Review: Cynar 70 Liqueur

cynar 70

Cynar’s a highly-regarded classic of the amaro world. So why produce a new version of this vibrantly bitter, artichoke-infused concoction? Because they can.

Cynar 70 is designed to put the liqueur into a category alongside Jagermeister and Fernet, both bitter aperitifs but bottled at a much higher proof than Cynar or Campari, which have the same bitter approach but hit 33 and 48 proof, respectively.

We’re reviewed the 33-proof Cynar twice (here and here), and today we look at Cynar 70 in true head to head fashion, comparing it side by side against its big brother. Note: The old Cynar isn’t going away, this is just a line extension. The two 13-ingredient recipes are the same; only the alcohol level is different.

It’s amazing what a different amount of alcohol can make to a spirit. Classic Cynar is immediately bitter, with overtones of chocolate, oranges, leather, and tobacco on the nose and palate. Cynar 70, on the other hand, is restrained on the nose — dark chocolate notes hit first, lightly sweet, and not particularly bitter. That classic cinnamon note is even more evident here than in the original Cynar, making it even more engaging right at the start.

The palate of Cynar 70 continues to diverge from its forebear. The attack is not particularly bitter — a striking contradiction to the original. Here, it’s lightly sweet at first — simple sugar, some molasses, a touch of raisin character — and then it builds from there. First more herbs arrive — cinnamon and anise, along with sweeter chocolate and fresh oranges — and then that long-awaited bitterness hits at last. It has a softer entry than the slam-bang punch of classic Cynar, slowly washing over you with its herbal-orange character rather than immediately dominating the experience. That said, it does eventually hit the same bitter high as the original Cynar, gripping onto the tongue and refusing to release, proving itself as a classic and enduring amaro.

The body of Cynar 70 is much creamier, the color considerably darker. Turns out this isn’t a New Coke situation: Cynar 70 takes everything that is great about Cynar and builds upon it while showing off a few new tricks. I was skeptical at first, but it turns out I actually preferred the sweet-then-bitter structure of Cynar 70 to the original in side by side tasting. Definitely worthwhile.

70 proof.

A / $37 (1 liter) / camparigroup.com

Tasting 2016’s Octomore 7 with New Bruichladdich Master Distiller Adam Hannett

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When Jim McEwan left Bruichladdich last year after 50 years in the business, many wondered how a legend like McEwan could be replaced. The answer: You can’t, really, but the Islay distillery’s Adam Hannett is on his way to filling some mighty big shoes.

Hannett recently visited San Francisco as part of a U.S. “get to know ya” tour, and he brought with him a collection of Bruichladdich’s Octomore releases, including three from the Octomore 7 line. Among those is Octomore 7.4, the first “.4” release in the line (more on that later) and Hannett’s first solo release since McEwan’s departure.

The distillery world is full of nice guys, and while Hannett is one of the nicest I’ve met, he’s also full of big ideas, like the recent announcement that, in the name of transparency, customers will soon be able to look up the complete provenance of their Bruichladdich bottles online — even NAS releases. At SF’s Wingtip, we walked through the three latest Octomore 7 releases, plus a couple of whiskies for comparison.

IMG_7542Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie – “Classic” for a reason, this sweet whisky offers notes of granulated sugar and gentle notes of grain wafting in and out. Impossibly good, it’s one of my favorite “everyday” malts, Hannett says he chalks up the gentle, oily body to the slow distillation it undergoes. A

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1 – Last year’s release (5 years old, all ex-bourbon barrel) remains a classic, strong peat on the nose (at 167ppm) that offers intense citrus once you dig into the body. The finish is clean and fruity, with layers of smoke on top of everything. I’m really digging the structure and balance today. Perfect at 114 proof. A

Bruichladdich Octomore 7.1 – This new release (also a 5 year old, ex-bourbon bottling, as all the .1 releases are) is a bit hotter, with much more peat at 208ppm. It doesn’t come across heavily on the nose, where sweeter notes prevail. The body offers chocolate and caramel, and then the smokiness takes hold, leading to a heavy, petrol-laden finish. This rubbery note lingers for a while. Quite a counterpart to the sweeter 6.1. 119 proof. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Bruichladdich Octomore 7.3 –.3 signifies an “all Islay” release. This year’s spends 5 years in bourbon cask, with a little Spanish wine cask included. Earthy and maritime notes explode on the nose — a true essence of Islay aroma — the body is clean and uncomplicated, offering fruit and grain together, with a distinct chimney smoke finish. 169ppm, 126 proof. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Bruichladdich Octomore 7.4 – The newest Octomore is the first in the .4 line, which signifies the whiskey was aged in virgin oak casks instead of refills. Unlike other Octomores, which are generally 5 years old, this release spent 7 years in toasted French oak, laid down in 2008. It’s quite a departure from other Octomore releases, and the intense grain and lumberyard notes immediately reminded me of younger American single malts, which are also generally aged in new oak, a la bourbon. Malt always struggles with new oak, but the heavy peat at least gives Octomore 7.4 some legs to stand on. After seven years, the grain notes have tempered only slightly, but the smoky character gives that something to play again. The finish offers notes of chocolate and gentle candy-like sweetness. It’s a whiskey that is initially a little off-putting but which definitely grows on you over time. Definitely a series to keep an eye on. 167ppm, 122.4 proof. B+

bruichladdich.com

Review: Mt. Brave 2012 Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon

nullNapa’s Mt. Brave is back with two big 2012 releases: A malbec and a cabernet sauvignon, the winery’s signature release.

