Review: Alberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky

AlbertaRye_Bottle_HIRESAlberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky is so complicated it is typically accompanied by a flowchart explaining the convoluted method by which it is made. I’m going to try to digest this oddball Canadian rye for you… but don’t feel bad if you get lost. Really it’s all about what’s in the glass in the end.

Alberta Dark Batch starts with two ryes. One is from a pot still, aged six years in new #4 char American oak barrels. One is from a column still, aged 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels.

These two ryes are blended 50-50. This rye blend now becomes 91% of what goes into the Dark Batch bottle. The other 9%? 8% is bourbon (provenance unknown which is Old Grand Dad). 1% is sherry (provenance also unknown). Yes, it’s really 1% sherry. No, not 1% whiskey finished in a sherry barrel. Yes, real sherry. Yes, like the wine. I know.

My first encounter with Dark Batch at a recent whiskey show wasn’t a hit, but I don’t think I was prepared for the assault on the senses that Dark Batch makes, particularly when compared to some more delicate and gentle alternatives. Now, Dark Batch has grown on me at least a bit — though it’s still certainly not my favorite whisky.

Let’s start with the name. Dark Batch is right: This whisky pours a dark tea color, almost a mahogany depending on the light. On the nose, it’s exotic and complex, with notes of coffee, tree bark, evergreen needles, burnt caramel, and blackened toast. All dark, dense, earthy overtones — made even pushier thanks to its somewhat higher 90 proof.

On the palate, even more oddities are in store for you, starting with distinct sherry notes — surprising, considering it’s just the 1 percent. I guess that was enough. There’s more coffee character, plus some red raspberry fruit — particularly evident as the finish approaches, taking the whiskey into sweeter and sweeter territory. This lingers for a considerable amount of time, growing in pungency to the point where it evokes notes of prune juice. As it fades, it coats the palate in an almost medicinal way — which isn’t such a great thing as you finish your glass, but hey, at least I haven’t had to cough all evening.

90 proof.

B- / $30 / albertarye.com

Review: Wines of Kendall-Jackson and Jackson Estate, 2015 Releases

KENDALLJACKSONIt’s time to look at Kendall-Jackson’s latest releases, including a new pinot gris from the Vintner’s Reserve line and three releases from the more limited Jackson Estate collection. Thoughts follow.

2014 Kendall-Jackson Pinot Gris California Vintner’s Reserve – A simple wine, uncomplicated but loaded with melon character, creme brulee, and a touch of bitter anise on the back end. Hints of blue cheese and cured meats make for a curious (and not unpleasant) antipasti experience at times. Best with food. B / $11

2013 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley – A big, hairy, classic K-J Chardonnay, full of butter and nuts and brown sugar dripping off of a little essence of roasted meats. Stylistically, it’s love it or hate it, but for me it’s simply too far down the yellow (and I mean yellow) brick road. B- / $28

2013 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – Atypical pinot for Anderson Valley, with a density that’s more representative of southern California. Cola and coffee and black pepper on the nose are engaging, but the body veers toward hefty jam notes — some blueberry and some cherry — which tend to drown out the nuances. This wine grows on you with time (and air), though, its fruitier core ultimately settling into an engaging groove. B+ / $30

2012 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – A straightforward, “hot climate” Cabernet, offering an herbal entry that leads to blueberry, raspberry, and some juicy currants. Somewhat thin, the palate wears out pretty quickly as the wine fades out to a finish that’s a touch too bitter, though overall the impact is relatively innocuous. Think of it as a solid, but not altogether memorable, “house wine.” B / $36

kj.com

Review: 2013 Mark West Pinot Noir California

MKW_PN_750ml_2013_LR1 (Standard_Final_JPG) [CA-ECM2159504 Revision-4]-2If there’s a store that sells wine in California that does not have Mark West on the shelves, I haven’t been there. But nine bucks for pinot is a deal that’s pretty tough to beat, so it’s easy to see why retailers and consumers alike gravitate to the brand and its iconic, yellow label.

The wine is short of the “remarkable” goal set by its founders (fun fact: the producer was founded in 1978), but it isn’t bad at all, particularly for a deep budget bottling. On the nose it’s driven by cola, dried grasses, and simple cherry notes. On the palate, the wine is drier than you’d think, its berry notes balanced with more cola character. As it aerates, it improves further, though the sugar does start to rear its head with continued drinking.

B- / $9 / markwestwines.com

Review: 2013 Humble Pie Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast

Humble Pie_BNAOur final Tony Leonardini wine of three is this humbly named humble cabernet from the humble Central Coast of California. It tastes a lot better than it should at this price point, offering a nose of fresh berries, with the palate taking things into a blackberry jam-and-chocolate arena. Quite sweet at first, it settles down to reveal tobacco, cola notes, and a bit of coffee on the finish, which dulls the sweetness a bit but ultimately leads to some light sulfur notes.

