Category Archives: Rated A

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

Review: Lost Spirits Colonial American Inspired Rum

colonial bottle shot

Monterey, Calif.-based mad scientist Bryan Davis is back at work with a new rum called Colonial American Inspired.

Ultra-high in alcohol, it’s an iteration on the distillery’s Navy Style Rum that came out at the beginning of the year. Colonial American uses the same white rum as a base; the changes involve some production tweaks in the aging process that are highly technical and way over my head (distiller Bryan Davis says he has a white paper on the subject if you are so inclined to read it).

The overall impact of the spirit is much different. Navy Style is intensely drying and focused firmly on its wood, smoke, licorice, and wood tannin. In Colonial American, the fruit is still sucked out of the spirit, but here you get a kind of barbecue smoke on the nose, laced with fresh ground coffee beans and chocolate syrup. The body plays up dried fruits — figs and berries — more coffee, and a gentle smokiness on the finish. Water is your friend here, boosting the sweetness of the spirit while still retaining its natural power. The finish is long and complex, fading from dense sweetness to gentle smoke over quite some time lingering on the palate.

At 6% lower abv, Colonial has nowhere near the punch of Navy Style, and that’s probably for the best. Lost Spirits’ 136 proof rum was manageable, but just barely. With Colonial Inspired, the spirit is more playful but just as unique and exotic. If this sounds like it’s up your alley, best to grab a bottle extremely quickly, as this is a very limited edition. (Davis promises new rums based on Colonial in 2015, though, so stay tuned.)

240 bottles made. Exclusive to Bounty Hunter. 124 proof.

A / $100 / bountyhunterwine.com

Tasting Report: 6 Spanish Garnacha Wines

Some say Garnacha, the Spanish inflection of Grenache, is the next “It Wine.” (It doesn’t hurt that most Garnachas are extremely inexpensive.) Is it so? We tasted six Garnachas (one of which is a Garnacha/Syrah blend), from 2009, 2012, and 2013 vintages, to see where this varietal is headed.

2009 Bodegas y Vinedos del Jalon Alto Las Pizarras Garnacha Vinas Viejas – Engaging, exotic, almost perfumed on the nose. Notes of violets and raspberry mingle with hints of black tea and coffee to create a surprisingly rousing and rounded whole. The finish heads toward more of a candied violet character, but there’s plenty of tannin here to keep things out of jam territory. A / $9

2009 Castillo de Maluenda Punto y Seguido Garnacha Vinas Viejas – The embarrassingly simple label wouldn’t cue you in to how impressive the wine in this bottle is, a showy, fruit-forward wine that simultaneously offers depth and balance. Notes of tea leaf, cola, and leather are layered atop blackberry and cherry forming a core that drinks with lushness but which features muted, well-smothered tannins. The finish is complex, echoing everything that’s come before with a fresh denouement. A / $15

2009 Vinas del Vero Secastilla Somontano - A little pruny and overcooked, almost stewed. Very dense fruit competes with balsamic notes and runs up against a finish that offers coffee bean and dense, oily leather notes. C- / $25

2012 Castillo de Monseran Carinena Garnacha – Very fruity, almost like a Gamay-based wine. Thick strawberry jam leads to a finish that’s almost sickly sweet and unbalanced. C- / $8

2012 Pagos del Moncayo Garnacha – A very easy-drinking garnacha, offering a refreshing mix of strawberry and currant notes, backed with light chocolate, some tea leaf, and gentle tannins. Though not entirely complex, it’s lovely from start to finish, and ready to go immediately. A- / $12

2013 Bodegas Paniza Agoston Garnacha & Syrah – A blend, as the name suggests, with a surprising amount of fruit from the start — it almost comes across as candied berries with a dusting of chocolate sprinkles. More herbal notes take hold as the wine develops on the palate — think thyme and rosemary on a Sunday roast — but that youthful spirit and dense fruit maintains the focus through to the finish. B+ / $8

Review: Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao and Creme de Menthe

menthe

Quick, when’s the last time you had a Grasshopper? Pink Squirrel? Brandy Alexander?

