Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Barrel Proof

1776_RYE_BARREL_PROOFIt’s been three years since we’ve heard of anything new from the James E. Pepper 1776 line of bourbons and ryes, but now the Georgetown Trading Company is back with a new addition to its rye, a cask strength expression.

The 15 year old expressions of 1776 are also bottled at cask strength, but this one, formally known as James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey Barrel Proof, is a barrel proof expression of the standard rye, which is currently made from a mash of 95% rye and 5% barley and bottled with no age statement. It is distilled for 1776 in collaboration with the Lawrenceburg Distillery in Indiana (via Pepper’s production agreement and own supplied cooperage, the company says).

This is a racy, spicy whiskey. The nose offers cayenne and cracked black pepper, burnt (burnt black) sugar, licorice, tobacco, and barrel char. The body is full of youth, which is both a good and a bad thing. Chewy and bready on the body, it’s full of that red pepper heat and pungent green herbs. Some rubberiness here and there, along with a bitter and drying character on the finish. That said, the rye benefits from water as expected, although this brings out more lumberyard overtones along with, at last, some sweetness.

If you like your rye bold and fresh, Pepper 1776 at barrel strength will likely serve you well. For me, its youth is a hindrance, unable to give it the austerity it needs to stand up to all that alcohol.

117.2 proof.

B- / $38  / jamesepepper.com

Review: Coldcock American Herbal Flavored Whiskey

COLDCOCK Herbal Whiskey bottle_whitebackground

Coldcock is the first product from Rick and Sarah Zeiler, marketing veterans of Sidney Frank, the company that made Jagermeister a hit. For their first trick, the Zeilers have gone with a tried-and-true formula: The twentysomething shooter, a category they know a little something about. Alas, many have tried and only one has succeeded at dethroning Jager from its perch in the last couple of decades. Can Coldcock, a 3 year old Kentucky bourbon flavored with herbs and bottled at 35% abv in a black bottle with a fist emblazoned on it, succeed where so many have failed?

Let’s see.

The nose is initially hard to place — brandied cherries come to mind, along with anise and some bitter roots. Over time, the nose becomes a bit salty and sweaty, which I don’t mean in a good way (if there was any confusion). On the palate, the spirit is both sweet and savory in fits and starts, offering an initial rush that runs through the gamut of sweet stuff: simple sugar, Maraschino cherry notes, cinnamon rolls, and gingerbread. It takes a moment, then the “herbal” part of this whiskey comes into focus. Unfortunately that part of the experience is rather flat, with the character of an old canister of dried herbs, dull anise, cooked vegetables, and vague root beer notes.

Coldcock ultimately feels awfully confused about what it wants to be. The most successful aspect is when it tries to be a lightly sweetened, fruit-flavored whiskey with baking spice overtones. But when things extend into the truly “herbal” world, the whiskey loses its footing. I get that Coldcock doesn’t exactly want to emulate Jagermeister (or Fireball) but by landing right in the middle of these two, it may have trouble pleasing either side.

Also it has “cock” in the name.

70 proof.

B- / $20 / coldcockwhiskey.com

Review: Wines of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve, 2016 Releases

KJVR_13MerlotFour new wines in the KJ stable have recently been released, all in the Vintner’s Reserve line, the second (from the bottom) level in the five tiers that Kendall-Jackson produces.

Thoughts on these wines, all reds, follow.

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Merlot Sonoma County – As inoffensive a wine as anyone could hope for, this simple merlot showcases blackberry and blueberry, with a modestly tannic core. Some vanilla comes to the forefront alongside a nice bite of bitterness and a gentle denouement. It’s a perfectly drinkable pizza ‘n’ pasta wine… but it tastes like it could be any varietal. B / $19

2014 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Syrah Santa Barbara County – Musty and smoky, even a syrah lover like me had some trouble pushing past the funk here. Once inside, the sour cherry core offers few real pleasures, and the bittersweet finish comes across as lackluster and cheap. C / $17

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – The nose is bright with currants and blackberries, but the body is flat and almost watery, with zero finish. Harmless currants and black pepper stud the caramel-focused body for very brief time it spends on the palate, and the finish offers a slug of tannin that quickly fades. Improves with some air, but this isn’t a wine that should merit decanting. B- / $24

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Summation Red Wine Blend California – A mystery blend that includes merlot, zinfandel, syrah, and other grapes. Lush, almost opulent, a big surprise in an otherwise lackluster lineup. Big currants and blueberry dominate, while soft tannins lead the way to some baking spice and vanilla notes on the finish. Excellent balance with a lush and rounded finish and an easy approachability. Buy this one; it’s a huge value. A- / $17

kj.com

Review: Old Hickory Blended Bourbon and Straight Bourbon Whiskey

old hickory bourbonNashville-based R.S. Lipman revived this very old brand recently, but the spirit inside has nothing to do with whatever came before. Within you will find MGP-sourced whiskey which is bottled in Ohio.

Old Hickory — not just named after Andrew Jackson but featuring his picture on the label — is offered in two varieties, a blended whiskey and a straight bourbon. Both are reviewed here.

