Category Archives: Rated A

Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish Head

“Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. For what is the time of a man, except it be interwoven with that memory of ancient things of a superior age?” – Cicero

Thankfully, there are modern day custodians of history keeping the past alive and well, presenting long-silenced voices in time and framing the act of rediscovery as an innovative art. Such is the case with magazines like Lapham’s Quarterly, podcasts like Hard Core History, and Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales series.

Working in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania’s Director of Biomolecular Archaeology for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health Dr. Patrick McGovern, Dogfish CEO Sam Calagione revives long lost recipes and brings to light traditional beermaking methods that folks in the United States would consider highly exotic (you can see their discovery and process in action on their reality show Brewmasters, now streaming on Netflix). More often than not though, the efforts pay off.

jiahu Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish HeadChateau Jiahu – A variation on the world’s oldest fermented beverage recipe, this is an incredibly sweet beer made with hawthorn fruit, sake, barley, rice and honey. The majority of these ingredients are more than evident throughout the experience. Took a bit to get used to, but once invested, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 10% abv. A- / $12 (25.4 oz.)

Midas Touch – “Indiana Calagione” and Dr. McGovern found the molecular evidence of this recipe in a Turkish tomb that was allegedly the property of one King Midas. Incredibly sweet, and as the story goes it’s actually somewhere on the scale between a wine and mead. I’m inclined to believe it. Leaves a bit of a dry finish with a few faint herb notes. 9% abv. B / $12 (12 oz. four-pack)

theobroma Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish HeadTheobroma – Wham bam, thank you ma’am! Taking its recipe cues from a chemical analysis of Honduran pottery over 3,000 years old (it feels kind of ridiculous just typing that), this is a chocolate beer recipe filled to the brim with cocoa, a bit of bitter honey, and a bit of chili spice on the back end. The deceptive light coloring (you’d think a chocolate beer would be a bit darker) teases and lets the chili and cocoa do their dance. Excellent stuff! 9% abv. A / $12 (25.4 oz)

Ta Henket – Bread bread and bread… which makes perfect sense because this recipe comes from Egyptian Hieroglyphics. The yeast stands out with traces of the chamomile and other herbs listed as secondary ingredients. Probably my least favorite of the bunch, but being the weak link in this chain could be the strongest on any other lineup. 4.5% abv. B- / $11 (25.4 oz)

The company also offers a variety of special brewpub only editions, including one involving a whole mess of human-masticated corn and saliva. Hopefully these other experiments will see mass production shortly, but given the time and effort it takes to make them happen, it may just require a visit to Delaware instead.

Dogfish Head has a tendency to sometimes enter the realm of the comically absurd. In keeping with the spirit of the company’s mantra, that’s a risk that unconventional brewing must take in order to stay innovative and interesting. For this series it’s an investment that pays off handsomely and provides an enjoyable education into the complexity of beer history for those willing to pay the cost of admission.

dogfish.com

Review: Firefly White Lightning Moonshine and Apple Pie Moonshine

Firefly Moonshine Rocks 525x349 Review: Firefly White Lightning Moonshine and Apple Pie Moonshine

I’m a big fan of Firefly’s tea-flavored vodka, probably the best on the market. Recently the distillery, based in Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, branched out into moonshine — unaged “raw corn whiskey,” available unflavored or in one of five different flavored versions. We got both the pure stuff and one of the flavors. Thoughts — surprising thoughts — follow. 

Firefly White Lightning Moonshine – Popcorn nose, almost buttery. From the sharp nose you might think you’re in for a rough and rustic body, but that’s not the case. This White Lightning is surprisingly silky, presumably sweetened but not overdone, this is spicy (over 100 proof) but flavorful, driven by its corn origins but mellowed out with a glazing of sugar. That’s not a slight. This may be moonshine, but it tempers its frontier heritage with a sweetness that’s wholly appropriate. 100.7 proof. B+

Firefly Apple Pie Moonshine – I’ve had apple pie-flavored spirits before, but this is the first time I’ve had one that gets all the components of the dessert in one little shot. It’s all here: apples, cinnamon, caramel, and pie crust. As with Firefly’s masterful tea-flavored vodka, this proves how flavored spirits can be crafted with intelligence, and without being crammed full of as much sugar as possible. This is sweet, but an apple pie is also sweet. Like a well-made pie, Firefly has figured out the balance of the equation (low alcohol doesn’t hurt here), and I have to give them props on that count. 60.3 proof. A

each $20 / fireflymoonshine.com

Review: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve Limited Edition 525x787 Review: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Earlier this fall I wrote (and spoke on video at length) about the end of Johnnie Walker Gold Label and the rise of its replacement, Platinum Label. What was a bit murky at the time was where Gold Label Reserve might fit in with all of this. Formerly a non-U.S., limited release product, Gold Label Reserve has been an oddity for years, particularly while the (non-Reserve) Gold Label was also available.

