Review: Sobieski Estate Single Rye Vodka

Sobieski Estate Single RyePolish, mid-shelf vodka brand Sobieski moves up shelf this month with the launch of an extension to the line: Sobieski Estate Single Rye Vodka, made from “100% Dankowski rye locally grown in Poland which is hand filled and hand crowned by distillers.”

The new vodka arrives in California now, with a national rollout coming in 2016.

This is solid, old world stuff. Astringent and medicinal but bracing and fresh on the nose, there’s no mistaking this vodka’s origins in eastern Europe. The palate has hospital-driven bite, but it offers a lush body of gentle citrus, slight brown sugar/caramel tinge, and even some florals (late in the game). There’s an echo of sweetness on the finish, but it’s far from overdone, offering a gentle way out of what can be a moderately powerful experience from the start.

Whether you need a solid sipper or martini vodka or just want a versatile mixer at a respectable price, Sobieski Single Rye is a fantastic option.

80 proof.

A- / $28 /

Review: Arkansas Black Applejack 21 Years Old

arkansas black 21

Earlier this year we brought you coverage of Arkansas Black Applejack, an artisan apple brandy that happens to be made in my own adopted community in Marin County, California.

Now the husband and wife duo have put out a monster of an upgrade: Arkansas Black 21 Years Old. Now Arkansas Black is a youngish operation, so how is it making a 21 year old expression? Here’s the scoop from the company:

We sourced the product from a California brandy family who made a one-off batch of apple brandy in the early ’90s. They put the 100% California-grown apple distillate in seasoned french oak and let it ride, never bottling it or bringing it to market. Earlier this year they made the decision that they didn’t really have a plan for the stuff and made it available. We bought it, brought the proof to 92, and bottled it with no additional processing. There will be 600 cases bottled and that will be that.

This 21 year old applejack squarely lives somewhere between brandy and whiskey, with loads of vanilla and caramel on the nose, plus some barrel char, but balanced by gratings of cinnamon and — at last — a strong apple aroma that comes wafting to the fore. Unlike the NAS version, this expression keeps the apple in check, saving it to layer onto the palate as it evolves on the tongue. Notes of toasted meringue, coconut, and some sherry notes all make an appearance, with ample apple pie notes washing over everything. The finish is long, minimal in the boozy after-effect that’s so common with fruit brandies, and both inviting and enduring.

As apple-based spirits go, you’re looking at one of the best produced anywhere.

92 proof.

A / $125 / via facebook

Review: Plantation Rum Lineup (2015) – 3 Stars White, Original Dark, Barbados 5 Years Old, Extra Old 20th Anniversary, Old Reserve 2001, and Pineapple

Plantation 20 Anniv XO NEW - LOPlantation Rum is actually part of the French company Cognac Ferrand, and it produces over a dozen rums that are sourced from plantations all over the Caribbean and beyond. Some of these rums we’ve reviewed before, but today we’re taking a deep dive into six of the company’s offerings, including its first foray into a flavored product.

Let’s dive in!

Plantation 3 Stars White Rum (2015) – Made from a blend of various rums, filtered to clear. A clean white rum, it’s free of most of the petrol overtones that are endemic with so many whites. Here notes of banana and some coconut give this rum a lot of fruit and ample depth — which makes sense because some of the rum that makes up this expression is up to 12 years old. Very easygoing and highly mixable. 82.4 proof. A- / $17 (1 liter)

Plantation Original Dark Rum (2015) – Aged Trinidad stock. Funky on the nose — overly so — with bizarre hogo notes of green olives and feta cheese. A nutty, coffee-focused character emerges as the rum opens up on the palate, but it’s constrained by those herbal, bitter, funky flavors that really start to interfere with the big picture over time. 80 proof. B- / $17

Plantation Grande Reserve Rum Barbados 5 Years Old – Self-explanatory provenance here, in a rum that is light in color but long on character. A restrained nose offers hints of brown sugar, banana, and fresh apple, but keeps it in check. On the palate, huge coconut notes emerge, plus more banana and some pineapple notes. Fruit from start to finish: If you want the perfect rum for a pina colada, this is your guy. A huge bargain. 80 proof. A- / $16

Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary (2015) – The “XO” bottling of Plantation comprises old stock finished in ex-Cognac barrels. A brooding sophisticate next to the fruitier style of many of Plantation’s offerings, the XO features dense leather, tobacco, dark chocolate, and coffee notes before giving way to darker fruit notes — prune, plum, and blackberry. Some tropical emerge with time, but they struggle to get through the brooding, almost fireside character. That’s not a bad thing. This is complex, old, and quite enchanting rum at its finest. 80 proof. A / $43

Plantation Rum Old Reserve 2001 Jamaica – An update on the 2000 line, this single-vintage rum is pushy and funky, a cousin of the Original Dark above, writ small. It’s intense and funky, but light on its feet, folding fruit into a base that offers a heavily vegetal and pungent character. Slightly smoky, with hospital notes, it’s certainly not a rum for beginners, though one can see how it might find a home in a less fruit-forward cocktail like a Zombie or even a powerful update to a Hemingway Daiquiri. 84 proof. B / $40

Plantation Artisinal Infusion Original Dark Pineapple Rum – A pineapple-infused version of the Original Dark above. You’ll smell it right away from the second the bottle is cracked open — big, sugary pineapple notes that absolutely take over the whole affair. There’s an argument that perhaps the nose should do that — but for my money I’d rather take the more nuanced Barbados 5 Year Old (at half the price, mind you) and use that as the base for any fruity cocktails I was making. All in all, here we see juicy pineapple meet a dusting of brown sugar — and that’s really the end of the story. 80 proof. B / $43

Review: 2012 Galerie pleinair and latro Cabernet Sauvignon

galerieLaura Diaz Munoz creates these two California cabernets — wildly different, yet next door neighbors — at Galerie, where the wines are constructed to evoke France’s Loire Valley. (Three white wines, not reviewed here, are also produced.) Today we take a dive into the 2012 reds. Thoughts follow.

2012 Galerie “pleinair” Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Bright fruit starts things off on this flavor-packed wine, which offers lush berries — rasp- and blue- varieties — mixed up with a brambly, woodsy essence. A seductive introduction leads to a rather intense, bittersweet finish that is almost punchy with amaro notes, vanilla, and a touch of balsamic. Nicely balanced, but with tons of complexity to explore. A / $50

2012 Galerie “latro” Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley Sonoma County – A vastly different wine, with restrained sweetness and fruit, showcasing more bitter, even sour, notes of herbs, roots, and leather. Lots of tannin here, with a duskiness that dried figs, tobacco, and tar. Considerably less developed than the above, but a food friendly wine. B+ / $50

Review: Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Tequila 2015 Edition – The Rolling Stones Tour Pick

cuervo rolling stone

Here’s a curious crossover. This year’s release of the acclaimed Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Extra Anejo tequila is coming with a familiar pair of lips: The Rolling Stone’s logo.

Bottled to commemorate the band’s 1972 “Tequila Sunrise” tour, this tequila is designed to “celebrate the pivotal role Jose Cuervo played in fueling The Rolling Stones’ notorious 1972 North American tour.” (A non-Stones version of this tequila, same liquid inside, is also available. As well, a Stonesified version of Cuervo Especial is also available.)

This is, as always, a fine extra anejo that fires on all cylinders from beginning to end.

On the nose, the tequila gets started with healthy agave notes that lead to cinnamon, nutmeg, and red chili pepper. The sweetness seems kept a bit at bay aromatically on this year’s expression in comparison to some previous bottlings (for reference, see 20142012, and 2008).

The body plays up that classic Reserva sweetness, offering silky vanilla custard notes that add an herbal kick to the start. The finish does away with the spices, instead building to a conclusion of vanilla ice cream and cinnamon sugar/French toast notes. Slightly lighter in body than in prior years, but soothing and seductive all the way.

80 proof.

A / $150 /

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #9 – Deanston 1997, Ben Nevis 1996, Glen Keith 1996, Glen Garioch 1995, Allt-A-Bhainne 1995, Cambus 1988


It’s another outturn from indie bottlers The Exclusive Malts, with a series of eight single cask releases from a wide range of distilleries. Today we look at six of them. So, without further ado, let’s get on to the tasting!

