Category Archives: Rated A

Review: Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale, Soul Shine, and Little Red Roostarr

SH  WhiterShade 22oz Bottle thumb Review: Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale, Soul Shine, and Little Red RoostarrThree new brews from Starr Hill, arriving just in time for summer barbecues. Thoughts follow.

Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale White IPA – A hybrid of Belgian wheat beer and India Pale Ale, a bit like one of my current favorite brews, Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. Made with wheat and two-row malt along with Cascade, Simcoe, Columbus, and Falconer’s Flight hops, it’s a nicely hoppy beer that still exercises some restraint with its bitterness (45 IBUs). The attack starts moderately big hop notes along with some orange fruit, quickly leading to a very pleasant and rounded body. Chewy on the palate, the wheat component makes for a more breadlike IPA than you may be accustomed to, but this is ultimately quite fulfilling and satisfying. The finish is soft and easy, more soothing than bracing like a classic IPA. All in all, an excellent brew. 7.5% abv. A / $10 per 22 oz. bottle

Starr Hill Soul Shine Belgian-Style Pale Ale – An “Americanized” Belgian ale, which means adding American hops (Falconer’s Flight, Cascade, Simcoe, and Columbus) and bringing it down to 5.2% abv. Though it’s specifically designed for lighter, summer drinking, the beer feels a bit watery, and super fizzy to boot. Relatively flavorless up front, I pick up very basic citrus notes interwoven with baked bread character. The body is short and quickly fades, however, leaving behind a minerally taste reminiscent of beer-spiked Perrier. Not my favorite in this batch. 5.2% abv. B- / $NA per six-pack

Starr Hill Little Red Roostarr Coffee Cream Stout – The odd man out in this otherwise summery collection of brews, Little Red Roostarr is an inky milk stout that offers the coffee ground and bittersweet chocolate notes you’d expect from this style, with a very modest hop character (East Kent Goldings) to it. What’s lacking is the “cream” component: Red Roostarr is fairly thin in the body, which ultimately takes the beer to a lackluster finish that has more chewy graininess in it than I care to see in a beer of this style. 5.8% abv. B / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

starrhill.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #4

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Five more tiny-production, very rare, Scotch whiskys are about to arrive on our shores, courtesy of the independent malt whisky bottlers at Exclusive Malts. As always, total bottles produced tend to number in the low hundreds, so if you see something you like, get it now.

The Exclusive Malts Linkwood 1999 14 Years Old – This Speyside distillery is known for providing its casks to blended Scotch producers, and here it turns in a spicy, racy, young-tasting single malt that, on first blush, feels like it would be right at home as a component in Dewar’s or Johnnie Walker. Cereal and heather give way to chewy nougat, finally revealing some restrained apple and banana character. Tough to crack, with a lightly smoky finish. Try some water to coax more out of it. 111.6 proof. B- / $97

The Exclusive Malts North Highland 1996 17 Years Old – A Highlands spirit, matured completely in a refill ex-sherry hogshead. Lots of sherry up front on the nose, of course, but also tar, cigars, and unripe banana. Quite fruity on the palate, it blends orange oil with notes of incense and baking spice, the finish coming across as racy, smoldering, and luscious. Quite fetching. 112.2 proof. A- / $138

The Exclusive Malts Bladnoch 1992 21 Years Old – Lowland whisky from the southwest end of Scotland, aged in an ex-Bourbon hogshead. Malty and grassy on the nose, tinged with lemon oil and a touch of iodine. The body is much fruitier than the nose lets on, a concoction that offers sweet lemonade and sweet(er) tea, with a candy-like nougat character that comes on strong on the finish. More grainy/grassy notes on the back end, also. Well-aged but far from hoary, this malt still has plenty of life left in it, and it drinks hotter than its (relatively) lower proof level would indicate. 96.2 proof. B+ / $170

The Exclusive Malts Glencadam 1991 22 Years Old – Coastal Highlands single malt from an ex-Bourbon hogshead, surprisingly light in color. Pure honey, tempered with touches of smoke. The beautiful nose is complex, adding touches of heather and a hint of granary character. The rounded body is seductive and sweet, pushing the honey notes to the limit. The finish nods at cereal while going out on a smoldering but sweet finale, inviting continued sipping and savoring. There’s not a terribly high level of complexity here, but this Glencadam is so enjoyable it’s hard not to love. 100.8 proof. A / $179

The Exclusive Malts Bowmore 2001 12 Years Old – The only Islay in this release, bottled after 12 years in a refill Sherry butt. Intense smoke and melting wax notes on the nose. Tons of iodine all around. On the palate, it’s an intense dram, blending sweet sherry notes and a Madeirized character with the essence of tire fire. These two characteristics do battle for some time on the tongue. Neither one ends up winning, a shame. 116.8 proof. B- / $138

impexbev.com

Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

1964 Single Harvest Tawny 2 525x802 Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

Even seasoned wine enthusiasts often get confused over the world of Port, and who can blame them? Bottled both in vintage-dated and non-vintage but “xx years old” varieties (and in ruby, tawny, white, and other versions), the topic quickly gets complicated — when all you want to do is enjoy something sweet with dessert.