And now we have the answer: Gold Label Reserve is coming to America, at least for a limited time. Also, you’ll want to dig the bottle: It’s opaque, not transparent, giving the impression of a gold ingot stood on its side.

Gold Label Reserve is, like (nearly) all Johnnie Walker, a blended whisky, though the company offers few details about its components. The company does reveal it includes “casks of Clynelish,” but that’s about it.

I still have the original Gold Label on hand, so as I did with Platinum Label, I put the two spirits side by side. Some thoughts follow.

On the nose, there’s lots of fresh fruit and sherry to spare, a sharp aroma with immediate appeal and a light nuttiness on the back end. The body follows through with more of that sherry, some nougat notes, plus a touch of graham cracker. I get hints of fresh cherry fruit, cinnamon, and honey-spiked sweet tea, all coming together in a remarkably well-balanced and easy to enjoy dram.

It’s not as malty and rich as the original Gold Label — and is overall a bit of a departure from the chewy, almost bready Johnnie Walker house style — and that’s perhaps a good thing. Gold Label Reserve is sophisticated and more refined, with both balance and an inviting finish. My only real complaint is the alcohol level: At 80 proof it doesn’t pack in quite enough of body, and the initial sharpness ultimately becomes a bit flabby in the middle. Knock this up to 92 proof and you’ve got perhaps the best blended Scotch on the market.

At $87, it’s expensive for a blend, but is priced about in line with the old Gold Label. Of course, you’re getting a brick of gold in the bargain, so what are you moaning about?

A / $87 / johnniewalker.com

Review: Collingwood 21 Year Old Rye Canadian Whisky

Collingwood Rye 21 Year Old high res 525x787 Review: Collingwood 21 Year Old Rye Canadian Whisky

Who, who, whoooo is putting out 21 year old rye? At a price of 70 bucks (or less)? Collingwood, that’s who.

Collingwood is best known for bottling its spirits in what look like oversized perfume bottles, but it should be known for the quality of the spirits inside. Standard Collingwood, a young Canadian blend, offers a huge amount of flavor for a whisky that’s just three years or so old. At 27 bucks it’s a steal.

Now comes Collingwood 21, a 100% malted rye with a full 21 years of age on it, aged primarily in new oak barrels and finished in toasted maplewood barrels. There’s plenty going on here. The nose offers rich wood character, butterscotch, and hints of maple syrup. It’s quite enticing and invites you into sipping away, revealing more syrup and butterscotch notes, plus intriguing notes of orange peel, evergreen, and some light lumberyard. The finish is woody but far from overdone, an engaging rush that brings along hints of that rye spiciness, something akin to a clove-spiked orange. Dangerously drinkable.

This is a one-time-only limited release. Grab it while you can. 

80 proof.

A / $70 / collingwoodwhisky.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: WhistlePig “The Boss Hog” Rye Whiskey Single Barrel 12 Years Old

whistlepig the boss hog rye 525x875 Review: WhistlePig The Boss Hog Rye Whiskey Single Barrel 12 Years Old

WhistlePig is widely regarded (by myself included) as one of the best ryes on the market, a straight, 100% rye bottled at 100 proof and a full 10 years old. Last year’s TripleOne brought the age up to 11 years and proof to 111 proof. Now comes The Boss Hog, a 12 year old rye bottled at cask strength — over 130 proof. Whoa.

24 casks are being bottled (each bottle is from a single barrel, they aren’t being vatted), so quantities will be definitively limited (1000 cases, give or take), and the product will vary from one bottle to the next.

The Boss Hog (technically “series 1,” indicating this may become an annual thing) is presumably, like TripleOne, the WhistlePig base stock with a couple of extra years on it and less water in the bottle. What’s remarkable is what those couple of tweaks can do to this already classy and refined spirit.

To start with, the nose is a monster: Richly sweet, without too much wood on it (surprisingly). Aromatics include fresh hay, cinnamon toast, and quite a bit of alcoholic heat. The body is amazingly not nearly as heated as you’d expect, despite having an alcohol level that puts this year’s George T. Stagg to shame. While it’s certainly racy, it’s easily drinkable without water, and you’ll also find flavor to spare. There’s an instant rush of Bit-O-Honey, with deft touches of cinnamon and cloves. The body grows, offering sultry vanilla notes while building up the wood components, until the finish hits, adding some red pepper, dark chocolate, and a rush of heat at the back of the throat. The end result of all of this is quite enchanting, a cask strength, extra-old rye which is already unheard of, but is also almost completely balanced from start to finish.

