If you’re driving to Sonoma, Cline is always worth a stop, not just because it’s one of the first wineries you encounter as you drive into the area. We got our hands on four affordable, summer-friendly whites (one’s a rose). Thoughts follow.
2012 Cline Cool Climate Pinot Gris Sonoma Coast – Crisp and refreshing, with lots of fruit. Very slightly pink, something you see in a few Pinot Gris wines, particularly those produced in Alsace. Lovely pear notes here, plus a little peach, with a bit of a creamy, nougaty back end. Think marshmallows. Very nice. A / $13
2011 Cline Marsanne Roussanne Sonoma Coast - This Rhone blend is classically structured with both peach and apricot notes, backed with an aromatic perfume character. The backbone hints at tree bark and rhubarb. Nice complexity and a fresh, easy complexion. A- / $22
Today we look at a few more independently-bottled malts from That Boutique-y Whisky Company, courtesy of Master of Malt. All three of these are recent arrivals from Batch 1. Again, all are limited edition single malts bottled without age statements in 500ml bottles (and wacky labels). Thoughts follow.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company Arran Batch 1 – Beautiful nose on this Island whisky, fresh with toasted cereals and touches of heather. A much heavier grain influence than the typical single malt, but that’s not a slight. This Arran offers a richness and depth that’s common to Arran, with a touch of saltwater and seaweed on the quite lasting finish. Fresh and with a good balance of sweet and savory, it’s a solid whisky at a fairly reasonable price. 98.2 proof. A- / $62 (500ml) (Batch 1 sold out)
Jim Beam’s been on a tear lately. First came the two members of the new Signature Craft Bourbon series, now there’s Distiller’s Masterpiece, an ultra-premium Bourbon that truly earns its name.
Available exclusively at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, Ky., the whiskey is “extra aged” (but released with no age statement) “in the optimal rack-house position, determined by Master Distiller, Fred Noe.” It is then finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks before bottling at 100 proof.
This is a lovely, and surprisingly light, whiskey. The sherry character is immediately notable, a brisk citrus character on the nose that’s backed up by moderate wood notes and a small amount of grain character. Pushing into the body it’s loaded with that sherry character, and is rich with complexity. What’s here: Orange marmalade, vanilla, cinnamon and baking spices, toasted wood, and touches of popcorn on the finish. Harmonious and delicious, the finish stays with you but never turns bitter. Even at 100 proof it is smooth as silk, easy to sip on, and gone — sadly gone — far too soon.
A / $200 / jimbeam.com
It’s surprising that more aged spirits aren’t made in the solera style. For the uninitiated, solera aging involves moving spirits from younger barrels to older barrels, bit by bit, until the liquor in the oldest barrel is bottled — the oldest of the old blended with a bit of spirit from a wide variety of ages. Solera is commonly used in rum as a way to add a high level of complexity to the spirit.
Here, Hillrock Estate, based in New York, uses solera barrels to age its “field to glass” whiskey, taking estate-grown Bourbon and marrying it with mature “seed” Bourbon, then putting it through a series of casks, including a finishing run in 20-year-old oloroso sherry casks. The current age of Hillrock is six years old, with a mashbill that includes 37% rye.
Rob Theakston recently had the opportunity to be front and center for the opening of Jim Beam’s Global Innovation Center this sprint, which culminated in the launch of Jim Beam’s first Signature Craft Bourbon. Rob previewed Signature Craft 12 Year Old, and now its formal arrival on the market is nigh. Launching for sale in August, Signature Craft will be a regular part of (and in fact the senior member of) the Jim Beam lineup.
Now production bottles are making their way to reviewers, along with the line’s first special edition….