What’s the difference between ruby and tawny, the two major types of nonvintage Port? As Taylor Fladgate wine director David Guimaraens says, “Most people are familiar with the dark purple, ‘ruby’ Ports which range from very basic up to the storied Vintage Ports.  Rubies are aged in bottles, so they keep their fresh red fruit flavors.  On the other hand, Tawny Ports are aged in wooden casks, so they have more interchange with the air around them.  This process evolves their color to a ‘tawny’ amber color, and changes their flavors from predominantly fruity to predominantly nutty.”

Guimaraens’ comments aside, I’d still characterize most tawny Ports as extremely fruity, but more chocolatey and coffee-like than rubies. These notes come across more distinctly in older bottlings, though. Young tawny can often be just as fruity as a typical ruby.

What does “10 years old” or “20 years old” mean in these Ports? Well, contrary to what you might expect, it doesn’t mean that in 2004 or 1994, Port was dumped into a barrel and a decade or two later was prepped for bottling. Ports with age statements like this are blends of a variety of years, and the number on the label is somewhat meaningless. Most tawnys are a blend of solera-style old stock and young stock, and the years noted on the label are a sort of moving target that the blender is supposed to aim for. There’s nothing requiring any sort of accuracy here, and in many cases no way of even knowing how old the wine is in any given bottle. But a 20 year old should at least taste older than a 10 year old, even if both of those numbers are fudged a bit.

The exception of course is when a vintage does actually appear on the label. That’s the case with the last tawny on the list below, a 1964 single-vintage Tawny Port from Taylor Fladgate. What that means is exactly what it sounds like: This Port was made exclusively from grapes picked in ’64. Yes, 50 years ago. They’ve been mellowing out in barrel ever since, and aren’t blended with other vintages. And unlike non-vintage Tawny, this stuff won’t be around forever, so snap it up while you can.

Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate are all sub-brands of Taylor’s, a mega-Port operation whose CEO, Adrian Bridge, we’ve met on several occasions. He’s a swell guy, and we’re excited to offer notes on several Tawny Ports in current release, as well as the exceptional 1964. Thoughts follow.

NV Croft Aged Tawny Porto 10 Years Old (bottled in 2010) – Bright raspberry and sour cherry notes, just the right amount of vinegar to balance out some very focused fruit flavors. I’ve always thought of Croft as the fruitiest of vintage Ports, and here it produces a tawny that is closer to the ruby style of Port than most others you’ll encounter. Very easy drinking and versatile. A- / $28

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Jammier, with more chocolate notes, and a lightly minty finish. Long, bold, and lightly creamy on the palate, this is a tawny with a little more oomph and more sourness on the back end. B+ / $23

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Somewhere between the fruitiness of Croft and the power of Fonseca lies Taylor Fladgate’s 10 year Tawny, an inviting wine with ample fruit at the core, but with bittersweet edges of licorice, chicory, and coffee bean. These characteristics, plus some chocolate notes, tend to overtake the fruit on the finish, but the body, on the whole, is surprisingly delicate. Complex, yet a bit immature. B+ / $23

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 20 Years Old – Plenty of fruit and body here, but the chocolate notes are pumped up, and the fruit takes on more of a classic, Port-like raisin character. At 20, some of the more rustic elements of the Fonseca 10 Year Tawny are rounded out, giving this Port a slightly more refined construction, albeit one with plenty of lasting sweetness. A- / $40

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 20 Years Old – Lots of intensity here, with an almost bruising sour cherry and tart raisin character that overpowers some of this Port’s more delicate coffee and chocolate notes. The finish is lasting and almost punishing in its mouth-puckering character. This is a step back from the 10 year. B / $40

1964 Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Tawny Port (pictured) – Wow, this is how tawny should be experienced. Drawn from a single vintage that’s 50 years old, this tawny is showing well rounded notes of cinnamon, raisin, and allspice… layered with cedar wood, chocolate, and coffee bean notes. The finish is long and sweetly sour — ending on a note of Cherries Jubilee that has the perfect balance of fruity and winey flavors. Lovely. A / $300

taylor.pt

Review: Piccini 2009 Brunello and 2008 Brunello Riserva

Piccini Brunello Riserva NV 2 94x300 Review: Piccini 2009 Brunello and 2008 Brunello RiservaTwo new Brunello releases from Piccini, a huge Tuscan producer that still manages to carve out time for these rarities, 100% sangiovese wines from the Montalcino region, aged at least 2 years in oak.