While some things never come back into vogue, for classics like these, it seems inevitable that hipsters will once again be guzzling these things by the gallon — and probably in hollowed-out coconuts and pineapples.

Creme de Cacao and Creme de Menthe are typically purchased — if they’re purchased at all — in the cheapest form available. But Petaluma, Calif.-based Tempus Fugit Spirits is dead-set on elevating the category with this pair of artisan liqueurs, recreated from well-researched historical recipes and high-end, natural ingredients (no oils or essences… or, yech, chemical flavorings here).

Thoughts follow.

Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao – Crafted from distilled raw cocoa, then flavored with additional cocoa and whole vanilla beans. A shade of light brown in color, the nose offers rich cocoa powder character, touched with the essence of barbecue spices — and other spice rack staples, including rosemary and thyme. Dark chocolate notes win out on the palate, as a dessert-friendly amalgam of cinnamon and vanilla wash over the body. By taking the focus off of pure sugar and keeping it locked in the baking cabinet and the chocolate bar, this creme de cacao is an easy winner in a maligned category. 48 proof. A / $31

Tempus Fugit Creme de Menthe - An even more maligned category, demolished by the downfall of peppermint schnapps. But Tempus Fugit is undaunted. This liqueur distilled from winter wheat, then flavored with real peppermint and spearmint, plus added botanicals (in keeping with historical recipes). The result is both traditionally minty and surprisingly piney on the nose, leading into gentle peppermint candy notes with touches of vanilla extract and citrus peel emerging late in the game. An excellent digestif, but a bit syrupy for continued sipping. 56 proof. A- / $31

tempusfugitspirits.com

Review: Victorious B.I.G. Beef Jerky and Punch Drunk Hot Sauce

victorious BIG jerkyMore and more consumer products are using beer and spirits in their creation, including these two artisan offerings, both of which rely on Victory Brewing’s Storm King Imperial Stout in their ingredient list. Some thoughts on eating your beer instead of simply drinking it follow.

Victorious B.I.G. Beef Jerky is an artisanal, all natural jerky made with Victory Storm King Imperial Stout. This is amazing stuff, tender and peppery and full of flavor… but nothing I could peg as any type of beer, much less an Imperial Stout. That’s not a slight — maybe the stout does its job behind the scenes, tenderizing and flavor-boosting the meat without leaving behind a specifically stouty character? Or maybe it’s just blown away by the natural flavor of the meat. I don’t much mind. Either way, it’s really delicious stuff. A / $8 ( 2 oz.)

Punch Drunk Hot Sauce – I liked this hot sauce, which marries ghost peppers with Storm King Stout and raw cacao, considerably less. Meant to give the impression of a mega-fiery mole sauce, the chocolate isn’t pumped up enough to offset the searing heat. Instead, the chocolate appears briefly at the start, but the heat promptly overwhelms things completely and, particularly, leaves no room for any sort of stout character. I’d love to see this in either a milder version, where the chocolate can shine more clearly, or in a version that just omits the sweet stuff altogether and goes straight for the heat. B- / $6 (5 oz.)

victorybeer.com

Review: 2011 La Jota Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon bottle shotIt’s not every day we get a bona fide cult wine here at Drinkhacker HQ, but La Jota is the kind of thing that sells for well into the hundreds of dollars on restaurant wine lists and shows up on auction sell sheets with equal probability. Today we look at the 2011 Cab from this storied Howell Mountain operation.

Initially quite pungent with tarry and dense notes of fresh leather and blackberry jam, decant or give this at least an hour in glass before truly exploring. After time with air, the 2011 La Jota’s charms really start to reveal themselves. That includes notes of lush blackberry fruit, black tea, cocoa nibs, cigar box, and a touch of Sunday evening fireplace smoke that wisps along on the finish. This is a wine with amazing depth and, ultimately, a spot-on balance between its fruit-driven core and its savory finish. Well done.

A / $70 / lajotavineyardco.com

La Jota's 1900 vintage label.