~134 proof (proof will vary by bottle). Sample barrel # unknown.

A / $150 / whistlepigwhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: 901 Reposado and Anejo Tequila

901 anejo 91x300 Review: 901 Reposado and Anejo TequilaThe Justin Timberlake-backed 901 makes an impressive silver tequila, and now the company is (understandably) back with the other two traditional expressions, a reposado and an anejo.

Both are triple-distilled from 100% agave and bottled at 80 proof.

901 Reposado Tequila – Lots of agave still shining through on the nose, balanced by pepper and wood. The body is sweeter than you might expect, offering pineapple and lime candy notes. Heavy wood character comes on strong in the finish, along with some smoky notes, ample vegetal agave flavors, and a brooding, raked-coals denouement. Worthwhile as a sipper. B+ / $45

901 Anejo Tequila – A substantial improvement over the reposado. Pretty floral notes on the nose and plenty of nougat, but balanced with chile pepper heat. Great overall mouthfeel — silky without being syrupy — and a solid balance of all the flavors you want in anejo, with vanilla running throughout the touches here and there of banana, wood oil, and cayenne pepper. Agave shows its face on the very back end of the finish. Fun stuff. A / $50

901.com

Review: The Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 9 Single Malt

balvenie tun 1401 batch 9 525x700 Review: The Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 9 Single Malt

The 9th outturn of The Balvenie’s Tun 1401 bottling (and the 3rd I’ve experienced) is one of its best. Like Batch 3 and Batch 6 before it, Batch 9 is another U.S. exclusive, but will still be available in minuscule quantities, with just 14 casks married to create this batch. The spirit is drawn from 11 traditional casks and three sherry butts which span “a number of decades,” though detailed age information is not available.

The nose offers exotic spices and incense atop a core of figs and raisins. The sherry is strong with this one, too, exhibiting an almost candylike whiff of orange jellies. The body backs all this up, in spades. In addition to all of the above — with sherry the most notable component — you get notes of leather, glazed walnuts, and a hint of tobacco. The dried fruit components complement these more austere notes just perfectly… call it sugar and spice and everything nice.

98.6 proof.

A / $250 / thebalvenie.com

Review: Teeling Whiskey Company Irish Whiskey and Poitin

Teeling 21 Yr Old Single Malt Silver Reserve 258x300 Review: Teeling Whiskey Company Irish Whiskey and PoitinWe don’t see a lot of new Irish whiskey brands on the market, so when a curiosity like Teeling comes around, Drinkhacker takes note. The Teeling Whiskey Company (aka TWC) is a new brand with some surprisingly old stock. Founder Jack Teeling has roots in the Irish biz dating back to the late 1700s, and now he’s bringing the family business back with this independent distillery.

Mashbill information is a little complicated, so here it is from TWC’s Teeling: “Both [the whiskey and poitin] are a blend of grain and malt whiskey mashbills. The grain mashbill is 95% maize and 5% malted barley, and the malt mashbill is 100% malted barley. The blend of both consists of 35% malt whiskey (or spirit in the case of the Poitin) and 65% grain whiskey (or spirit in the case of the Poitin).” Got it?

Teeling Whiskey Company Poitin – Ah, Ireland’s white whiskey made from who-knows-what (but see above in TWC’s case), and it’s got a lot going on. The nose is fragrant and intriguing: rustic and young, but with notes of lemongrass, black pepper, and hot coals. Fiery at a blazing 123 proof, the body still shows some charms even without water: marshmallows, orange flowers, and a finish of burning embers. It’s complex yet curious, a white whiskey made the way it really ought to be. High-test white spirits like this always need some coaxing to bring out their charms, but Teeling’s does it quite a bit better than most. B+ / $42 (500ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Teeling Whiskey Company Small Batch Irish Whiskey – Small batch whiskey, bottled with no age statement (but blended from hand-selected casks aged between 4 and 7 years old), but finished in ex-Flor de Cana rum casks. The combo makes for some unusual and quite delicious flavors. The nose offers sweet vanilla, creme brulee and very light wood notes. Elusive, but engaging. On the tongue, it’s quite sweet, but kicked up a bit from the rum, with some fun citrus notes, more of a chocolate marshmallow back-end, and a silky smooth finish. The whiskey and rum are working well together here — that doesn’t always happen — offering a sizeable bite, but one which is tempered with ample (yet balanced) sweetness. Really good stuff, with ample depth. Reviewed: Edition bottled 2/2013. 92 proof. A / $53 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Teeling Whiskey Company 21 Year Old Silver Vintage Reserve 1991 Irish Whiskey (pictured) – Unlike the above, this is single malt Irish. 21 years old, at that. 21 year old Irish sounds like it’s going to be incredible, but this is a case where things have gone a bit too far. The lively amber color doesn’t let on to what’s in store, which starts to reveal itself with a malty, bread-like nose. The body offers more of that — a really intense grain character that comes off as fully unexpected in a whiskey this well-aged. Where is the sweetness? Where is the spice? These characteristics are hinted at on the finish, but here you also get more heavy barrel char notes that outweigh any fruity sweetness that remains in the spirit. Interesting enough as a sipper, but a huge letdown from my admittedly high expectations. 92 proof. B / $217

