo.

Now Espolon is back with an anejo expression, at long last. Intriguingly the anejo tequila is aged for at least a year in unused white oak barrels, then finished for two to three months in ex-bourbon barrels, specifically Wild Turkey barrels. (Typically, tequila and most other spirits are fully matured in bourbon casks.)

The nose is rich without being aggressive, with big caramel and vanilla notes that hit the nose right at the start. The body engages right away, pushing that silky sweetness into some woody notes with a slight, agave-driven, vegetal edge. The finish is long and complex, hitting some racy red pepper notes as it begins, then punching up butterscotch and more vanilla syrup before a slow fade that brings the agave back to the forefront. None of this is particularly surprising, but it’s all on point and just about perfect for an anejo, proving again that, pound for pound, Espolon is one of the best bargains in the tequila business.

80 proof.

A / $35 / tequilaespolon.com

Review: Peychaud’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Cocktail Bitters

PeychaudsBarrelAged5ozXThe original Peychaud’s Bitters date back to about 1830. In New Orleans cocktailing, they’re an indispensable part of numerous drinks, including the classic Sazerac Cocktail. Now owner Sazerac (parent company of Buffalo Trace) is launching a version of Peychaud’s with a twist, aging the classic bitters in Sazerac Rye whiskey barrels for 140 days.

I tasted the new barrel-aged Peychaud’s against the classic version, side by side, to see how the duo stack up against one another.

They’re remarkably different products. Classic Peychaud’s offers complex notes of earth, charred nuts, cloves, watermelon rind, licorice root, and charred vegetables, with a distinct, semisweet rhubarb character — particularly on the nose. In contrast, the new Peychaud’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters are less complicated and initiatially, and somewhat counterintuitively, a bit sweeter. They don’t take on the charry woodiness of the wood but rather some of the vanilla and baking spices of the rye. As the bitters hit the palate, that rhubarb turns much more toward cherry fruit, with notes of gingerbread and Christmas spices on the back end.

Of course, despite all the secondary characteristics described above, both expressions are still bitters, and the finish of each is lasting and powerfully representative of the term. Both pair beautifully with whiskey but I have to say that the new whiskey-barrel aged expression lends more of an intense, fruity liveliness to a cocktail. The cherry components particularly stand out, even against the punch of bourbon or rye. No, it won’t ever replace the original, but its presence does make the cocktailer’s arsenal all the more interesting.

35% abv.

A / $17 (5 oz.) / thesazeracgiftshop.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Fifteen

The penultimate release of Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project is here, which means only a dozen bottles of the series of 192 bourbons remain to be released. For those keeping score, this makes 180 bourbons sampled to date over nearly four years of staggered releases.

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s our past coverage to date:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven
Round Twelve
Round Thirteen
Round Fourteen

Round 14 is a mixed bag of bourbons focusing mainly on the barrel, the variables being tested including the wood grain of the barrel, tree cut, and, as always, rye vs. wheat in the recipe. All whiskeys in this batch went in at 105 proof, used barrels with 6 months of wood seasoning and a #3 char, and were aged in a concrete floor warehouse.

