Review: Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Tequila 2016 Edition

cuervo RESERVA-2016 3 BOTELLA - lo_res

Jose Cuervo’s top-end bottling, Reserva de la Familia, is out for 2016. THis year’s box design was produced by Jorge Mèndez Blake, a Guadalajara native, who is “famous for merging different historical and geographical elements as he promotes Mexican art.”

This year’s expression immediately feels a bit spicier than the bottlings of the past, though not enough to change the character dramatically. The nose is clean and classic — clean agave, dark caramel, and some interesting lime zest and cayenne pepper notes. On the palate, again it comes across with well-matured caramel and vanilla notes, plus secondary notes of banana, orange peel, cloves, and oak-driven spices. The finish follows suit, racy with spices and a bit of heat.

Compared to all the prior expressions of Reserva de la Familia I have on hand (for reference, see 201520142012, 2010, and 2008), the 2016 is bolder and rounder, less sweet up front but with more peppery, savory notes on the finish. It’s not a massive departure, but it’s enough to raise an eyebrow or two, particularly given the consistency of this bottling year after year. That said, while you might miss the rush of brown sugar on the back end, what the 2016 replaces it with is equally compelling.

80 proof.

A / $150 / cuervo.com

Tasting the Chenin Blanc Wines of South Africa, 2016 Releases

chenin blancs

South Africa is making a name for itself with chenin blanc — or at least it’s trying to, and recently a number of vintners from the region banded together to showcase how chenin blanc was evolving in the country. (More chenin blanc is planted here than in any other country in the world.)

During an online tasting event, six wines from the region, ranging from the 2013 to the 2015 vintage, were introduced and tasted. These wines exemplify a wide range of styles, but the “house style” for South African chenin blanc offers crisp minerality along with a big enough body to stand up to food. In the U.S. you can think of chenin as a bit of a middle ground between chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Designed to be versatile, it has a lot in common with modern pinot grigio, though it is usually a bit less fruity.

So, is chenin blanc from “.za” worth a look? Thoughts follow on the full half dozen.

2013 Raats Old Vine Chenin Blanc – Fresh and crisp, with slate-heavy, stonelike aromatics. The fruit here is simple and restrained, showing light peach notes, with ample minerality on the finish. B+ / $20

2015 Bellingham The Old Orchards Chenin Blanc – Considerably racier, balancing heavily perfumed aromatics with a slightly meaty backbone. Far more tropical than the typical chenin blanc tasted today. B+ / $22

2015 Stellar Winery The River’s End Chenin Blanc – The balance feels off on this wine, veering into astringent notes. Things open up in time, but I never got past the almost mothball-like aromatics and the heavily meaty body. C+ / $15

2015 Terre Brûlée Le Blanc – An exotic tropical note takes hold right from the start, with heavy pineapple notes fading into notes of guava. Somewhat atypical for chenin — though the perfumy aromatics remind you of its provenance — with a lengthy, fruit-forward, and rather heavy level of acidity. A favorite. A / $15

2015 Solms-Delta Chenin Blanc – Classic chenin blanc on the nose, lightly perfumed and showing ample mineral character. Almost textbook from start to finish, the wine takes those classic rocky slate notes and layers on notes of peach and pineapple, leading to an impressively lengthy finish. A- / $15

2014 Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc – Take a little of all of the above and you’ve got Beaumont’s chenin blanc, which showcases floral perfume notes, fresh pineapple fruit, and a touch of beef jerky. Lovely balance on the whole. A- / $32

wosa.co.za

Review: Hangar 1 Vodkas (2016)

hangar_one

Hangar One was an icon of the independent spirits world, a trailblazer that was founded by small time St. George Spirits in 2002 and which grew to become one of the most beloved vodka brands around, at least amongst cocktail connoisseurs.

We reviewed them all formally in March 2010. In April 2010 the company was purchased by one of the industry’s giants: Proximo Spirits — best known as the owner of Jose Cuervo. While the vodka is still made in Alameda (it recently moved across the street from its original home), for many the shine wore off the day Hangar One went corporate.

Today, Hangar One has refreshed its labels and bottle design and even put a spin on its name to turn “One” into a numeral, though the production methods (still pot-distilled from a blend of wheat and viognier grapes) and the core flavored versions remain the same.

Here’s how they acquit themselves in 2016. All are (still) 80 proof.