Old Hickory Great American Whiskey Blended Bourbon Whiskey – “Black label Old Hickory.” This is a blend of bourbon and other, unspecified whiskey. The label says it’s 89% four year old whiskey and 11% two year old whiskey, but offers no other direction beyond that. The nose offers ample caramel and vanilla notes, but also tons of almonds and a bit of baking spice. There’s unusual depth of aroma here for a whiskey with such an uninspired provenance, but the body doesn’t go far enough in backing it up. On the tongue it’s a relatively simple whiskey, with notes of caramel sauce and sweet tea, plus lots of that almond character. There’s a touch of chemical character on the finish, something driven more by youth, I suspect, than anything funky in the production. Its disappearance arrives quickly, though — just like that, Old Hickory Blended is all but gone. 80 proof. B- / $30

Old Hickory Great American Whiskey Straight Bourbon Whiskey – “White label Old Hickory” is a real bourbon, but it carries no age information on the bottle, but research shows its components to be a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 7 years old. Slightly higher abv than the black label, the nose combines the sweetness of the forebear alongside a not-insignificant lumberyard-plus-barrel char influence. The almond notes are muted here, replaced by more of a butterscotch character. On the palate the moderate sweetness is backed by a slightly bittersweet note, a bit herbal with some anise notes. All told, it’s a relatively straightforward but well-crafted bourbon with plenty of elements to enjoy. 86 proof. B+ / $35

oldhickorywhiskey.com

Review: Wines of Silver Palm, 2016 Releases

silver palmThis new brand is another Jackson Family creation, focusing on the sub-$20 segment with wines heralding from the North Coast and Central Coast regions. Thoughts on four of the current offerings from this winery follow.

2014 Silver Palm Chardonnay North Coast – A garden-variety chardonnay, with heavy apricot notes that are heavily buried in brown butter and oak notes. Some lemon character midway along adds a touch of something brighter, but the sugar bun sweetness on the finish comes across as overblown. B- / $15

2014 Silver Palm Pinot Noir Central Coast – A simple wine with modest ambitions, this pinot noir features gentle cherry cola, very light herbs, and not a whole lot else. The wine goes well enough with a light meal, but on its own the almost watery character drives it to only minor inspiration. B / $18

2013 Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast – Surprisingly capable, this North Coast cab offers notes of cracked black pepper, blackberry, and a touch of violets. Just a hint of cocoa nibs gives the wine just a bit of sweetness and fun. I was surprised how enjoyable this was, considering the price point. A- / $19

2013 Silver Palm Merlot North Coast – A quite fruity wine, with notes of blackberry and tar at the forefront. The floral notes of merlot are largely lacking here, but what remains is a fairly straightforward expression of California at its most generic. B / $18

silverpalmwines.com

Review: Coppersea New York Corn Whisky, Green Malt Rye, and Excelsior Bourbon

coppersea

Coppersea, based in upstate New York, has been on a real tear lately with a flood of new (and very young) whiskey releases, running the gamut of American styles. Today we’re looking at three of them.

Thoughts follow.

Coppersea New York Corn Whisky – 80% corn, 20% malted barley, aged at least six months in a variety of second-fill bourbon, brandy, rye, and wine barrels. Powerful with grain and popcorn notes, with overtones of coal fire and sawdust. Green and weedy on the finish, with intense maltiness. Meant to be a throwback to ye olde days, but it has very little charm. 96 proof. C- / $70

Coppersea New York Green Malt Rye – 100% Hudson Valley rye malt (malted on Coppersea’s own malt floor), aged 7 months in new oak barrels. The nose is loaded with exotic incense, anise, and Asian spices, some menthol, and a slight rubber character. On the palate things settle down fairly nicely into a quite spicy groove. The base grain doesn’t stray far from the tongue, but it’s tempered by notes of cloves and rose petals. On the finish another flick of anise finds a companion in more toasty grain notes. 90 proof. B / $94 (375ml)

Coppersea New York Excelsior Bourbon – 55% corn, 35% rye, 10% malted barley, aged under one year in new American white oak barrels. Very grainy (though not terribly corny) on the nose, the whiskey offers lengthy barrel char aromas as well. On the palate, there’s surprisingly little going on, including some emerging sweetness that comes across on a slightly chalky texture with hints of graham crackers and sugar cookies. Again there’s the wood influence and youthful grains on the finish, with some gentle sweetness to temper the experience. 96 proof. B- / $110

Update 4/22/2016: Several errors regarding Coppersea’s production methods have been corrected in this post.

coppersea.com

Review: Beach Whiskey Original and Island Coconut

beach whiskey

I say coconut-flavored spirit. You say… whiskey?

It’s hard to believe, particularly with a name like “Beach” and pastel-colored bottles, but this really is a corn-based product. A pure corn, white whiskey is the one in white. Red is a cinnamon spirit (not reviewed here) and blue is the coconut whiskey. Coconut whiskey. Still can’t get used to saying that.

Anyway, let’s give this Florida-born product a shot, if we can stop thinking about pina coladas for a minute.

Beach Whiskey Original – An unflavored moonshine. Fairly restrained on the nose, with a touch of kettle corn character — it’s both corny and lightly sweet. On the palate, the whiskey is surprisingly watery, with little more flavor than your typical shot of vodka. A slightly medicinal astringency only compounds that impression, though those corn chip notes come along more powerfully on the finish. A surprisingly harmless moonshine, this is a definitive white whiskey for anyone who’s been afraid to dip a toe in the category. 80 proof. B / $NA

Beach Whiskey Island Coconut – Coconut-flavored and watered down, you’d be forgiven for assuming this is Malibu based on the nose. Hints of pineapple add a touch of something different on the tongue, but it isn’t until the finish that a touch of that popcorn and brown butter character comes along to remind you that there’s whiskey at the core of this. At 26% abv, maybe not much whiskey, but enough to keep things from sliding into the rum world completely. 52 proof. B- / $NA

beachwhiskey.com