Category Archives: Rated A

Review: BridgePort Brewing Trilogy 3

bridgeport Trilogy 3The final round of BridgePort Brewing Company’s 30th anniversary line of beers is finally here: Trilogy 3 Brewers’ Class. This is a truly interesting beer, made in collaboration with the Fermentation Science Program at Oregon State University. (Did you know? My book on film criticism is a textbook at OSU!) Given little direction, the students and profs dreamed up a brown ale that’s been dry hopped, a nifty spin on an old standard.

Trilogy 3 is easily my favorite beer in the lineup. Tasting all three beers side by side, Trilogy 1 is now drinking a little strangely — too nutty and too corny on the finish. Trilogy 2 is faring better, but still suffers from a dearth of fruit or evergreen notes, essential for a big IPA win. Trilogy 3 stays a little closer to established beer “rules,” but the dry hops work surprisingly well as an adjunct to that classic nutty, slightly chocolaty brown ale. Giving it some pop and a piney bite on the finish, rather than that typical, muddy-sweet character that brown ales so often lack.

BridgePort will bottle the beer that consumers pick as their favorite as a year-round release starting in 2015. Consider my vote cast!

5.0% abv.

A / about $8 per six-pack / bridgeportbrew.com

Tasting Report: 6 Whiskies Along “The Highland Journey”

old pulteney 35

I had the recent good fortune to attend an online tasting called “The Highland Journey,” a road that took us through four distilleries and six single malts, all from distilleries throughout the Scottish Highlands. Tasted roughly from southeast to northwest, the experience covered anCnoc, Speyburn, Balblair, and Old Pulteney. We sampled a range of malts made in a variety of styles, some youthful and tough, others much older and finished with fruit-forward sherry casks.

Tasting notes from the event follow.

anCnoc 22 Years Old – We recently covered a few offerings from anCnoc, but this 22 year old is something else. Lovely apple notes up front. Brisk roasted grain character attacks the palate, with a fiery note that melds well with strong sherry cask influence that hits hard on the finish. Touches of dried fruits here and there. A lovely, balanced whisky that still lets the grain shine in an enticing, attractive way — and does not feel at all like its anywhere near past its prime. 92 proof. A- / $130

Speyburn 10 Years Old – This is entry-level Speyburn, which is a perennial best buy in the single malt space. Simplistic nose, with some charcoal fire notes and a bit of raw wood. The body is quite malty, with caramel and cloves — the tougher wood character takes a nutty turn on the finish. Pleasant but loaded with an almost rustic character. Bolder than I remember. 80 proof. B+ / $29

Speyburn 25 Years Old – An older expression of Speyburn, which you don’t see as often. Aggressive citrus on the nose. Sherry character remains the showcase on the tongue, with some lightly smoky notes building as the spirit develops on the palate. Baking spices and fruit compote emerge, with a touch of iodine/sea salt on the finish. 92 proof. A- / $300

Balblair Vintage 2002 First Release – 10 years old. Woody/malty notes on the nose mask it at first, but the body of this Balblair is very sweet, almost with a granulated sugar character to it. The sweetness rises on the finish, taking on an almost cotton candy character. The finish offers nougat, caramel sauce, and a bit of dried fruit. A fun, after-dinner sipper. 92 proof. A- / $60

Old Pulteney Clipper – A new, limited edition NAS whisky from Old Pulteney. Surprisingly lively. Malty and grain-heavy up front, but with a seductive candy bar character that balances that out. The end result is something akin to raisin-studded oatmeal, a mix of savory and sweet that works. The body is modest — despite a punch of spice that attacks the back of the throat — but balanced and enjoyable. A fine everyday dram choice. 92 proof. B+ / $60

Old Pulteney 35 Years Old – A different animal in this roundup. Elevated above an otherwise solid crowd here. Notes of Port wine, sultanas, clementine oranges, and banana fill the mouth, along with touches of marshmallow. Glorious, bright sherry notes emerge in time for the finish, which melds fresh citrus juices with raisins and candy bars. Lovely! 85 proof. A / $700 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Cloudy Bay 2011 Te Wahi Pinot Noir and 2012 Sauvignon Blanc

Te wahi 2011 (Native) [MHISWF041779 Revision-1]New Zealand’s most notable winery is back with new vintages — including a major departure for the brand with its new Pinot. Let’s not let my intro get in the way. Here are thoughts on two new releases from Cloudy Bay.

