Review: Rosebank 21 Years Old Limited Edition 2014

Rosebank 21YO Bottle & Box

It’s time for whisky #7 out of 11 in the 2014 Diageo Special Edition releases, this one a 21 year old from Rosebank, a now-defunct distillery in the Lowlands. This whisky was distilled in 1992. Rosebank promptly shuttered in 1993 — which means there’s not much left to go around.

One of the more exotic and full-bodied expressions in the 2014 Diageo Special Releases, this malt offers an initial nose of fresh-baked brioche, touched with cinnamon. Huge on the palate, it kicks off with fresh malt, caramel, and light chocolate notes, then takes a deep dive into toasted marshmallow, light citrus, and a maritime character that builds as the finish takes hold. One of the most purely pleasurable malts in the 2014 releases, the through-line from cereal to fruit to seaside character in this whisky makes it a pure delight and one worth taking a deep dive into as you explore its charms.

One of my top picks — if not the top pick — among these 2014 releases.

110.6 proof. 4,530 bottles produced.

A / $500 / malts.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2014 Edition

The Abyss 2014The 9th annual installment of Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery’s The Abyss is here.

The recipe for The Abyss doesn’t vary much from year to year. If you aren’t familiar with the formula, here’s what goes into it. (That’s three different types of barrels, into which 28% of the brew is aged… a bit going into each barrel type.)

Malt: Pale, Black, Chocolate, Black Barley, Roasted Barley, Wheat
Hops: Millennium, Nugget, Styrian, German Northern Brewer
Other: Blackstrap Molasses, Brewer’s Licorice, Vanilla Beans, Cherry Bark
Barrel-Aging: (28%) 6 Months in Bourbon, Oregon Oak, Pinot Noir

As always, it’s hard to complain about the beer. The nose is seductive with alternating notes of cherries, cocoa powder, coffee bean, and brown sugar. There’s lots of licorice on the body; initially the beer starts off quite bitter (it’s got a bit higher IBU rating than last year) before settling into a bittersweet groove, where cocoa bean, molasses, and a sizable hop character keep things lively.

On the whole, The Abyss 2014 is an outstanding example of this unique brew, still at the top of its game. If you can still find a bottle, snap a few up… some for drinking now, some for cellaring to drink later.

11% abv. 86 IBUs.

2014 Edition: A / $12 per 22-oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Strathmill 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2014

Strathmill 25YO Bottle & Box

#5 of 11 in the 2014 Diageo Special Releases is this rarity from Strathmill, located in Speyside. Strathmill is predominantly used in blended whisky, making this old expression exceedingly rare. The whisky has spent 25 years in ex-Bourbon barrels and is bottled at cask strength.

This is classic, beautiful Speyside at the perfect age. Liquid gold in color, its nose offers heavily spiced grains — almost gingerbread in character — touches of almond, honey, and hints of fresh mint. Elegant and restrained, it’s a pretty lead-in to a body that ranges far and wide. Fresh-cut grains, cut apples, and burnt sugar lead in to cinnamon and clove notes as the finish starts to build. The finish is drying and slightly aromatic, while echoing notes of honeyed biscuits, menthol, and more spice. Fantastic stuff.

104.8 proof. 2,700 bottles produced.

A / $475 / malts.com

Review: Brora 35 Years Old Limited Edition 2014

Brora 35YO Bottles & Box

Whisky #2 of 11 for Diageo’s 2014 special releases is a familiar one: Brora 35 Years Old, which is being issued for the third time in three years.

Distilled in 1978, this is a classic expression from a long-shuttered distillery. (Shuttered in 1983, there can’t be much Brora left out there.)

The nose is a beautiful, old Highlands classic, offering a melange of fruit, Sauternes, nuts, and wisps of smoke. The whisky attacks the palate with buttery sweetness, bright fruit — apples, citrus, and a bit of banana — then mellows out as the woodier, more maritime notes take hold. The distinct salt and seaweed notes are stronger here than in recent years, with the finish pushing on toward iodine and more smokiness than the nose would indicate. It’s this fireside character that lingers for ages, until you cut it again with a sip of that sweet nectar that comes on like sweet relief.