Some thoughts follow.

2009 Piccini Villa al Cortile Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – A beautiful wine, showing a complex collection of cherries, blackberries, violets, and menthol on the nose. The body adds to that with hints of earthy mushroom, spicy licorice root, and touches of tobacco and cedar box on the finish. Over time, hints of prunes and raspberry emerge, too — this is a wine that evolves beautifully in the glass and is well worth exploring over the course of an evening. All in all, it’s a moderately dense wine with lots to recommend it, a Brunello that’s close to a benchmark for the style. A / $60

2008 Piccini Villa al Cortile Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG – Similar to the standard bottling, but tougher to parse. There’s more herbal character on this one, with those violets really pumped up to create quite a perfumy experience. The body still packs in plenty of tannin, and it doesn’t quite give up its grip even after an hour in glass. Notes of coffee and leather send the fruit into dried plum and dense, dried cherry areas. Still tough on the finish. This’ll probably be hitting its stride in 2018. A- / $80

aveniubrands.com

Review: Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Bourbon

wild turkey diamond anniversary 473x1200 Review: Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Bourbon

Celebrating sixty motherfreakin’ years in the business — Eisenhower was president, people! — Jimmy Russell is a distiller with no equal in the business. He’s the man who has singlehandedly defined Wild Turkey for decades, with son Eddie waiting in the wings for the day his dad, now 79 years old, retires.

To mark the occasion, probably the last multiple-of-five anniversary we’ll see from Jimmy at Wild Turkey, the company is putting out what could be its most thoughtful, rare, and special bourbon release in decades. How special? It’s all part of Wild Turkey’s “Year of Jimmy Russell,” the new name for 2014, so update your calendar.

Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary is a blend of 13 to 16 year old whiskeys, the barrels hand-selected by Eddie Russell. Immediately off the bat, it’s one of the gentlest whiskeys I’ve ever had from WT. The nose is fruity, with caramel apples, chocolate-covered orange slices, and hints of spearmint. Over time, the wood of the barrel starts to come through on the nose, but it’s never overbearing, and much less punchy than you’d expect from a Bourbon of this age.

The body is creamy, its proof level adjusted to just the right place where you could sip on it all night without reaching for the water but still never get bored. Lots going on here, but not too much. What arises here is more dessert-like, including notes of salted caramel, chocolate chip ice cream, and apple pie. Lightly woody on the finish, it is incredibly hard to put down. Sip after sip found me uncorking the bottle and sampling it again, just to see what I might have missed.

91 proof. 36,000 bottles for sale in the U.S. On sale August 2014.

A / $125 / wildturkeybourbon.com

Review: Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon

2014 LimitedEdition Front 525x777 Review: Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon

Four Roses’ 2014 Single Barrel bottling sneaked up on me, a sample appearing out of the blue for us to review.

This year’s whiskey is made from Four Rose’s OESF mashbill — the “lower,” 20% rye mashbill — which has spent 11 years in barrel. OESF is a rarity — In some seven years I’ve never reviewed any Bourbon from 4R that even had it as a component (aside from blends that don’t release their constituent makeups). Bottled at a range of 108.3 to 127.6 proof, depending on the barrel you get, it’s hotter than last year’s awesome release. (My sample was about 120 proof.)

Very fruity on the nose (as the low-rye mash is known for), this is one of the gentlest bottlings of Four Roses Single Barrel that I’ve encountered. Think caramel apples, with a dusting of apple pie spices — cinnamon and some cloves. On the body, that caramel is positively poured over the spirit, with gentle vanilla and chocolate-covered-cherries rounding things out. Give it time in glass and quiet sawdust notes emerge, but only ever so slightly — and to a far less extent than any Single Barrel bottling going back to 2009. This is liquid dessert that goes down far too easily than its hefty alcohol level would indicate. Another gorgeous, if wholly unexpected and unusual, winner from Jim Rutledge and Four Roses.

5000 bottles made. Available mid-June 2014.