teelingwhiskey.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013 Edition

Antique Collection 525x411 Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013 Edition

It’s always a glorious day when Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection annual samples arrive, letting us stick our noses and tongues in these classics of the American whiskey world. 2013 offers the quintet at ages of up to 19 years old. Here’s how the five whiskeys of the 2013 Collection stack up. (Hint: It’s one of the strongest showings for the Antique Collection in years.)

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Beautiful nose. Lovely rye spice meets caramel and spice aromas. The body has an easy sweetness to it, with gentle grain meeting burnt sugar, vanilla caramels, and light applesauce notes. Relatively simple, but wait for the dark molasses to come along in the finish as you let this rumble around in the glass for a while. This is a barrel (er, barrels) picked at just the right time — I don’t get the overly tannic, drying, and dusty character than 2012’s version. As it often is in the annals of the Antique Collection (because it’s essentially the same from year to year), this one’s just about perfect. 90 proof. A

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Surprise, Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is this year actually 19 years old. They didn’t bother changing the bottle, though. This is always a fun, go-to bourbon, and this year it’s no exception. A bigger whiskey, it’s got ample leather and wood on the nose and the initial attack of the body, with a kind of plum/prune/raisin underpinning that arrives quickly. The sweeter, more dessert-like elements come out more clearly as the finish fades, leaving the drinker with a surprisingly complex overall experience. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – This year’s Stagg was aged on lower floors of the Buffalo Trace warehouses, and the proof comes in at 128.2 proof, one of the lowest (if not the lowest) I’ve seen since starting this website. (Higher warehouse locations are hotter, which causes more water to evaporate than alcohol, which leaves higher-proof whiskey in the barrel.) OK, with that resolved, what you’ll find is a classically structured barrel-proof bourbon, heavy with wood notes (and plenty of straight-up alcohol despite the lower proof level) up front but balanced by a surprising fruitiness underneath. Chewy with notes of figs, plums, and currants, it’s got a brooding character you don’t often see in bourbon and which is not the usual way Stagg presents itself. One worth exploring, as always. 16 years old. B+

William Larue Weller Bourbon – The blazing hot nose makes you think you’re in for nothing but burn, but this year’s Weller — never a highlight of the Antique Collection — has much more to show off. Lots of tobacco on the nose — both fresh and smoldering. A 136.2 proof bourbon at the (comparably) young age of 12 years old, it comes across as older than you initially expect. The tobacco and wood notes blow off after a time, bringing on restrained butterscotch sweetness, plus some banana and caramel notes. This is probably the most classically structured bourbon of the lot, with wood meeting ice cream toppings alongside a blistering overproof backbone. Plenty to enjoy for the traditionalists. B+

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – As usual, this 6 year old rye is the odd man out in a collection populated by whiskeys two to three times its age. But last year Jim Murray made the untenably insane choice to name Handy his “Whisky of the Year,” cementing its place in the Collection pretty much eternally. This year’s expression is one of the better versions of the spirit. It’s a quite sweet rye, laden with plenty of baking spice and a particularly long gingerbread finish. The exceptional sweetness can become a bit overwhelming in the long haul, but that may be to some drinkers’ tastes. Not a lot of wood influence this year, a stark departure from 2012. I wonder what Murray will say. 128.4 proof. B+

$70 each / greatbourbon.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated Bourbon Entry Proof Experiments

Wheat Mash Enrty Proof Family 2 300x159 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Wheated Bourbon Entry Proof ExperimentsBuffalo Trace, no stranger to experimentation, recently released this intriguing series of bourbons as part of its Experimental Collection. The idea: Vary entry proof from very low (90) to fairly high (125), and keep the barrels otherwise exactly the same.