La Jota’s 1900 vintage label.

Tasting the 2012 Vintage Cabernets of Hourglass Vineyard

Deja vu? No. We just wrapped a tasting session with Hourglass a few months ago. Now proprietor Jeff Smith is back with the full lineup of his winery’s 2012 vintage Cabernets, including its two cult-status estate bottlings, Blueline Estate and Hourglass Estate. As we noted previously, 2012 is the winery’s first vintage with Tony Biagi (ex of CADE and Plumpjack) as full-time winemaker. (Bob Foley was the prior winemaker here.)

The winery’s trademark Cabernets weren’t ready for tasting in our prior meeting. But now they are — including a first look at HGIII, Hourglass’s new second label wine that’s composed of “odds and ends” from around the winery.

2012 Hourglass HGIII Red Wine – A non-estate blend of merlot, cab, and malbec. Initially quite dusty and restrained, some time in the glass helps elevate the subject matter. Lightly peppery on the nose, HGIII reveals notes of chocolate, cedar chest, and dense blackberry. The body is chewy, offering a blend of jam and chocolate sauce, finishing with some lightly astringent tobacco leaf character. Fine for a second label, but nothing shocking. (Aka HG III.) B+ / $50

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – 91% cabernet, 9% petit verdot from the Blueline Estate Vineyard. Dark as night. The nose is exotic and instantly different than your typical cab, offering intense violets and baking spice. There’s plenty of this to go around on the blueberry-focused palate, with a flinty character emerging late on the finish. Soothing and lush without becoming overly fruited, it also offers nice mineral notes as a companion. A / $125

2012 Hourglass Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – 100% cab from the Hourglass Estate Vineyard, this is a classic, opulent, and beautiful wine that somehow manages to avoid the huge, fruit bombiness of the typical Napa cabernet. Light mint chocolate notes on the nose lead you to a lush body that’s ripe with blackberry, juicy currants, and stone fruit. More mint, fresh tobacco leaf, and lightly sweet vanilla emerge on the adroitly balanced and almost elegant finish, giving this a great complexity but also an easy, gorgeous drinkability. Collectors looking for a massive tannin structure may balk, but those who want to drink beautiful cabs today need look no further. A+ / $165

hourglasswines.com

Review: Aultmore 12 Years Old, 21 Years Old, and 25 Years Old

Aultmore_12YO

Aultmore, a Speyside distillery, has changed hands many times, but again became part of the Dewar’s portfolio in 1998. Normally used in the company’s blends — including Dewar’s — only now is Dewar’s releasing these three expressions of Aultmore as a single malt — known locally as “a nip of the Buckie Road.”

Since the bulk of Aultmore ends up in blends,  you might presume these whiskies are dull and boring. You would be wrong. These are indeed simple whiskies, but they are also incredibly well-crafted, flavorful, and amazingly approachable. I greatly enjoyed this lineup from the 12 year to the 25 — and would be hard-pressed to select a favorite. Thoughts follow on all three: 12, 21, and 25.

All expressions are bottled at 92 proof.

Aultmore 12 Years Old – Wonderfully alive. Lovely and just plain ready-to-go right out of the gate. Notes of fresh apple, pear, and banana attack the nose alongside gentle grains and notes of heather. That fruit is quite powerful on the palate, brisk applesauce, vanilla caramels, a touch of citrus and a clean, gently sweet finish that recalls once again the grain at its core. This is a simple, young whisky, but one which proves that age is far from everything. Snap it up. Now in general release. A / $53

Aultmore 21 Years Old – That gentle, fruity DNA from Aultmore 12 follows over to the 21, where it takes on a more austere, rounder, more full-bodied character. Malty and chewy, it takes the apple/banana fruit core of the 12 and bakes it in the oven for an hour, giving it a crusty, warm, and almost doughy character that dulls the bright, acidic fruit notes and replaces them with oomph. There’s a touch of citrus edge here, but just barely. All told, it’s a really interesting study in contrasts compared to the 12. Try them side by side if you can. Travel retail only. A / $NA

