Category Archives: Rated A

Review: Wines of Holman Ranch

holman ranch hunters cuvee 288x300 Review: Wines of Holman RanchThis Carmel Valley-based winery makes a collection of delicious whites plus some exceptional Pinot Noirs — about 3,000 to 5,000 cases annually. We tasted pretty much the entire current release lineup. Thoughts follow.

2011 Holman Ranch Pinot Gris Carmel Valley – Fresh, fruity, very much alive. Friendly on a summer afternoon or with dinner, offering strong floral notes atop a lemony base plus big apricots and peaches. It’s got a bigger body than most Pinot Gris offers, but that’s not unwelcome. This is a chewy, complicated wine that nonetheless offers balance, bright fruit, and enough acid to make things sing. A / $20

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Review: Iichiko Shochu

frasco main 1 249x300 Review: Iichiko ShochuShochu is something we see so seldomly here at Drinkhacker that we don’t even have a category for it. (I’m putting it in the sake category for lack of a proper one.)

Shochu has many of the same flavor characteristics as sake, but it can be made from other starches than rice — namely barley, potatoes, or even chestnuts. The shochus reviewed here are all barley-based.

As with sake, the barley is polished until just a core remains, purifying the grain. It is fermented and mixed with a specific type of barley mold, then (unlike sake) distilled, typically just once, and can be . This raises the alcohol level to 25 to 30 proof, considerably higher than sake, while keeping that unmistakable melon character intact.

The two shochu bottlings below are from Iichiko, the best-selling shochu bottler in Japan. Thoughts follow.

Iichiko “Silhouette” Shochu - Polished to 60% of the original grain. A typical shochu, with modest, crisp melon on the nose. Underneath there’s fresh grain character — think white whiskey — but more of that melon on the finish along with a touch of dried herbal character. Nice and fresh, a solid example of what a simple shochu should be like. 50 proof. B+ / $23

Iichiko “Frasco” Shochu (pictured) – Polished to 50% of the original grain and produced with a more delicate and expensive method that I won’t try to explain here. This is a fruitier and slightly sweeter style of shochu, with a lasting finish that offers lots of melon but also pepper, and — late in the finish — neat butterscotch notes. Very silky and well-balanced, a lovely and elegant sipper. A / $70

Review: Campo de Encanto Pisco Grand & Noble Acholado

campo de encanto pisco bottle low 120x300 Review: Campo de Encanto Pisco Grand & Noble AcholadoOne of the top brands of the pisco revival, Encanto has been making waves for years — and we’re only just now getting around to reviewing it formally. An acholado style pisco, Encanto is a blend of distillate from four types of grapes — Quebranta (74%), Torontel (6%), Moscatel (4%) and Italia (16%). (Most other pisco styles are single-varietal. See our primer here.)

Encanto is a very fresh and lively Peruvian pisco, lacking in the hoary funk that defines so many of its competitors. The nose features fresh citrus along with some pine needle — tangy and inviting, almost gin-like. The body follows suit. Ample lemon notes meld nicely with secondary notes of evergreen, pencil shavings, and modest floral notes on the back end. As pisco goes, this is easygoing, pleasant, and — again — fresh. While pisco still doesn’t show up in a whole lot of cocktails today (and few are drinking this stuff straight), if you’re going to invest in one bottle of pisco, Encanto is probably the one to buy.

Note: Encanto has a single-varietal pisco in the works which I’ve tasted (once). Not sure how close it is to release… stay tuned.

A / $35 /

Review: 2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Late Harvest Chardonnay Winemaker’s Release

 Review: 2012 Sonoma Cutrer Late Harvest Chardonnay Winemakers ReleaseSonoma-Cutrer produces some of the best-selling white wines from California, and now this winery on the rise is expanding into an interesting new area: Dessert wines.

Its first release in a new range of limited-edition wines called the Winemaker’s Release Series is this, a sweet, late harvest Chardonnay. (Few dessert wines are made from Chardonnay — Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are more common, particularly in California.)