2011 Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir Central Otago – This is Cloudy Bay’s first wine not sourced from the Marlborough region and its first new product in 18 years. A gorgeous Pinot, it drinks more like a California wine than a jammy New Zealand wine. Notes of tea leaf, cinnamon, and ginger mingle with a cherry/blueberry core just perfectly. The wine is best with a touch of chill on it; too warm it starts to feel a bit watery. That said, on the whole it comes together beautifully. A / $75

2012 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, offering tropical notes, some brown sugar, and a lemon-fueled finish. Herbal notes emerge on the big, juice palate as the wine warms a bit, revealing more balance and a somewhat sour citrus finish. A- / $36

cloudybay.co.nz

Review: Michter’s US-1 Small Batch Bourbon, Rye, and Unblended American Whiskey

To clarify my earlier commentary on the company: Michter’s is an old name that’s reviving its distillery operations — but while that’s getting going, the company is bottling contract-produced spirits under its own label. Label copy on this series of US-1 — aka US*1 — whiskeys is decidedly vague. The bourbon reviewed below, for example, is “made from the highest quality American corn and matured to the peak of perfection in a hand-selected charred white oak barrel… it is then further mellowed by our signature filtration.”

Curious.

We’ve reviewed Michter’s before, and no matter how secretive it may be about its sourcing, the company makes a pretty solid product. (More to the point: It tells someone else to make a solid product, and they do.) The three spirits reviewed below comprise three of the four entry-level spirits from Michter’s (the Sour Mash fourth is covered in the review linked above), so we’re finally rounding out the company’s basic offerings. As for the older stock, we’ll just have to bide our time for it.

Thoughts follow.

Michter’s US-1 Small Batch Bourbon - Aged in new oak for an indeterminate time. A bold and aggressive whiskey. Intensity from the get-go on the nose: Butterscotch, over-ripe banana, creme brulee, and cinnamon. The body takes all that and runs with it, adding brisk oak elements, apple pie notes, dried figs, and a touch of red hot candies. That bit of heat doesn’t last. The finish is seductive and supple, offering a wonderful balance between dusty wood and brown sugar sweetness. An excellent buy, the dearth of data on the spirit notwithstanding. Reviewed: Batch #14C123. 91.4 proof. A / $40

Michter’s US-1 Single Barrel Straight Rye – Aged 36 months-plus in new oak; otherwise no mashbill information is offered. Clear, spicy rye notes on the nose, with a dusting of sawdust. As the body develops, you get lots of caramel apple, more intense wood, and some bitter chocolate notes. While the nose offers tons of promise, frankly I was hoping for more on the palate. What comes across is a rather straightforward whiskey that masks its more interesting elements in lumber. Drinkable and mixable, but short on character. Reviews: Batch #14C118. 84.8 proof. B / $40

Michter’s US-1 Small Batch Unblended American Whiskey – This one’s the most mysterious of the bunch — a mystery grain whiskey that is aged (for a mysterious amount of time) not in new oak but in used bourbon barrels. The nose is immediately curious — gingerbread, molasses, and some lumber, but also tinned apples and cinnamon. The body is sweet with milk chocolate and maple notes, I’m thinking a distilled version of Sunday breakfast with some Nestle’s Quik on the menu. This isn’t a bad whiskey but it is a curious one, playing its identity cards close to the vest. Wheat whiskey, perhaps? Why not just say so? No batch information. 83.4 proof. B+ / $40

michters.com

Review: Hibiki 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old

hibiki 21

Great news for lovers of Japanese whiskies. Suntory has just launched two older Hibiki expressions, 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old, to join its 12 year old bottling that arrived on our shores way back in 2009. We got fresh looks as the first shipments hit the U.S.

Hibiki 17 Years Old – Nicely balanced between supple grain notes and dessert-like characteristics on the nose, including sherried nuts, honeycomb, and nougat. The body plays up both sides of this equation nicely. The cereal side is well-aged, mellow, and slightly racy, while the oak-driven side offers deep almond and hazelnut notes and a lightly sweet, whipped cream finish that ties it all together like a nice ice cream sundae. Could be a touch punchier, but overall it’s a great way to end an evening. 86 proof. A- / $150

Hibiki 21 Years Old – Elevated. Almost cognac-like on the nose, with austerity and grace, but also clear sweetness. The palate starts out a bit hot — surprising given the relatively gentle alcohol level here — with a cinnamon-like burn and more of those roasted cereal notes. Give it a little time in glass and some honey character emerges along with soothing brown sugar notes. The finish is where Hibiki 21 really kicks in, with some red fruits, sherry, red peppers, and a bit of chewy marshmallow to top it all off. Exemplary. 86 proof. A / $250

suntory.com

Review: Roca Patron Tequila

Roca Patron Reposado

Quien es mas rico? No es Patron. Es Roca Patron.