Aultmore 25 Years Old – This slightly older expression cuts a similar character as the 21, with just a touch more chocolate and a bit more malt — something like a chocolate milkshake. Subtle floral notes emerge over time, alongside notes of butterscotch, persimmon, and a growing smokiness on the back end. Not at all the departure from the 21 that those notes might seem to indicate, but rather a fitting finale to an amazing trilogy of malt whiskies. In limited release. A / $NA

lastgreatmalts.com

Review: Nicolas Feuillatte X’Ploration 2014 Brut Reserve Champagne

XPLORATION SLEEVE OR PACKSHOTThis limited edition bottling of Nicolas Feuillatte’s Brut Reserve is all set for the holidays, available in two, fancy sleeves (the gold one is shown at right; there’s also a black version). It’s a special edition for 2014 (at least the packaging is), but the wine itself is not vintage dated.

I’m a fan of Feuillatte in general, but this expression of Champagne hits all the right points for fresh, fun, holiday tippling. Crisp apple notes on the nose start things off, with lively touches of lemon peel and rhubarb joining the party after. The finish is clean and fresh, offering slight herbal notes on the finish that balance the citrus character up front. Delightful.

A / $36 / nicolas-feuillatte.com

Review: Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water

fever tree 500ml Elderflower Tonic DryFor its latest trick, top-shelf mixer maker Fever-Tree is bringing forth a tonic water — its third expression, if you don’t include the diet version it also sells. As the name implies, Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water is an elderflower-infused tonic water, made with Fever-Tree’s typically high-end ingredients, including cane sugar and natural quinine.

For those who find standard tonic water too bitter, this expression is just the ticket. The bitter quinine is softer here, mellowed by sweet-and-sour citrus notes that run more distinctly toward grapefruit and lime zest than elderflower specifically. The finish is clean and bittersweet, refreshing as those citrus notes endure. The tonic water pairs well with gin and vodka, though the fruitier notes tend to get overpowered by gin’s more powerful elements. I’d aim for a more citrus-focused gin over a juniper-heavy one when choosing a companion. All in all, lovely stuff — even for sipping on its own.

A / $3.50 (500ml) / fever-tree.com [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Louis Royer Force 53 VSOP Cognac

LOUIS ROYER_FORCE 53 VSOP silo

Most Cognac is bottled at the usual 80 proof, but Louis Royer’s Force 53 says screw that, let’s take a cue from the fellas in the whiskey world and go megaproof.

The choice of 53% abv (106 proof) isn’t accidental. The House of Royer got its start in 1853. Lucky for them, I guess, that the business didn’t launch in 1799. Or 1801.

From a spec standpoint, the higher alcohol level is the major distinguishing feature of Louis Royer Force 53. Otherwise it’s a standard VSOP Cognac in composition, which means that technically the spirit’s been aged a minimum of just four years in cask.

Turns out the extra alcohol (and some smart knowhow) makes quite a difference. Many VSOPs are perfectly drinkable and full of life, but few have the punch and power of Force 53. What could have come across as almost watery in an 80 proof Cognac is instead, well, forceful and lively in this bottling. Here, notes of caramel apple take on more apple pie-like overtones on the nose. The body is delightfully rich, dusted with cinnamon and cocoa powder, offering fig and raisin notes on the back end. That classic Cognac sweetness is unmistakable throughout, all those fresh citrus, apple pie, banana cream, and molten caramel notes building to an expressive and delightful — yet still youthful — whole.

For barely 40 bucks, you will be hard pressed to find a brandy of any ilk that is as well-balanced and downright enjoyable as Force 53, and Royer may very well find it has launched a big trend with this “high strength” idea in a world where 80 proof has long ruled the roost.

A / $43 / louis-royer.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Lost Prophet Bourbon 22 Years Old

Orphan Barrel_Lost Prophet_Hi-Res Bottle Shot

These orphans are working harder than Oliver Twist for Diageo, and a fourth expression of the Orphan Barrel Project is now hitting the market: Lost Prophet.

