Category Archives: Rated A+

Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2000 Vintage

Here’s an outstanding return to form for Evan Williams’ Single Barrel bourbons, which the company’s been bottling for years, an amazing whisky that I highly recommend.

The 2000 Single Barrel shares a lot of DNA with the 1999, but while last year’s version is noteworthy for its lightly bitter, wood and charcoal finish, the 2000 is as smooth as can be. As with the ’99, there’s lots of honey, vanilla, and caramel in the body, but here an orange character is at play on the palate, with some floral notes and even a little herbal character. The finish is smooth and easy, a perfectly balanced whiskey at a ridiculously affordable price.

Sampled from barrel #1, bottled on 10/29/2009. 86.6 proof.

A+ / $26 /

evan williams single barrel bourbon 2000

Drinking Ginger Beer with Fever-Tree’s Tim Warrillow

What’s that hot kick in your typical ginger beer from? If you said ginger, you’re probably wrong: Many brands put cheap chili pepper oils in their brews to give them that kick, which is why so many come off as hot, but not particularly spicy in the way that real ginger is.

That’s just one of the insights I was granted by Tim Warrillow, a co-founder of Fever-Tree, whose artisinal mixers (particularly its tonic water) are the bottles of choice for discriminating drinkers.

We reviewed the company’s Ginger Ale previously — and in the next few weeks (late July 2009) Fever-Tree will finally bring its long-awaited Ginger Beer to the U.S. (It’s already the company’s #2 selling product in the UK, after tonic water.)

Warrillow brought a four-pack by today and we compared his new offering with standbys, including Reed’s, Bundaberg, and the new Gosling’s.

Warrillow’s pride is wholly appropriate. As much as I liked Gosling’s compared to its competition at the time, Fever-Tree runs rings around this brew to the point where I’m almost embarrassed. Intensely spicy with an amazing flavor of fresh ginger, you can actually see bits of ginger floating in the bottle. It’s almost translucent, there’s so much of it in there. By comparison, Reed’s honey-and-pineapple-sweetened ginger beer is pathetic, and the other two ginger beers tasted were effectively weaklings.

That translates to throat-warming heat and lots of it, with a lasting finish that is really quite delicious. But Fever-Tree Ginger Beer isn’t a one-man show. It’s perfectly sweetened (with cane sugar, not corn syrup), and is equally palatable on its own as it is with rum (the Dark & Stormy) or vodka (the Moscow Mule). Or, hell, whatever else you want to throw in there. Fever-Tree’s new brew can stand up to anything, I assure you.

A+ / $5.69 (estimated) for four-pack of 6.8-oz. bottles /

Review: Thatcher’s Blueberry and Dark Chocolate Organic Liqueurs

Previously we’ve raved about three of Thatcher’s Organic Liqueurs, and now we’re about to rave about two more, so put on your happy hats.

Thatcher’s Organic Blueberry is as simple as they come: Organic blueberry smashed into 30-proof oblivion. The flavor is clean and authentic, a berry bomb that is clearly sweet, unadulterated blueberry. It’s a bit tart; I recommend lots of ice and a little cold water if you want to drink it alone. For the same reason few people drink plain blueberry juice, it can be a little too much without something else. It’s also not the manliest drink on earth. The color is more lavender than blue. But hey, I’m secure enough to knock a few back without shame. B+

Thatcher’s Organic Dark Chocolate is whoaaaaaa full of deep, dark chocolate flavor. It’s almost whiskey-like in color, which is disarming considering most chocolate liqueurs are as opaque and thick as chocolate syrup, but the body is stuffed full of chocolate notes. The initial rush is sugary, candy-like, and then a big, cocoa-powder finish rolls in. It is indeed dark chocolate, lightly bittersweet and amazingly rich. Love this one. Also 30 proof. A+

$25 /

Review: Martell Exquisite L’Or de Jean Martell Cognac

We’ve reviewed rare spirits before, but Martell’s Exquisite L’Or de Jean Martell cognac is to date the absolute rarest: Just 120 bottles are being sold. We got a taste — not much, mind you — but enough for a serious review.

And my how quickly that went down. The 80-proof Martell’s Exquisite L’Or is, indeed, exquisite. This cognac is a combination of several hundred barrels drawn from four growths — Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne, Fins Bois, and Borderies — and matured in oak for decades. The oldest eau de vie in the blend dates back to 1830. Not a typo.

Despite the dark burgundy color, this is a surprisingly delicate and light brandy, very refined yet overwhelmingly full of flavor. It’s as smooth as candy, the perfect amount of sweetness overlaid with honey, gingerbread, toffee, old wood, and a touch of coffee in both the body and the nose. The finish is a lovely little spiced apple number, and it goes down almost absurdly smoothly. I’ve never drained a glass of any spirit so quickly — and cried when I realized there was no more to be had.

