Category Archives: Rated A

Review: Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon

Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2013 202x300 Review: Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel BourbonThis 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 /

Review: Hotel California Tequila

hotel california reposado 199x300 Review: Hotel California TequilaNever 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.

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Review: Gosling’s Family Reserve “Old Rum”

goslings old rum 300x140 Review: Goslings Family Reserve Old RumThere’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.

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Review: Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon

RR Single Barrel 2 192x300 Review: Russells Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel BourbonThis 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!


Review: Plymouth Gin and Navy Strength Gin

plymouth gin 2013 200x300 Review: Plymouth Gin and Navy Strength GinI’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.

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Review: Starr Hill Saison and Psycho Kilter

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 Saison 300x279 Review: Starr Hill Saison and Psycho KilterStarr 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 124x150 Review: Starr Hill Saison and Psycho KilterStarr 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

Review: Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 12 Years Old

kirk and sweeney 12 year old rum 200x300 Review: Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 12 Years Old35 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.

80 proof.


Review: Burnside Double Barrel Bourbon

burnside double barrel bourbon 103x300 Review: Burnside Double Barrel BourbonThis 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.

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Review: Magic Hat Exotic Spring Ales 2013

magic hat ticket to rye 298x300 Review: Magic Hat Exotic Spring Ales 2013Three 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-

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Review: 2010 Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley “Ellie’s”

Hall Ellies Cabernet 87x300 Review: 2010 Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ElliesWe’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 /

Review: Cruz Tequila

cruz tequila 300x198 Review: Cruz TequilaThis new tequila brand hails from Los Altos, in the Jalisco Highlands. Packaged in squat, antique glass bottles, it’s as eye-catching as it is easy to drink. Thoughts on the two expressions — an unaged blanco and a reposado — follow. Both are 80 proof.

Cruz Silver Tequila - I hate it when spirits are described as “smooth,” but that’s the most perfect descriptor for Cruz’s blanco that I can think of. Very subtle and restrained, this is a tequila for those among you that aren’t looking for an agave bomb. Don’t even think about lime and salt, this is a pure, silky sipping tequila that goes down easy as is. Lemony and grassy, it’s moderately sweet with a big, creamy body, with just a mild agave herbal character on the back end. Some creamy flan notes finish out the tequila. Altogether a really standout blanco, provided you’re not looking for a big agave rush. A / $35

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Review: Big Bottom Whiskey, 2012 Releases

big bottom port finished 5 years old whiskey 225x300 Review: Big Bottom Whiskey, 2012 ReleasesI’m an unofficial member of the Big Bottom fan club, having gushed about the company’s 2 year old and 3 year old Port-finished Bourbons in the past. The 4 year olds sold out pretty much immediately, but Oregon-based proprietor Ted Pappas just can’t quit.

His latest series includes a collection of three 5 year old whiskeys (though none offers a formal age statement), including both the classic Port finished whiskey and a new Zinfandel finished one. Thoughts follow on the line (which have all been formally branded as Bourbon now), each of which remains pegged at 91 proof.

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Book Review: Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage

KBW Book Review: Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American HeritageHistorian Mike Veach is no stranger to bourbon history. He got his start fresh out of college at Louisville’s Filson Historical Society, archiving the papers of the famous Stitzel-Weller distillery. Over the last few decades, he has dedicated his career to preserving, documenting, and researching the stories of Kentucky’s greatest exports. He’s won numerous awards and earned the title of honorary Kentucky Colonel for his academic pursuits.
It makes perfect sense that someone with access to the craft’s most intensive information would compose such a comprehensive overview of bourbon’s history with his latest work Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage.

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Tasting the Liqueurs and C2 Cognac/Liqueur Blends of Merlet

Merlet C2 Citron 101x300 Tasting the Liqueurs and C2 Cognac/Liqueur Blends of MerletWe covered Merlet’s new Cognac a few weeks ago, but the company is arguably best known for its fruit liqueurs, which we’re finally getting around to covering them. All of them, actually. Thoughts on these high-end liqueurs and two unique Cognac/liqueur blends follow.

Merlet Triple Sec – Triple sec is perhaps the toughest liqueur there is to mess up, and Merlet’s, made with bitter orange, blood orange, and lemon, is perfectly solid and is at times a bit exotic with its melange of interrelated fruit flavors. A very pale yellow in color, the lemon is a touch more to the forefront than I’d like, lending this liqueur a slight sourness, but on the whole it’s a perfectly worthwhile and usable triple sec that I have no trouble recommending. 80 proof. A- / $30

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Review: Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Tequila 2012 Edition

jose cuervo reserva de la familia 2012 carton 273x300 Review: Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Tequila 2012 EditionCheck the very bottom of your favorite upscale Mexican restaurant’s tequila menu and you’ll likely see a very expensive Jose Cuervo on the list: Reserva de la Familia.