The Exclusive Malts Deanston 1997 17 Years Old – A “midlands” distillery near Glasgow, Deanston doesn’t often get much notice, but this vanilla-heavy number is a solid sipper. It’s a low-key malt with ample roasted grain notes, a touch of citrus peel, and some oily leather/furniture polish notes on the back end — but the sweet vanilla character, tempered with some walnut notes, tends to take over the whole affair from beginning to end. 104.6 proof. B+ / $140

The Exclusive Malts Ben Nevis 1996 17 Years Old – Highland malt, matured completely in a refill sherry cask. Here you’ll find more red fruits than citrus on the nose — almost strawberry at times, which is an exotic surprise, with a touch of lemon mixed in. There’s lots going on on the body — fresh mixed fruits, cinnamon, toffee notes, a bit of well toasted bread. Some coconut emerges on the finish, giving this a tropical touch. Lots of fun and highly worthwhile. 102.4 proof. A / $140

The Exclusive Malts Glen Keith 1996 19 Years Old – Speyside’s Glen Keith was shuttered from the late ’90s to 2013, when it reopened to make malt exclusively for blending. This is some of the last stock from that prior production run and a final chance to try Glen Keith as a single malt. It’s fairly traditional on the nose, with sizable cereal, some apple, and moderate wood influence. On the palate, it drinks on the hot side, with sweetened grains — think breakfast cereal — heavy on the tongue. Ultimately it’s a bit simplistic, particularly for a whisky of this age, though it’s completely serviceable. 100.2 proof. B / $155

The Exclusive Malts Glen Garioch 1995 19 Years Old – This is Highland malt aged in a rum cask from Guyana, a rarity you don’t often see in Scotch. Racy and spicy on the nose, the initial impression is one of a heavily sherried whisky, loaded with citrus and laced with cloves. The body is highly spiced, almost fiery at times, with tropical notes, rounded malt, and a bit of chocolate. Straightforward, a little hot thanks to the higher-than-expected proof, but a joy from start to finish. Wish I had more to tinker with. 112.6 proof. A- / $150

The Exclusive Malts Allt-A-Bhainne 1993 22 Years Old – This Speyside distillery is primarily used to make malts for Chivas blends, and it almost never shows up as a single malt. This well-aged number is the lightest shade of gold, with floral and grain-heavy notes up front, plus hints of baking spice and burnt sugar. Touches of petrol emerge with time. On the palate the whisky is initially sweet and innocuous, but some less savory components quickly come around — notes of coal, burnt paper, gravel, and ash. The finish is a bit rubbery, and short. Ultimately lackluster. 101.4 proof. B- / $160

The Exclusive Malts Cambus Single Grain 1988 26 Years Old – Cambus was a Lowlands grain whisky distillery that was shuttered in 1993. This is a darkish whisky, exotic on the nose with tropical fruits, irises, ripe banana, and coconut notes. On the palate, it’s intensely sweet — with amaretto notes and more ripe banana before venturing toward notes of watermelon, cherry, and rhubarb all mixed together. The finish is exceptionally sweet, almost cloying. All in all, this is a somewhat bizarre whisky that nonetheless merits consideration because it is so very unique. Not sure it’s a daily dram, however. 96.2 proof. B / $180

Book Review: Tiki Drinks

tikidrinks-smWhat do I look for in a cocktail book that I might add to my collection? Drinks that aren’t widely included in other books, a tenable theme, and lots of pictures of what the finished product looks like. (Half the time I find myself picking a beverage by appearance rather than its ingredients, and I wager most people do the same.)

Tiki Drinks has all three of those things. Nicole Weston and Robert Sharp curate about 60 cocktails for this slim but focused treatise on all things tiki. The primer upfront is brief but well conceived and helpful — the pages outlining different countries’ national styles of rum production is remarkably useful — before leading into page after page of classics and newfangled tiki drinks. Every cocktail gets a full page picture, and even the garnishes are innovative. (Who’d have thought to carve a lime peel into a skull to garnish a Zombie cocktail?)

I’ve no complaints with the selection of drinks, the recipes chosen — many tiki drinks have a wide range of potential ingredients and have changed considerably over the years — or the sometimes mildly offbeat direction that Weston and Sharp choose to take with some classics.