Some thoughts follow.

A lovely “sticky,” with pretty floral, orange, and honey notes, all in perfect balance — with plenty of acidity left behind to keep the sweetness from overpowering the wine. Made very much in the Sauternes style, I never would have pegged this as Chardonnay had I not seen the label firsthand. Infinitely drinkable, it was a huge hit with the crowd for which I popped the half-bottle open. Snap it up! 10% abv.

A / $30 (375ml) /

Review: Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2012

Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Bottle and Packaging 2012 port finish 300x200 Review: Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2012Much in the vein of Corazon’s Expresion de Corazon tequilas, which are finished in special whiskey barrels, Herradura is experimenting with exotic finishes to its tequilas. Coleccion de la Casa is a new line of limited edition tequilas which will be released annually, each a unique experience.

First out the gate is Reserva 2012, a reposado which is aged in medium-char American oak for 11 months, then finished in vintage Port casks for another two months of aging.

Some thoughts. Lovely, moderate amber color. Quite a peppery nose, with plenty of agave on it. Some almond notes, too. The body is very lush. Rounded, with a flood of citrus notes, caramel, vanilla, and a long finish that brings forward raisins, plum pudding, and some bittersweet chocolate character — all clearly driven by the Port. Engaging and fun, this is altogether a great combination (of course, I’m a well known sucker for Port-finished whiskeys, so why wouldn’t I be one for Port-finished tequilas, too?).

Looking forward to seeing what Herradura does with the next edition.

80 proof.

A / $90 /

Review: Expresiones de Corazon Barrel-Aged Tequila (Sazerac 18, George Stagg, & Van Winkle)

What if you were to take bourbon barrels that have held some of the most coveted and highly awarded whiskies in the world – George T. Stagg, Old Rip Van Winkle, Sazerac 18 Year Old and Buffalo Trace, and age tequila in them?  Even better, what if the Master Distiller who created these fine whiskies hand selected these barrels based on his knowledge and expertise of terroir and barrel aging?

corazon stagg expresiones de corazon 59x300 Review: Expresiones de Corazon Barrel Aged Tequila (Sazerac 18, George Stagg, & Van Winkle)That’s the come-on for this bold experiment in tequila-making, the first ever (to my knowledge) attempt to take high-end tequila (Corazon) and put it in barrels used to make high-end Bourbon (a variety of highly coveted bottlings). (Tequila is typically aged in ex-Bourbon barrels but no one ever says what Bourbon, likely because it’s the cheap stuff.)

Crazy idea, right? Well, here’s how it turned out. We sampled all five bottlings. All are 80 proof except the Sazerac expression.

Expresiones de Corazon Blanco – The baseline, unaged and just for fun, really. Racy, peppery agave on the nose. Smells like it’s going to be harsh. It’s not. The blanco goes down super smoothly, exhibiting notes of lemon, mint, and lightly bitter herbs — almost a bit like an absinthe. One of the least-sweet tequilas on the market, this dry spirit is crisp and clean yet more suited to mixing. B+ / $60

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Review: Powers Irish Whiskey John’s Lane Release 12 Years Old

powers johns lane whiskey irish 168x300 Review: Powers Irish Whiskey Johns Lane Release 12 Years OldPowers got its start as a single pot still whiskey, but in more recent years its become a simpler blend of pot still spirit and grain whiskey. It’s understandable: Powers is the most popular whiskey in its homeland of Ireland, so they have to make a lot of it.

Now Powers is bringing a pure, single pot still whiskey back. This one is denoted as John’s Lane Release, an homage to the original distillery where Powers was made in the late 1700s and 1800s.

This release is made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley which is then triple distilled in copper pot stills. Aged for 12 years, primarily in ex-Bourbon casks with a touch of whiskey that’s been matured in Oloroso sherry butts, it is bottled at 92 proof.

