Review: Gin Mare

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Gin Mare is billed as a “Mediterranean Gin,” distilled in Barcelona. “Made in small batches in a copper pot still with 250 liters of capacity per batch, Gin Mare’s key botanicals include Arbequina olive, thyme, rosemary and basil, each sourced from four different Mediterranean countries.” (Citrus fruit and green cardamom are also components.) “Distinguishing itself from traditional London dry gins, the spirit highlights its botanicals through the use of premium barley base, delicate maceration, individual distillation and authentic blending.”

The key takeaway in all of that is a single word: olive. By using olives as a flavoring agent, Gin Mare takes a martiniesque shortcut that I haven’t really encountered before. The nose has a distinct olive note, plus a lacing of black pepper, mixed dried herbs, and a bit of green onion. Quite savory on the nose, the body finds room for some sweeter stuff, with light notes of simple syrup that fade into clearer notes of rosemary, earthy cardamom, and lemon peel. The finish remains restrained and savory and reminiscent of an olive tapenade with a lemon twist upon it. Note however that there’s scarcely a hint of juniper throughout the experience.

What a unique, quirky, and curious gin! It’s several big steps off the beaten path, but it’s so intriguing — and enjoyable — that it hardly matters. Whether you think of this as gin or olive-flavored vodka is completely beside the point. Try it in your next martini.

85.4 proof.

A / $38 / ginmare.com

Review: Decadent Saint Sangrias and Wine Concentrates

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Decadent Saint is a company run by Michael Hasler, an enologist from Australia whose letter to me in impeccable calligraphy introduced a unique product: concentrates made from wine intended to be diluted into sangria and other fanciful beverages.

These are all natural products, packaged in swing tops and designed to be mixed on the fly. Directions generally suggest adding one part mix to 3 to 5 parts water, sparkling water, or sparkling wine — each option will give the finished drink a different tone. Some bottlings can be served either on ice or warm.

We tried all four of Decadent Saints’ offerings. Each is bottled at 20.5% abv as a concentrate, so expect a much lighter finished product once they’re watered down.

Decadent Saint White Sangria – White wine, fruit, and spices. Very heavy with peaches and apricots — even with water it comes across at first like a mimosa. Some light citrus ekes through late in the game, with mango heavier on the finish. This is a simple concoction, but it’s really quite lovely and overflowing with an abundance of fruit. I like it just fine as a still beverage (no sparkling water or wine), but it works well both ways. Reviewed twice: Batch #7 and #8. A

Decadent Saint Red Sangria – Red wine, fruit, and spices. Heavy with red berries, with raspberry especially prominent. Citrus, mango, and even some banana notes make a showing later in the game. It’s a bit sweeter than I expect from sangria — this drinks a bit more like a wine cooler than a sangria — but those who like their sangria on the fruity side will probably gravitate heavily to this concoction. Water is fine, but sparkling wine gives this a much-needed kick. Reviewed: Batch #3. B+

Decadent Saint Fire or Ice Sangria – Another red sangria — also billed as containing red wine, fruit, and spices — with a twist. “Drink hot or cold,” hence the name, so it could work as either a chilled sangria or a holiday glogg. I tried it at a bit below room temperature but can totally see the appeal as a hot beverage, its plummy/raisiny core and a healthy slug of cinnamon and nutmeg giving it a distinct holiday feel. Sparkling wine helps to cut through some of the sweetness here, which is amped up above that of the white sangria, but with less of that classic apple/berry/citrus character one expects in a standard sangria. Reviewed: Batch #9. B