If standard Patron isn’t ritzy enough for you, now there’s Roca Patron, an artisanal version of the tequila classic. What’s a roca? And how is this different from the regular bottling? In Patron’s words:

Roca Patrón starts with a tahona, a giant two-ton stone wheel hand-carved from volcanic rock (roca) that slowly crushes the cooked agave to break the bonds of fiber and release the rich agave juice. From here, both the juice and the agave fiber are placed together into wooden fermentation vats for 72 hours, and then distilled in small-capacity copper pot stills. Only a handful of the more than 150 working tequila distilleries in Mexico still utilize the tahona process.

While Roca Patrón is the company’s first line of tequilas crafted exclusively from the tahona process, the process itself is nothing new to Patrón. From the brand’s very beginning, every tequila in the Patrón portfolio has included tahona tequila in the blend. The core line of Patrón tequilas, and Gran Patrón Platinum and Gran Patrón Burdeos, are created from a combination of tahona tequila and tequilas produced from the more modern roller mill process. Patrón has also recently introduced a tahona-only extra añejo, Gran Patrón Piedra.

The aged variants are rested in single-use American bourbon barrels – Roca Patrón Reposado for five months, Roca Patrón Añejo for 14 months; this differs from the core Patrón line, which are aged in a blend of new and used oak barrels. The Patrón master distiller determined that the ideal flavor characteristics of Roca Patrón Silver came through at 45 percent alcohol (90 proof). Similarly, Roca Patrón Reposado is optimal at 84 proof, and Roca Patrón Añejo at 88 proof.

We tried the blanco, reposado, and anejo expressions. Thoughts follow:

Roca Patron Blanco Tequila – Silver, unaged. Classically herbal on the nose, grassy with lemon/lime overtones. Surprisingly similar on the palate. This is more vegetal than standard Patron — or, more accurately, my memory of the last time I had Patron — with more bite, more acidic tang, and a clear focus on fresh herbs. A lot of this is likely due to the 45% alcohol that Roca Blanco is bottled at. A fully capable but decidedly simplistic blanco; you’ll find more nuance and depth of flavor in other bottlings on the market. 90 proof. B+ / $70

Roca Patron Reposado Tequila – Aged 5 months. The nose is quiet, with a crisp focus on lemon — think lemon meringue pie — and agave in the distant background. The body is silky as all get out. This is the kind of tequila people will invariably describe as “smooth” as they knock it back a handle at a time. It’s got just the right consistency, melding the bite of agave with more lemony citrus, vanilla custard, a dusting of cinnamon, and a touch of woody lumberyard notes. The finish fades from sweet and soothing to drying and clean with a twist of lime, a nifty little trick and one that will sure have happy drinkers ordering a second shot at the bar. Firing on all cylinders. 84 proof. A / $80

Roca Patron Anejo Tequila – Aged 14 months. Exotic nose. Lots of agave hanging in there at first, bringing aromas of rosemary and sage to mingle with some burnt marshmallow and anise notes. But after a sip or two you clearly see the impact of wood just having its way with this spirit. 14 months isn’t all that old for a solid anejo, but here the astringent wood barrel notes nonetheless overpower both the agave notes and the sweetness you’d normally see from barrel aging. Instead of that classically anejo silky caramel character we get a slug of raw lumberyard that dominates the spirit and never lets up. A disappointment considering the promise of the reposado. 88 proof. B / $90

All in all: A mixed bag, but I can think of nothing but this when the bottle’s in front of me.

patrontequila.com

Preview: Cognac Lheraud Cuvee 20 and 1974 Vintage

011

Cuvee Lheraud (lerr-oh) is a family-owned Cognac producer that makes a million bottles of brandy every year all from its estate vineyards. And you’ve never heard of them, because until now they have not sold products in the United States.