It’s an outstanding example of Irish, rich and mouth-filling, with a warming, luscious body. The nose is slightly hot, offering hints of honey and cinnamon. The body, however, is far more sophisticated and complex, and not really hot at all. Deep honey notes, vanilla, caramels, and touches of barley. Slightly nutty on the finish, with hints of charcoal and chocolate, too. This is a whiskey that offers tremendous depth, not something you typically associate with Irish, which is often made in a simpler style. Well done, Powers.

A / $65 /

Preview: Butterfly Absinthe

butterfly absinthe 2 224x300 Preview: Butterfly AbsintheBased in Switzerland, Alan Moss is the kind of guy who lives and breathes absinthe. He writes about absinthe prodigiously on his blog, and he also makes the stuff (well, his partners do): La Clandestine is easily the best blanche absinthe on the market.

Moss has other tricks up his sleeve, it seems, and recently he dropped by Drinkhacker HQ to show off his latest: Butterfly. This is an absinthe that’s been on sale in Europe for a few years but is now coming to the U.S. As well it should: It’s actually an American-born absinthe, the recipe having originated in Boston, Mass., in 1902. As the story goes, an old bottle of an absinthe called Butterfly was unearthed on eBay — only the buyer ended up pouring it out when she was denied the ability to board a plane with it. The label survived, and the spirit was later recreated with a book was uncovered in Boston’s archives, and the original handwritten recipe (or at least one of the recipes) for Butterfly was found.

The label was recreated — with a few minor tweaks — when the absinthe was formally launched in 2011. Today it is produced in Switzerland alongside La Clandestine.

butterfly absinthe 1 224x300 Preview: Butterfly Absinthe

This is the new U.S. label; European label shown above.

I was fortunate enough to taste the new release, a quite sweet absinthe (which needs no sugar added) that includes some unusual botanicals, namely peppermint and citrus. The color is a beautiful chartreuse and the flavors run to lemon oil, fresh cut ginger, green onion, and of course some licorice candy. It’s a really top-notch product that will hit in the fall of this year for $85 to $90 a bottle. 130 proof. A

Moss also showed off a product which is not coming to the U.S. In fact, it’s only available if you visit the distillery where La Clandestine and Butterfly are made. Absinthe Aux Oeufs (pictured below) is, as the name implies, an eggnog liqueur that’s spiked with absinthe. A bizarre and unlikely spirit, you don’t really detect the absinthe. Instead, this big, eggy, vanilla-and-caramel cream liqueur drinks like a traditional ‘nog… until, after a while, a hint of licorice comes out. It’s super strange, yet surprisingly compelling. Too bad the six month shelf life means it will never be exported. 30 proof.

oeufs 525x702 Preview: Butterfly Absinthe

Review: Ron Barceló Imperial Premium Blend 30 Aniversario Rum

Ron Barcelo Imperial Premium Blend 276x300 Review: Ron Barceló Imperial Premium Blend 30 Aniversario RumBarcelo is a solid but largely unknown Dominican rum producer which we’ve written about in the past. While we’re familiar with the rack versions of its rums, we didn’t know about the special barrels that Miguel Barcelo was setting aside. Well, he’s been doing that for the last 30 years, and now he’s blending them up into a mega-rum called Premium Blend 30 Aniversario.

I’ll let the company explain the method to the madness.

Each year since Miguel Barceló first created Ron Barceló Imperial in 1980, private reserves of this prestigious ten-year-old blended rum were set aside for two years of additional aging.  Aged in barrels made from selected cuts of white oak, these reserves, some from the prestigious Bordeaux house of Château d’Yquem, each with different grades of toasting, were blended to create the limited edition Imperial Premium Blend 30 Aniversario in 2011.

And we got one.

What we have here is a quite an engaging and exciting rum. The nose is surprisingly lively and light, but with lots going on. The nose is nutty and at times almost herbal, with gingerbread and toffee notes often playing along. There’s just a hint of alcohol to give a little burn on the back end. On the palate, lots more where that came from. Think chocolate pudding, butterscotch, and vanilla, topped with a sort of dusting of black cherry and cola. None of this is heavy, daunting, or astringent (a complaint I’ve leveled at Barcelo in the past), but rather it’s a delicious and incredibly drinkable concoction that has drained itself much too quickly under my care. Rum lovers of the world in search of something very special and old, yet still light on the tongue, should seek this bottling out pronto.