By and large it’s a very good batch, including one of the best whiskies in the collection, barrel #149. Barrel #82 remains the fan favorite among all the bourbons released to date.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #21 – Sherried notes on the nose lead to a rather racy body. Lots of wood up front, but this works its way, eventually, into touches of licorice, brown butter, cloves, and more. Let this whiskey open up in the glass. I spent more time with this bourbon than anything else in this edition of the SOP, and though it wasn’t my absolute favorite, it does seem to have the most depth and intrigue in it. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #22 – Another butterscotch bomb with some evergreen hints to it, maybe touches of sage. This is a solid, but mostly straightforward bourbon that wears its vanilla on its sleeve. Balanced with hints of cinnamon creeping in on the back end. An all-around winner, with some slightly unusual elements to it. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #53 – Burly and woody, with a big slug of licorice and (very) dark chocolate on the back end. The finish speaks of coffee bean and burnt almonds. Almost feels scorched, even overcooked. C+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #54 – Big wood up front, big wood in the middle, big wood at the end. The sweeter core emerges with time, in contrast with the largely shut-down #53, but the overall experience is a bit astringent, with just touches of dried fruit and some spice on the finish. B- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #85 – A straightforward, woodsy expression of bourbon, offering notes of clove, spearmint, and flamed orange peel. The lumberyard notes are the main focus, however, lending a certain austerity to this bottling. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #86 – Nicely balanced, firing on all cylinders. Vanilla, baking spices, some orange notes, and delicate wood oil all come together in a cohesive, harmonious whole. This drinks how I’d like my “everyday bourbon” to taste — not exactly complex, but refreshing and full of flavor. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #117 – Cinnamon-sugar hits up front, leading to a buttery body that offers some toasty oak notes. The sweet-meets-wood combo is appealing, but a little undercooked. Could use another year in barrel. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #118 – Interesting, dark cocoa powder on the nose. The body adds in some vanilla and wood notes, but also a fair amount of heat. The lumberyard notes grow  and break out a bit of Middle Eastern spice on the back end. A little odd, but worthwhile. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #149 – Beautiful caramel sauce up front, just touched with the slightest hint of orange peel. The finish is strong but balanced between sweeter chocolate/vanilla/caramel notes and the density of toasty oak on the back end. Easily the best bourbon in this edition, and one of the best in the whole series. A (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #150 – Creme brulee notes up front, then modest orange fruit and some nuttiness — peanut butter, even — on the back end. There’s a nice combination of flavors going on here, but it could use a bit more body to prop up the sweetness. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #181 – Baking spices and pretty butterscotch up front leads to a silky sweet body with a lightly drying finish. Notes of red pepper emerge if you give it a little time in glass, giving this whiskey a surprising complexity. Nearly as enjoyable as #149, but with its own sense of style. A (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #182 – Butterscotch notes are clear here, much like #181, but in this expression the sweetness grabs hold and sticks with the whiskey to the end. The finish is almost candylike, without the spicy nuance. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

Review: Oregon Spirit Vodka and Merrylegs Genever

vodka odsTwo more spirits from Oregon Spirits Distillers in Bend, Oregon — these renditions of those two most classic white spirits, vodka and gin. Let’s taste them together!

Oregon Spirit Vodka – Distilled from winter wheat. Very innocuous on the nose, it’s got just some modest hospital notes and a dusting of white grape juice to provide tartness and sweetness. The body is extremely neutral — all vodka is supposed to be flavorless, in theory, but this is one of the most neutral vodkas I’ve ever encountered. No bite. Nothing much at all on the palate aside from just the lightest touch of toffee character to provide a little sweetness on the very end of the finish. If you truly want a flavorless vodka, look no further. 80 proof. A / $25

merrylegsMerrylegs Genever Style Gin – Genever-style gin is distinguished by being a distillate of barley wine, and sure enough Merrylegs stakes its claim on being “authentic” because it is indeed made from a base of 100% malt barley. The infusion bill includes juniper, coriander, star anise, green anise, pink rose, and lemon. The gin is fragrant like a white whiskey, its malt character rising instantly to the forefront. This masks all the botanicals on the nose, but you’ll find them front and center on the palate. The anise character is easily the strongest, giving this gin a light licorice touch up front. At the back end, the coriander makes its presence felt more strongly, with a little kick of sweetness and a licorice candy echo to finish things off. I’m not sure what to think of this product — it’s easy to sip on, but it doesn’t come across much like gin at all. (I get almost no juniper character in it at all.) White licorice whiskey? Starter absinthe? You tell me. 80 proof. B+ / $30

oregonspiritdistillers.com

Review: RIPE Bar Juice

ripe bar juice

Sure, there’s nothing better than fresh-squeezed juices you press yourself. But fresh, cold-pressed, pre-bottled juices run a pretty close second.

RIPE makes a line of seven fresh-squeezed juice-based mixers — all refrigerated, natural, unpasteurized, lightly sweetened with agave nectar (all except the Bloody Mary mix), and uncut with preservatives. Essentially RIPE is a juice company, but with its eyes on the bar, not the breakfast table.

We tried six of the company’s mixers, and are itching to pour them by the liter into this year’s holiday punch. Thoughts follow.

