Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish


The 11th installment in Woodford Reserve’s annual Master’s Collection release is here. For 2016, standard, “fully mature” Woodford is finished in American brandy casks for nearly two years. Which brandy isn’t stated (but since Woodford’s parent company Brown-Forman owns Korbel, I have a strong hunch where the casks came from).

Woodford notes, “Brandy, a spirit distilled from wine or fruit, is often aged in oak barrels. Unlike bourbon, brandy does not have the new, charred barrel requirement allowing their barrels to be used multiple times. Therefore, this release is technically not a bourbon but rather a finished whiskey.” That’s really splitting hairs, though. Finishing barrels have become quite popular in bourbon country in recent years (see also Angel’s Envy), and the use of one does not, in my mind, disqualify this from being called a bourbon.

And in fact, there is nothing at all not to like in the 2016 Master’s Collection bourbon. Fresh from the start, the nose is moderately woody, tempered by light chocolate, cinnamon (a Morris classic), and plenty of lightly scorched caramel. Some raisin and dried fig notes come forward with time. On the tongue, the whiskey quickly settles into a beautifully balanced groove. Notes of raisin, ripe banana, and gingerbread wash over a spicy, vanilla- and caramel-heavy core. As a reprise, some gentle wood notes bring up the rear, a nice callback to the way things started.

The two years in old brandy casks have worked nicely at mellowing out a bourbon that can sometimes be overblown with wood. The brandy cask adds something in the form of those gently sweet raisin notes, but more importantly is what it takes away, which is some of the heavier tannin and lumberyard notes that standard Woodford can express. As with the Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir release, this expression is a whiskey that takes a solid spirit and elevates it even further.

Morris has stumbled upon a really magical combination here. It may be the best Master’s Collection release to date.

90.4 proof.

A / $100 /

Review: 3 Mezcals from Craft Distillers – Alipus Ensamble, Mezcalero #16, and Mezcalero Special #2


Craft Distillers has doubled down on mezcal, and it imports both the Alipus and Mezcalero lines of mezcal. Alipus is generally available, but the Mezcalero line is a series of limited production releases, numbered in sequence. 1 through 14 are now sold out; you can still get 15 and 16, the latter of which is reviewed below, along with a new “special bottling” of Mezcalero.

Let’s dig in to all three.

Mezcal Alipus San Andres Ensamble  – The first blended Alipus (all the others being single-village bottlings), Ensamble is a blend of 20% wild bicuishe agave harvested at 5300 feet plus 80% traditional espadin. It’s hard to miss the powerful sweetness here, coming across like honey for starters and almost maple syrupy at times. The smoke grows from there. What is palpable on the nose is well-integrated into the palate, where it takes on a fruitlike character not unlike sherried Islay Scotch. This, however, goes too far, pushing overripe fruit elements that culminate in a somewhat saccharine mishmosh of flavors that hit strong citrus notes before diving into a finish of salt spray and cigar smoke. A bit scattered on the whole. 94.4 proof. B / $65

Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel –  Angel takes semi-wild madrecuishe (agave karwinskii) from a 5200-foote high soil and turns it into this, an elegant and truly gorgeous mezcal. The nose is restrained and citrus-focused, with clear notes of lemon and grapefruit. The palate weaves gentle smoke into the picture, meandering from wood fires to clean citrus and back again. The body is modest but fulfilling, the finish clean and lightly sweet, with just a hint of that sour citrus juice squeezed on top. So easygoing, it’s hard to put down — and a perfect example of what quality mezcal should be. 94.2 proof. A / $96

Mezcalero Special Bottling Release #2 – A higher-end, even more limited production. This release comprises “552 liters distilled in October and November of 2012 by Don Valente Angel from semi-wild Dobadaan (agave rhodacantha). It was harvested from a south-facing slope of a hill known as Loma de la Mojonera comprised of sandy, ferriferous soil at 5350 feet of elevation. The agaves were wood-fire roasted in a stone horno, shredder-crushed, fermented with wild yeasts, double distilled using artisan methods on a 200-liter copper potstill, and bottled in March of 2016. 736 bottles produced.” To clarify, this is tank-rested (not barrel-aged) for over three years before bottling. The results are impressive. This is a soft, seductive mezcal that starts slow and builds to a crescendo, kicking off on the nose with gentle notes of black pepper, simple smoky notes, and a basic citrus character. The palate follows suit, dialed way back at first with just a short, simple sweetness, some orange peel, and pepper. From there, it builds up to quite a hefty, mouth-filling body, rolling in notes of mint, gunpowder, apple, and campfire smoke. The mezcal goes out not with a whimper but with a bang, finishing sharply and scorching the back of the throat. Exciting stuff, and fun to explore. 97.52 proof. A- / $135

Review: Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon Barrel #3402 NHLC Collection


Remember that time that the New Hampshire Liquor Commission bought 15 barrels of Jack Daniel’s, the largest single purchase of JD single barrels ever? Well, they did it again, this time with Knob Creek, purchasing 8 barrels and bottling them as New Hampshire exclusives, all 120 proof, 9 years old.

We got a sample from Barrel #3402, complete with an embossed metal plaque on the bottle.

Let’s give this special edition, available only in New Hampshire, naturally, a spin.

The nose is classic Knob Creek, maple syrup-sweet with moderate to heavy wood overtones, backed up by burnt caramel notes. On the tongue, it’s sweeter and more rounded than the 60% abv would make you expect, but the brown sugar and syrup notes quickly burn off, replaced by notes of cinnamon red hots and cloves. The finish brings out the wood again, here more clearly oak than the spicy cedar you can get in standard Knob Creek, with simpler vanilla and caramel notes rounding out the finish. Don’t be afraid of a little water to smooth out the edges.