9000 bottles produced, 600 allocated to U.S. 86 proof.

A / $120 /

Review: Ardbeg Ardbog Whisky

ardbeg ardbog 226x300 Review: Ardbeg Ardbog WhiskyArdbeg lovers likely don’t need me to tell them about the Ardbeg Committee and Ardbeg Day (which happens around June 1), which sees a special release of Ardbeg arriving every year. This year’s is called Ardbog, a play on words which alludes to the origin of peat in Scotland’s many bogs.

Ardbog is a 10 year old old whisky — in keeping with the primary malt from the company — with a twist, as it is aged in a combination of Bourbon (60%) and Manzanilla Sherry barrels (40%). Sherry is common, of course, as a finishing wood in Scotland, but Ardbeg doesn’t do a lot with it. (Uigeadail is one of the few that does.) I’m not sure why, it really does wonders to the normally overpowering smokiness of Ardbeg.

Ardbog features a pretty and almost floral nose, balancing peat fire with orange peel, orange blossoms, and hints of raisins. The body is lush and rich, bringing together all of the above along with a salty, sea-driven backbone. The finish comes together with a fruitiness that is downright shocking for Ardbeg, which is normally focused on fire and brimstone. It’s a lengthy, luscious denoument, both easygoing yet complex and deep, inviting continued exploration. Perhaps my favorite Ardbeg expression to date.

104.2 proof.

A / $120 /

Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Bourbon, Rye, and 15 Year Old Expressions of Both

james pepper 1776 bourbon 101x300 Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Bourbon, Rye, and 15 Year Old Expressions of BothJames E. Pepper is an old, old name in the whiskey world (Kentucky is plastered with the name), and the heritage of the Bourbon associated with the name is deep, rich, and (if you go to the whiskey’s website) fun to look back upon. In fact, Bourbon has been made under the James E. Pepper label since the 1800s.

James Pepper’s stills went silent in 1958 and in recent years the brand has changed hands and is now owned by Georgetown Trading Co., which produces Pow-Wow Rye and John L. Sullivan Irish whiskey. The company has spent years reproducing James E. Pepper to match the flavor profile of the original, “Old Style” James E. Pepper whiskey. While I’ll never be able to comment on how successful (or wise) such an endeavor might be, I can give some thoughts on the whiskeys — four of them, total — that are now being produced under this banner (in Indiana).

Thoughts follow.

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Review: White and Rose Wines of Cline, 2013 Releases

cline 300x231 Review: White and Rose Wines of Cline, 2013 ReleasesIf you’re driving to Sonoma, Cline is always worth a stop, not just because it’s one of the first wineries you encounter as you drive into the area. We got our hands on four affordable, summer-friendly whites (one’s a rose). Thoughts follow.

2012 Cline Cool Climate Pinot Gris Sonoma Coast – Crisp and refreshing, with lots of fruit. Very slightly pink, something you see in a few Pinot Gris wines, particularly those produced in Alsace. Lovely pear notes here, plus a little peach, with a bit of a creamy, nougaty back end. Think marshmallows. Very nice. A / $13

2011 Cline Marsanne Roussanne Sonoma Coast - This Rhone blend is classically structured with both peach and apricot notes, backed with an aromatic perfume character. The backbone hints at tree bark and rhubarb. Nice complexity and a fresh, easy complexion. A- / $22

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Review: That Boutique-y Whisky Company Arran, Tobermory, and Tormore

tobermory that boutique y whisky company whisky 136x300 Review: That Boutique y Whisky Company Arran, Tobermory, and TormoreToday we look at a few more independently-bottled malts from That Boutique-y Whisky Company, courtesy of Master of Malt. All three of these are recent arrivals from Batch 1. Again, all are limited edition single malts bottled without age statements in 500ml bottles (and wacky labels). Thoughts follow.