B- / $13 / bnawinegroup.com

Review: Radeberger Pilsner, Clausthaler NA, and Schofferhofer Grapefruit

schofferhofer grapefruit

No fancy intro needed on this one. Here’s a collection of three semi-random beers from the U.S. distribution arm of Germany’s Radeberger Gruppe — including the company’s newly-available grapefruit-flavored hefeweizen and our first-ever review of a non-alcoholic beer! Can any of these be worthwhile? I smell a roundup brewing…

Radeberger Pilsner – Simple at first, Radeberger evolves its deep cereal and malt notes to reveal some surprising chocolate character, particularly on the back end. Slightly muddy, with some notes reminiscent of a brown ale, but not without ample charm. 4.8% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Clausthaler Amber Non-Alcoholic – There’s no getting around the fact that this is a non-alcoholic beer (or, at less than 0.5% abv, almost non-alcoholic), but let’s try to look at this in the context of, say, a curiously-flavored soda. On that front, Clausthaler isn’t bad, offering a sort of malt-flavored sparkling water that offers the essence of beer without all the social problems. There’s not much to get excited about here, to be sure, but if you absolutely can’t drink — or can’t drink any more — I can think of worse things to put in your gullet. D+ / $8 per six-pack

Schofferhofer Grapefruit – Unfiltered wheat beer with grapefruit flavor (and cochineal color) added. It’s a super-fruity concoction not unlike a shandy or even a modern grapefruit-flavored malt beverage — with a bit of a vegetal tinge on the end. Not much in the way of “beer” flavor, but while the tart grapefruit character is quite sweet, it’s at least short of candylike. Harmless, and at 3.2% abv, I mean that in every sense of the word. B- / $7 per six-pack

radeberger.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #8 – Speyside 1991, Invergordon 1984, Balmenach 2007, North Highland 1995, Irish 2002, and Laphroaig 2005

exclusive malts

It’s quite a mixed bag in The Exclusive Malts’ latest batch, which includes a single grain release, two unnamed distillery releases and — a first for The Exclusive — an Irish whiskey release. With this batch I’m excited to announce that received the entire lineup to review, 6 whiskeys in total. Quality is all over the map. Thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 1991 23 Years Old – This mystery Speyside whisky was distilled in 1991, but no other production information is offered. It appears to be bourbon-cask-aged all the way, starting off with almost pungent boozy/grainy notes on the nose. Lightly medicinal on the tongue, the palate ventures into dense wood, a touch of coal dust, and some pastoral notes. Perfectly drinkable, but surprisingly simplistic. 102.6 proof. B / $160

The Exclusive Malts Invergordon 1984 30 Years Old – This is a single grain whisky, distilled in the Highlands near Dornoch Firth and aged in a refill oak hogshead. There’s lots of granary character on the nose with this one, then notes of orange peel, clove, and some occasionally intense lumberyard notes. The key component though, is the grain — racy, chewy, and full of cloves and allspice. It’s a hot whisky that takes some time to settle down, but once it does it reveals some charm. Whether that merits the supports the price tag is another question. 104.6 proof. B+ / $200

The Exclusive Malts Balmenach 2007 8 Years Old – Slightly pink, a clear sign that this is a Port-matured whisky. The Speyside-based Balmenach is primarily used for blending, so this is a real rarity. Unfortunately that doesn’t amount to a particularly special spirit; youth is still having its way with this bottling, which is heavy with granary notes and an almost musty, funky edge. Hospital notes mingle with raw wood notes, coffee grounds, and mushroom… a bit of a mess, ultimately. 105.2 proof. C+ / $79

The Exclusive Malts North Highland 1995 20 Years Old – Another mystery malt, sherry matured from somewhere in the north Highlands. (Note that labels may just read “Highland,” not “North Highland.”) Rich with citrusy sherry notes on the nose, the nose here also showcases notes of walnut, coffee, and a not insignificant amount of tar. No slouch in the body department, the palate is pushy with notes of menthol, burnt orange, matchstick heads, and ash. There’s fruit up front — figs, plums, and citrus — but the fade in to this melange of more savory notes is quick and a bit unforgiving. 109.2 proof. B- / $135

The Exclusive Malts Irish Whiskey 2002 13 Years Old – Distilled near the northern border of Ireland at an unnamed distillery (which sounds like Locke’s/Kilbeggan based on the description). It’s quite a lovely expression of Irish, beginning with rich honey and caramel notes before delving headlong into butter toffee, butterscotch, and milk chocolate. There’s just a touch of grain on the back end, a nod toward the rolling hills of Ireland. Supple and sweet, this whiskey isn’t overcomplicated but it offers an intensity and richness that is rare in the typically light-bodied world of Irish. Cask strength certainly helps with that. Gorgeous. 108.4 proof. A / $106

