Category Archives: Rated A

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

Review: St. Elder Elderflower Liqueur

st elder  hires bt 361x1200 Review: St. Elder Elderflower LiqueurElderflower, the flower that makes that inimitably peachy-lychee-pineapply flavor, has had a huge run lately, largely thanks to the premium liqueur St. Germain. Naturally, competition has followed from indie upstarts, including this liqueur from St. Elder. It’s made not in France but in Massachusetts and bottled not in a Deco masterpiece but in something that looks like it was designed for malt liquor. It’s also almost half the price… so is it worthwhile as a budget alternative to St. G? Read on…

The color is bright gold, as expected, and the nose is loaded with tropicality. It’s particularly heavy on pineapple, with sharper, lychee notes coming along behind. The body is creamier, almost like a pineapple upside-down cake, with caramel notes in the mid-palate. The finish is sharp and vaguely floral, with those tropical notes coming on strong again. It’s quite similar to St. Germain in the end, the most notable difference being the addition of 5% more alcohol to St. Elder, which makes this expression slightly punchier.

Good thing or bad thing? It doesn’t seem to matter much: St. Elder may not be as refined on the outside, but what’s in the bottle is a big winner.

40 proof.

A / $18 / st-elder.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #3

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ImpEx Beverages imports The Exclusive Malts, a series of independently-bottled Scotch whiskys that are, well, pretty darn exclusive. Primarily cask strength bottlings produced in very limited editions (most have just a few hundred bottles drawn from a single cask available), these are rarities that single malt fans will definitely want to try and seek out.

Thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Laphroaig 2005 8 Years Old – Everything you’re expecting from a cask-strength Laphroaig indie, all salty seaweed, cloves, orange oil, and iodine. The peat is restrained and kicks in mainly on the finish. This expression doesn’t reinvent Laphroaig’s well-worn wheel, but brings it home in style. 111.8 proof. A- / $85

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 2003 10 Years Old – Sourced from an unnamed distillery in Speyside. Who could it be, given this description? The nose is restrained, barely hinting at what’s inside. Crack things open and get ready for a punch to the throat: Shockingly sweet syrup, candied apples and pears, fresh honeycomb, and just hints of its underlying grain. A drop of water helps to tame the sugary finish, bringing out some malty notes. 112.6 proof. B+ / $90

The Exclusive Malts Craigellachie 2000 12 Years Old – Craigellachie is a small distillery that’s in the same village as Macallan in the north of Speyside. It makes very few official bottlings, so your best chance to try it is in independent bottlings like this. Hints of smoke on the nose, with menthol and some orange notes. The body is big and round, full of well-oaked grains, light citrus, even some tropical notes. Not overly complex, but a solid sipper at just 12 years old. Well balanced even at cask strength. 111.6 proof. A- /  $105

The Exclusive Malts Mortlach 18 Years Old – Classic Mortlach, sharp, well-oaked, and fruity with spiced pear notes on the nose. The body is austere and refined, with light mint notes, orange flower honey, and a grainy, malty back end. Relatively simple in composition, but engaging and easy to enjoy as is. 108.6 proof. B+ / $130

The Exclusive Malts Longmorn 1985 28 Years Old – Beautiful stuff. Almost bourbon-like on the nose, with heavy vanilla and caramel, toasted coconut, and some banana. The body ups the ante with sweet-and-silky honey, nougat, butterscotch, and dried fruits. Wonderful balance of sweet stuff, malty notes, and gentle spices, with a lush body and a long finish. 103.2 proof. A / $250

The Exclusive Malts The Exclusive Blend 1991 21 Years Old – A blend of single malts and single grain whiskys, all distilled in 1991 and matured in ex-sherry casks. What an oddity. Some funky, leathery, tobacco-laden, Band-Aid notes on the nose lead you into a body that hits you with sweet smoke, big malt character, heather, and tar. Kind of a mess, and sorely lacking in some much-needed fruitiness to give this odd blend some charm. 92 proof. B / $100

impexbev.com

Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Irish Whiskey

Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Limited Edition 525x525 Review: Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Irish Whiskey

Tullamore D.E.W. (nee Tullamore Dew) continues its march upmarket with the release of Phoenix, one of its fanciest bottlings released to date.