That Boutique-y Whisky Company Arran Batch 1 – Beautiful nose on this Island whisky, fresh with toasted cereals and touches of heather. A much heavier grain influence than the typical single malt, but that’s not a slight. This Arran offers a richness and depth that’s common to Arran, with a touch of saltwater and seaweed on the quite lasting finish. Fresh and with a good balance of sweet and savory, it’s a solid whisky at a fairly reasonable price. 98.2 proof. A- / $62 (500ml) (Batch 1 sold out)

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Review: Jim Beam Distiller’s Masterpiece Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon

Jim Beam Distillers Masterpiece Sherry Cask Finished 183x300 Review: Jim Beam Distillers Masterpiece Sherry Cask Finished BourbonJim Beam’s been on a tear lately. First came the two members of the new Signature Craft Bourbon series, now there’s Distiller’s Masterpiece, an ultra-premium Bourbon that truly earns its name.

Available exclusively at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, Ky., the whiskey is “extra aged” (but released with no age statement) “in the optimal rack-house position, determined by Master Distiller, Fred Noe.” It is then finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks before bottling at 100 proof.

This is a lovely, and surprisingly light, whiskey. The sherry character is immediately notable, a brisk citrus character on the nose that’s backed up by moderate wood notes and a small amount of grain character. Pushing into the body it’s loaded with that sherry character, and is rich with complexity. What’s here: Orange marmalade, vanilla, cinnamon and baking spices, toasted wood, and touches of popcorn on the finish. Harmonious and delicious, the finish stays with you but never turns bitter. Even at 100 proof it is smooth as silk, easy to sip on, and gone — sadly gone — far too soon.

A / $200 /

Review: Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Bourbon

hillrock bourbon 199x300 Review: Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera BourbonIt’s surprising that more aged spirits aren’t made in the solera style. For the uninitiated, solera aging involves moving spirits from younger barrels to older barrels, bit by bit, until the liquor in the oldest barrel is bottled — the oldest of the old blended with a bit of spirit from a wide variety of ages. Solera is commonly used in rum as a way to add a high level of complexity to the spirit.

Here, Hillrock Estate, based in New York, uses solera barrels to age its “field to glass” whiskey, taking estate-grown Bourbon and marrying it with mature “seed” Bourbon, then putting it through a series of casks, including a finishing run in 20-year-old oloroso sherry casks. The current age of Hillrock is six years old, with a mashbill that includes 37% rye.

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Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old & Signature Craft Rare Spanish Brandy Bourbon 2013

jim beam signature craft 12 years old 200x300 Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old & Signature Craft Rare Spanish Brandy Bourbon 2013Rob Theakston recently had the opportunity to be front and center for the opening of Jim Beam’s Global Innovation Center this sprint, which culminated in the launch of Jim Beam’s first Signature Craft Bourbon. Rob previewed Signature Craft 12 Year Old, and now its formal arrival on the market is nigh. Launching for sale in August, Signature Craft will be a regular part of (and in fact the senior member of) the Jim Beam lineup.

Now production bottles are making their way to reviewers, along with the line’s first special edition….

Basically I think that Rob’s thoughts on Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old are spot on. Classic Bourbon structure, it’s got vanilla to spare and a good slug of wood — but not too much — on the nose. The body is perfectly integrated, featuring chocolate and cinnamon beneath the vanilla/woody core. And there’s real austerity here, a wine-like character that you just don’t encounter in younger whiskeys and which is a product of picking really great barrels that have been mellowing for over a decade. The finish is more sweet than spicy, but it’s long and soothing. 86 proof. I agree with Rob’s rating: A / $40