Decadent Saint Rocky Mountain Rescue – Here we find Hasler going straight up loco. This is a blend of red wine, dark chocolate, decaf coffee, berries, and spices. The taste is, perhaps unsurprisingly, exactly what you are expecting: a nutty, mocha-heavy coffee experience with a finish that leans toward dried berries and jam. There’s more raisin and cinnamon on the somewhat gummy palate, particularly on the back end, and lengthy, lingering notes of gingerbread and milky coffee. I like all the flavors in this bottle… I’m just not really enchanted by them all mixed together. Reviewed: Batch #6. B-

each $20 per 750ml bottle / whatwelove.com

Review: 2013 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Napa Valley

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This is one of the highest-end wines from Napa’s Freemark Abbey that are in widespread release. Give this one some breathing room before diving in. Initially a bit tight and tannic, the wine takes 20 minutes or so to find its footing, which reveals itself in layers: dense tobacco leaf, then sweet currants, then notes of plum and cloves. The finish is drying and austere — this is a wine that will benefit from at least 4-5 years in the cellar — but pleasant and lengthy, with echoes of exotic spice and dried figs, a clear sign of great things to come.

A / $70 / freemarkabbey.com

Review: 1792 High Rye Bourbon

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Sazerac/Buffalo Trace’s 1792 Distillery is on a tear, now hitting the market with its 5th special edition in a little over a year, High Rye Bourbon. Some details:

Barton 1792 Distillery releases another expression in its line-up of 1792 whiskeys, 1792 High Rye Bourbon. The flagship product of the collection, 1792 Small Batch, is well known for using a higher percentage of rye than most bourbons, but this special edition High Rye Bourbon brings an even more intense amount of rye to the mash bill. Although very limited, expect to see annual releases of this robust bourbon after its initial release this fall. 1792 High Rye Bourbon was distilled in May of 2008, and aged for a little more than eight years on the second floor of Warehouse K at the historic Barton 1792 Distillery before it was bottled at 94.3 proof.

You can smell the rye influence foremost here, which hits the nostrils with a racy punch of cloves, allspice, and red pepper. The impression of spice is a bit misleading, though, for the palate balances this out with a gentler body that pumps up the vanilla- and caramel-led sweetness, at least on the initial attack. With a bit of time, the rye spices make a triumphant return, muscling their way back to the fore and layering on a bit of heat. The finish is lengthy and offers some drying licorice notes, plus ginger and tea leaf. All told, it comes together with remarkable balance and finds a unique place in bourbondom, riding the line between a traditional bourbon and a straight rye.

A lovely addition to the 1792 lineup. Get it while you can!

94.3 proof.

A / $36 / 1792bourbon.com

Review: Troegs Nimble Giant

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Nimble Giant is a once-a-year seasonal from Hershey, Pennsylvania’s Troegs, and it presents itself as decidedly gigantic from the start. Nimble? That’s perhaps up to the consumer. This is a double IPA crafted with Mosaic, Azacca, and Simcoe hops, brash and punchy from the start with a surfeit of fruit — grapefruit, orange, and some lemon — atop a dense, sometimes syrupy core. Floral notes emerge with some time in glass, the finish ending squarely on a properly hoppy, piney, resinous note. While Nimble Giant is huge, it is indeed fairly nimble, letting its fruity notes do the heavy lifting as it fades out. A lovely, chewy DIPA. 9% abv.

A / $13 per four-pack of 16 oz cans / troegs.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish

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The 11th installment in Woodford Reserve’s annual Master’s Collection release is here. For 2016, standard, “fully mature” Woodford is finished in American brandy casks for nearly two years. Which brandy isn’t stated (but since Woodford’s parent company Brown-Forman owns Korbel, I have a strong hunch where the casks came from).

Woodford notes, “Brandy, a spirit distilled from wine or fruit, is often aged in oak barrels. Unlike bourbon, brandy does not have the new, charred barrel requirement allowing their barrels to be used multiple times. Therefore, this release is technically not a bourbon but rather a finished whiskey.” That’s really splitting hairs, though. Finishing barrels have become quite popular in bourbon country in recent years (see also Angel’s Envy), and the use of one does not, in my mind, disqualify this from being called a bourbon.