Entry proof, for those not familiar with the lingo, is the term that describes the alcohol level of a whiskey when it goes into the barrel for the first time. Generally whiskey is not barreled at the alcohol level that came off the still. It is rather watered down, often to between 105 and 125 proof, before it’s sealed up to rest for years.

With this series of whiskeys, the white dog came off the still at 130 proof. The recipe is a wheated mashbill, which was then split into four parts, one barreled at 90 proof, one at 105, one at 115, and finally one at 125 proof. All four spent 11 years, 7 months in barrel. When bottled, they were all brought down to 90 proof.

How are they different, and which is best? Here’s what I had to say…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 90 Entry Proof - Pleasant and mellow, it has a brisk level of heat on the nose, but not overwhelming. The body is moderately woody, with ample vanilla character. Applesauce and cinnamon build to an easy, lasting, and sweet conclusion, with just a lightly woody/sawdusty kicker. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 105 Entry Proof - Much less on the nose here, just wisps of lumber and alcoholic heat. The body: Completely dead, just nothing going on in this at all. Hints of coconut and milk chocolate, but otherwise this could be almost any kind of whiskey. A snooze. C+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 115 Entry Proof - Nose of butterscotch, some wood. Comes across as hotter as you take in the nose, but reveals banana notes, brown sugar, caramel, and more. On the body, quite unique, with a sweetness that’s spiked with lots of cloves and deep wood character. Still, it’s not overcooked, offering lots of depth in both its fruit and more savory characters. If I was buying one of these, I’d pick this one. A

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 125 Entry Proof - Racy and spicy, with notes of cinnamon and raisins, both on the nose and in the body. Opens up as you sip it, but wood-driven characteristics take hold over the fruit, leaving behind a slightly bitter, hoary finish. Not unenjoyable, but more difficult than it needs to be. B

Fun stuff, but it might say more about barrel variability than it does about the merits of different entry proofs.

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: A. Smith Bowman Virginia Bourbons

bowman brothers small batch 143x300 Review: A. Smith Bowman Virginia BourbonsYes Virginia, they do make whiskey in, uh, Virginia.

A. Smith Bowman is a boutique bottling now owned by Buffalo Trace parent company Sazerac. It was previously sold with very limited regional availability, but now this unique whiskey, made in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is getting broader distribution that currently totals 17 states (sorry Mississippi!). We were fortunate enough to nab two of the three whiskey expressions it currently has on offer — though oddly, none of the three actually says “A. Smith Bowman” exactly in those words on the label, so bear that in mind if you go on the hunt for a bottle. (The company also makes rum, vodka, and gin.)

Don’t be afraid of Virginia, purists. These are Bourbons made in the accepted, proper way, with a traditional copper pot still, triple distilled. No fancy finishes or other trickery. No age statements are provided on the bottles.

Thoughts on both whiskeys tasted follow.

Bowman Brothers Small Batch Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Ample applesauce on the nose, with cinnamon notes. On the body, vanilla — slightly saccharine in its sweetness — pours forth, alongside some toasty wood notes that offer balance. Hints of mint throughout. The apple notes come back along on the finish. Overall: Nice body, very pleasant and easy to sip on, as long as you’re ready for a whole lot of fruit. 90 proof. A- / $30

John J. Bowman Single Barrel Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey – More wood, more vanilla on the nose. Almost chocolatey. The body offers classic, big Bourbon flavor, a well-crafted melange of wood, cocoa powder, rich vanilla, and somewhat less fruit. Here, it’s not apples but rather figs which make a curious — and wholly welcome — entrance, offering a neat twist on this spirit without being overly fruity or dessert like. Great balance, and easy drinking despite the triple-digit proof level. A slight splash of water doesn’t hurt. 100 proof. A / $50 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

asmithbowman.com

Review: Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka

crop meyer lemon 163x300 Review: Crop Organic Meyer Lemon VodkaCrop is a big name in the organic vodka space, and the latest release — Meyer Lemon — from the Princeton, Minnesota-based company is a standout.

The nose is clean, with that unmistakable mix of orange and lemon notes that can only be the elusive Meyer lemon. Intense and fruity, it masks any sense of alcohol on the nose.