jim beam signature spanish brandy 200x300 Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old & Signature Craft Rare Spanish Brandy Bourbon 2013But wait, there’s more! Beam’s plan is to take Signature Craft and use it as the basis for a series of annually-released special editions. The first will launch in August alongside Signature Craft: Jim Beam Signature Craft Rare Spanish Brandy 2013. This is the Signature Craft 12 Year Old that’s finished not in the traditional way of mellowing in Spanish brandy barrels but actually by pouring some Spanish brandy into the whiskey. That’s unusual, but does it pan out? Yeah, well enough, but it’s a bit of a distraction from the charms of the straight Signature Craft. The brandy adds more sweetness, along with heavy notes of raisins and dates, sending this whiskey’s flavor profile in a whole new direction. It’s still tasty, but more than a little disarming. I’ll keep sipping on it, but the original’s got it handily beat. 86 proof. B+ / $40  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: White Wines of Stony Hill, 2013 Releases

stony hill white riesling 125x300 Review: White Wines of Stony Hill, 2013 ReleasesStony Hill Vineyard is located in Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain AVA, where it specializes in white wines, particularly its award-winning Chardonnay. We sampled three of its latest releases for the 2013 drinking season. Thoughts follow.

2010 Stony Hill Chardonnay Napa Valley – Lemon, honeysuckle, and intriguing woody notes on the nose lead to a complex body, moderate in mouthfeel with light acidity. Here you find lots of orange and lemon notes, some honey — an almost Sauternes hint — midway through the finish. Don’t worry, it’s not a sugar bomb: The conclusion is dry and inviting, the honey character building on the nose as it warms in the glass. A real knockout. A / $42

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Wine & Beer Gadget Roundup

Lately we’ve received a whole bunch of “stocking stuffer” sized gadgets suitable for wine and beer fanatics. Rather than review them individually, we’re rounding them up here in a mega-gizmo post. Thoughts follow.

bottleopener01 300x225 Wine & Beer Gadget RoundupHermetus Bottle Opener & Resealer – Sometimes you don’t want to drink that entire half-liter of beer, but if you’ve pried off the crown cap, what do you do next? The Hermetus is several gadgets in one, but the most noteworthy is that it reseals beer bottles. Just slide the lip of the bottle through the aluminum groove as far as you can: The groove pushes it against a rubber pad and seals it tight. Turn it upside down, shake it up, no worries — the beer won’t come out. It works on both U.S. and Euro bottles, and it includes a standard opener as well as a claw-like opener designed to help with stubborn twist-offs, too. Instructions engraved on the reverse remind you of all of this in case you’ve had too much. A / $9

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Review: House Spirits Westward Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey

Westward oregon malt whiskey 197x300 Review: House Spirits Westward Oregon Straight Malt WhiskeyHouse Spirits, the makers of Aviation Gin, has expanded into the whiskey world, and they aren’t messing around. Westward is a very small-batch 100% single malt whiskey made from locally sourced (Pacific Northwest) barley. Westward Oregon Straight Malt is fermented with Scottish and American ale yeasts, then double pot distilled. The spirit is aged in full-size, new American oak barrels for two years.

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Review: Dry Fly Distilling Triticale Whiskey and Port Finish Wheat Whiskey

Dry Fly 375 Port Finished 161x300 Review: Dry Fly Distilling Triticale Whiskey and Port Finish Wheat WhiskeyWashington state’s Dry Fly Distilling recently launched a line of specialty whiskeys (and an aged gin) called the Creel Collection. These exotic spirits offer no age statements and are available only in half-size bottles. We sampled two of the five offerings. Thoughts follow.

Dry Fly Distilling Straight Triticale Whiskey – Triticale isn’t a very sexy name that rolls off the tongue, but this rye/wheat hybrid developed in Scotland in the 1800s is as unique a whiskey as you’re likely to find. The nose is young — grainy and rustic, but far from rough. Those grain notes evolve in the glass to release some fruit flavors on the body — cherry notes, some apple — plus a touch of wood. All the while that graininess hangs on, leaving a bit of cereal on the finish and just a touch of spice, sweetening up as you sip on. 88 proof. B+ / $36 (375ml)

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