This fall, Lheraud arrives on U.S. shores, bringing its unique spin on Cognac to our esteemed shores. While it makes single-vintage editions much like many other high-end producers, it also takes the same approach to its higher-end non-vintage dated blends. As Export Manager Francois Rebel explained to me on a recent visit to San Francisco to introduce the brand, the various cuvee bottlings, including the 20 year old Cuvee 20, are made from casks of exactly that age. This year’s Cuvee 20 was made from casks distilled in 1994. Next year it’ll be 1995 casks, and so on. Doesn’t this cause a problem with consistency from year to 013year, if you can’t blend from other vintages to achieve a flavor profile that doesn’t vary from year to year? Yes. But that’s the way we do it, says Rebel. Some years customers may not like the changes, but “Lheraud does not blend.”

Neat idea, though I could never get a clear explanation of why the Cuvee 20 doesn’t indicate it’s a Cuvee 20 distilled in 1994 — which would seem to boost sales. Ah, the French!

Rebel tasted me on two of the distillery’s upcoming releases, and my thoughts are below. Note: Our sampling was quite limited to small tastes, so these should be considered preview descriptions and ratings and not canonical reviews. Prices are estimated based on overseas pricing. Will update with official pricing when it is available.

Cognac Lheraud Cuvee 20 (2014 Bottling) – Made from grapes from the Petite Champagne region. Classic style for a Cognac this age, light incense and raisin notes atop a sweet core that offers oaky, almond, and honey notes on the palate. Easy to like. 86 proof. B+ / $70

Cognac Lheraud 1974 Vintage – Made from Grand Champagne-grown grapes. A 40 year old bottling, bottled at cask strength — unusual for any Cognac. More exotic on the nose than the Cuvee 20, it offers darker chocolate and nut character, dark raisins, dried figs, and drying, resinous oak on the finish. Less sweet than the Cuvee, but it still has plenty of sugar to go around. Complex and worthwhile. 98 proof. A / $500+

cognac-lheraud.com

Tasting Report: Cinsault Wines from Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard, 2014 Releases

Cinsault may not be a household wine varietal, but they sure seem to grow a bunch of it up in Lodi, located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. Recently the Lodi winemaking trade group sponsored a tasting of four Cinsault wines, all from the region’s Bechthold Vineyard.

Primarily known as a blending grape in the Languedoc region of France, Cinsault makes for surprisingly soft and fruity wines, often with a dash (or more) of spice. It lies somewhere between Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. As another point of reference, Cinsault and Pinot Noir were crossed to make Pinotage, the unofficial national grape of South Africa.

The four wines below demonstrate how widely variable wines made from this grape can be — even those made from grapes grown in the same vineyard. Thoughts follow.

2013 Turley Cinsault Bechtoldt Vineyard Lodi – Immediately spicy on the nose — cinnamon and ginger, unusual qualities in any wine — with tons of fruit. Strawberries and crisp rhubarb burst forth, with a long, slightly sweet finish. Most would guess this is Pinot. Either way, it’s lots of fun. [sic] on the spelling of the vineyard name on the label. A / $17

2013 Michael David Ancient Vine Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard - Dense and chocolaty, easily mistaken for Zinfandel. Earthy and lightly smoky, the only thing connecting this to the Turley is the strawberry at its core — but here it is more like strawberry jam or preserves. A much different, but compelling, wine. B+ / $25

2012 Estate Crush Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard – A more middle-of-the-road wine, offering a blend of jammy fruit and a dusting of baking spices. Strawberry is the clear fruit component here, pulling you into a vanilla-infused finish. B+ / $26

2011 Onesta Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard – A more brooding wine, somewhere between the prior two wines in intensity and depth of flavor. Give it a few minutes in the glass and plenty of strawberry notes come forward, along with ample chocolate and caramel character, adding nuance. Definitely a wine that would work with dessert — but also with the main course. Worthwhile. A- / $29

Review: Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Years Old

glenfiddich 26

2014’s autumn of whiskey releases continues with this new release from Speyside’s Glenfiddich, a permanent addition to the distillery’s portfolio.

Nothing fancy here: Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Years Old is aged entirely in American oak ex-bourbon casks, with no finishing. It’s actually the first whisky in the company’s permanent collection to be entirely aged in ex-bourbon casks.