On the tongue, it’s somehow even better: Very crisp Meyer lemon character, tinged just so with pineapple and marshmallow sweetness, with a modest to light medicinal underpinning to remind you you’re drinking vodka and not liquid candy. Loaded with mixing possibilities, it also drinks wonderfully well on its own. If you’re looking for a lemon-fueled vodka to add to the back bar, you’ve found it.

A / $26 / cropvodka.com

Cocktails follow…

California Cosmo
1 ½ parts Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka
¾ part imported triple sec
¾ part cranberry juice
½ part fresh lime juice

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass.

Lemon Blossom
2 parts Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka
3/4 part lemon juice
3/4 part simple syrup
1/2 part elderflower liqueur
Chilled club soda

In an ice-filled collins or highball glass, combine everything except the club soda. Stir until mixed, top with club soda, and garnish with lemon wheels.

Citrus Cobbler
2 parts Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka
1 1/2 parts freshly squeezed and strained orange juice
1/2 part simple syrup
1 dash lime juice
Orange bitters

In a cocktail shaker combine all ingredients except for the bitters, fill with ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass, garnish with a dash of bitters, and decorate with mixed citrus fruits.

Lemon Meringue Cocktail
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1 egg white
2 parts Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka
1/2 part fresh lemon juice
1/2 part French aperitif wine

Shake first two ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and rest of the ingredients. Shake vigorously for twenty seconds and strain into a martini glass.

Review: Tapatio Blanco 110 Tequila

tapatio 110 proof 93x300 Review: Tapatio Blanco 110 TequilaDoes tequila need to be 110 proof? No, but does it hurt?

Such are the questions you might ponder while sipping Tapatio 110, aka Tapatio B110 (the B is for Blanco). It’s essentially the same as the 80-proof Tapatio Blanco, but bottled at a hot hot hot 110 proof. Highland tequila, 100% agave, spends 6 months resting in stainless steel before bottling.

From the nose I would have had no idea this was overproof tequila. It’s fresh, full of lemon/lime notes, solid but hardly overpowering agave, and hints of caramel sauce. Alcohol? It’s there, but not the mega-burn you’re probably expecting.

On the tongue, again, it’s not at all overwhelming, and it’s easy to sip straight, even without water or a mixer. Notes here include fresh lemongrass (with a slight vegetal note to counter the citrus), creme brulee, chewy agave, and a lengthy finish that dances in the flames between scorched vanilla notes and elemental fire. Here’s where the overproof body makes itself known — for a long, long while at that. The finish isn’t so much a mouth-scarring alco-burn but rather a warming, fireside experience that stays with you for the better part of two minutes after a single, tentative sip until it vanishes and leaves behind a cleansing glaze, almost like a mouthwash. Believe me: This is a pleasant and comforting sensation, not the excruciating trip to hell that you might associate with the words “tequila” and “burning.”

A gorgeous, lush, and totally unexpected experience, this is a tequila to seek out and savor as a sipper — yet would also make one hell of a margarita.

A / $42 per 1 liter bottle / charbay.com

Review: 3 Seasonal Beers from Hangar 24

hangar 24 essence 77x300 Review: 3 Seasonal Beers from Hangar 24The seasonals from Hangar 24 just do not stop coming. Here’s three more for summer and fall.

Hangar 24 Oktoberfest Fall Lager – Can Oktoberfest be upon us already? This classic Oktoberfest-style brew is malty with plenty of chewy caramel to go around. Very light baking spice notes — think gingerbread — interact with the sweetness and give some curiosity to the finish. Those looking for bracing bitterness need not apply. 5.7% abv. B+ / $8 per four-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Hangar 24 Local Fields Polycot Wheat – A seasonal wheat beer brewed with apricots. (Poly = many apricots.) Better than I was expecting, with more of a peachy note to it and a touch of white grape juice on the back end. Quite winey, as that description would imply, with the bitterness held firmly in check. Fans of wheat beers will probably gobble this up. (It’s Hangar’s best seller in the Local Fields series.) 7.2% abv. B+ / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

Hangar 24 Local Fields Essence – A double IPA brewed with navel oranges, blood oranges, and grapefruit. This works, and remarkably well. All that citrus is kept well in check by bracing bitterness, and none of the three fruits dominates the others. I think the addition of grapefruit is what really makes this, a touch of puckering sourness that balances out the earthy, piney hops character, giving Essence loads of complexity — plus easy drinkability. The lovely, light copper color only adds to the appeal. (“Peel,” get it!?) 8.5% abv. A / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

hangar24brewery.com

 

Review: 2010 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

 Review: 2010 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyAnother solid and wholly drinkable Cab from Montelena, one of California’s grande dames of Napa Cabernet.