And in fact, there is nothing at all not to like in the 2016 Master’s Collection bourbon. Fresh from the start, the nose is moderately woody, tempered by light chocolate, cinnamon (a Morris classic), and plenty of lightly scorched caramel. Some raisin and dried fig notes come forward with time. On the tongue, the whiskey quickly settles into a beautifully balanced groove. Notes of raisin, ripe banana, and gingerbread wash over a spicy, vanilla- and caramel-heavy core. As a reprise, some gentle wood notes bring up the rear, a nice callback to the way things started.

The two years in old brandy casks have worked nicely at mellowing out a bourbon that can sometimes be overblown with wood. The brandy cask adds something in the form of those gently sweet raisin notes, but more importantly is what it takes away, which is some of the heavier tannin and lumberyard notes that standard Woodford can express. As with the Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir release, this expression is a whiskey that takes a solid spirit and elevates it even further.

Morris has stumbled upon a really magical combination here. It may be the best Master’s Collection release to date.

90.4 proof.

A / $100 / woodfordreserve.com

Review: 3 Mezcals from Craft Distillers – Alipus Ensamble, Mezcalero #16, and Mezcalero Special #2

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Craft Distillers has doubled down on mezcal, and it imports both the Alipus and Mezcalero lines of mezcal. Alipus is generally available, but the Mezcalero line is a series of limited production releases, numbered in sequence. 1 through 14 are now sold out; you can still get 15 and 16, the latter of which is reviewed below, along with a new “special bottling” of Mezcalero.

Let’s dig in to all three.

Mezcal Alipus San Andres Ensamble  – The first blended Alipus (all the others being single-village bottlings), Ensamble is a blend of 20% wild bicuishe agave harvested at 5300 feet plus 80% traditional espadin. It’s hard to miss the powerful sweetness here, coming across like honey for starters and almost maple syrupy at times. The smoke grows from there. What is palpable on the nose is well-integrated into the palate, where it takes on a fruitlike character not unlike sherried Islay Scotch. This, however, goes too far, pushing overripe fruit elements that culminate in a somewhat saccharine mishmosh of flavors that hit strong citrus notes before diving into a finish of salt spray and cigar smoke. A bit scattered on the whole. 94.4 proof. B / $65

Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel –  Angel takes semi-wild madrecuishe (agave karwinskii) from a 5200-foote high soil and turns it into this, an elegant and truly gorgeous mezcal. The nose is restrained and citrus-focused, with clear notes of lemon and grapefruit. The palate weaves gentle smoke into the picture, meandering from wood fires to clean citrus and back again. The body is modest but fulfilling, the finish clean and lightly sweet, with just a hint of that sour citrus juice squeezed on top. So easygoing, it’s hard to put down — and a perfect example of what quality mezcal should be. 94.2 proof. A / $96

Mezcalero Special Bottling Release #2 – A higher-end, even more limited production. This release comprises “552 liters distilled in October and November of 2012 by Don Valente Angel from semi-wild Dobadaan (agave rhodacantha). It was harvested from a south-facing slope of a hill known as Loma de la Mojonera comprised of sandy, ferriferous soil at 5350 feet of elevation. The agaves were wood-fire roasted in a stone horno, shredder-crushed, fermented with wild yeasts, double distilled using artisan methods on a 200-liter copper potstill, and bottled in March of 2016. 736 bottles produced.” To clarify, this is tank-rested (not barrel-aged) for over three years before bottling. The results are impressive. This is a soft, seductive mezcal that starts slow and builds to a crescendo, kicking off on the nose with gentle notes of black pepper, simple smoky notes, and a basic citrus character. The palate follows suit, dialed way back at first with just a short, simple sweetness, some orange peel, and pepper. From there, it builds up to quite a hefty, mouth-filling body, rolling in notes of mint, gunpowder, apple, and campfire smoke. The mezcal goes out not with a whimper but with a bang, finishing sharply and scorching the back of the throat. Exciting stuff, and fun to explore. 97.52 proof. A- / $135

craftdistillers.com

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