Basically I think that Rob’s thoughts on Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old are spot on. Classic Bourbon structure, it’s got vanilla to spare and a good slug of wood — but not too much — on the nose. The body is perfectly integrated, featuring chocolate and cinnamon beneath the vanilla/woody core. And there’s real austerity here, a wine-like character that you just don’t encounter in younger whiskeys and which is a product of picking really great barrels that have been mellowing for over a decade. The finish is more sweet than spicy, but it’s long and soothing. 86 proof. I agree with Rob’s rating: A / $40
But wait, there’s more! Beam’s plan is to take Signature Craft and use it as the basis for a series of annually-released special editions. The first will launch in August alongside Signature Craft: Jim Beam Signature Craft Rare Spanish Brandy. This is the Signature Craft 12 Year Old that’s finished not in the traditional way of mellowing in Spanish brandy barrels but actually by pouring some Spanish brandy into the whiskey. That’s unusual, but does it pan out? Yeah, well enough, but it’s a bit of a distraction from the charms of the straight Signature Craft. The brandy adds more sweetness, along with heavy notes of raisins and dates, sending this whiskey’s flavor profile in a whole new direction. It’s still tasty, but more than a little disarming. I’ll keep sipping on it, but the original’s got it handily beat. 86 proof. B+ / $40
jimbeam.com [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]
Stony Hill Vineyard is located in Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain AVA, where it specializes in white wines, particularly its award-winning Chardonnay. We sampled three of its latest releases for the 2013 drinking season. Thoughts follow.
2010 Stony Hill Chardonnay Napa Valley – Lemon, honeysuckle, and intriguing woody notes on the nose lead to a complex body, moderate in mouthfeel with light acidity. Here you find lots of orange and lemon notes, some honey — an almost Sauternes hint — midway through the finish. Don’t worry, it’s not a sugar bomb: The conclusion is dry and inviting, the honey character building on the nose as it warms in the glass. A real knockout. A / $42
Lately we’ve received a whole bunch of “stocking stuffer” sized gadgets suitable for wine and beer fanatics. Rather than review them individually, we’re rounding them up here in a mega-gizmo post. Thoughts follow.
Hermetus Bottle Opener & Resealer – Sometimes you don’t want to drink that entire half-liter of beer, but if you’ve pried off the crown cap, what do you do next? The Hermetus is several gadgets in one, but the most noteworthy is that it reseals beer bottles. Just slide the lip of the bottle through the aluminum groove as far as you can: The groove pushes it against a rubber pad and seals it tight. Turn it upside down, shake it up, no worries — the beer won’t come out. It works on both U.S. and Euro bottles, and it includes a standard opener as well as a claw-like opener designed to help with stubborn twist-offs, too. Instructions engraved on the reverse remind you of all of this in case you’ve had too much. A / $9 kaufmann-mercantile.com
House Spirits, the makers of Aviation Gin, has expanded into the whiskey world, and they aren’t messing around. Westward is a very small-batch 100% single malt whiskey made from locally sourced (Pacific Northwest) barley. Westward Oregon Straight Malt is fermented with Scottish and American ale yeasts, then double pot distilled. The spirit is aged in full-size, new American oak barrels for two years.
Washington state’s Dry Fly Distilling recently launched a line of specialty whiskeys (and an aged gin) called the Creel Collection. These exotic spirits offer no age statements and are available only in half-size bottles. We sampled two of the five offerings. Thoughts follow.
Dry Fly Distilling Straight Triticale Whiskey – Triticale isn’t a very sexy name that rolls off the tongue, but this rye/wheat hybrid developed in Scotland in the 1800s is as unique a whiskey as you’re likely to find. The nose is young — grainy and rustic, but far from rough. Those grain notes evolve in the glass to release some fruit flavors on the body — cherry notes, some apple — plus a touch of wood. All the while that graininess hangs on, leaving a bit of cereal on the finish and just a touch of spice, sweetening up as you sip on. 88 proof. B+ / $36 (375ml)
Angel’s Envy is one of the best affordable Bourbons on the market, and now its mad master distiller, Lincoln Henderson, is raising expectations again with Angel’s Envy Rye, one of the best rye whiskeys on the market.
The mashbill will likely sound familiar to regular readers — 95% rye and 5% malted barley — the signature grain blend you’ll find in ryes from Bulleit, Dickel, and just about everyone else in the business who’s sourcing whiskey from LDI in Indiana (though AE will not confirm this). But as with AE Bourbon, Henderson has tricks up his sleeve to make this otherwise commodity whiskey his own. To wit: He finishes six-year-old rye (older than most already) for 18 additional months in Caribbean rum casks. (Those casks in turn began as Cognac barrels, making Angel’s Envy stop #3 on the road to boozedom. The Cognac is originally from Ferrand; the rum is a 10-plus year old bottling from Barbados, part of Ferrand’s Plantation Rum XO 20th Anniversary release.)