Weston and Sharp aren’t cocktail historians, nor do they pretend to be, so if you want another investigation into the early life of Don the Beachcomber, look elsewhere. With this book the duo simply gather up tiki’s greatest hits (and then some) and give the masses the means to make some popular rum-heavy cocktails at home, and that’s good enough for me.


Review: Cognac Paul Giraud – VSOP, Napoleon, and Tres Rare

Cognac Paul Giraud

Paul Giraud is a small Cognac producer that has been harvesting its own vineyards to make brandy since the 17th century. While not commonly available in the U.S., you can find a bottle or two of the eight expressions the company makes if you look hard enough. Today we take a spin through three expressions, all of which are bottled at 80 proof.

Thoughts follow.

Cognac Paul Giraud Grande Champagne VSOP – Bright gold in color. On the nose, fresh fruit — baked apples and a touch of golden raisins — and caramels. It’s fresh and sweet, but largely uncomplicated. On the body, things evolve with a considerable level of baking spices, which make for a natural and quite beautiful companion to the sweet and fruity notes on the nose. Some notes of incense and that classically, lightly bittersweet astringency on the finish give this a classic Cognac showing. Pretty, young, vibrant, and quite a nice start to this collection. A- / $40

Cognac Paul Giraud Grande Champagne Napoleon – It’s one step up from the VSOP bottling, but this Napoleon bottling shows just a shade lighter than the VSOP. The nose is considerably different — almost leathery at times, the fruit elements veering more toward dried apples and brandied prunes rather than the fresher notes of the VSOP. The body heads more into sultry notes of cloves, freshly cut wood, and a finish that plays up the more bitter elements in the brandy — bordering on astringent at times. All told it’s a rather straightforward Cognac with its sweetness dialed back — which may be a more preferable experience to some drinkers who find some bottlings on the sugary side. Let your palate be the judge. (That said, I prefer the VSOP.) B+ / $50

Cognac Paul Giraud Grande Champagne Tres Rare – How rare? Tres rare. Darker, richer, and clearly older, this is Cognac drinking at a solid degree of maturity. While it hasn’t developed quite into the stratosphere, Tres Rare is a showcase of Cognac as a study in contrasts — rich, vibrant, and almost jammy fruit (apple, plum, cherry, banana), melded with notes of exotic woods, almonds & marzipan, leather, and a dense layer of toasted spices. Complex and sometimes challenging, Tres Rare is firing on multiple levels that create a cohesive and intricate experience that is tough to find in mainstream brandies. Taken all together it shows why premium Cognac commands the prices it does — while this bottling still keeps things relatively affordable. Well done. A / $179

Scenes from Jordan Winery’s Harvest Lunch

If you’re a fan of Jordan, you need to make a point to get out to the winery during harvest season, when the winery puts on its annual series of harvest lunches, beautiful buffet spreads that pair well with Jordan’s signature chardonnay and cabernet.

I recently attended lunch here — the final harvest lunch of the season (and, owing to another early harvest, after picking had long since been completed) — and was amazed with the meal and the wines.

Here’s a brief report of the wines poured, and some pics of the experience.

2013 Jordan Chardonnay – fresh and flavorful, with strong apple and light brown sugar notes; crisp and pretty / A-

2008 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon – opulent and loaded with violets, currants, and some raspberry; seductive earthiness leads to a long and silky finish / A

2011 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon – youthful at present and quite tight; predominantly herbal, with some dark chocolate notes / B+

Review: 1792 Port Finish Bourbon

1792 Port Finish Bottle

1792 Sweet Wheat was the first in a line of limited editions of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon, and now #2 is here: A Port cask-finished expression.

1792 Port Finish Bourbon spends 6 years in new oak, then 2 years in former Port casks for a total of 8 years of aging.

Regular readers know I’m a sucker for Port-finished spirits, and this is a fine example of how well bourbon and Port can pair. A nose of dense caramel and milk chocolate gets things going. On the tongue, the classic vanilla bourbon notes come forward first, then the dark fruit notes from the Port casks take over. Chewy raisin and dried cherry lead to baking spice notes that include gingerbread and cinnamon toast. The finish is lengthy, quite sweet, and just a bit gummy, echoing the chocolate notes up front.

Really fun stuff. I’d pick up multiple bottles — this isn’t going to be made again — at this price.

88.9 proof.

A / $40 /