This expression is launched in commemoration of the first-ever air disaster, a hot-air balloon fire in 1785 that took place in the town of Tullamore and subsequently burned down most of the town (the recovery is the phoenix in question). This is a classic blended Irish whiskey bottled with no age statement. A blend of pure pot still, malt whiskey, and grain whiskey, it is non-chill filtered and is finished in Oloroso sherry casks. This first edition of what is planned to be an annual release comprises 30,000 bottles.

Quite a delight, Phoenix is a creamy, nutty whiskey that takes the easy nature of Irish and gives it more body and more gravitas. Almonds are the prominent note here, wrapped up in a nougat character that closely resembles a Mars Almond bar. (Sadly not on the market any more.) The sherry is really just hinted at here. While many a sherry-finished whiskey will wallop you over the head with juicy orange character, here it’s appropriately understated, racy with baking spices, spiced nuts, and orange notes on the finish. The higher proof adds body and complexity. Easily the best thing from Tullamore to date, and actually a great value considering the quality on display here.

110 proof.

A / $55 / tullamoredew.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2013 Edition

deschutes the Abyss 2013 Label 525x460 Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2013 Edition

It’s been three years since we tucked into a bottle of Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery’s rare barrel-aged concoction. Time again then for a fresh look at this bold annual release, The Abyss, now in its 8th installment.

Sadly, I’m still two months before the 8/16/14 “drink after” date on this beer… but by that point, this will all be off the market, and you won’t be able to buy it.

This Imperial stout is brewed with black strap molasses, licorice, cherry bark and vanilla. 6% of the beer is aged in oak ex-bourbon barrels, 11% in oak ex-pinot noir barrels, and another 11% in new oak barrels. It all comes together in glorious fashion; I think this is one of the best Abyss bottlings I’ve tried to date.

On the nose, the coffee-brown brew offers beautiful licorice notes up front, with aromas of coffee bean and cocoa powder backing it up. The body is intense with dark coffee character, ultra-bitter chocolate, and a panoply of mild vegetal notes that include green bean and that olive character that’s a classic part of The Abyss’s finish. The denouement is like sipping on the last of a truly great espresso.

Great stuff, hard to put down.

11% abv. 70 IBUs.

2013 Edition: A / $12 per 22-oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur

barrows intense ginger 74x300 Review: Barrows Intense Ginger LiqueurIt should be noted at the start that “INTENSE” is by far the largest text on the label of this liqueur, but that’s to be expected from any ginger-flavored spirit. It simply comes with the territory.

Ginger liqueurs are a small category, for obvious reasons. The number of cocktails you can use it in is limited, and ginger beer does the trick in most cases. My bottle of Domaine de Canton — the most venerable product in this category — has been half-empty for years.

But Barrow’s, an artisanal product made in Brooklyn, NY, easily gives it a run for its money. This cloudy, intriguing liqueur (Canton is transparent) really does live up to its name. The nose is pungent without being overwhelming, offering legit ginger character plus a smattering of lemon and grapefruit notes. There’s more of the same on the body, which starts off with moderate sweetness — brown sugar melted into ginger ale — then jumps off a cliff into that classic, fresh-grated-ginger bite. The finish is spicy hot yet oddly refreshing, a spirit that’s both rustic and authentic. (The swing top bottle stopper completes the effect.)

Do I still like Canton? Absolutely, but it’s more perfumed, offering jasmine, incense, and vanilla notes up front, with all the ginger in the back. Barrow’s is a bolder and less distracted rendition of the spirit with, yes, a bit more intensity.

44 proof.