The Lost Prophet stock was distilled in 1991 in Frankfort, Kentucky at what was then the George T. Stagg Distillery and, per the company, was found in the old Stitzel-Weller Warehouses in Louisville. The whiskey is bottled in Tullahoma, Tennessee. The mashbill for Lost Prophet Whiskey is 75-78% corn, 7-10% barley, and 15% rye.

This is a fun and intriguing spirit that’s hard not to like. The nose is immediately unique, almost startling, with notes of intense menthol, tanned leather, cloves, and citrus oils. The body punches hard — hotter at first than its proof level would indicate — with notes of molasses, dark cherry, big vanilla, some gingerbread lat in the game, and a moderate amount of wood.

Not at all hoary or tough the way many very old whiskeys can be, Lost Prophet Bourbon still manages to feel fresh and exciting, offering a rich and engaging experience that is both plenty complex while also being easy-drinking and refreshingly enjoyable. So many old whiskeys leave you with a bitter, astringent aftertaste, but Lost Prophet’s denouement is lightly sweet, lasting, and memorable.

For a bourbon over 20 years old, Lost Prophet is actually quite cheap. Doubt it will stay that way, of course…

90.1 proof. Reviewed: Batch Tul-Tr-1.

A / $120 / orphanbarrel.com

Review: Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice 21 Years Old

Dec12-BruichladdichCuvee-382-1

When people ask me what my favorite whiskey is — and they do that a lot — after I hem and haw about it for a while, I usually tell them it’s one they’ve never heard of: Bruichladdich 16 Years Old First Growth Series: Cuvee E Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes Finish, a limited edition that Laddie put out in 2010 and which is down to its last drops in my bar. (My “A” rating at the time is too low.)

Cuvee E is long gone from the market, but Bruichladdich recently put out a spiritual successor of sorts, Cuvee 382 La Berenice. It’s a different animal — five years older and finished in both Barsac and Sauternes casks, but with my beloved Cuvee E nearly spent, I sprang for a bottle of 382 to keep the party going.

Cuvee 382 is a study of contrasts, starting out much, much darker in color than Cuvee E, offering the appearance of what looks like a well-sherried whiskey. The nose is serious, more intense than Cuvee E, and less sweet from the start. Biscuits, gingerbread, and leather oil pervade the racy, punchy nose. The body brings lots of dried fruits into the equation, folding these into notes of roasted grains, more leather, and some citrus peel. It doesn’t offer the bright and sweet honey character of Cuvee E, however, rather it takes things in a more austere direction. Watch for a surprising rush of sea salt on the finish to polish it all off.

Altogether, this is a surprisingly different whisky than the distillery’s prior Sauternes-oriented bottling, though it has plenty to recommend it in its own right. While it sticks closer to a more traditional malt whisky formula than Laddie’s previous experiment with a sweet white wine finish, it remains a remarkable and remarkably drinkable dram.

92 proof.

A / $170 / bruichladdich.com

Review: The Balvenie 25 Years Old Single Barrel and Tun 1509, Batch 1 Single Malt

The-Balvenie-Tun-1509 batch 1

Lucky day: Not one, but two new bottlings from a perennial favorite: The Balvenie. Actually, the distillery has recently released three different whiskies, the third being The Balvenie Fifty, Cask 4567, a 50 year old expression that runs $38,000 a bottle.

We did not manage to nab a bottle of this lattermost one, but no matter: We did sample the other two, a new 25 year old single barrel release and a new sibling in the Balvenie Tun series, Tun 1509, Batch 1.

Let’s discuss each in turn.

First, The Balvenie is adding a new single barrel edition to its regular release range, a 25 year old single barrel expression that joins the 12 year and 15 year single barrel expressions that have launched in recent years. This new 25 year old expression spends its life entirely in traditional American ex-bourbon casks, a departure from the sherry cask barrels used for the 15 year single barrel bottling. Again, this is an ongoing release, and while stocks will be limited, it will remain available for the foreseeable future.