Of course this all begs the question of whether, as they say, it’s worth it. At $3,600 a bottle, a single glass of Exquisite L’Or de Jean Martell will set you back a cool $240. (Though you do get an awesome decanter when you’re finished…) That’s an impossible number to get a handle on, to be honest. But I’m here to answer: Is it worth it?

Yes, yes it is.

A+ / $3,600 /


Tasting Report: Jameson Rare and Reserve Irish Whiskeys

Amidst the crushing shelf space given over to Scotch and Bourbon, you (and by you, I mean myself) can be forgiven for not knowing all that much about Irish Whiskey. But did you know that Irish Whiskey was once the most-consumed whiskey in the world. Unfortunately, those days ended with Prohibition, and Irish has never regained its status since.

Jameson graciously invited me to taste four of its rare Irish bottlings today, including its newly-released Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve (JRVR) 2007. How rare? It’s $250 a bottle, a mere 1,000 of which will be sold in the U.S. I was told I was the first person in California to ever drink it. Dang.

brendan monks with your hostOne of Jameson’s master distillers, Brendan Monks, took me through the offerings and some of Jameson’s history, which dates back to 1780, as well as some of the key differences between Irish and other whiskeys. Turns out there are many: Unlike Scotch, Irish dries its barley with hot air, not smoky, open fires, hence the lack of much smoky character in Irish. Irish uses some unmalted barley in its mix, too. Irish is also distilled three times (Bourbon is distilled once, Scotch twice), which removes much of the heavy, oily notes from the spirit. And finally, Irish Whiskey is matured in multiple types of wood casks instead of just one (though Bourbon barrels are the most common), which (as we’ll see in a moment) can give each whiskey a very different character.

On to the tastings:

jameson 2Jameson 12 Year Old Special Reserve – The first step up from Jameson’s regular bottling is this 12-year powerhouse, aged in specially-commissioned Sherry casks from Spain for, you guessed it, 12 years. The result: a clean, honeyed, lightly floral whiskey that is immediately redolent of Sherry. I’m hardly a Sherry fan but found the 12 Year wonderfully light, crisp, and easy to drink. A- / $39

Jameson Gold Reserve – One whiff and you know you’re on to something different here. Aged largely in Bourbon barrels, this blended whiskey (from various casks 10 to 20 years old) gets a characteristic vanilla and wood tone from the addition of 10 percent of the whiskey aged in virgin oak casks. When blended it’s outstanding, and closer to a good Bourbon than any Irish whiskey I’ve tried. I’d happily drink this any time if I could afford it. A / $74

Jameson 18 Year Old Limited Reserve – Definitely my least favorite bottle in the tasting, this had some of the character of the 12 Year but felt like a wine that had faded to me. Very smooth, yes, but far too understated for me. What was left had a highly medicinal tone to it. If you like the Listerine-like flavor of Laphroaig Scotch, you’ll love the 18 Year. B / $78

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve 2007 – The secret sauce? Whiskeys aged 20 to 23 years are, in part, laid down in old Port casks, a deal Jameson brokered with Sandeman decades ago and is now making its first appearance on the market. It’s a heavenly concoction that makes me wonder why more whiskey makers don’t turn to Port barrels. The mix is incredible, with that raisiny, plumlike flavor in the mix, plus sugary, cinnamon, and chocolate notes. (I strained to catch the banana that Monks said was present, but it eluded me.) Even if I could find a bottle of this, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to afford it, but fortunately Jameson sent me home with a small vial of the good stuff for later. Come St. Patrick’s Day, I know what I’ll be drinking, and it won’t be green beer. A+ / $250

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Review: Tito’s Handmade Vodka

If you read the Wall Street Journal, you’ve seen the ads for Tito’s Handmade Vodka. With a kind of scrappy, homemade look and feel (to both the ads and the bottle itself), Tito’s doesn’t look like much… but as with a book, don’t judge this liquor by its cover.

I taste a lot of vodka here — more than any other spirit, really — and I can pronounce that Tito’s is, if not the best I’ve had, one of the top two or three. Yes, it’s a clean vodka without a lot of aftertaste, making it easy to sip or mix into a cocktail, but there’s more to it than that. There’s a faint medicinal flavor to the vodka but it imparts a crispness, not something off-putting. The best way I can put is it is that it tastes like clean sheets when you’re exhausted and ready for bed.

Poking around I discovered that Tito’s is distilled from corn, though it can compete with the best vodkas I’ve had, all of which are distilled from grapes. It probably has to do with Tito’s incredibly meticulous distillation process: He even built his own stills.

Then there’s the price: Locally I can find Tito’s for all of 16 bucks. You should be able to get it for less than $20 anywhere. That puts it on par with or cheaper than the bulk-produced Absolut and even flirting with Smirnoff. The price bumps it from an A to a full A+ for me. If you’re a vodka drinker you owe it to yourself to try Tito’s.

A+ / $16 /