A / $80 / fourrosesbourbon.com

Review: Vodka DSP CA 162 – Straight and Flavored

vodka dsp 162 straight 525x347 Review: Vodka DSP CA 162   Straight and Flavored

In 2010, California-based Craft Distillers sold its highly-regarded Hangar One Vodka line to Proximo Spirits. (You may not have even realized this, but now you know.) At the time, Craft signed a strict non-compete agreeing not to make vodka for three years. Well, the three years are up, and Craft is now back at work with some vodkas which incorporate flavors that might sound a bit familiar.

No frills here, and that’s by design to keep the focus on what’s in the bottle; the brand name refers to an old federal designation for the distillery. The scientifically-named spirits are distilled in the company’s copper cognac still from a wheat base, and the flavored vodkas are made with real macerated fruits. They’re filtered, but these spirits do still have a slight yellow tint to them. All of the botanicals are grown in the rare-fruit orchards of John Kirkpatrick in the San Joaquin Valley.

Each vodka is 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Vodka DSP CA 162 Straight - This vodka takes the wheat-base spirit and blends it with vodka made from wine grapes (riesling and viognier). You can smell the pot still character right from the start. Mineral notes play with a bit of grainy character, marshmallow, and nougat on the nose. The body is silky with a pungent character common to grape-based vodkas, balanced by modest sweetness and, curiously, some stronger cereal notes on the finish. You’re left with a character that is, surprisingly, not unlike a white whiskey or a blanche cognac. B

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Hystrix – Flavored with Malaysian limes and their leaves. Brisk lime character on the nose, like candied lime peel. Bracing on the body, with crisp lime balanced with the right amount of sweetness. The lasting finish really brings out the leaf component, with just the right of grassiness poured over the tart body. The old Kaffir Lime vodka was always the most popular Hangar One flavor (at least in my experience in the field), and the company hasn’t strayed far from a successful formula. Big win here. A

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Medica var. Sarcodactylis – Flavored with Buddha’s Hand citrons. The aromatics are somewhat muddier than my memory of the crisp Hangar One Buddha’s Hand, but otherwise it’s very aromatic and unusual — almost perfumed — on the nose. The body has a creaminess to it — like lemon meringue pie — with a vaguely tropical character going on. Herbal notes or rosemary and sage emerge over time, particularly on the nose. A-

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Reticulata var. Sunshine – Flavored with tangerine and tangelo. A pretty orange nose recalls mild mandarines, but the body pumps it up with a brightness that almost hits a Tang-like quality. Sweet but not sugary, this is probably the most “modern” vodka in the lineup, but it’s also the most approachable on its own. Cosmo lovers would be calling this vodka all night long, but I doubt many cosmopolitan drinkers could pronounce the name. A-

each $38 / craftdistillers.com

Review: Perc Fresh Brewed Coffee Liqueur

PercFINAL 525x972 Review: Perc Fresh Brewed Coffee Liqueur

Our friends at Vermont’s Saxtons River Distillery don’t just work with maple syrup, they also like coffee. Freshly brewed beans are the order of the day with Perc, a Kahlua alternative that’s artisanally made from locally roasted and cold-brewed Arabica beans instead of mass-produced.

Results: Lightly sweetened, the sugar helps cut the richness of the coffee beans, a dark roast with lots of depth to it on the nose. The body isn’t as powerful, as the sweetness helps to balance out the pungent, mocha-like notes. Dark chocolate, light cinnamon, and authentic coffee-fueled bitterness are all in full effect here. Overall, it’s simply a very well-made coffee spirit, easy to sip on straight or simply to be used to give your White Russian an instant upgrade. No complaints at all here.

60 proof.

A / $28 / saplingliqueur.com

Review: Spirits of Santa Fe Spirits

santa fe apple brandy 525x323 Review: Spirits of Santa Fe Spirits

Santa Fe Spirits is based, you guessed it, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Founded by Colin Keegan in 2010, the company now offers a range of five spirits, all with a southwestern bent and primarily column-distilled. We tasted four of them (all but the aged, single malt whiskey). Thoughts follow.

Santa Fe Spirits Apple Brandy – This was Santa Fe’s first product, made from New Mexico-grown Mountain West apples, including some from Keegan’s own orchard. Barrel aged “for years.” Big, punchy nose. It’s got mashed apples, sure, but lots of wood, and some coal fire character to it. The body is on the oily side, burly with overpowering wood notes and a big, tannic finish. Overall: A curiosity that never quite pulls it all together. C+ / $45

Santa Fe Spirits Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin – A newfangled infusion and the most avant garde of the bunch. This gun includes only botanicals that are sourced from within 30 miles of the distillery: white desert sage, Cholla cactus blossoms, osha root, Cascade hops, and local juniper. My first cactus-infused gin! The nose is a delight. Quite citrusy, like Meyer lemon, with distinct sage notes. On the body, those hops come through right away, while the sage and citrus character lingers. All of these things balance quite well, though the hops tend to dominate a bit too heavily. 80 proof (it could have stood to be 86, in my opinion). B+ / $32