A / $31 / barrowsintense.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Ketel One Vodka (2014)

ketel one 2014 bottle 353x1200 Review: Ketel One Vodka (2014)

The Netherlands-distilled Ketel One was one of the brands that drove vodka’s rise to super-premium status, and it’s been 6 years since we took a look at this iconic, venerable brand.

Recipes and production methods change, over time. So how has Ketel One fared in the last half-decade as its found itself attacked by competitors? We took a fresh look at a recent-vintage bottle.

I tasted Ketel One before reading my prior review. The vodka is cleaner than I remember, with distinct lemon notes on the nose backing up some hefty hospital character. The body is crisp and sharp with classic medicinal character, and also mildly lemony with a slight backbone of vanilla. Lovely balance on the whole, making it easy to enjoy straight or in any number of cocktails. A clear go-to that deserves its spot on the back bar.

I didn’t catch the menthol notes this time around, but more importantly that ashy charcoal character was wholly lacking in this 2014 bottle. All in all, Ketel One remains a top choice for a high-end vodka, and in fact may even be getting better.

A / $20 / ketelone.com

Review: Charbay R5, S, and Release III Hop Flavored Whiskeys

WhiskeyFall2013150dpi 525x419 Review: Charbay R5, S, and Release III Hop Flavored Whiskeys

It’s commonly said that “whiskey is made from beer,” though that’s typically not quite true. Most whiskey is made from a low-alcohol, fermented grain sludge that you would never want anywhere near your mouth (I know, I’ve tried it). Usually this is just called mash, but sometimes it’s colloquially known as beer, because it’s kind of the same thing (though whiskey mash does not commonly include hops in it).

Well, Virginia, you can also make whiskey out of real beer, too. This is not often done, because real beer is much, much more expensive than grain sludge. But that didn’t stop Ukiah, California-based Charbay from doing it anyway. The whiskeys below are all made from actual beer — hence the “hop flavored” moniker in the name. (The flavor comes from the hops in the beer, not from anything added after the distillation takes place.)

We’ve seen younger versions of at least one of these before… but these are all newly-released whiskeys. Thoughts follow.

Charbay R5 Hop Flavored Whiskey Lot 511A – A couple of years ago we reviewed a pre-release version of Charbay R5, a whiskey made from bottle-ready Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA beer. Now a more finished version of Charbay R5 is out, aged for 29 months (vs. 2012’s 22-month version) in French oak following double-distillation in copper pot stills. As with the younger (and unaged) versions of this spirit, R5 Lot 511A wears its beer cred right on its sleeve. The nose is intensely hoppy, but also almost sherry-like with orange and clove notes Lots of wood here, almost smoky. The body has real intensity, with clear notes of Racer 5 as the whiskey develops on the palate — herbal, bittersweet, and plenty hoppy. The finish offers ample grain notes, sweet and salty and impregnated with the essence of the fields from which this whiskey was born. Exotic and exciting. 99 proof. B+ / $79  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Charbay S Hop Flavored Whiskey Lot 211A – Also made from a Bear Republic beer, this one Big Bear Black Stout. As with R5, it is double distilled and aged for 29 months in French oak. This whiskey has a more mellow nose, offering a curio cabinet full of brown sugar, cinnamon, incense, and more grain character than the R5. On the palate, you’ll find musky, dusky spice, a big grain profile, and subtle notes of coffee and dark chocolate. The mid-palate is more rustic than R5, but the finish is more compelling, fading into an echo of an Irish coffee. 99 proof. B+ / $140

Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey Release III - This is the third release from Charbay’s 1999 collector’s series, comprised of 10 barrels of whiskey distilled 15 years ago. Distilled from a bottle-ready pilsner beer (no brand name is offered), the distillate spent six years in new #3 “gator skin” char American oak barrels, then 8 additional years in neutral vessels before bottling. The whiskey is offered at barrel strength — and barrel price, apparently. A much deeper brown color than Charbay’s other whiskeys, this whiskey shows just what this distillery can do with enough time to kill. The nose is dense, full of vanilla and chocolate notes (and not at all pilsner-like). On the palate, it’s eye-burningly hot. Water dramatically helps reveal its charms, which include dark coffee, burnt marshmallows, and a dark, roasted grain character. While not entirely in the same wheelhouse, this is the most bourbon-like of Charbay’s whiskey lineup, sweet and spicy and bound up with lots of enticing dessert notes. Whether that adds up to $400 a bottle — provenance aside, this is a 6 year old whiskey when push comes to shove — is a matter that can be debated in the comments. But one thing’s for sure: Charbay Release III is a knockout the likes of which you aren’t going to encounter anywhere else. 132.4 proof. 2713 bottles made. A / $410

charbay.com

Review: KAH Tequila

KAH Reposado side 525x659 Review: KAH Tequila

KAH is a tequila brand you won’t quickly forget, whether you’ve tried it or not. Bottled in painted ceramic skulls with Day of the Dead motifs on them, these spirits stand out so much they’re almost too pretty to open.

But what’s inside? It’s lowlands tequila, 100% agave, bottled in the typical varieties — but with a twist on reposado, which is boosted up to a massive 110 proof. Why 110 proof? I’m not sure, but the bottle is designed in the image of “El Diablo,” a fitting moniker I’m sure among those who’ve had a shot too many.

KAH isn’t cheap, but there’s an easier way to try out this curious tequila: A sampler kit of three 50ml bottles (which are mini versions of the painted ceramic ones) is just $30.

KAH Tequila Blanco - Enticing, with intense agave on the nose, mixed with notes of creme brulee and spiced, roasted almonds. On the tongue, a powerful array of elements expected and otherwise emerge. It starts with creamy marzipan before delving into sultry spices — clove-studded oranges and cinnamon cream — while folding in plenty of well-roasted, herbal agave. It comes together marvelously in a creamy body with a moderate and engaging finish with nary a second of bite. Nearly everything a blanco should be. 80 proof. A / $45

KAH Tequila Reposado – Aged 10 months in French oak. Surprisingly divergent from the blanco. Initially hot, the nose is a bit distant and obscured by alcohol, of which there is plenty in this oddball repo. The body is a strange symphony of flavors, beginning with hard candy and toffee notes, then taking you into various notes of nougat, red wine, whisky barrel, and sharp agave herbaciousness at the end. Almost the opposite of the blanco’s creaminess, it’s a bit of a tough nut to crack and not half as enjoyable. 110 proof. B / $60

KAH Tequila Anejo – Spends two years in American oak. Big caramel and vanilla notes on the nose, typical of a well-aged, quality anejo. The body sticks close to the formula, keeping the sweetness heavy and layering on a bit of milk chocolate as the finish starts to roll over you. Agave is largely absent here… only a residual slug of herbs on the nose proves that you’re not drinking rum. Still, all in all it’s a solid dessert-like experience. 80 proof. A- / $60

kahtequila.com

Review: Crazy Steve’s Bloody Mary Mixes

ghostship 300x241 Review: Crazy Steves Bloody Mary MixesCrazy Steve is making Bloody Mary mixes, dry spices, salsas, and pickles in the heart of New Jersey. (He’s also trying to help out the damaged Jersey Shore, so give him a hand.)

Our focus today however is on his two Bloody mixes (made with fresh cucumber, celery, onion, and jalapeno) and their rimmer companion. Thoughts follow.

