Review: Square One Bergamot Vodka

square one bergamot

The bergamot is a type of sour orange, grown mainly in Italy, that often shows up in tea preparations (particularly Earl Grey) — and which is now arriving on the marquee of this new flavored vodka from Square One.

Bergamot is really just the beginning, though. Based on the company’s outline of the infusion bill, there’s quite a bit more to it: “The vibrant taste of organic bergamot citrus is layered with the essential oils of pressed organic mandarin, navel and tangerine oranges and the essences of organic ginger, coriander, and juniper botanicals.”

So, almost a gin? Not at all, really.

The nose is distinctly orange, with clear notes of mandarins and a slightly caramel-infused back end. In between those two, this is quite a gentle, restrained vodka, keeping its sweetness in check while promoting a pretty melange of citrus character. A slight bitter edge evokes the reality that citrus peel is a major component here, but that’s not a slight. This is on the whole a delightfully crafted and mostly straightforward citrus vodka that I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to incorporate into any orange-centric cocktail… or even, on a lark, sip on its own or with a simple soda or tonic mixer.

Don’t let the gothic “bergamot” turn you away — this is your new favorite citrus vodka.

80 proof.

A / $35 / squareoneorganicspirits.com

Review: Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2005 Cognac

Domaines HINE Bonneuil 2005 pack shot

Here’s a new, limited-edition Cognac from Hine (it rhymes with “wine,” by the way). I’ll allow Hine to explain how it came to be:

Bonneuil 2005 will be the first expression in a new collection of single grand cru, single harvest cognacs, originating exclusively from Hine’s own 297 acre estate, Domaines Hine.  Only 18 casks (8,100 bottles) of Bonneuil 2005 were selected for bottling. Hine is one of the few houses in the Cognac region to have its own vineyard and each year, if the quality is up to Hine’s standards, a careful selection will be made to create a new addition to the collection.

This brandy is surprisingly light in color, particularly for a Cognac with such depth of flavor. The nose is heavily perfumed with florals, oranges, strong raisin notes, and some cedar box. It’s a little hot on the nose, but still manageable. The body doesn’t offer much of a digression from the above. Again, intense, almost jammy raisin notes pervade, with sweet, incense-dusted overtones. After that, notes of graham cracker, dark chocolate, and a bit of prune emerge. The finish is warming but quite soothing, fading out with some citrus notes and another hint of floral-focused incense. Quite lovely on the whole.

86 proof.

A / $140 / hinecognac.com

Review: Vodka Mariette

vodka marietteMade in Bordeaux, Vodka Mariette is as striking on the palate as it is in the body. How’s it made? Not unlike many a vodka on the market today. To wit:

Vodka Mariette is distilled 5x in Bordeaux using only French, GMO-free whole wheat and water from the Ambes Spring. Volcanic rock from the Eocene Era coats the floor of this spring and deionizes the water.

The Eocene Era, people!

Mariette is a bright and clean vodka, one of the most pristine I’ve had in quite awhile. On the nose — there’s almost nothing. Light medicinal notes, light citrus, and just a touch of butterscotch. On the palate, again it’s very clean with just a bit of sweet cream on the body. From there, a little vanilla and a hint of lime zest are really the only notes that manage to push through an otherwise shockingly neutral experience. Those looking for a racy Old World vodka won’t care for it, but fans of a crystalline and pure vodka will have trouble finding anything more worthwhile.

And it looks like a pepper mill. What’s not to like?

Three flavored expressions (not reviewed here) are also available.

80 proof.

A / $30 / vodkamariette.com

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection – High Rye

JB_SC_Harvest_High_RyeHey, remember last September when Jim Beam rolled out two oddball whiskeys in its 6-whiskey series called the Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection — Soft Red Wheat and Brown Rice? Well now two more are coming out — Rolled Oat and High Rye. We actually reviewed Rolled Oat in the above link (and tragically have yet to get our lips on the Brown Rice expression), but today we’re going to look at High Rye.

As a reminder, these are all bourbons, each made with one unusual grain in the mashbill. As with the others, High Rye is at least 51% corn and includes some amount of malted barley — but in this case there’s ample rye in the mash (the total amount isn’t disclosed). As with the other six expressions, High Rye is aged 11 years before bottling at 90 proof.