RIPE Cranberry Cocktail Bar Juice – Made from cold-pressed Ocean Spray cranberries. Tart, but lightly sweetened, just about perfect for cocktail use if you want actual cranberry flavor to come through — rather than vague sugar and red color. Flavorful, but not too punchy, though drinkers accustomed to sweeter mixers might find it not sugary enough. B+

RIPE Classic Cosmopolitan Bar Juice – Take the cranberry mixer above and mix in lime and orange juices and you get this, highly appealing, straight-up pink number. The Cosmo has a bad rap — OK, a terrible rap — but this mixer is really appealing, featuring a melange of super-bright fruit and that kick of real lime (which grows stronger and stronger on the back end, finishing clean and crisp). A-

RIPE Agave Margarita Bar Juice – Take the cranberry out of the Cosmo mix and you’ve got this appealing blend of lime and orange juices, lightly sweetened and ready to go in any quality margarita. Just add tequila, and you’re good to go with a cocktail that offers powerful — but not overpowering — lime character. The agave is stronger and more noticeable on this one (as opposed to cane sugar), but that suits a margarita just fine. A-

RIPE Agave Lemon Sour Bar Juice - Lemon and agave, a simple sour mix that offers versatility and bright lemon notes. Sweeter than some of the other mixes, and less focused on the specific fruit than, say, the margarita mixer. B+

RIPE Bajan Punch Bar Juice – This “tiki sour” includes lime, pineapple, and orange, and is spiced with Angostura Bitters and fresh nutmeg. The most complex of these juices, it’s an instant tropical drink in a glass — even the nutmeg comes through clearly and expressively. Not overdone one bit, it’s perfect for when you need a ready-to-go punch. A

RIPE San Marzano Bloody Mary Bar Juice – Naturally there’s a Bloody Mary mix, and this one includes San Marzano tomatoes, celery and lemon juice, horseradish, balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, sea salt, pepper, and cayenne. A thick one, and in many ways sweeter-tasting than anything else in this lineup, thanks to the power of those tomatoes. Racy, but not too hot, with maybe a bit too much lemon flavor on the back end. Still a highly credible and delicious Bloody Mary mix. A-

$10 each per 1 liter bottle / drinkripe.com

Tasting the Wines of Marchesi de’Frescobaldi

We previously reviewed  two wines (including the first two wines discussed below) in our coverage of Tuscany-based Frescobaldi, one of the royal families of Italian winemaking. In a recent online tasting with the family, we were led through a guided look at four of their current releases. All four are 90% to 100% sangiovese-based wines, but each comes with a much different terroir, aging regimen, and end result. Some thoughts on the four wines tasted follow.

2010 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva Nipozzano – Solid cherry with some bright acid, with notes of dark chocolate and coffee bean. Very herbal on the finish, with notes of rosemary and thyme. Quite drying but a clean, pure expression of Chainti. A- / $20

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva Nipozzano Vecchie Viti – Bolder, with more balsamic character up front, and a more brooding, pungency underneath. The finish remains tougher and denser than the standard bottling, but quite food friendly. B+ / $30

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva Montesodi – An estate selection of the Frescobaldi sangiovese harvest. Really lovely on the nose, with notes of both fruit and perfumed florals. Bright and lush, the body folds together cherries and chocolate sauce into a balanced and complex whole, presenting notes of tea leaf, bay leaf, and mint leaf. Lots of leaves. A / $40

2008 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Castelgiocondo – A gorgeous wine, with a nose of chocolate covered cherries and a body that approaches the density of Port. Big and chewy, with touches of dried figs and black tea. Waves of vanilla wash ashore on the finish. Quite a wine, but definitely worth reserving for a special, meat-heavy meal. A- / $75

frescobaldi.it

Review: NV Graham’s Six Grapes Porto Special Old Vines Edition

Grahams Six Grapes Old Vine (high res)If you’ve ever had a glass of Port, you’ve probably had Graham’s Six Grapes, an ubiquitous Ruby Port that is lush, easy-drinking, and cheap — making it a nice choice for everyday after-dinner sipping.

Now Graham’s is giving Six Grapes an upgrade with a new special edition bottling, Special Old Vines Edition. Graham’s explains:

It has been over a hundred years since the famous Six Grapes motif was first used on a bottle of fine Port, our winemakers at W & J Graham, Charles Symington and Henry Shotton, have decided to bottle a small quantity of a special wine made exclusively from the oldest vines on Graham’s five Quintas. The presentation of this special edition Six Grapes Old Vines Port pays homage to the original Six Grapes label that helped make the wine famous so many years ago. This wine will only be available in very limited quantities.