Second, The Balvenie Tun 1509 is the sequel and successor to the impressive Tun 1401 series, which composed a set of nine different batches of whiskies that were blended up in small quantities, about 2000 liters per batch, and released in very limited amounts over the last few years. We reviewed several of the Tun 1401 series (see Batches 3, 6, and 9) — only a few of the nine ever made it to the U.S. — but all were gone much too soon. Now, Tun 1401 has been retired, and Tun 1509 is in. This mixing vessel can hold 8000 liters, which means the whisky blended up in it may be less “rare,” but it will at least be easier to find.

Thoughts on both of these whiskies follow.

The Balvenie 25 Years Old Traditional Oak Single Barrel – Shockingly light in color, this hardly looks like it’s been in barrel for a year, much less 25. The actual presentation on the tongue and nostrils, however, is quite the opposite. Seductive notes of caramel and some citrus notes are well-integrated on the nose, making it candylike without being cloying. The body takes this and runs with it, firing on all cylinders. The caramel notes turn toward dark chocolate sauce, the fruitiness toward essence of orange flowers, caramel apples, honey, and some spice — cinnamon, allspice, and a bit of brown sugar. Throughout, Balvenie 25 keeps things light and lively, a whisky that’s lithe and light on its feet, a treat that combines the pleasures of a well-aged senior statesman with the gentler body of a fresher, younger spirit. If it weren’t so gorgeous I’d call it a simple pleasure. 95.6 proof. A / $599

The Balvenie Tun 1509, Batch 1 Single Malt – Batch #1 of Tun 1509 is made from whisky aged in ex-bourbon barrels (35 casks) and sherry butts (7 casks), for a total of 42 casks worth of single malt commingling in Tun 1509. The results are powerful compared to the quieter 25 year old single barrel, evident from the start by looking at the deep amber color of the whisky. The nose is exotic and rich, offering punchy notes of well-burnt sugar, coffee, dried figs and raisins, and a touch of coal fire smoke. The body then takes all of these components and promptly kicks them right in the ass. Dried fruit takes a spicy, Christmas-like turn toward the baking pantry, with notes of cloves and cinnamon dominating. There’s more red fruit on the palate — think plums — along with notes of blood orange and tangerine. Some malt is here, but the cereal character is warm and inviting, like a well-doctored bowl of oatmeal on a cold day. This whisky drinks embarrassingly easy despite topping 94 proof, taking its burly, rounded body and just having its way with your palate from start to finish. Speaking of the finish — it’s long, warming, and, as it vanishes, it leaves you begging for more. One of Balvenie’s best whiskies ever. 94.2 proof. A+ / $350

thebalvenie.com

Review: Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Scotch Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2014

Herradura Reposado Scotch Cask Image 3

It’s another round with Herradura’s Coleccion de la Casa limited edition line of reposado tequilas — each one aged first in a standard Bourbon barrel, then finished in another type of specialty cask. (See also the first two releases in this annual series: Port and Cognac finished tequila.)

This year, Herradura turns to former Scotch barrels, casks which really aren’t used for much other than, well, more Scotch. According to the company, “This limited edition tequila is aged to perfection in charred American oak casks for eleven months. Prior to bottling, the tequila is then transferred to carefully select [sic] single malt scotch casks from the renowned Highland and Islay regions of Scotland for three additional months of aging.”

There’s only a little that raises an eyebrow in the first nosing of this tequila. While the nose is lightly smoky, it’s balanced by the essence of chili pepper, caramel, and a bit of salty brine. The smokiness is unusual for tequila, but could easily be chalked up (along with the brine) to the impact of agave if you weren’t aware of the finishing element here.

The body starts off by showcasing agave, tempering that with notes of austere wood, sweet honey cake, Madeira, and a reprise of those seaside smoky elements. This lattermost element melds surprisingly well with the sweet agave punch that comes back around on the finish — if you’ve ever had a mezcal-meets-whiskey cocktail, you know how interesting the combination can be. Here the duo combine to create a whole that is bigger and burlier than the sum of its parts — and stands as a mighty fine, if wholly unexpected, achievement from Herradura.