This whiskey was of course dreamed up well before the current RyeMania hit, so back in 2004, Fred Noe probably had no idea that “high rye” bourbons were going to be insanely popular (and even less of an idea that straight rye whiskey would be a big deal). That makes the Harvest Bourbon Collection High Rye a little less special than, say, the one made with oats, but it’s still a compelling spirit and a welcome friend to the Harvest Collection.

This is textbook “high rye” whiskey, a chewy and racy bourbon that is dripping with baking spices. Cinnamon, mint, tree sap, and baked apples all make an appearance on the nose. Big and pushy, it’s downright heady with the aromas of the bakery. On the palate, more of that classic rye character quickly comes to the fore. Amidst the apple pie and gingerbread notes emerge some traditional wood barrel notes, vanilla and lumberyard intertwined. The finish is long and punchy, a spicy fade-out that’s hard not to keep sipping on. Drink it neat, no water.

90 proof.

A / $50 (375ml) / jimbeam.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubel 2015

Jubel_2015 bottleDeschutes Brewery originally intended Jubel as a once-a-decade release. (The second ever release came out in 2010 and the original was bottled in 2000.) But Deschutes said it couldn’t wait another five years, so it’s putting out Jubel 2015 now. This imperial take on the brewery’s annual Jubelale winter brew is 50 percent barrel aged in pinot noir and new Oregon oak barrels. Hops include Millennium, Nugget, Cascade, Willamette, US Tettnang, and East Kent Goldings, plus five kinds of malts, too.

As it was in 2010, Jubel 2015 is a knockout. There’s huge malt up front, then a wave of dried fruits comes to the forefront. Dates and figs are the main components, then a nutty character evolves as the sweetness starts to fade a bit. Over time (particularly as the beer warms up) notes of cocoa nibs and Port wine notes emerge. As with 2010, though, I liked it a bit better on the cold side, but it shows plenty of charm either way.

10.4% abv.

A / only available at Deschutes tasting rooms and pubs / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Samuel Adams Escape Route, Crystal Pale Ale, Double Bock, and Rebel Rider IPA Series

EscapeRoute_12oz_Bottle_(1)Sam Adams is positively pouring out the new releases this season for springtime, including three seasonals — Escape Route, Crystal Pale Ale, and Double Bock — and a new series of “west coast style” IPAs called Rebel Rider. Rebel Rider is available at three different strengths, from a low-alcohol session version to a thick and rich double. We reviewed the lot! Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Escape Route – An unfiltered, hybrid Kolsch designed for springtime, I heartily enjoyed this concoction, a mix of ale and lager styles that starts off bready, with just a touch of citrus, before fading gently into notes of bitter, dried spices, citrus peel, and easy malt notes. Quite refreshing and very well balanced, with a crisp and quenching finish. 5% abv. A

Samuel Adams Crystal Pale Ale – A piney American pale ale made with, of course, Crystal hops (plus East Kent Goldings and Fuggles) being the primary bittering agent. It’s got a standard, evergreen-oriented pale ale profile, but its on the distinctly muddy side, which makes the final product come across as a bit weedy, with some canned vegetable notes on the finish. Acceptable, but not a standout in a world where you can throw your shoe and hit a dozen superior IPAs. 5.3% abv. B-

Samuel Adams Double Bock – A big double bock, almost syrupy at times. Chocolate, licorice, and coffee notes mix to combine a somewhat muddy experience that I can best describe as filling. The finish is long and heavy on maple syrup notes, but there’s no way I could power through a full 22 oz. bottle (this is the only oversized bottling in this roundup) of this stuff without breaking my palate. 9.5% abv. B-

sam adams Rebel_12oz_BOTTLESamuel Adams Rebel Rider Session IPA (blue label) – One of the best “session” IPAs I’ve experienced in recent years. A brisk and fragrant west coast style IPA, it’s stuffed with piney notes, citrus peel, and plenty of bitter root and tree bark notes, but it manages to offer a lush body, avoiding that thin wateriness that comes with so many session IPAs on the market. Clean, simple, and easy to enjoy. 4.5% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Rebel Rider IPA (red label) – Surprisingly less well-realized, this IPA is herbal up front, with a more mild, bitter core. It’s creamier and with a distinctly rounder body than the Session IPA thanks to the higher alcohol level, but there’s just less overall character here — either west coast IPA oriented or otherwise. 6.5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Rebel Rider Double IPA (green label) – Back in action, this rich IPA offers big pine needle notes up front and a luxurious, resinous body to back them up. The long finish offers notes of root beer, grapefruit, licorice, and baking spice. Lots going on, and IPA fans should eat it up. 8.4% abv. A-