Thoughts on both wines follow.

2012 Mt. Brave Malbec Mt. Veeder – 98% malbec, 2% cabernet sauvignon. It may be a little thin around the edges, but the notes of black pepper, currants, and rhubarb all combine to give this wine a big, balanced lift. Nicely herbal, the body is long, dusted with licorice and cloves. While I’d love to see a little more acid lift this wine up a bit, the light chocolate notes and hints of roasted nuts give it a fun New World spin when compared to many a malbec. A- / $75

2012 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder – 88% cabernet sauvignon, 5% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 3% malbec. This is the best expression of Mt. Brave I’ve encountered to date, a lush and rounded cabernet that is loaded up with chocolate, currants, brambly earth, and lightly bitter coffee grounds. The body develops and brings with it notes of cloves, some Asian spices, and licorice — all good and engaging things that make this Napa cabernet all the more engaging. One of the best 2012 cabernets I’ve experienced so far. A / $75

mtbravewines.com

Review: Speakeasy Syndicate No. 03

speakeasy syndicate

San Francisco’s Speakeasy launched its limited-edition, barrel-aged Syndicate beer series in 2013. Today it’s an annually released series, “united by barrels and graceful age,” with Syndicate No. 03 now hitting the shelves and kegs.

Here’s what’s inside:

Syndicate No. 03 is a blend of seven different strong beers matured between 13-37 months in bourbon barrels. Every barrel in Speakeasy’s collection was sampled and carefully considered to create the final blend. Together they form an elegant, delicious, and complex brew, that won’t be repeated.

Blend:
Scarface Imperial Stout, aged 13 months (46%)
Imperial Black Hand, aged 37 months (18%)
Experimental Stout II, aged 20 months (12%)
Experimental Stout III, aged 19 months (11%)
Imperial Payback Porter, aged 19 months (10%)
Scarface Imperial Stout with Philz Coffee, aged 13 months (2%)
Joe’s Ale of Strength, aged 18 months (1%)

Fans of barrel-aged beers will absolutely love what Speakeasy has done here. The nose is loaded with coffee and toffee notes, both lightly sweet and bitter in near-perfect balance. Loaded up with dark brown sugar, raisins, and a touch of fresh cigar notes, it’s a sultry after-dinner sipper that is amazingly compelling without being overwhelming — watch for a hint of mint on the very end, even.

Barrel aged beers aren’t for everyone, but Speakeasy Syndicate No. 03 is one that I can heartily recommend to nearly anyone.

10.5% abv.

A / $17 per 22 oz. bottle / goodbeer.com

Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood Bourbon

EH Taylor Seasoned Wood Bottle & CanisterIt’s been nearly a year since Buffalo Trace’s last release in the Colonel E.H. Taylor line, and now the eighth of these whiskeys is here, and it’s got quite a story behind it.

First, it’s critical to note that this is a wheated bourbon, while the others are all rye-focused bourbons, except for one straight rye. Discussion is already heated up about how a single line of whiskeys can have so much variety; Chuck Cowdery has an excellent post wondering whether this should have just been an “Experimental Collection” release or whether the higher prices commanded by the E.H. Taylor label had something to do with it. Hey, I don’t judge.

The process behind Taylor’s Seasoned Wood release certainly sounds experimental. Sayeth BT:

The barrels in this release underwent a variety of special seasoning processes, including barrels made from staves that were immersed in an enzyme rich bath with water heated to 100 degrees. After spending time in this proprietary solution, these staves were then placed into kilns and dried until they reached an ideal humidity level for crafting into barrels.  Other staves were seasoned outdoors for six months, and still others were left outdoors for a full 12 months before being made into barrels and sent to Buffalo Trace Distillery to be filled and aged.  All barrel staves were seasoned, dried, and crafted at Independent Stave Company, who consulted on this project with the premiere expert on oak maturation, Dr. James Swan.

The whiskey is aged for “well over a decade,” but carries no formal age statement.