Simply gorgeous and hard to put down (as always), if you enjoyed Brora’s 2013 or 2012 special edition releases, well, pull out your wallet.

97.2 proof. 2,964 bottles produced.

A / $1,250 / malts.com

Review: Dulce Vida Extra Anejo Tequila

dulce vida extra anejo

The arrival of a new extra anejo tequila is always cause for rejoicing, and Dulce Vida’s new bottling is no exception.

This tequila spends 5 1/2 years not in bourbon barrels but in a mix of former Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot barrels from Napa’s Rombauer winery. Crafted in the Jalisco Highlands, the tequila is fair-trade certified. The producer expects stock to last for the next two to three years.

Thoughts follow.

The nose is classic, well-aged tequila — all caramel, butterscotch, and Mexican chocolate notes. On the palate, it’s a much bolder, racier tequila than many extra anejos tend to be. Here, the agave is surprisingly pushy, offering immediate spice and black pepper notes and backed up by lots of punchy salted caramel character. Notes of rhubarb and red berries emerge, given enough time. The finish melds the two major components — racy agave and sugary caramel sauce — together, ping-ponging back and forth between the sweet and the savory. The finish is long-lasting and engaging, an exotic but approachable XO tequila that marries its seemingly disparate components together in beautiful, harmonious fashion.

100 proof.

A / $160 / dulcevidaspirits.com

Review: Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth

Carpano Antica Formula VermouthCarpano’s Antica Formula vermouth is the first lady of aromatic wines. In a world where most vermouth runs under $10 for a bottle and is tossed out during clean-up from last night’s party, the $30 or more you’ll pay for a liter of Antica Formula indicates at least someone thinks pretty highly of it.

The heritage of this spirit dates back to the late 1700s, when vermouth was invented by Antonio Benedetto Carpano — inspired by German aromatic wines. Antica Formula doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to today’s German wines, but it doesn’t take long to see why it has such a loyal following.

On its own, Antica Formula offers a complex nose of raisins, prunes, licorice, root beer, and citrus peel. The body is initially sweet, then slowly turns more and more bitter — almost to the level of an amaro — as it fades in the glass. In cocktails, this can create a dazzling complexity and, depending on how much you use, an intensity of flavor. Manhattans are gorgeous with it, the vermouth a wonderfull foil for whiskey, and Negronis take on another dimension. Rather than disappearing into a cocktail, the wine coaxes out notes of cocoa powder, dark fruits, and the spices of Christmas.

That said, drink it year-round.

33 proof.

A / $32 (1 liter) / specialitybrands.com

Tasting with Branded Spirts: Hana Gin, Motu Rum, HM Blended Scotch, and Majeste Cognac

Majeste_XO_White Background

Treasure Island, California-based Branded Spirits recently sent us its Arctic Fox Vodka for review… then they stopped by with more — everything the company is currently producing, in fact. Originally a major exporter to China — where it once held the license to sell Heineken beer — it’s now making a bigger, broader push for the U.S. as well.

We tasted through four additional products from Branded, including a gin, rum, Scotch, and Cognac. The company promises more goodies to come, including a single malt and some vintage Cognacs, to boot.

All spirits are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Hana Gin – Triple distilled (presumably from corn, like Arctic Fox Vodka), this gin is infused with just four botanicals: Albanian juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, and lavender. The lavender note is quite fragrant up front, leading to a floral-driven nose. Juniper is big on the finish, but modest medicinal notes creep in as the finish fades. B / $20

Motu Rum – Distilled from Polynesian molasses, then rested in used French oak barrels for two months. A hint of hogo up front, with some agricole character at first. The rum sweetens out as the body builds, offering tropical and coconut notes. Quite chewy, with a lasting, slightly fruity finish. Quite unique and sophisticated for this price level. Some proceeds go to support Tongan conservation charities. A- / $20

HM The King Blended Scotch Whisky – A Highland style blend which includes some peated malt along with other Highland malts mingled with Lowland grain whisky. Leather saddle notes start off what develops into a rustic nose, with a slight smokiness and plenty of earth. The body offers honey and toffee, plus some floral elements, making for a spirit with two faces — brooding and leathery on the nose, but sweeter and gentler on the palate. Curious. B+ / $25

