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

Review: 2012 Butternut Chardonnay California

BNA_Butternut_2012_Chard_Bottle_8x10_150_dpiIt’s called Butternut for a reason. This Chardonnay from Napa-based winemaker Tony Leonardini is a classic expression of the wine, a bold and brash and butter-laden experience that starts with vanilla and nougat and ends with oak and applesauce. It’s sugar and spice and, well, maybe not everything nice, but if you like your chardonnays to blow the doors off with unctuous, sticky sweetness, this one’s for you.

B- / $13 / bnawinegroup.com

Review: 2013 Bridlewood Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon

Bridlewood 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso RoblesThis Gallo-owned winery focuses on very affordable bottlings primarily from central California vineyards. Thoughts on two wines from the newly-released 2013 vintage follow.

2013 Bridlewood Pinot Noir Monterey County – Rather dense, with some pruny notes on the nose. Quite fruit-forward, this pinot offers notes of intense jam, roasted meat, some root beer character, and some lumberyard underpinnings. Surprisingly tough, it drinks more like a syrah — bit with a slightly bitter edge on the finish. B- / $13

2013 Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – Inky and dense, with licorice overtones on the nose. Lots of wood on the body make this an imposing wine from the get-go, but it does manage to settle down with time to reveal more nuanced fruit — at least in the form of dried plums, raisins, and other firmer, grippier berries. Sweeter, with cocoa notes, on the finish. B / $14

bridlewoodwinery.com

Review: Six Saints Rum

six saintsThis “righteous spirit of the West Indies” hails from Grenada, but little other information is provided about this rum. Only the notice of “natural colour” informs much of anything about its production.

The nose on this moderately golden rum offers a bit of petrol, backed with some cloves and a bit of spiced or mulled wine character. The body is youthful, slightly corny, with more notes of petrol and some intense clove character. Hints of butterscotch and baking cocoa eventually come along, with some sooty notes lingering on the back end.

Six Saints is a unique rum — almost whiskeylike at times (which is fitting, as the brand is owned by a Scottish company) — but ultimately it’s a bit brash and too youthful, particularly at this (import-only) price.

83.4 proof. Not readily available in the U.S.

B- / $55 / sixsaintsrum.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Head to Head with 4 Bloody Mary Mixes: Scales, Tabanero, Bloody Good, and Bloody Amazing

tabaneroSummer is hear, and that means brunch with bloodies is upon us.

Sure, it’d be great if you could always crush your own tomatoes and grate your own fresh horseradish, but really, who’s got the time. Recently we’ve been inundated with bottled bloody mary mixers, which we put head to head to head to head.

Thoughts follow.

Scales Bloody Mary Mix – For a so-called low-carb bloody mary mix (5 grams of carbs per 3 oz.), this sure tastes sweet. The very dark color is a bit misleading; the mixer is more tart than spicy or meaty, a densely acidic mixer with a heavy tomato paste character and a metallic aftertaste. Not at all spicy, despite the claims of being made with Texas Pete’s hot sauce. B- / $6 per 1 liter bottle

Tabanero Spicy Bloody Mary Mix – Definitely “Mexican style,” with a salsa-like character to it. Intensely spicy, with lasting, burning habanero notes, plus notes of green pepper, cilantro, and lots of onion. It’s a bit on the watery side, so don’t expect to try watering it down to temper its heat. That said — I really like it (and the Tabanero hot sauce.) Mixing half and half with a less racy mix might work, though. Oddly has less carbs than the Scales. A- / $10 per 1 liter bottle

Bloody Good Bloody Mary Mix – A local brand you won’t likely find outside of northern California. Very fresh, with ripe tomatoes, some green veggies, black pepper, and lots and lots of horseradish. Quite gentle in spice level, but it’s pungent thanks to the horseradish component. Nicely balanced; definitely a strong contender. Very difficult to pour (as it’s bottled in what is basically a spaghetti sauce jar). / $9 per 32 oz jar

Bloody Amazing Premium Mary Mix – While Tabanero approaches bloodies from a salsa standpoint, Bloody Amazing comes at it from the shrimp cocktail sauce arena. Very dense, with stewed tomato notes, black pepper, and horseradish — plus lots of Worcestershire to add a brooding character that Bloody Good doesn’t have. This one’s more a matter of taste, as the overall character is very much a “coastal” one. Only slightly spicy; easily manageable. B+ / $13 per 750ml bottle

Review: Beers of Mavericks (Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.)

mavericks rye pale ale

Mavericks is a famous surf spot off the coast of Half Moon Bay, California, where these three beers — available exclusively in cans — are made. We tried them all. Thoughts follow.

Mavericks Rye Pale Ale – Mavericks sent two cans of this beer, an American pale ale with west coast hops plus rye malt, and I managed to polish off the first can before I remembered I was supposed to be writing about it. A huge crowd pleaser, this combines the best of both worlds: a chewy, bready base that leads to a modestly hoppy conclusion. Notes of citrus and hints of dark chocolate add some mystique. Somehow, all of this is just 3.75% abv, making for an amazing session brew. Hard not to love. A / $NA (12 oz cans)

Mavericks Belgian Style Wit – Quite spicy on the nose, with dried orange peel and coriander notes. The body punches first with the spice, then ventures into the malt, which is substantial — bready and toasty, and quite lasting. More spice on the finish, but it doesn’t ever shake hands completely with the malt. Fairly average and unremarkable. 3.75% abv. B- / $NA (12 oz cans)

Mavericks Tunnel Vision IPA – The big dog, a monster beer that “blurs the line between single and double IPA” (though it’s 100+ IBUs). It’s a beer that pushes things awfully far, with an intense resinous character and notes of tar, forest floor, and a heavy, lasting, bitter finish. Fruit and piney notes are sorely needed here. 6.8% abv. B- / $NA (16 oz cans)

mavericksbeer.com