Whether it’s enzymes or whatever, what BT has put into the bottle here is outstanding. The nose is loaded with maple syrup, light cinnamon, cayenne pepper, ginger, and ample wood-influenced vanilla and caramel notes. On the palate, the initially intense sweetness is backed up by an explosion of flavor: Sweet vanilla backed up by black pepper, salted caramel, some barrel char, and a touch of herbal character on the finish. At 50% abv, it drinks a touch hot, but everything’s fully manageable as it warms the body late in the game. Over time, notes of gentle citrus fold into the maple syrup notes, giving it an orange marmalade character. Highly drinkable yet also unique and complex, it’s a fantastic little whiskey.

Doesn’t remind me at all of other E.H. Taylor releases, but that’s a story for another day.

100 proof.

$70 / A / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Chieftain’s Batch #9 – Linkwood 1997, Mortlach 1997, Braeval 1996, Fettercairn 1996, Glen Grant 1995

chieftains

Don’t look now! It’s our biggest single review of indie bottler Chieftain’s yet — five new releases of well-aged single malts, all distilled in the late 1990s, all but one hailing from Speyside.

Let’s dig in to these morsels and have a taste.

Chieftain’s Linkwood 1997 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish – Speyside. Exotic and nutty with notes of old sherry on the nose, with a touch of mothball — though not in a bad way. The sherry pushes through to the palate, almost bruisingly so, bringing on notes of baking spices, roasted grains, stewed fruit, and more nuts on the finish. Everything is delightfully well integrated, with a lengthy, warming finish. 92 proof. A / $90

Chieftain’s Mortlach 1997 18 Years Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Finish – Speyside. Mortlach is one of my favorite distilleries, but here things are blown out by the overwhelming PX sherry notes, which kick things off with notes of malted milk, carob, and burnt almonds. The body has a slightly bitter, acrid tone to it, again with notes of burnt — burnt nuts, burnt grain, burnt wood. Touches of classically honeyed Mortlach sweetness offer plenty to enjoy, but the sherry finish is just a bit too far off to make this the knockout it should be. 92 proof. B / $90

Chieftain’s Braeval 1996 19 Years Old Beaune Cask Finish – Speyside, with a red Burgundy wine cask finish. A quaint operation in central Speyside that’s part of Chivas Bros., dating back to only 1973. The red wine finish runs the show here, starting with a nose that mingles toasty grain with raisin and cherry notes. The nougat-laden body is loaded with fruit, more of that raisin-cherry compote with a touch of lingering cinnamon and clove. Fun and unexpected. 92 proof. A- / $110

Chieftain’s Fettercairn 1996 19 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish – Eastern Highlands. A classic, big, and burly whisky, heady on the nose with florals, fresh cut apple, and caramel sauce. The body is unctuous and creamy, offering hot and nutty marzipan notes plus a vegetal character. The finish layers on the slightest touch of smoke. 114.8 proof. B+ / $121

Chieftain’s Glen Grant 1995 20 Years Old Bourbon Finish – Speyside. I’m unclear if this is finished in a second bourbon cask or if it just spends the full 20 years in one, but this is a bit off the beaten path of your typical Speyside single malt. Zippy and spicy on the nose, it offers notes of gunpowder and matches, plus well-torched caramel and hints of licorice. On the palate, again it showcases red and black pepper, creme brulee notes, and crispy caramel — with a touch of mint. It’s a relatively straightforward whiskey, but one that is well-balanced and enjoyable throughout. 110.2 proof. A- / $143

ianmacleod.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2015 Edition and Red Chair NWPA (2015)

abyss 2015Two major winter seasonals from Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes are here, including the new Abyss aged Imperial Stout and Red Chair, Deschutes’ northwestern spin on an IPA.

Thoughts follow.

Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2015 Edition – For the 10th installment of The Abyss, there are no major recipe changes — although the beer has seen some additional aging. This special release is brewed with blackstrap molasses, licorice, cherry bark, and vanilla as always, then 21% is aged in oak bourbon barrels, 6% aged in oak barrels, and 21% aged in oak wine barrels. (Altogether 50% of the beer is aged for 2015, but last year only 28% of the total brew saw barrel time.) Note that to commemorate the 10th anniversary of The Abyss, two additional versions were created — one aged in rye casks, one in Cognac casks — though we did not receive these for review. The “regular” version of Abyss, however, is a real standout. As always, pungent licorice hits the nose first, but the treacle-and-fig-jam notes that often follow close behind are tamped down here, replaced instead with bracingly bitter hops, very bitter chocolate, and wood barrel notes. The Abyss is always a beer that sticks around for ages, but this year that finish is seemingly unending. Fans of this style — and just about anyone else — should seek out a couple of bottles. One for now, one to keep in the cellar for next year. 12.2% abv. A / $15 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA (2015) – A December-released seasonal, this year’s Red Chair “Northwest” Pale Ale doesn’t seem to have rocked the boat when it comes to its recipe — but nonetheless the beer seems more fully-realized than some of its forebears. Bitter but not aggressively piney, Red Chair uses citrus notes and some late-arriving florals to punctuate its malty base with style and structure. Quite a pleasure. 6.2% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

deschutesbrewery.com