Santa Fe Spirits Silver Coyote Pure Malt Whiskey – Made from 100% malted barley and bottled as unaged white dog. A lighter style of white dog, relatively restrained (comparatively) with a curious mix of grain and slate notes on the nose. The body isn’t overly complex, wearing its maltiness and youthful barley notes on its sleeve, with a lightly vegetal finish. Think green beans and sweet potatoes. Or competently made white lightning, anyway. 92 proof. B+ / $30

Santa Fe Spirits Expedition American West Vodka – 6 times distilled from a corn base. Interesting nose here, supple and sweet but not overdone. It’s not at all “corny,” but the aroma is almost like a nice bit of cotton candy or marshmallow. On the body, similar notes prevail, with a subtle fruitiness that recalls apples and banana. The finish has a touch of medicinal burn, but by and large it’s a smooth operator that offers a modern profile balanced by a restrained and refined backbone. 80 proof. A / $25

Note: This quartet is available in a four-pack of 200ml bottles. Total price: $55.

santafespirits.com

Review: 2011 Cliff Lede and Moondance Dream Cabernet Sauvignon

cliff lede 2011 198x300 Review: 2011 Cliff Lede and Moondance Dream Cabernet SauvignonNew 2011 Cabs from Cliff Lede, one of Napa’s blue chip bottlers. Surprising thoughts follow…

2011 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Stags Leap District – A big misstep for the normally spot-on Cliff Lede. This ultra-premium Cab has lost all its body, coming across as flabby and pruny, without the barest hint of acidity to keep things alive. The nose is restrained, too, offering some currant but mostly chocolate notes, leaving the body to try to work with notes that approximate a warmed-over, raspberry-inflected melted Hershey bar. C+ / $75

2011 Moondance Dream Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District – Cliff Lede’s blue chip bottling. A massive improvement over this year’s standard edition, a lush but restrained expression of pure Cabernet, gorgeous with distinct black pepper inflections atop currant jelly. The body is less racy than the nose would indicate, with silky, but not quite jammy, notes of cassis and red berries, layered with mild cedar wood notes. Hints of spice come back around on the finish. Beautiful. A / $95

cliffledevineyards.com

Review: Lombard Jewels of Scotland Springbank 21 Years Old

Springbank 21 Year Old Lombard Jewels of Scotland Bottling Single Malt Scotch 525x750 Review: Lombard Jewels of Scotland Springbank 21 Years Old

This independent bottling of Campbeltown favorite Springbank is a D&M Liquors exclusive (link below), so don’t go shopping all over creation for it. Only 263 bottles were produced. 21 years old and fully matured in a bourbon hogshead, this is Springbank at its finest.

The nose is mysterious and mild, with hints of greenery and a kind of petrol note. The body, however, opens up in just phenomenal ways. Fruit hits you first — apples and tangerines, banana and a bit of coconut. From there, make way for some smoky campfire and vanilla marshmallow notes, cedar box, and a touch of seaweed. The finish calls to the barley and heather, both malty and chewy.

Gorgeous stuff. Get it while you can.

99.4 proof.

A / $350 / dandm.com

Book Review: Craft Cocktails at Home

craft cocktails at home 227x300 Book Review: Craft Cocktails at HomeAs food has evolved beyond grilled steaks and baked potatoes, so have cocktails. It’s now common to see bar menus stuffed with cocktails that involve homemade tinctures, smoke, infusions, foams, pearls of goo, and god knows what else. Molecular mixology is a real thing, and it’s come to the masses.

Kevin Liu’s book, Craft Cocktails at Home, is not about molecular mixology. The illustration on the cover and tagline — Offbeat Techniques, Contemporary Crowd-Pleasers, and Classics Hacked with Science — may trick you into thinking otherwise, but don’t be fooled. This is a book about using modern techniques, intelligence, and good old brute force into making your cocktails the very best they can be. Trust me, you’ll want to read it whether you’re a home tinkerer or the main stickman at a four-star joint in Manhattan.

For the bulk of the book, Liu covers the basics. The very, very basics. Mainly, he looks at the stuff you never, ever, not once thought about and explains why it makes a difference in your drink.

For example, did you know: In blind tests, people overwhelmingly prefer the taste of four-hour-old hand-juiced lime juice to just-hand-squeezed lime juice? (Even four-hour-old machine-juiced limes were preferred over the fresh stuff.) Liu guesses at why in the book. — but the point is this: The guy is testing how old your juice is and what tastes better.