pricing NA / samueladams.com

Tasting 2015 Bruichladdich Releases with Distiller Jim McEwan

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Since Bruichladdich was reopened in 2001, just one man has been running the stills: Jim McEwan. A veteran from Bowmore (where he began working as a cooper at age 15), McEwan has overseen some 300 different bottlings of Bruichladdich during its wild first decade (and change) of production. When Remy Cointreau famously bought Bruichladdich in 2012, the distillery’s notoriously scattershot inventory was reined in, with the company focusing on a more targeted and more closely curated range of expressions.

I sat down with McEwan in San Francisco to taste through eight current and upcoming releases, and one thing was made clear. You might be able to tame the number of SKUs that Bruichladdich is churning out, but you’ll never get rid of the distiller’s sense of adventure and experimentation. Case in point: His next trick involves 100 tons of barley given to farms in eight regions within Scotland, which has now been turned into whiskey and is aging in identical barrels on Islay. The results, when these spirits are matured and released in 2018, will demonstrate exactly how terroir impacts malt whiskey.

Until then, here are some brief thoughts on a guided (but unfortunately short) tour through eight of Bruichladdich’s finest current-release spirits follow.

The Botanist Gin – McEwan’s baby. A traditional, classic dry gin with a twist. Distilled from neutral alcohol and studded with 22 botanicals. Still a gorgeous, supple spirit. Recently repackaged. A [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley The Classic Laddie – This is a 7 year old version of the beloved Laddie Ten (which you’ll see again in, well, 3 years). Made from barley grown all over Scotland. 25% aged in sherry casks. Rich and honeyed, with a significant sherry influence. Big mouthfeel, big bite on the finish. A-

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2007 – Made exclusively from Islay-grown barley, the first such barley grown on the island since World War I. Not peated, but it offers salt and maritime notes, a lot of malt character, and a touch of iodine. A great dram. A

Bruichladdich Black Art 1990 4.1 23 Years Old – McEwan is a bit smug about Black Art, which is a well-aged whisky made from mysterious sources — involving a huge variety of barrel types of which McEwan will say nothing. It’s intended to “intrigue the consumer” and is a bottling McEwan says was made as “a protest” to the bullshit stories that distilleries are so fond of peppering their back labels with. Black Art hasn’t always been a favorite of mine, but 4.1 is drinking with a better balance, with nice chewiness and plenty of wine barrel influence to it. B+

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley – The first of two PC releases tasted today, this peaty dram sees some wine cask aging, which gives it so much fruit it almost goes toe to toe with the peat. Same deal as above; this is made from Scotland-only barley, from all over the country. B+

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Barley – Made only from the Islay barley mentioned above. This is a brand new release that also sees some wine casks for aging. It’s a searing whisky with lots of peat and seaweed in the mix. Nice balance. B+

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1 – Classic Octomore, ultrapeated to 157ppm, which gives it a dense smokiness and a barbecue-like sweetness out back. I’ve grown used to Octomore, but compared to 6.3 (see below) it’s a bit of a bore… 14 proof. B+

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.3 – In the nomenclature of Bruichladdich, .1 bottlings are global releases, .2 are for travel retail, and .3 denotes whisky made from Islay barley. This is the first .3 Octomore, and it’s easily the best rendition of this spirit ever. Peated to an absurd 245ppm — the most heavily peated whisky ever released by a mile — this 5 year old spirit (bottled in a frosted bottle instead of the usual black) is remarkably gentle on its own despite bottling at 128 proof. Some floral elements emerge along with vanilla, and it isn’t until you add a substantial amount of water that the peat really starts to kick up. Even then, it’s well integrated, balanced, and just lovely to sip on. Available April 2015 for about $225 (good luck). A+  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

bruichladdich.com

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Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Cured Oak Bourbon

E.H.Taylor Cured Oak Small

After a flood of Col. E.H. Taylor whiskeys hit the market in 2011-12, the release schedule suddenly went quiet. I’d thought brand owners Buffalo Trace had forgotten about it, but at last here we go with a new expression: Col. E.H. Taylor Cured Oak.