Crazy Steve’s Badass Barnacle Bloody Mary Mix – Thick, with enticingly meaty overtones. Almost a gazpacho in a glass, it offers notes of garlic, onion, bouillon, and a bit of mixed garden vegetables. Moderate heat — it burns the lips but not the belly. All in all, there’s a great balance of flavors here, all coming together in a viscous yet easily drinkable package. Good on its own or spiked with vodka. A / $9 per 32 oz. bottle [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Crazy Steve’s GhostShip Bloody Mary Mix – Spiked with ghost peppers, aka “the hottest pepper in the world,” hence the name. Smells great. Peppery, like black pepper, atop the garlicky tomato notes. The body at first comes off much like the Badass Barnacle, but the heat builds quickly and steadily as it settles into your gullet. GhostShip quickly rises to the level where it seems like you’re going to break into a sweat, and your tongue is starting to prickle with an uncomfortable level of heat… and then it breaks. A seasoned (ha!) heat-seeker can handle GhostShip without a beer or milk chaser, but it’s more comfortable with a little something on the side. A- / $9 per 32 oz. bottle [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Crazy Steve’s Shot Over the Rim Spicy Bloody Mary Salt – Made with salt, red wine vinegar powder, chili powder, jalepeno powder, onion powder, cider vinegar powder, cumin, garlic powder, and some other stuff. I really like it. Most Bloody Mary rim salt is too heavy on chili powder, too light on salt. Crazy Steve has the balance right — plenty of salt (though not too much), with a kind of smoky, chipotle kick behind it. Good heat, but not overdone. Who knew that vinegar powder would be a killer secret ingredient? A keeper. A / $6 per 6 oz. container [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

crazystevespickles.com

Review: Pernod Absinthe “Original Recipe”

PERNOD ABSINTHE NEW BOTTLE 2 WHITE BACKGROUND HD 525x700 Review: Pernod Absinthe Original Recipe

It wasn’t long ago that Pernod re-entered the market with an authentic absinthe (i.e. one with wormwood in it). But purists complained: Why would Pernod, whose absinthe cred dates back to 1792 and which was the market leader for over a century, release an absinthe with a wholly new recipe? Does not compute.

Following a minor outcry (absinthe nerds are a loud bunch, they’ll be the first to admit), Pernod recently announced some big news: It is returning to its original formula, having spent the last two years researching remaining records from the 1800s to determine how Pernod was made back then.

According to the company, there are three main differences. First, the base spirit has changed from grain alcohol to a grape-based spirit, or brandy. In fact, Languedoc grapes are used for the brandy in keeping with the original recipe. Second, the grande wormwood in the spirit is sourced from Pontarlier, France, Pernod’s historic home. Finally, the new spirit is colored through macerated green nettles, not added dyes or artificial colors. While the eschewing of colorants is a nice touch, it’s the move to a brandy base that is really the biggest shift here. That adds considerable complexity and cost to the production… but what does it do to the final product?

I just so happened to have a bottle of Pernod from its prior recipe (unopened, circa 2012) as well as a sample of the new “Original Recipe” Pernod. Let’s compare.

Pernod “Original Recipe” is slightly different in color. Slightly closer to a solid green, less yellow/chartreuse. On the nose it’s tougher to pick out differences. The prior recipe seems to offer just a hint of added sweetness — like licorice candy — on the nose, but this is also a slight change. Finally, to the body. I’m happy to report that “Original Recipe” Pernod is a standout absinthe… but I thought the prior recipe version was exceptional, as well. The brandy base likely has made the biggest impact here, giving the spirit a somewhat sour edge at first, but also providing a bigger, more robust body than the sharper and somewhat cleaner prior bottling. Otherwise, the botanicals struck me about the same way. Maybe a touch more lemon verbena in the mix on this new absinthe, but otherwise, a fresh, anise-driven body with clean citrusy, licorice-twisted notes behind it.

So, the bottom line: Is Original Recipe better? I’m truly on the fence. The differences are not great, and Pernod should be credited for putting out a classy bottling in its first stab at a post-ban absinthe. The lack of chemical dyes in the new version is to be commended, but the freshness and slight sweetness of the former version also resonate with me. Call it a tie?

136 proof (same as before).