While it’s got Glenfiddich DNA through and through, this is a powerful spirit from the Speyside giant. The nose is intense with fruit — pears, apricots, and a dollop of orange blossom honey to sweeten things up. Fairly light oak notes emerge here as well. The body is a powerhouse to match the big nose. Intense honey character gives this the impression of a Sauternes-finished whiskey, with notes of vanilla, almond, charred wood, and roasted cereal grains coming along toward the finish. The body is rich and viscous, which adds to the depth of flavor and a quite lengthy finish. It’s not the most complicated whisky in the world, particularly considering its age, but its power and deep honey notes make it compelling in its own right.

86 proof.

A / $500 / glenfiddich.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Fourteen

We’re near the end of Buffalo Trace’s exhaustive (and exhausting) Single Oak Project, a series of 192 bourbons all made in a slightly different style — an attempt to find the whole grail of whiskeydom. With this round, we’ve got 168 down, 24 to go. Home stretch!

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s our past coverage to date:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven
Round Twelve
Round Thirteen

Round 14 features whiskeys all aged in barrels made from the bottom half of the tree, put in barrel at 125 proof, and aged in a wooden-floor warehouse. Variables include char level, stave seasoning, wood grain, and of course recipe (rye vs. wheat). We’ve seen iterations on these variables in the past; at this point, the project is mainly about cleaning up what’s left in the lineup.

Two whiskeys — the classically structured Barrel #2 and the Stagg-like Barrel #34 stood out in an otherwise fair but unremarkable field. Nothing in this round was particularly unlikable, except perhaps the unbalanced Barrel #172. The overall winners so far (based on popular vote) are Barrel #82 and #83. I graded them both at a B+.

Complete thoughts on round 14 follow.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #2 – Classic, with lots of depth of flavor. Touches of sandalwood, honey, and walnuts all meld together into a well-integrated, creamy, and lightly spiced (yet lengthy) finish. It goes down almost too easy, offering all the classic bourbon notes with every sip. Easily the best of this round. A (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #12 – Foresty — with eucalyptus and solid oak notes. The hearty body melds chewy wood with some modest fruit notes. A bit ashy on the finish. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #34 – Bold up front, with a rich, chocolaty nose. It all follows through to the body, with a rounded, almost malty character that pushes through to a racy, brown sugar-infused finish studded with cloves, cinnamon, and cayenne. A (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #44 – Dessert time! Marshmallows and light nuts on the nose. The body is all silky caramel and nougat, until some wood-driven astringency arrives on the finish. Slow start, but it builds to a delightful middle and an agreeable, balanced end. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #66 – Blazing with heat and big wood character, it’s hard to catch much nuance on the nose. The body however reveals some surprises: Spicy rye character at its core, with touches of baking spices blended with red pepper. Big and bold, it’s loaded with lumberyard notes that really hang on. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #76 – Racy with both baking spices and more savory ones — think red pepper, thyme, sage, and pine needles. Lots going on here that’s unusual for bourbon, but it’s not a whiskey without some charms — so Old World in its austerity, herbaciousness, and restraint. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #98 – Indistinct, alcohol-redolent nose, but the body is bursting with fruit. Orange and cherry notes play with dark brown sugar tones, and some cinnamon red hots on the finish. A fine whiskey; too bad the nose isn’t there to finish the job. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #108 – Intriguing on the nose, this whiskey strongly exudes cherry cola notes, with underpinnings of oak. The body is moderate and a bit more scattered. The cherry’s not here, but the cola notes are big, along with some tea leaf, heavy charred wood, licorice, cardamom, and a touch of cloves. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #130 – Unusual notes of lemon and wood here — think Pledge, but in a way you might drink — at least on the nose. The body is more indistinct in its citrus focus, drinking hot while offering ample notes of wood oil and cloves on the back end. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #140 – Traditional: vanilla, caramel, wood. This could be any rack bourbon, but it’s classy and refined — a darker, woodier, coal-fired, more cigars-in-the-back-room bourbon than most of the comparably fruity expressions you get in the SOP. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #162 – Mild menthol on the nose leads in to a very easygoing palate. The body on this one is liquid caramel from front to back, spiked with cloves. Strangely, a bit of barnyard character emerges on the nose after some time in the glass, dulling what is otherwise a pleasant, anywhiskey experience. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #172 – Not an incredible level of character here. The nose is filled more with raw alcohol than anything else, the body is a fiery experience that finishes with smoke and brimstone. Not the Project’s best. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com