Majeste L’Empereur Cognac XO – A 10-plus year old Cognac sourced from Dupuy Bache-Gabrielsen in Cognac. Delightfully minty on the nose, followed by the expected raisin notes, plus hints of cloves. The body builds to a sultry, leathery note, studded with tobacco character but balanced with fruit, lots of sweetness — a bit of vanilla, with some burnt marshmallow — and a perfectly crafted finish that pushes out gingerbread, baking spice, and a bounty of those sultry raisins. Great stuff. A / $110

brandedspirits.com

Review: Bear Republic Apex Special IPA (2015)

apex ipaAh, another fine seasonal release from our NorCal neighbors at Bear Republic. Apex, an Imperial IPA, isn’t made every year, but 2015 marks two years in a row that it has. Each year the beer’s profile changes, reflecting seasonal varieties of hops available and new strains that are developed. Apex is a beer that is intended to be “forward looking.” For this 2015 release, Apex — the name connoting the pinnacle of beermaking — includes Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, Chinook, Simcoe, Citra, El Dorado, Azacca, and Lemondrop hops. Some familiar names in there, and some obscurities, too.

If you like bold, piney IPAs, this is one to miss. Take the crispness of Racer 5 and weed out some of its burlier, almost lumber-like elements and what you have left is Apex. Intensely bitter, it melds evergreen notes with grapefruit and orange peel, lingering notes of roasted grains, and some surprising floral character on the finish. As it lingers, a touch of mushroom on the back end takes you back to the earth.

Gorgeous from start to finish.

8.25% abv.

A / $NA (22 oz. bottle) / bearrepublic.com

Review: Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Tequila 2014 Edition

jose cuervo reserva 2014

I’ve said before that Cuervo’s top-shelf bottling, Reserva de la Familia, doesn’t vary much from year to year.

This year, at least the packaging is changing. Reserva de la Famila is now officially an Extra Anejo, not just an Anejo. The label has been significantly reorganized, keeping the same overall design motif but placing Reserva de la Familia front and center while shuffling Jose Cuervo off to the corner. Of course, the wooden box has also been updated in keeping with this tequila’s annual tradition. This year’s was designed by artist Carlos Aguirre, one of the foremost figures in Mexican contemporary art.

Under the hood, it’s pretty much business as usual here — molten caramel, laced with spicy, racy agave notes, dominates — while underneath some light, fresh herbal character adds nuance. Think sage and rosemary, touched with black pepper. The finish offers ample vanilla extract notes, oak, and banana.

Pitting the 2014 Reserva against the 2012 and 2008 bottlings — all that I have on hand — shows off the series’ exceptional familia resemblance, as usual. Today, the 2012 is exhibiting a stronger cinnamon note on the nose while the 2008 offers a bit more fruit — apple and pear — but on the whole they remain extremely similar. Kudos for the consistency… I think?

80 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #08753, bottled 6/24/14.

A / $100 / cuervo.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Rye

woodford reserve ryeRye has long been the Next Big Thing in whiskeydom, and now it’s Woodford Reserve’s turn to get into the game. (When Maker’s Mark Rye eventually comes out, we can finally be assured that we’ve hit Peak Rye.)

Woodford Reserve Straight Rye uses a mash of 53% rye, 14% malted barley, and 33% corn, and, like most American rye, it is bottled without an age statement in a package quite similar to the iconic Woodford Bourbon bottle.

And here’s what it tastes like.

A glorious aroma of cinnamon toast hits the nose as you crack open the bottle. In the glass, it presents a rich, bourbon-like character on the nose, all vanilla and baking spice, with an undercurrent of caramel-driven wood notes. The body is where the rye starts to shine, offering chewy notes of gingerbread, cherries, and lots of clove-cinnamon apple pie spices. Wait for the finish to start to settle and back down and you’ll find a delightful chocolate malt character bubbling up — a perfect fade-out to lead you into that vanilla rush that starts things off on your next sip. All in all, it’s a really enchanting rye that’s hard to put down.

90.4 proof.

A / $38 / woodfordreserve.com