As well, Liu looks at simple syrup recipes to find the best mix of sugar to water, examines how different types of glasses chill in the freezer, and how much a “dash” really is (it matters!). He even shows you how to make homemade mineral water. Charts and graphs abound.

The end of the book is devoted to 65 cocktail recipes, “hacked,” including some spins on the classics (Why drink a Manhattan watery and warm-ish? I won’t ruin the fun…) and some that border on the molecular. I wish there were more of them — and for the second edition, I’d like to request color photos, too.

Buy it!

A / $9 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Spring44 Straight Bourbon and Single Barrel Bourbon

SPRING44 WHISKEY TRANS 2 233x1200 Review: Spring44 Straight Bourbon and Single Barrel BourbonArguably known best for its honey-flavored vodka, Colorado-based Spring44 is jumping onto the whiskey bandwagon, with two new expressions of straight bourbon whiskey. As you might expect by their sudden appearance on the market, both are sourced whiskey from Kentucky (not Indiana), brought down to proof with Colorado water, and bottled in individually numbered bottles. The whiskey inside has aged for six-plus years, but mashbill information is not offered. Based on the cloudiness readily visible in the bottles, they are not chill-filtered, either. Thoughts follow.

Spring44 Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Maybe it’s my mind playing tricks on me since I know Spring44’s prior products, but I swear I get notes of honey on the nose just from cracking open the bottle. The nose offers classic bourbon notes — vanilla infused with deep wood character — but playing the game otherwise close to the vest. The body explodes with a melange of flavors: honey (I swear), butterscotch, cinnamon, and a sweet-tinged apple and pear character that builds on the finish. The finale is a bit too drying, but otherwise Spring44 has done a great job of finding some solid barrels to showcase. 90 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #3933. B+/ $40

Spring44 Single Barrel Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Presumably the same whiskey as the above, but drawn from a single cask and bottled at a higher alcohol level. Curiously different from the standard bottling right from the start, with a fruitier nose that keeps the wood components in check. Here you’ll find touches of tea leaf, cinnamon, mint, and even incense. The body is something else — a silky sweet delight, full of lush apple pie notes, deep honey, lots of vanilla, hot buttered rum, and even some unexpected red berry notes. Well balanced and drinking perfectly despite its high alcohol content, this is a bourbon that can stand up to about anything on the market in this age category. A real standout. 100 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #208. A / $60  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

spring44.com

Review: Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

Green Spot Bottle 525x1067 Review: Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

Heretofore seldom seen on our shores, one of the most beloved Irish whiskeys in-country is now making its way to the U.S. It is named after a blotch of color.

Green Spot, the kid brother of the even rarer Yellow Spot, is made at Midleton, where Jameson, Tullamore D.E.W., Powers, and Redbreast all hail from. It is a thrice-distilled single pot still whiskey, but unlike Redbreast it is bottled without an age statement. What’s inside is a blend of whiskeys aged seven to 10 years in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. 12,000 bottles are produced each year.

No bones about it, this whiskey is a delight. Loaded with flavor but balanced to a T, Green Spot hits all the classic Irish hallmarks while retaining its sense of balance.

The nose is spot on (get it?), rich with unripe banana, light honey, chimney soot, and cut grains. The body is more lovely, with toasted marshmallows, very light citrus, caramel, a touch of chocolate, and a big malty finish that comes across a lot like chocolate malt balls when it’s all said and done. Often thought of as “sweeter” than its compatriots, that’s not exactly the case here. Green Spot has sweetness, but it balances out the more savory components, bringing the body right where it ought to be. The spirit is drying as it fades, almost hinting at licorice, which only invites further exploration as that malt character dies like the sunset.

Buy it now.

80 proof.

A / $50 / singlepotstill.com [BUY IT FROM MASTER OF MALT]   [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Book Review: Drinking Japan

Drinking Japan 192x300 Book Review: Drinking JapanI’ve never been to Japan, but it’s at the top of my list. When I get there, I plan to drink it. The whole thing.

Chris Bunting’s Drinking Japan will surely help. Part guide book, part encyclopedia of Japanese alcohol, the tome guides you throw the best places to get a sip of sake, shochu, Okinawan awamori, Japanese beer or whisky, or western beverages throughout the country and explains what you’re drinking along the way. Tokyo of course has the lion’s share of the coverage, but you’ll find over 100 recommendations for great drinking establishments throughout Japan.