80 proof.

A / $90 / herradura.com

Tasting Mortlach Rare Old, 18 Years Old, and 25 Years Old with Georgie Bell

Mortlach_25YO

Mortlach, “The Beast of Dufftown,” is a storied Speyside distillery that has a long reputation as the maker of a connoisseur’s whisky. For years, single malt from Mortlach has been hard to come by; most of its production has been destined for inclusion in blends like Johnnie Walker. But demand for single malts continues to rise, so a couple of years ago, current owner Diageo announced it would be increasing production and launching some new Mortlach malts. The results are finally here, in the form of three general releases (plus one travel retail release). All of the prior bottlings of Mortlach are now being dropped.

georgie bellThe trilogy of malts was introduced to many of us via a web-based tasting by the enchantingly goofy Georgie Bell, aka “Miss Mortlach,” Mortlach’s Global Brand Ambassador. Bell led the group through the history of Mortlach, including its fabled yet confusing “2.81 distilling process,” which involves a carefully calibrated utilization of its three stills, each a different design, in the production of its whisky.

But the highlight was a tasting of these amazing whiskies, all hitting the market soon. All of the whiskies are bottled at 86.8 proof. (And here’s a pro tip: Real Scots pronounce the distillery MORT-leck. The R is nearly silent.)

Thoughts follow.

Mortlach Rare Old – Bottled with no age statement, but don’t let that deter you. Rare Old has a solid grain structure on the nose, plus hints of honeycomb, vanilla, and chocolate malt balls. Over time, some notes of dried herbs and barrel char emerge… give it some minutes in the glass before downing the sucker. The body is big, showcasing lots of honey from the start along with salted caramel, citrus, and some emerging floral notes later on. The finish is bold and satisfying, very lush, lovely, and warm with a touch of chocolate on the very end. Despite the lack of an age statement, this is not really an entry-level dram — but one which should really earn a top shelf spot on any bar. A / $110  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Mortlach 18 Years Old – Now we’re entering into age statement territory. Racier on the nose, the 18 Year Old features stronger sherry notes, some raisin, and stronger floral elements. Quite sharp on the nose, this is actually quite misleading. The body turns out to be a sweeter, more uplifting experience, offering notes of gingerbread, dark chocolate, candied orange peel, and some notes of almond, nougat, and cocoa nibs. Bolder on the body than the Rare Old but quite sharp again on the finish, it’s a fun companion to the Rare Old that proves itself to be a clear sibling — but one with its own DNA. A / $280

Mortlach 25 Years Old – More brooding on the nose, with some smokiness and more of that barrel char. Think roast beef and old wood — a departure from the more elegant, grain-meets-fruit composition of the above two spirits. The nose’s composition carries over to the body, where you find a more burly, fireside-type whisky that offers gentle smoke alongside both citrus notes and some floral elements. All of this is well-balanced and integrated, but it does step away from the sweeter style of Mortlach showcased in the above. Today I find myself drawn to the less austere expressions, but this is a lovely and unique expression of Mortlach as well. A- / $944

mortlach.com

Review: 2012 Collazzi Liberta Toscana IGT

LIBERTA-2012 fotoThis Tuscan mutt is 55% merlot, 30% syrah, and 15% sangiovese. It’s also awfully damn good for a sub-$20 wine. Earth hits the nose first, with notes of dried mint, violets, and cedar chest coming along in short order. On the palate, the merlot is right up front, offering those characteristic floral notes, slightly sweetened by the fruity, cherry character in the syrah and the sangiovese. The finish offers notes of chocolate, mint, amari, and a dusting of cloves. Any restaurant looking for an amazing wine-by-the-glass should add this to their list pronto.