This newly released 2010 bottling is ready to go, full of juicy black currants, tea leaf, a touch of chocolate, and plenty of fruit. All the ripe berries are classic characteristics of Montelena, but as with the 2009, there’s ample restraint here that keeps the wine from blowing out with fruit. It’s a really lovely wine, with great balance and a smooth, supple finish. No complaints here.

91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc. 13.9% abv.

A / $50 / montelena.com

Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope Bourbon (2013)

Parkers ALS Promise of Hope Bottle Shot 103x300 Review: Parkers Heritage Collection Promise of Hope Bourbon (2013)The theme of this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection limited edition Bourbon release should come as no surprise: It is bottled in honor of Parker Beam (the “Parker” in the name of the spirit) and in recognition of his recent diagnosis with ALS, which we’ve discussed in prior posts here.

The Promise of Hope bottling is a very special release: A full 20 dollars from the sale of each bottle will go to the ALS Association for ALS research. The total proceeds raised for the Association should total more than $250,000 when the whiskey sells out (which, as usual, it will).

As for the spirit, it is the first single barrel bottling in the Parker’s Heritage Collection series, which is now on its 7th annual release. This year, Parker is keeping things simple. Mr. Beam has selected 100 favorite barrels from Heaven Hills’ inventory in the company’s Deatsville warehouse, from the top tiers of Rickhouse EE (you know Rickhouse EE, right?). The whiskey is 10 years old, non-chill-filtered, and bottled at 96 proof, Parker’s preferred strength. Note that although this is single-barrel whiskey, the bottles are not being individually numbered with a barrel identifier.

The whiskey is good stuff, and surprisingly unique. On the nose you get some burnt sugar but plenty of alcoholic burn, which makes sussing out additional notes tricky. Charred wood and slight cocoa notes are also evident, if in passing.

On the palate, the Bourbon takes on a whole new life, exploding with flavor. The burnt sugar takes on a fruitier character — a la Bananas Foster — backed with ripe apples and a little lemon zest. As the initial fruit/sugar concoction starts to fade, cinnamon notes take the field, with notes of marshmallow and gingerbread coming up behind. The overall effect is quite Christmas-like, unusual for Bourbon but wholly welcome. It’s easy to see why this is Parker’s favorite Bourbon. It’s drinking beautifully and is considerably different from most of the mass-produced Bourbons you’ll find on the market, all of which tend to be variations on a theme.

A large segment of the population, I’m sure, will balk at paying $90 for a 10 year old Bourbon (single barrel or no), and I can understand that. But remember: This one’s for a good cause. And it happens to be a really good, wholly unique Bourbon.

A / $90 / bardstownwhiskeysociety.com

Review: Qui Platinum Extra Anejo Tequila

qui tequila 225x300 Review: Qui Platinum Extra Anejo TequilaFollowing in the footsteps of Maestro Dobel and Don Julio 70 comes Qui, a clear-as-a-bell tequila that has nonetheless been well-aged in oak barrels.

Qui markets itself as the world’s first extra anejo tequila, distinguished from Don Julio (anejo) and Dobel (a blend of various age tequilas). It also distinguishes itself by being pretty darn good.

Qui is 100% Highlands double-distilled agave which is aged for 3 1/2 years in ex-Bourbon and Bordeaux barrels before being filtered to white. Lots of agave on the nose, plus hefty caramel notes. The body is complex and rich, speaking both to the plant and the aging regimen. Here, the caramel takes on more of a butterscotch note, with a pleasant and complex vegetal note beneath it. This isn’t unpleasant but rather adds a savory character to the otherwise fairly sweet spirit, bringing it into balance.

Not at all racy or peppery, the tequila is a smooth sipper with almost no bite and a finish that recalls bittersweet chocolate.

I really love this tequila. While I can’t claim to understand what the need is to take all the color out of very old tequila — which should be gloriously amber — I commend Qui for doing such a good job at it.

80 proof.

A / $60 / quitequila.com

Review: Breggo Aromatic Whites, 2012 Vintage

Three new aromatic white wines from Breggo, located in California’s Anderson Valley. Get ‘em while there’s something left of summer.

2012 Breggo Gewurztraminer Anderson Valley Ferrington Vineyard – Light, with floral aromatics that fade into tropical fruit notes — pineapple, some peaches — in short order. A fresh but uncomplicated palate cleanser, with a surprisingly long and fruity finish. B+

2012 Breggo Pinot Gris Anderson Valley – An easy wine, tropical, lots of pineapple, with a lemon back-end. Ample aromatics on the nose — perfumy, but not overly heavy. A really short finish invites repeated sipping and investigation, but this is a fantastic wine that vanishes far too quickly. 