The Granite State has done a bang-up job with its single barrel selections of late, and this Knob Creek special bottling stands at perhaps the top of that list.

120 proof.

A / $47 /

Review: Chapters of Ampersand Et No. 1 Limited Edition Cognac


Chapters of Ampersand is a new Swedish company that wants to bring the absolute finest in Cognac to the world. This isn’t going to be inexpensive, to say the least. For its first ultra-limited expression, called Et No. 1, the company is blending three Cognacs in collaboration with Tiffon Cognac: a Grande Champagne Cognac distilled in 1974, a Grande Champagne Cognac from 1943, and a pre-phylloxera Cognac from 1870. None of those are typos. The finished product is bottled in a unique piece of Swedish art glass crafted by artist Göran Wärff.

We received an understandably small sample to review. Let’s check it out!

The nose offers intense and nearly overwhelming complexity: raisin notes up front, then cinnamon, nougat, spiced nuts, and some dark cherry. A slight soapiness emerges with some time in glass, but this evolves into more of a powder room perfume character that doesn’t detract from the notes of nuts and old fruit.

On the palate, this character segues toward a maple syrup note, though it’s filtered through a heavy leather character, with some notes of fresh tobacco, those raisin notes settling into a Madeira character — winey, lightly balsamic, and moderately sweet. The finish is far lighter and livelier than I expected, going out gently and almost subtly with lightly toasted wood notes. It stands in a stark contrast to that punchy, brooding nose, but does offer a lingering touch of dried fruit that hangs around on the palate as a lovely little reminder of what’s come before.

Et No. 2 is reportedly in the works. Can’t wait to see what the Swedes unearth next time!

80 proof. 300 bottles produced.

A / $8395 /

Review: Wines of Dierberg, 2016 Releases


Established by Jim and Mary Dierberg in 1996, Dierberg Vineyards is a pinot and chardonnay shop that grows grapes in two cool-climate estate vineyards: the 160-acre Dierberg Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley appellation, and the 70-acre Drum Canyon Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. (The family also runs the Star Lane winery, which is in the Happy Canyon area.

Today we look at the 2016 releases of the Santa Barbara-esque Dierberg.

2013 Dierberg Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – Nicely balanced between fruit and brown butter, this is a Santa Maria chardonnay that starts off with classic vanilla and oak notes, plus a bit of roasted meat character, then finally settles into a fruity groove that offers notes of figs, passion fruit, pears, and baked apples. Gentle sandalwood notes dust the finish, which manages to hang on tightly to that fruit all the way to the end. Beautiful Burgundy-style chardonnay… and an amazing value wine. A / $25

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – A dense SoCal pinot, this flavor-packed wine offers raspberry and baking spice, heavy on the cloves, with a finish that heads toward tobacco and licorice. As it opens up, a lively strawberry note takes hold, which helps to balance out the darker fruit up front. A touch of pencil lead lingers on the back end. The body is on the dense side, but the finish lightens things up just enough. Great on its own, it excels with food. A- / $40

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Drum Canyon Vineyard – Heading south, and up from the valley and into the hills of Santa Rita. Oddly this wine takes a turn toward a lighter style, restrained in flavor, but lively and light. Blueberries and blackberries take the lead here, but with more acidity — a bit like a fruit-flavored lemonade, dialed down, anyway. The finish is lightly sour, with rhubarb notes, making it pair better with food than on its own. B+ / $43

Review: Stone Enjoy By 10.31.16 Tangerine IPA


It’s another tangerine-infused IPA in Stone’s “Enjoy By” series, this one “expiring” in just a few weeks on Halloween. Thought the bottle is festooned in appropriately ghoulish decor, the recipe doesn’t seem to be any different than the last Enjoy By we covered, including 12 different hop varieties plus pureed tangerines in the mix. This time, for me, the citrus seems more restrained, and I get a touch of coffee character. though the finish offers a nice burst of orange rind to temper the heaviness of the hops. All told, it’s a winner, again!

9.4% abv.

A / $8 per 22 oz. bottle /

Tasting the Wines of Amalaya and Colome, 2016 Releases


Amalaya and Colome are both based in Salta, Argentina — and both are owned by California’s Hess Family Wines. Today we look at two wines from each, a torrontes and a malbec, all delightfully different despite being neighbors, both geographically and business-wise.

2015 Amalaya Torrontes/Riesling Salta – 85% torrontes and 15% riesling. The riesling is a huge help here, and a big influence on the wine, giving it both tightly perfumed aromatics and some apricot/peach notes reminiscent of viognier. The flatter torrontes benefits from this, lifting it up into a more festive, zippy wine. B+ / $10

2015 Amalaya Malbec Salta – A blend of 85% malbec, 10% tannat, and 5% syrah. It’s a very dry wine, dusty at times before exhibiting notes of tree bark, chicory, and licorice overlaying its lightly balsamic, blackberry core. Modest body, but the finish is quite drying, slightly pruny, and a little thin. B / $12

2015 Colome Torrontes – Quite lemony, with a pinch of rosemary in the mix. The finish diverges toward a more heavily herbal character, including notes of juniper, though its acidity is high enough to at least keep this in check to some degree. B- / $12

2013 Colome Malbec Estate – What a breath of fresh air this wine is. Malbec can be so overwhelming, but Colome’s expression is full of fruit but tempered with a sprinkle of licorice, savory herbs, cloves, and graphite. Some mushroom evolves on the nose; give it time and some lively floral notes emerge, too. The finish is dry and a bit leathery, which actually makes for a balanced and engaging experience. A lovely and unexpectedly special wine — one to stock up on. A / $20