The Exclusive Malts Laphroaig 2005 10 Years Old – Last but not least, we close with young, peaty, cask strength Laphroaig. No surprises here, with gentle peat smoke and barbecue notes kicking things off on the nose, and a body that blends smoke with citrus, petrol, licorice, and dried herbs. Lots of character from the Laphroaig playbook here, but fans will find the high proof expression worth exploring. 108.4 proof. B+ / $146

impexbev.com

Review: 3 Wines from Aia Vecchia, 2015 Releases

Sor Ugo_NVAia Vecchia is a Bolgheri-based producer that makes a variety of reds and whites — with a heavy focus on blends made with international grape varietals. Thoughts on three recent releases, one white and two reds, follow.

2014 Aia Vecchia Vermentino Maremma Toscana IGT – A simple vermentino (with 5% viognier). Initially quite sweet with fresh peaches and lemon notes, it gives way to some somewhat off-putting notes of dried herbs and forest floor character, especially as it warms up. It’s more of a food-friendly wine than an aperitivo, but decent enough either way. B / $12

2012 Aia Vecchia “Lagone” Toscana IGT – Nothing much to see here. This Bogheri/Magliano-sourced bottling of 60% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon, and 10% cabernet franc offers few surprises. Notes of stewed fruits, spiced plums, and chocolate sauce aren’t particularly negative in any way, but they do combine to make for an over-sweetened, mouth-filling experience. It’s a wine that needs food to show its strengths. On its own, the sweeter notes dominate too strongly. B- / $15

2011 Aia Vecchia “Sor Ugo” Bolgheri Superiore DOC – 50% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, 5% petit verdot. A fairly light-bodied Bolgheri, offering decent fruit — cherries and plums — balanced by darker notes of licorice, coffee bean, and some chewy tree bark. A slight bitter edge adds more than a touch of nuance, tuning toward menthol notes on the finish. B+ / $35

aiavecchiabolgheri.it

Review: 2014 Sonoma-Cutrer Sauvignon Blanc

sonoma cutrerSonoma-Cutrer is best known for its Chardonnay, which is one of the top-selling wines in American restaurants. The winery makes other bottlings (particularly Pinot Noir), but this year the company branches out into Sauvignon Blanc for the first time ever. Here’s how this new release stacks up.

This inaugural bottling offers clear pepe du chat notes on the nose, with some tropical character backing it up. On the palate, both the ammonia notes and the fruit are in balance, with the more pungent hospital character up front ultimately giving way to more of a pineapple-focused finish, tempered by mineral and steely, metallic notes. Considerably better with food than on its own.

B- / $25 / sonomacutrer.com

Review: Newcastle Collaboration Edition British Pale Ale and Session IPA

Newcastle Best of Britain Variety Pack bottles

Newcastle is back and continuing its Collaboration Edition series of limited releases with two new brews made in collaboration with Edinburgh’s Caledonian Brewery — updates on the pale ale/IPA recipe.

Newcastle Collaboration Edition British Pale Ale – Had I not read the label I would have assumed this was a standard brown ale, quite malty and nutty, with a touch of baking chocolate on the back end. I get very little hops here — though it is dry hopped to 39 IBUs, according to Newcastle. B-

Newcastle Collaboration Edition British Session India Pale Ale – A slight pine element up front and a hint of bitterness (though it’s rated at 45 IBUs) doesn’t exactly make this into a real IPA. Newcastle’s signature chocolate maltiness is spread thick on this brew, which washes away the crispness and ultimately gives its citrus notes a bit of orange-flavored chocolate character. Just so-so. At 5.1% abv, it’s just barely below the 5.8% of the standard edition. B-

each about $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com

Review: Baron Cooper 2013 Chardonnay and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

baron cooperBaron Cooper isn’t a winemaker. He’s a dog and as the namesake of this series of wines he’s leading the charge toward the raising of funds for Best Friends Animal Shelter. Five percent of all sales of these wines — about a buck a bottle — will go toward ending the killing of dogs and cats in animal shelters nationwide.

There are a number of Baron Cooper wines, but we got a couple to try out. Thoughts follow.

2013 Baron Cooper Chardonnay California – A relatively unadorned chardonnay, lightly buttery with notes of vanilla and lychee. As the body takes hold, solid fruit emerges — golden apples and a touch of lemon — and the lightly sweet finish ties everything together. For a wine without much of a pedigree (and a “California” designation), it’s surprising how successful it is. A- / $24

2012 Baron Cooper Cabernet Sauvignon California – A less impressive wine, a more typically workmanlike example of a widely-blended, youthful cabernet. This expression offers some pruny notes, light astringency, and a woody character that ultimately makes for a fairly lifeless experience. Ho hum. B- / $25

baroncooperwines.com