Every bar (most are actually restaurants too) features an interior photograph, a map, and detailed directions of how to get there. Bunting’s attention to detail is astounding, including the hours, the cover charge (in detail), and even whether there’s a menu available in English. The picks seem thoughtful, varied (from holes in the wall to hotspots like the New York Bar from Lost in Translation), and nearly all worth visiting. And the writing is both fun and educational — particularly if you don’t know your honkaku from your happoshu.

When I eventually make it to Japan, this book is coming with me.

A / $19 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Hopothermia and ESB

alaska Hopothermia 106x300 Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Hopothermia and ESBAlaskan Brewing Co., arguably Alaska’s most noteworthy brewery, is releasing these two beers this spring — with Hopothermia now joining the ranks as a year-round release. Bold, bitter, and hoppy, they’re both worthy sippers no matter what the weather is like.

Alaskan Brewing Co. Hopothermia Double IPA – A stellar IPA, a little citrus, a little piney — particularly on the finish, when the evergreen notes really start to show. Big and bright and loaded with hops, this one’s a rich and delicious dazzler. 8.5% abv. A / $NA per 12 oz. bottle

Alaskan Brewing Co. ESB Extra Special Bitter Ale – This amber ale offers bracing bitterness without being overly hoppy. Dark chocolate and mild coffee notes dominate the body, while the bitter finish cleans up any lingering savory components, leaving a chewy and almost woody character behind. 5.3% abv. A- / $NA per 22 oz. bottle

alaskanbeer.com

Review: 2012 Laetitia Pinot Noir Whole Cluster Arroyo Grande Valley

laetitia whole cluster PN Review: 2012 Laetitia Pinot Noir Whole Cluster Arroyo Grande ValleyLaetitia’s latest from the Arroyo Grande AVA in San Luis Obispo is a a Pinot Noir made from whole clusters of Clone 115 Pinot Noir grapes, aged half in new and half in used French oak barrels.

Classic dark cherry and cola notes dominate the nose, developing just the lightest touches of chocolate and cedar wood as the body opens up. Rich with fruit yet restrained with a body that’s light enough to keep the palate clean, and a finish that is refined with both dried fruit notes and light herbal touches. A wonderful little wine.

A / $40 / laetitiawine.com

Review: The BenRiach Horizons, Septendecim, Solstice 2ed, and Authenticus

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It’s been over 5 years since our last serious look at BenRiach’s distillery bottlings, and things have been afoot. This Speyside distillery has recently launched four new expressions, retiring a few and updating a couple with older versions.

Let’s not delay. Thoughts follow.

The BenRiach Horizons 12 Years Old Triple Distilled – Most Scotch whisky is distilled twice, but Horizons was born in the ’90s of an experimental run that toyed with triple distilling. Afterward, the finished product was aged in standard ex-bourbon barrels for 12 years. The results are delightful. Though the overproof entry is racy, offering notes of honey, brown sugar, fresh-baked bread, and modest vanilla. All in all, the nose of a classic Scotch whisky. The body offers more of the same, with an orange peel note on the finish. It’s hard to tell if that third distillation has done any magic here, but the finished product is crisp, clean, and satisfying beyond its 12 years of age. 100 proof. A- / $80

The BenRiach Septendecim Peated 17 Years Old – A new addition to BenRiach’s peated range, 17 years old and aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Heavy peat and barbecue smoke on the nose, with modest apple notes. The body is unique, starting with that smoky peat before quickly building distinct cantaloupe notes, something that’s quite rare for malt whisky. Spiced nuts and a melange of raisins, cloves, and Madeira wine notes bring up the rear. 92 proof. B+ / $80

The BenRiach Solstice 2nd Edition 17 Years Old – This 17 year old bottling is heavily peated, then aged in bourbon barrels before finishing in Tawny Port casks. It succeeds a 15 year version of the spirit that used the same overall technique. The nose brings peat at first, though less pungent than in Septendecim. On the tongue, things are considerably different: Smoked meats play with plums, ripe raisins, applesauce, and touches of caramel and toffee. This whisky is a true delight, and it improves as you sip it, opening up to reveal more and more fruit, while leaving the smoke to play in the background like a roaring fire in the living room on Christmas Eve. A winner. 100 proof. A / $100

The BenRiach Authenticus Peated 25 Years Old – Formerly available as a 21 year old, Authenticus is back at a full 25 years of age. Peated and bourbon barrel aged. Unique nose, with more fruit and less peat than all of the above (including Horizons) — with a chocolate-covered apple slice, orange peel, and currant character to it. On the palate the spirit builds to offer distinct raisin and chocolate notes, burnt caramel, and a touch of mint. The finish is a bit woodier than expected, which leaves a bit of tannin on the back of the throat. Hardly a deal-killer, though. This is amazing stuff on the whole. 92 proof. A / $250

benriachdistillery.co.uk

Review: 2006 Charbay Still House Port and Distillers’ Port

charbay Distillers Port 56x300 Review: 2006 Charbay Still House Port and Distillers PortCalifornia-based Charbay doesn’t just make some amazing spirits. It has also released this impressive collection of vintage ports, both made from 2006 vintage grapes and aged 7 years before bottling. Both are 20.9% abv and bottled in 375ml bottles. Thoughts follow.