2012 Breggo Riesling Anderson Valley – Quite perfumy and sweet, but surprisingly creamy for a Riesling. Lots of tropical notes on this one, a pineapple core with lemon custard on top. Bright acidity, but the lemon finish feels a touch overpowering. A-

each $25 / breggo.com

Review: Rough Rider Straight Bourbon Whisky

rough rider bourbon 219x300 Review: Rough Rider Straight Bourbon WhiskyWhen I first tasted Rough Rider, a straight Bourbon made by Long Island Spirits (which we’ve covered well in the past), I thought I was tasting one of Kentucky’s finest. It’s a common, well-accepted trick: Take a barrel of old Kentucky (or Indiana) whiskey, ship it to your home state, and bottle it there (maybe after a little finishing time in a Port or other wine barrel). Presto: You’ve got your own, very high-end Bourbon.

Nothing wrong with that. Happens all the time.

But Rough Rider isn’t that. It’s homegrown whiskey and it’s good. Mashed, distilled, and aged in Long Island, this is proof that good Bourbon can be made just about anywhere, provided the maker has the patience. (Well, not yet… See comments for correction.)

Inspired by Teddy Roosevelt (a native Long Islander), Rough Rider is made from a mash of 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. It’s aged for four years in new oak barrels before a further, complex finishing. From LIS:

“After aging, the bourbon is double-barreled, or finished, in wine casks,” says Rich Stabile, Long Island Spirits founder. “The wine casks include merlot casks and chardonnay casks, and are chosen from among the finest wineries on Long Island.” Before the aged bourbon is poured into the wine casks, though, each wine barrel is washed with a local, Long Island brandy. “The cask finishing wash tempers each wine barrel, resulting in a more mellow, complex bourbon,” adds Stabile. After the bourbon is finished for a few months in the wine casks (the exact time depends on the flavor profile of the batch), each bottle is brought to proof and filled by hand.

That’s a remarkably complex way to finish a whiskey… but it works. Rough Rider is a fantastic Bourbon, and a surprisingly affordable one, too. The nose is punchy and tannic — full of both wood notes and winey ones. The body backs this up. Initially full of sawdust and pencil shavings, it soon settles down to reveal tons of fun. It starts with Bananas Foster, black cherries, and licorice. Chocolate and root beer notes evolve from there, alongside more traditional and expected vanilla and caramel character. A long, Port-like finish comes along after that, offering some of that brandy’s sweet fruitiness by way of a digestif.

Great stuff. Great price, too, especially in comparison to so many wildly overpriced and under-aged craft Bourbons on the market.

Reviewed: Batch #1. 90 proof.

A / $33 / lispirits.com

Review: Stagg Jr. Bourbon

STAGG JR Front 209x300 Review: Stagg Jr. BourbonPutting aside the Van Winkle phenomenon, the next-most-coveted name in the whiskey world is arguably George T. Stagg. Released in limited quantities as part of Buffalo Trace’s annual Antique Collection series, this Bourbon is old, ultra-high-proof, intense, and invariably beloved by both critics and consumers.

It’s also pretty much impossible to find.

In response to the high demand for the stuff, Buffalo Trace is doing a really smart thing: Releasing a version of Stagg that, while not nearly as old or as powerful as the real deal, is a credible little brother… just like the name suggests.

Stagg Jr. is made from eight- and nine-year-old whiskeys, bottled at cask strength, uncut and unfiltered. This first release is 134.4 proof. Future versions will vary, depending on what the barrel outturn looks like. The company says the whiskey will be limited, but probably considerably more available than the regular Staff releases.

Beautiful nose here: Cinnamon and raisins, very dark chocolate, burnt caramel notes. Overwhelmed by alcohol, to be sure, but the soul shines through. On the tongue, plenty more where that came from. Sweeter than I expected, but balanced by ample fruit notes — here some citrus comes along, with caramel apple, plums, and ample cinnamon on the finish. Quite a collection of flavors here, but it’s all in balance and not over-wooded. I find it drinkable straight, but a splash of water is a much better idea, cutting through the burn handily and making it easier to enjoy. (Plus, it lasts longer.)

People are already fussing that “it’s not like the real thing,” that Buffalo Trace is just trying to capitalize on another brand’s name, and those are fair complaints. But if it didn’t say “Stagg” on the label, there’d be lines around the block. Buy it.

A / $50 / buffalotracedistillery.com