This annual release (introduced in 1995 to celebrate Cuervo’s 200th anniversary) is an exotic blend of tequilas with an average age of 3 years old. Some of the spirits are up to 30 years old, according to Cuervo. This is our third vintage to review, having previously covered the Reserva in 2008 and 2010. Each year, the 17,000 bottles made are packed in special-edition wooden crates painted by a Mexican artist. For this 17th edition, Ricardo Pinto created the design.

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Review: Hooker’s House Bourbon and Rye

hookers house bourbon 125x300 Review: Hookers House Bourbon and RyeColor me a bit of a skeptic. Hooker’s House label declares these whiskeys as “Sonoma Style,” as in the California wine country. Where they do not make whiskey. Right? Heck, HelloCello (aka Prohibition Spirits) — best known for its artisanal lemoncello (and other flavors) — makes this whiskey. What on earth do these guys know about Bourbon? How good could it possibly be?

Plenty. And pretty good, it turns out.

Named after a Civil War veteran, Joseph Hooker, who lived in Sonoma, these whiskeys are not actually distilled in California (the company cites only “Bourbon-belt” production; I’m presuming they are born at LDI like pretty much everything else on the market). But Hooker’s House Bourbon and Rye, like many of my favorite craft whiskeys, are decidedly non-traditional spirits: Both are finished in (different) wine barrels that have been retired from local wineries.

That, I guess, it was “Sonoma Style” is all about. And you can count me a full-on convert.

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Book Review: Shake, Stir, Pour

shake stir pour book 248x300 Book Review: Shake, Stir, PourHow enticing do all those artisan cocktails you see these days look, with their organic cinammon-rhubarb puree and house-made schnozzberry syrup? I frequently enjoy these libations, then regret that I’ll never be able to make them the same way at home.

Well, with Katie M. Loeb’s Shake, Stir, Pour: Fresh Homegrown Cocktails, now you can. All those syrups, mixers, infusions, and bitters are just a recipe away — and while many are far more exotic to make than the dinner you’ll prepare afterwards, the directions are clear, concise, and easy to follow.

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Review: Master of Malt Worship Street Whistling Shop Cream Gin

master of malt cream gin 135x300 Review: Master of Malt Worship Street Whistling Shop Cream GinMaster of Malt has no shortage of bizarre concoctions, but this one is a new one for me: Gin distilled using cream as a botanical. The result is called, simply, cream gin.

Cream gin, we are told by MoM, “was popular in the Gin Palaces of the Victorian Era, however back then the gin would probably have been mixed with a cream and sugar then left to infuse. To update this classic idea, this Cream Gin has been cold-distilled using fresh cream as a botanical (the equivalent of 100ml cream per bottle!), to capture the fresh flavour of the cream in a perfectly clear spirit. Because the cream is never heated during the distillation process, no ‘burnt’ or ‘off’ flavours end up in the finished product. Cream Gin has the same shelf-life as any other distilled spirit.”

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Review: Yao Ming Family Wines, 2009 Vintages

Yao Ming Bottle Shots 211x300 Review: Yao Ming Family Wines, 2009 VintagesIt’s not every day we get to try a $625 wine made by a former pro basketball player. OK, it’s never when that happens.

Chinese phenomenon Yao Ming recently got the celebrity winemaker bug and launched his own wine label, but with a twist: His primary market is his homeland of China, and the U.S. is almost an afterthought.

Now don’t get the impression that Yao is making wine in his garage for kicks. He’s partnered with longtime winemaking guru Thomas Hinde to craft Yao Family Wines, which lovingly pay homage to his affection for Napa Cabernet. Yao is involved in the process, particularly regarding blending decisions.

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Experiment: Ice vs. Whiskey Stones vs. Tilt Chilling Sphere

ice stones and spheres oh my 300x224 Experiment: Ice vs. Whiskey Stones vs. Tilt Chilling SphereThe drinking industry’s war on ice is in full force. Fearful that ice will water down their precious booze, entrepreneurs are suggesting alternative chilling systems to bring the temperature of their hooch down.

But do they work? Ice is effective at chilling a drink because it melts, releasing near-frozen water into your dram. Can alternative technologies do the job, too? There are whiskey stones (soapstone cubes), or the new Tilt Chilling Sphere, a metal spheroid that you fish out of your drink with an included hook, which doubles as a cocktail pick. How effective can these non-melting chilling systems be?

We did the science, folks!

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