Cured oak? Allow BT to explain:

This 100 proof, Bottled-In-Bond, small batch bourbon was aged in Taylor’s warehouse “C” at Buffalo Trace Distillery. The barrel staves used for this special release were allowed to dry outside in the open air for 13 months, more than twice as long as standard barrel staves. Most white oak barrel staves used for Buffalo Trace’s bourbons are placed outside for 6 months before being fashioned into whiskey barrels.  Collaborating with barrel manufacturer Independent Stave Company back in 1998, this extra aging curing process allowed the wood to dry even longer, eventually allowing the whiskey to extract more rich and complex flavors deep within the oak. After crafting and filling these unique barrels, they were then aged inside of Taylor’s iconic brick and limestone warehouse “C,” built in 1881 … for seventeen years.

Now, Buffalo Trace does regular experiments with longer wood curing for its staves — half the whiskeys in the Single Oak Project use wood that is cured for 12 months instead of the typical 6 — but, fair enough, this isn’t the norm.

The E.H. Taylor Cured Oak bottling offers lots of fruit on the nose, surprising for a whiskey that, remember, is 17 years in barrel — making it, by far, the oldest E.H. Taylor ever released. Red apple, some cherry, and mint hit the nostrils… all preludes for an engaging and impressively complex body. Lighter than you’d think given the 100 proof alcohol level, it pushes more of that fruit on the palate, laced with vanilla and a bit of lumberyard, before settling into a sultry, dark cocoa note. Beautiful balance, moderate but lush finish.

Taylor Cured Oak goes down much too quickly, and my sample vanished well before I was finished exploring its charms. That said, this is likely a whiskey that is likely defined more by its advanced age than the extra few months the lumber spent in the sun before they turned it into barrels.

But that’s just my analysis.

No matter. My advice: If you see it, buy it without hesitation.

100 proof.

A / $70 / buffalotrace.com

Review: Patron Extra Anejo 7 Anos Tequila

patron A7A bottle_January 15

Patron’s latest release is this special edition — under 700 cases are available of the oldest tequila it’s ever produced — a seven year old extra anejo that may be the best thing Patron’s ever put into a bottle. Patron Extra Anejo 7 Anos has spent seven years in toasted French oak barrels, a twist from the usual aging in ex-Bourbon barrels.

Patron 7 Anos pours a lovely, light-coffee brown and offers a surprisingly complex nose of dried fruits, raisins, nuts, cinnamon and baking spice, with just a touch of agave. The body is quite incredible. It lacks that dense sugar character that so many anejos have, but rather offers a softer character, one that’s loaded with more fruit, spiced nuts, tons of allspice, and a little dark chocolate. The overall impression is slightly bittersweet and quite spicy, with another surprise on the finish — it’s quite dry on the palate, which really lets the agave come forward at last. The entire expression is well-developed, balancing, and unique, its charms really encompassing the palate in a manner you don’t typically expect with very old tequila.

Patron is unlikely to revisit this expression down the road — the stocks of this unique spirit have been depleted for this bottling run — so if all this sounds appealing — which it should — then you better snap it up quick.

80 proof. Arriving now in select markets.

A / $299 / patrontequila.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Piper-Heidsieck Brut and 1995 Blanc des Millenaires

HeidsieckWe meant to review these two Heidsieck Champagne bottlings for the holidays but, you know, things got away from us…

NV Piper-Brut Champagne (red label) – Super crisp apple on the nose, with strong notes of lemongrass. The body is tart with just the right amount of sweetness to back it up, plenty more of those apples with a light, brioche-driven breadiness on the finish. Just about perfect. A / $39

1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Champagne – 100% Chardonnay. Drinking old. Sour apple up front, then intense notes of mushroom and musty bread amidst some vinegary, old-apple character in the middle. The finish continues to push some old wine notes. Fans of well-aged vintage Champagne may find all of this charming, but I can’t get onboard. C- / $185

piper-heidsieck.com