A / $68 / pernodabsinthe.com

Review: Cutty Sark Tam O’ Shanter Blended Scotch Whisky 25 Years Old

cutty sark tam o shanter 525x562 Review: Cutty Sark Tam O Shanter Blended Scotch Whisky 25 Years Old

Venerable Cutty Sark has been making big moves of late (more on these in a few weeks), but the biggest is easily the launch of Tam O’ Shanter, the Scottish company’s ultra-premium blend of 25 year old malt and grain whiskys. Decidedly limited, it’s far from your grandpa’s old green bottle of Cutty’s classic blended Scotch.

Rich and dense, you know you’re in from a treat with Tam O’ Shanter, starting with the mahogany color and the powerful nose, which offers orange peel, incense, almonds, nougat, and leathery old wood notes. The nose is racy and hot… but the palate isn’t a mouth-burner at all. Instead, you’ll find both power and nuance in abundance, with light grain notes leading their way into bittersweet chocolate, cigar box, light smoky notes and plenty of orange/sherry character to round it all out.

The body is rich and inviting, warming and round without being unctuous. The finish is also strong and lengthy, sticking around for minutes as you recall some of the components that have come before. A lovely dram which, it probably goes without saying, is the best thing Cutty Sark has ever put into a bottle.

999 bottles available in the U.S. (5000 total globally.) 93 proof.

A / $300 / cutty-sark.com

Review: NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey 10 Years Old

Blandys 10YR Malmsey 88x300 Review: NV Blandys Madeira Malmsey 10 Years Old A few months ago we took a deep dive into the world of Madeira, with a survey of four different grape varietals, all made by Blandy’s and all five years old. Today we look at an older version of one — Malmsey — at 10 years old. Malmsey was my favorite Madeira then and I put this 10 year old expression side by side with the younger version to see how it shaped up.

The answer: Surprisingly well. At 5 years old, Blandy’s Malmsey Madeira is still a bit funky, offering a raisiny fortified wine with touches of bittersweet chocolate and an acidic finish. At 10, the wine has matured wonderfully, bringing more of that chocolate to the forefront and imbuing it with a beautiful expression of raisin, fig, and currants. That tight, almost sour funkiness has vanished, leaving behind a sultry experience that begs for a rich cheese or a dense chocolate cake. Quite lovely.

19% abv.

A / $35 / blandys.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Stave Drying Time Experiments

buffalo trace Stave Drying experiment 525x517 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Stave Drying Time Experiments

When trees are cut down and turned into lumber, the wood planks are dried, or “seasoned,” by leaving them out in the open air. After a few months, the wood has lost enough of its oiliness to allow the staves to be turned into barrel planks. (If the wood isn’t dried at all, the moisture will likely lead to significant barrel leakage.)

But stave drying also has effects on the way the bourbon tastes — impacting how the whiskey is absorbed into the wood, and the amount and types of tannins, sugars, and other chemicals that are released into the spirit.

For this Experimental Collection release, Buffalo Trace focused on the very narrow variable of stave-drying time. The distillery normally dries its staves for six months. That’s the “control” in this experiment. For comparison, some wooden staves were dried for 13 months before being turned into barrels. Both were then coopered and filled with the same new make spirit (BT’s rye mash #1), and aged for 15 years. Both are bottled at 90 proof. New wood vs. old… which makes a better bourbon? Thoughts follow.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Standard Stave Dry Time – Proof that you needn’t mess with a winning formula. 15 year old rye-heavy bourbon in all its glory, full of vanilla and caramel character, and touched with orange oil, cloves, and cinnamon. Great balance, and incredibly well-rounded, this is just a great, well-aged bourbon that finds everything firing on all cylinders. A

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Extended Stave Dry Time – Hotter on the nose, with clear mint notes. Punchy, with much stronger orange fruit notes and a finish that is reminiscent of balsa wood. The vanilla is kept in check, with just hints of caramel. A racier spirit but one that starts to spiral out of balance. Amazingly instructive in how a small thing can impact a spirit in such a major way. B+

$46.35 each (375ml bottles) / buffalotrace.com