This year’s Single Barrel release from Four Roses trots out the OBSK (high-rye) recipe at 13 big years of age.
Slightly older than the usual Single Barrel bottlings (typically 11 or 12 years old), this release is a monster whiskey. If you’ve been waiting for something incredibly bold from Four Roses, wait no longer.
Four Roses 2013 Single Barrel is a bruiser, punchy with cinnamon, big wood notes (particularly heavy on the nose), and a long, sweet, applesauce finish. Bold and spicy on the finish, this whiskey doesn’t let up. Moments after the sweetness starts to fade, a big, Bing cherry note jumps out at you, leaving this whiskey, woody up front, with a distinctly fruity finish. Unique and lots of fun, it’s altogether another winner in a long string of outstanding spirits from Four Roses.
Sample bottles were bottled at a fiery 120 proof — water was a huge help in coaxing out the Bourbon’s most interesting notes. Actual bottle proof will be considerably lower: 100.6 to 114.4 proof, depending on the barrel. 4000 bottles will be released this April.
A / $80 / fourrosesbourbon.com
Never mind the goofy name and goofier bottles. This is good, 100% agave, Highlands tequila that has partnered with the famous Baja hotel for its name and branding.
These are unusual bottles, to say the least. Mind the intriguing-looking yet wholly dysfunctional stoppers. The only thing harder than getting them out of the bottle (that tapered top makes gripping them impossible) is getting them back in.
All three expressions are reviewed below. All expressions are 80 proof.
There’s not much pomp and circumstance attached to a product called “Old Rum,” so at $70 a bottle, you better hope Gosling’s has saved its investment for what’s inside the bottle.
There’s no hint at how old Old Rum actually is. Bermuda-based Gosling’s produces this by taking the standard Black Seal and aging it in barrels for, well, for even longer, until it’s ready, I suppose.
This is one review we’ve been itching to get up for you for a long time, and finally we’ve got our mitts on this latest from Wild Turkey master distiller (and all around good guy) Jimmy Russell: Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon.
The name has had many in this biz scratching their heads: Wouldn’t a single barrel release, by definition, also be a small batch? More intriguingly, this release is the first in the Russell’s Reserve series bottled without an age statement. The original Russell’s Reserve carries a 10 Year Old age statement and a $34 price tag. At $50 a bottle, is the Single Barrel older, or is it just a selection of the best barrels of the 10 Year? Who knows? Next time I see Jimmy, though, I’m going to pry it out of him. (Also of note: Bottles are not individually numbered, so there’s no way of tracking what barrel you’re getting… if that’s important to you.)
Another major difference we should get out of the way up front is the alcohol content: 110 proof vs. 90 proof for Russell’s 10 Year. It’s also incredibly dark in the glass, one of the darker Bourbons on the market today. Pouring a glass releases tons of wood character into the room. I thought I was in store for a barrel bomb when I tucked into it, but that’s not the case. The nose straight from the glass once things settle down offers some wood but also coal, cinnamon/baking spice, and just a hint of vanilla.
On the body, it’s a bit hot but easily manageable without water, then sweet. There’s more of a burnt sugar/dark caramel than the typical vanilla profile of younger Bourbons, with a distinct charcoal note (courtesy of the dense alligator char on Russell’s barrels) that leads to an unusual touch of licorice on the finish. Somewhat minty, but more of a dried mint than fresh. Inviting and restrained, this is sipping Bourbon that welcomes conversation, a dense and chewy whiskey with a clearly impressive pedigree. Way to go, Jimmy!
A / $50 / wildturkeybourbon.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
I’m no stranger to Plymouth Gin — it’s the very product that started me off in spirits reviewing, over a decade ago. Plymouth is a unique gin because the term describes both a style and a brand. “Plymouth Gin,” like “Scotch whisky,” is gin that is made in Plymouth, England. There’s only one company making gin in Plymouth, though, and that is the Black Friars Distillery, where it produces Plymouth Gin (the brand).
Plymouth Gin also has a specific style associated with it. While it is similar in structure and distillation process to London Dry, it is less juniper-focused, more citrus-forward, and imbued with more of the earthier components typical of gin, including orris and angelica roots. The total bill of botanicals includes nothing unusual: juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seeds, angelica root, orris root, and cardamom. Just seven ingredients… nothing in a world where modern gins will commonly have 20 ingredients or more.