The wine is a winner. The intense raisin and prune notes of standard edition Six Grapes are pushed aside here to make room for more of a chocolate character. It still features classic raisiny Port notes, but in the Special Edition these take on a more gentle, less sour quality. The nose features touches of dried savory herbs, the body is laced with notes of gingerbread and cinnamon. Amazing in its depth, the wine is both fun to really dig into and explore but also incredibly easy to drink.

Only 500 cases have been made, so if this is up your alley, snap Graham’s Six Grapes Special Edition up!

A / $42 / grahams-port.com

Review: Wines of Sojourn, 2012 Vintage

Sojourner_PN_2011These three new releases hail from Santa Rosa-based Sojourn. The wines themselves are made from grapes sourced all the Northern California wine country. Thoughts follow.

2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Big and buttery on the nose, and the body largely follows suit. Subtle notes of melon, tropical fruits, and tart gooseberry percolate on the tongue — but it’s that almost overbearing wood-and-vanilla character that sticks with you on the finish, and for a long while after. B / $48

2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Wohler Vineyard Russian River Valley – A lush, rounded Pinot, typical of what you see from the Russian River. Lush cherry and raspberry get a lick of black pepper, some fruit-infused tea, and hints of lychee on the back end. Dangerously drinkable. A- / $48

2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Quite a strange expression of Pinot, dense to the point of being almost raisiny on the nose, with some overtones of lavender and wet earth. The body is equally punchy, taking an almost Port-like body and lacing it with vegetal character and more of that wet earth. Needs more acidity — or perhaps just some more bottle time — to bring out the fruit in the grapes. B+ / $59

2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacamo Vineyard Sonoma Coast – A fresh, classic Pinot, this one’s firing almost perfectly. Fresh cherry mingles with touches of black pepper, while the finish sweetens things up a tad with notes of strawberry. Perfect balance with just the right mix of acidity and oomph. Hard to put down. A / $54

sojourncellars.com

Review: Syndicate 58/6 Blended Scotch Whisky

syndicate 58-6

If nothing else, Syndicate 58/6 is the most uniquely named whisky you’ll drink all year. What’s it all about? Syndicate, so the story goes, began as a blend of malt and grain whiskies discovered in 1958. Six guys got together to make a whisky out of these barrels, and they named it after themselves (the “syndicate” and the 6) and the year of discovery.

OK, so let’s jump ahead to 2014. The Syndicate 58/6 that’s just now hitting the market obviously has little to do with that 1958 discovery… or has it? This blend of 18 single malt whiskies and 4 single grain whiskies has been being kept up over the years in a solera system (it’s unclear how long things were dormant, but they’re back up and running now), with new whiskies added in and blended with the older stock. Today’s Syndicate 58/6, so they say, actually still contains small quantities of the original 1958 blend! The final blend is matured for up to 2 years in 4 year old Oloroso sherry casks before bottling.

Whew!

OK, so let’s attack this animal.

The nose is instantly burly and rich. I’d peg it as a single malt over a blend — you just don’t see this much complexity and punch in a typical blend. Here you get roasted grains, cinnamon oatmeal, orange peel, and light smokiness — just enough intrigue to lead you into the spirit proper. The body is instantly engaging. Just the right combination of malty cereal, apple pie, sweet nougat, honey, rich sherry, butterscotch, and just a wisp of smoke on the back end. Gentle but full of depth and intrigue, this is one little whisky that’s tough to put down.

Never mind the kooky backstory and nutty name. Give the Syndicate a spin.

86 proof.

A / $150 / syndicate58-6.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2014) and Chasin’ Freshies (2014)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHey, it’s new editions of Hop Trip and Chasin’ Freshies — limited edition IPA seasonals from our friends at Deschutes. Here we go with reviews!

Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2014) – A hotter (and more full-bodied) beer than last year’s edition, this pale ale starts off piney but then reveals some chocolate and almond notes, adding an interesting counterpoint to the typical citrus/evergreen character. Quite enjoyable, with a curious touch of cardamom on the finish. 5.9% abv. A- / $9 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Chasin’ Freshies Fresh Hop IPA (2014) – This year’s release features Mosaic hops, an “It Hop” if there is such a thing, which gives this seasonal IPA a slight nutty edge to the usual, hoppy pine tree character. Resinous but balanced with notes of grapefruit, cinnamon, and gingerbread, this beer starts out gentle then builds to a bitter, crashing finish. Lots to like here if you’re an IPA nut. 7.4% abv. A / $6 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com