2006 Charbay Still House Port – 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Zinfandel, 10% Syrah. That adds up to 105%, but that’s what Charbay told us. Close enough, I guess. The wine is fortified with 4 year old Charbay Syrah Brandy, then aged in used French oak for 7 years. The nose features the expected raisin and dark chocolate notes, but also menthol character to back it up. The body isn’t as rounded and lush as you might expect, but the interesting touches of hazelnut, licorice, and cloves add curiosity. The finish unfortunately is on the heavy, almost sour side. B+ / $50 (375ml)

2006 Charbay Distillers’ Port – A blend of late-harvest Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with 6 year old Cabernet Franc brandy and aged for 7 years in old French oak barrels. This wine is a revelation that can stand up next to anything coming out of Portugal. Rich chocolate and coffee notes play with a sedate (and expected) raisin character on the nose, then work their way into the body. Some cinnamon pops up here, with a kind of nutty character coming along on the finish. Easy to enjoy, but layered with complexity. A / $75 (375ml)

charbay.com

Review: 5 Whiskies from Japan’s Nikka Distillery

Nikka Coffey Grain 750ml 300 389x1200 Review: 5 Whiskies from Japans Nikka Distillery

An old part of the Asahi empire, Nikka (est. 1934) suddenly finds itself part of the new guard of Japanese whiskys positively flooding into the U.S. Nikka makes a massive number of whiskys in a wide variety of styles and ages. What we present here is but a small selection of Nikka’s world, reflecting the most common Nikka expressions you’ll find in our shores today.

Thoughts follow.

Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt 12 Years Old – A classic single malt (100% malted barley from Nikka’s newer distillery) with tons to love. The nose is pretty and modern, offering well-integrated grain, oak, and nougat elements. The subtle smokiness starts to develop primarily on the palate, which offers crisp citrus notes, butterscotch, and some floral notes. Beautiful integration here, on a creamy, sexy body. Vanilla custard sticks with you for ages after a few sips. Feels far more accomplished than its 12 years of age would dictate. 90 proof. A / $120

Nikka Yoichi Single Malt 15 Years Old – Single malt, older distillery than Miyagikyo, which explains how this 15 year old whisky can be priced the same as its little brother. Quite a different spirit, the Yoichi brings a bit more smokiness, and a more rustic composition, with a racier nose and a considerably bigger smoke profile. The body offers big citrus notes, applesauce, cloves, and a chewiness driven by the barbecue-like smokiness. A fun and flavorful whisky, but it pales next to the refinement of the Miyagikyo. 90 proof. B+ / $130

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Years Old – I’m an avowed fan of the Taketsuru 12 Years Old, a pure malt (a blend of single malts from multiple distilleries), so this 17 year old expression sounds delightful right off the bat. The smoke-and-sweetness of this malt’s nose remind me of the Yoichi 15, but the body is a different animal. Here, that rusticness has faded away to reveal a satin body, mouth-filling with thick caramel, vanilla custard, and just wisps of smoke. There’s an almost lemon candy-like character around the edges that’s hard to pin down… but is quite delicious. 86 proof. A- / $150

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 Years Old – Lots of grain on this older expression of Taketsuru, which is surprising. The nose initially feels hot, heavy with old wood character. The body is equally laden with heavy woodiness, a tannic and tough spirit that just feels “too old” — almost sour at times with past-its-prime cherry, burnt cocoa beans, and charcoal notes. Not at all my favorite of this lineup. 86 proof. B- / $180

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – This is a huge departure from the above, a grain whisky (corn, barley, wheat) made in a continuous still instead of a pot still. It’s what blended whisky is blended with, but this is a 100% grain whisky, with no single malt added. Sharp on the nose, with lemon notes, vanilla, and strong menthol character. The body is surprisingly easygoing, a fruity whiskey with notes of hazelnuts, coffee bean, sea salt, and modest smokiness. There’s a lot going on here, that menthol character bringing it all into (for the most part) balance. Worth exploring, and it’s a bargain compared to the rest of the Nikka stable. 90 proof. B+ / $70

nikka.com