Hangar 1 Straight Vodka – Notably “winey,” with dry, herbal aromatics and hints of lemon peel. The body is surprisingly thin, but the lack of unctuous oils keeps things clean and the finish lively, with a slight hint of black pepper. I really have no complaints. This remains a top-notch mixer and a solid all-around team player in the vodkaverse, though some drinkers might be forgiven for looking for a little more power on the palate. A-

Hangar 1 Kaffir Lime Vodka – Famously flavored with Thai Kaffir limes, this is Hangar 1’s most iconic version. The nose is intensely heavy with lime, including a smattering of herbal notes that recall rosemary and, especially, bay leaves. The palate is quite sweet and comes off a bit more candylike than I recall, with a duskiness on the finish that evokes lots of black pepper along with some earthy elements. I get hints of anise. Less of a thrill than it was back in the day — perhaps simply because after 14 years it’s no longer a novelty — but still one of the best flavored vodkas on the market. A-

Hangar 1 Buddha’s Hand Citron Vodka – The creepy Buddha’s Hand is the basis for this spin on lemon vodka. Oddly enough, I now grow Buddha’s Hands myself and they are tons of fun to look at. (Less so to try to cook with.) Here we find that intensely sour lemon base taking on all kinds of kooky secondary notes. Today I get chocolate, raspberry, and vague herbal notes, which linger provocatively, outlasting the hardcore lemon notes even. As with the Kaffir, though, it’s drinking a touch sweet for me today. A-

Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka – This is, as with the prior version, a milder expression of orange vodka, which is never unappreciated in a world where hefty flavoring agents tend to beat you over the head. Decidedly floral, to the point of being perfumy, this is a true expression of oranges still on the tree rather than ones  skinned and juiced. It’s pastoral at times with some earth notes — a common theme with this year’s releases — but balanced by intensifying tropical notes that emerge on the nose as the spirit opens up in the glass. The finish: Pure flowers. Blossoms, that is. All told, it’s arguably my favorite this year — surprising even me. A

$35 each / hangarone.com

Review: Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition

knob-creek-2001

Booker’s Rye isn’t the only special edition whiskey hitting from Beam this summer. Slightly under the radar is another limited edition, a 2001 vintage edition of Knob Creek.

Says Beam: “Started by Booker Noe and now finished by his son, Beam Family Master Distiller Fred Noe, Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition Bourbon commemorates a significant year for the brand, when the tradition and responsibility of stewarding Knob Creek Bourbon was passed from father to son. This is the first limited release from Knob Creek Bourbon, as well as the oldest expression to-date from the brand.”

This is a 14 year old bourbon — pretty hefty for a brand that is only 24 years old altogether. There are three batches available, each said to be slightly different — batch 1 sweeter, batch 2 woodier, batch 3 somewhere in between. It’s unclear how this is denoted on the bottles, as well as what batch this review sample was drawn from. (As with many limited editions we cover, this is being reviewed from a small press sample, not a full bottle.)

As for this sample, it’s a very lush and lovely whiskey that evokes Knob Creek at its best. As a refresher, rack Knob Creek is 9 years old, but also 50% alcohol — like this 2001 edition. Comparing the two side by side, the 2001 offers a woody nose with hints of cloves, but on the palate it is notably sweeter, with prominent notes of butterscotch, vanilla ice cream, gingerbread, and Christmas cake. More cloves emerge on the finish, which is lightly bittersweet and flecked with cocoa notes.

In comparison, standard Knob is considerably heavier on the wood, with ample winey/Madeira notes. Here those more biting characteristics have mellowed out to let some intense vanilla character really shine through. It’s definitely a whiskey for someone with a sweet tooth (perhaps this is drawn from batch 1?) — but underneath the surface there’s a true depth of flavor to be discovered.

100 proof.

A / $130 / knobcreek.com

Review: Dogfish Head Squall IPA

dogfish head squall ipa

Dogfish Head’s Squall IPA is a “continually hopped, unfiltered Double IPA that’s brewed with three types of malt as well as dry-hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo and Palisade hops.” It’s naturally carbonated through bottle conditioning, which gives this a much different character than you’re probably used to in an IPA.

What you get immediately is how creamy and rounded the body is, a contrast to the typical sharpness of the usual IPA. On the palate, it’s got pine and citrus notes, but these soon yield to gentle notes of walnuts, light cocoa, and hemp seed. The bitterness on the finish is long and lasting but balanced with the light sweetness and a bit of chewiness that lets it last and last.

All told it’s just far enough off the beaten path to merit serious exploration.

9% abv.

A / $9 per 25.4 oz bottle / dogfish.com

Review: The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Train Collection

Single Cask Range with Box

I scratched my head, too: Why would a major producer of Scotch whisky name a series of high-end releases after a train invented in the United States? We’ve got the full story, courtesy of The Glenlivet.

The Glenlivet has been a standard-setting luxury brand for nearly 200 years, appealing to whisky connoisseurs looking for a rare expression steeped in heritage and history. The brand’s historical ties to the Pullman Company, a pioneer of first-class railroad travel, are due in large part to the business savvy Captain Bill Smith Grant, Founder George Smith’s last distilling descendant. Grant was able to persuade the Pullman Company to offer 2-ounce miniatures of The Glenlivet as one of the only Scotch whiskies available in the dining cars helping to spread the whisky’s fame across the US.