Starr Hill in Charlottesville, Virginia makes a collection of beers in a wild array of styles, mostly available on the central-eastern seaboard. The company sent us (out of the blue) two of its newer, seasonal releases for sampling and review. Thoughts follow.
Starr Hill Starr Saison Belgian Style Ale – Mild nose. Fruity with orange and grapefruit notes. On the palate, moderately bitter and slightly sour, with a bit of mustiness on the end. Fruit and hops come together to create something approaching a sense of applesauce mixed together with old wood, rye crackers, and peanut shells. Surprisingly restrained body. Overall it offers an austere, Old World, and an overall pleasant experience, but not an entirely refreshing or complicated one. 6% abv. B- / $NA per 12 oz. bottle
Starr Hill Psycho Kilter Wee Heavy Ale – Wow, this is a dangerous beer. 22 oz. of 9.3% alcohol wee heavy… and oh so drinkable. Very malty but not syrupy, this mahogany brown ale is rich with nutty flavors, silky chocolate notes, some touches of coffee, and even light wine characteristics with just a touch of bitterness on the back end. This bruiser goes down far too easy, its light sweetness tantalizing the taste buds in just the right way, inviting sip after sip as you explore its depths. Really lovely. A / $NA per 22 oz. bottle
35 Maple Street — the California-based folks behind Uncle Val’s gin and Masterson’s rye whiskey — has turned its sights on yet another spirit: rum. Maple isn’t messing around with Kirk and Sweeney (the name refers to a rum-running schooner that worked the Caribbean in the Prohibition era), an intense Dominican rum with 12 years of barrel age on it.
This is classic, extra-old Dominican rum. Huge caramel on the nose, with lots of vanilla, too. The body is silky smooth and supple, a sugary wash that, while it doesn’t exactly load on the complexities, is exactly what you want from an aged rum: Dessert in a glass, but not overly syrupy, and with a little bite at the end. The finish offers just a hint of pepper and cinnamon, a perfect complement to a virtually flawless bottle of rum.
Mind your spills when trying to pour from the grenade-like bottle.
A / $40 / togwines.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
This brand new whiskey hails from Eastside Distilling in Portland, Oregon, and the two barrels in question are a traditional new oak barrel, followed by a second turn for 60 days in a new heavy-char barrel made from Oregon oak. Essentially, its Eastside’s 4 year old Burnside Bourbon (mashbill: 75% corn, 10% rye, 15% malted barley) with a burlier finish applied.
Delightful nose. There’s cherry and gingerbread here, a perfect amount of fruity sweetness to lead you in for a sip. And my, what fun is in store once you tuck in. Again you get cherry and gingerbread spices, with a kind of toffee spin to it. It’s high-proof and heady, and a cinnamon kick develops the more you sip and savor it. The body is spot on and the finish is long, clean, and satisfying.
Three new seasonal brews from our ever-experimental pals at Magic Hat, including a huge winner with coriander underpinnings. Thoughts follow.
Magic Hat Ticket to Rye – It’s a nice IPA with a twist, rye grain in the mash that gives the beer a bit of an edge and a distinct, rye bread flavor. The chewy finish reminds me of a red ale more than an IPA, giving Ticket to Rye a double identity. The cost comes in the form of less up-front bitterness — which may or may not be to your liking — but I find this to be a fair trade-off considering the extra flavor you get. 7.1% abv. A-
We’ve written about Hall from time to time, but it’s a winery that has largely worked in the shadows of more famous operations for years… at least until Wine Spectator named one of the company’s wines the #2 wine of the year in 2011. Pow, to the moon!
Now in its fourth vintage, Hall’s “Ellie’s” bottling (named after owner Craig Hall’s mother) is a Napa-sourced stunner that’s ready to go right now. Gorgeous nose with tons going on: Big blackberries and plums, coffee beans, and hints of chocolate and menthol. More of the above on the body, with the chocolate notes pumped up a bit. The balance here is almost perfect — it’s just a bit on the tart side — with a lively, not-overly-tannic structure. Long and lush finish, with blueberry notes. It pairs beautifully with food, too. What’s not to love?
A / $70 / hallwines.ewinerysolutions.com