A / $17 / collazzi.it

Review: Genius Gin and Navy Strength Gin

genius gin

Texas loves its gin (why? it’s hot!), and they’re making some right there in the capital now. Genius Gin hails from Austin, Texas, where they (of course) do things a little differently. Per the company:

The many ingredients in Genius Gin are balanced and treated with individual care. Our incredibly detailed two-part “Hot and Cold” process caters to the delicate and unique characteristics of each botanical as exposed to different temperatures.

First, we ferment and create a low % alcohol (essentially a beer), to be redistilled for purification and strength reasons. This first run is prepared through our beautiful 6-plate copper still. The resulting product is then infused at room temperature with the first half (the Cold) of our proprietary botanical blend for over 72 hours. (this blend includes: Elderflower, Lavender, Lime Peel, Angelica Root, and more….) When ready, this fragrant and colorful mix is distilled again (the Hot) in a process that pushes vapors through our remaining ingredients enclosed in a basket within the still. These heat activated ingredients include: Juniper, Cardamom, Coriander, and a few others..) Each “Hot” preparation involves the toasting and muddling of all the fresh ingredients. (think “made to order” Gin).

That’s a complicated process, so let’s see if the proof is in the bottle.

Genius Gin (Standard Strength) – Fragrant right out of the bottle, it’s got plenty of juniper up front, but the more feminine elements like lavender and elderflower make a strong showing on the nose, too. The body offers a surprisingly complex collection of flavors. Floral at first, it quickly segues into evergreen notes alongside complex touches of mushroom, grapefruit peel, and some cloves. A final act comes along in the finish, where fresh fruit and citrus notes dominate. Think frozen table grapes dusted with fresh lime zest. There’s a ton going on here, but Genius presents itself in courses, offering something new with each passing second. It’s a really, er, genius product. 90 proof. A / $26

Genius Navy Strength Gin – Surprisingly, the nose is less powerful here than that of the standard strength edition. Evergreen notes still dominate, but the intensity isn’t quite as sharp, and the floral notes are gone. The body is naturally a powerhouse of alcohol first and foremost, and it takes some time to really warm up and show off its charms. It comes across as sweeter than the standard strength, offering more of a caramel note that washes over the rest of it. Lavender is the strongest secondary note. The finish offers less clarity. You could add water to coax out more of the gin’s nuance as evidenced above… but what would be the point of that? 114 proof. B+ / $33

geniusliquids.com

Review: 2012 Pinot Noirs from Domaine Carneros

DC_LA_TERRE_PROMISE_PN_NVThree new Pinots from Domaine Carneros, all part of the 2012 vintage, including two single-clone varietals, a rare feat in the Pinotverse.

2012 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Clonal Series Swan – Each year Domaine Carneros spotlights one of the 12 different Pinot Noir clones grown here by bottling it separately. The 2012 vintage is the first year to feature the Swan clone. It’s textbook Pinot at first, but eventually reveals itself to be a bit on the sweet side, with notes that veer more toward chocolate sauce and raisin notes up front, with a tart, mouth-puckering finish that hints at tobacco leaf. As a big Pinot fan I could drink this any day, but the lushness of the body becomes a bit overwhelming by the end of the second glass. B+ / $55

2012 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Clonal Series Dijon 115 - Another wine from the Clonal Series, Dijon 115 is a better-known clone and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular, offering a dense cherry core that’s studded with notes of cola, tea leaf, and chocolate. The finish heads floral, recalling violets and a touch of spice. Pretty but also lush, this wine could easily be released as is, no blend required. A / $55

2012 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir La Terre Promise – This is a single-vineyard estate wine from Domaine Carneros, created from a blend of Pinot clones. Here the whole is less than the sum of the parts. The wine is deep and rich, with chocolate notes, but it’s lacking the lively fruit that great Pinot has, replacing it with Port-like currant notes. There’s a touch of vegetal-driven bitterness here, too, particularly on the finish. My wife said she never would have guessed this was Pinot if she’d tasted it blind, and it’s easy to see why. The density and sweetness of the wine make it come across closer to a Zin-Cab hybrid, not the elegant type of wine I typically associate with Domaine Carneros. B+ / $55

domainecarneros.com