To commemorate this piece of The Glenlivet’s history, The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Train Collection are three new, special-edition Single Cask whiskies marking the first time ever the brand has released a Single Cask in this market and available exclusively in the US. The name of each bottle is inspired by the Pullman connection: Pullman Club Car, Pullman Twentieth Century Limited, and Pullman Water Level Route.

Founded on the three pillars of rarity, purity, and uniqueness, each Single Cask within the Pullman Train Collection is hand-selected by Master Distiller, Alan Winchester. Chosen for its exceptional quality and intense flavor, The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition has been transferred from cask to bottle purely, at their natural cask strength and without chill filtration, therefore locking in the original flavor and character from the cask’s influence. Only a few hundred bottles of whisky were drawn from each cask, making them a highly collectible and unique Single Malt series.

Though it might seem like a natural fit, these are not travel retail releases but will rather be released — obviously in very small amounts — to the general market in the U.S. only. As these are three single-cask releases, each expression is limited to just a few hundred bottles.

With that said, all aboard! Let’s try ’em!

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route – “The original high-speed train” connected Chicago and New York. 14 years old, matured fully in an American oak hogshead. This is a solid example of bourbon-barrel matured single malt. Heavy on the nose with caramel and spice, florals burst forth with time in the glass. On the palate, a warm and lightly grainy attack gives way graciously to a mountain of dense chocolate, chewy nougat, and a touch of candied orange peel. The finish is lengthy and full of warmth, finishing with gentle notes of caramel and vanilla. Again, it’s a textbook example of how glorious unsherried single malt can be. 111.88 proof. 321 bottles produced. A  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition 20th Century Limited – The most famous train in the world at the time, this was the train that took the aforementioned Water Route from NYC to Chicago. This whisky is also 14 years old, but aged in a refill European oak butt that was previously used for another Scotch whisky. Bright on the nose with honey and nutmeg notes, with time it evolves aromas of camphor and mint. On the palate, the unctuous body offers notes of gingerbread, marzipan, and cloves. A light smattering of sherry-like citrus peel notes emerge primarily on the finish, rounding things out with a bit of zip. Not quite as lush as the Water Route, but an easy winner in its own right. 115.46 proof. 588 bottles produced. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Club Car – Finally we get to the Club Car, essentially the bar car, where Glenlivet would have been served on the train. This is an 18 year old whisky drawn from sherry butts. By far the darkest and richest whisky in this lineup, the nose offers notes of first-fill sherry, heavy with sherry and complemented by prominent baking spices, cocoa powder, and butterscotch. The palate plays up the above, adding ample notes of apricots, peaches, toasted marshmallow, and a creeping impression of barrel char. Again this is a fantastically well-structured whisky — all of these barrels were clearly chosen for a reason — that offers complexity and nuance alike. 112.48 proof. 618 bottles produced. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

each $350 / theglenlivet.com

Review: Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” 2016

Booker's Rye Bottle + Box Lifestyle Shot

It is easily the most notorious whiskey release of the year, but Booker Noe — otherwise known exclusively for bourbon — couldn’t have predicted such when he decided to lay down some rye barrels in 2003. (Noe died in 2004, but his name has lived on in his namesake bourbon.) Apparently he took the mashbill information on this whiskey — believed to be about 70% rye — with him.

Now, 13 years (and 1 month and 12 days) later — roughly double the time that Booker’s Bourbon spends in cask — Beam Suntory has turned out those barrels and bottled them at cask strength. It is the first and so far only rye whiskey released under the Booker’s name, a very well-aged, one-off release that is turning heads mainly because of one thing: A $300 price tag.

Rye is red hot right now, but this release now has observers wondering whether we’ve hit “Peak Rye.” Even cult-level rye bottlings like WhistlePig’s rare bottlings don’t command that kind of coin. You have to look at the tiny number of Sazerac 18 Year Old bottles out there if you want to find any competition in the price range.

Ah well, let’s see what’s inside these ritzy bottles, shall we?

The nose is intense, one of the richest and most powerful I’ve encountered in an American whiskey in a long time. Huge aromas of toffee, barrel char, and licorice are backed by notes of orange marmalade, ginger, and torched brown sugar. The nose just goes and goes — it’s one of those rare whiskeys that is intensely enjoyable without ever taking a sip.

And yet, sip we must, and said sip is glorious. At 68% alcohol, Booker’s Rye ought to be a blazer, but it’s surprisingly gentle and easily approachable even at full strength. The body is complex and soaked through with notes of molasses-dark caramel, flambeed banana, tons of cloves, and Port wine. While it isn’t required, water doesn’t hurt, coaxing out more up-front sweetness to endure on the finish. All told, it’s a dramatic, powerful, and beautiful whiskey, perfectly aged and well worth sampling should you manage to encounter one of the few bottles that were produced.

Have we arrived at Peak Rye? You better believe it. Does it matter? As long as the whiskey turns out this amazingly: No.

136.2 proof.

A / $300 / bookersbourbon.com