Review: Jameson The Cooper’s Croze Irish Whiskey

Coopers Croze Bottle Image 750ml

Wood is important in whiskey, and that’s why with this new expression, Jameson is highlighting the power of wood by turning its Head Cooper, Ger Buckley, loose in the warehouse. The goal, “to showcase the diversity of barrels at our Midleton distillery and the profound influence that wood yields. With knowledge passed down through 5 generations of his family, Ger selects, repairs, and maintains our treasured casks.” The croze (rhymes with rose), by the way, is the tool used to make the groove where the head of the barrel is positioned in order to seal it.

For this release, Buckley has collected a variety of whiskies aged in virgin American oak, seasoned bourbon, and Iberian (Spanish) sherry barrels. There’s no age statement or any other production information, but that wood treatment is wild enough on its own.

This is a drier expression of Irish, one of the least fruit- and sweetness-forward that I’ve encountered in recent memory. The nose gives up just a little — hazelnuts, dried thyme, and barrel char. A touch of sherry after some air gets to it. On the palate, there’s more of that roasted nut character, scorching notes of toasted wood staves, and some emerging vanilla at last as the woodier notes begin to fade. The sweetness remains elusive, and even the finish is drying, with notes of red pepper and cloves, and more dried savory herbal notes that tend to linger for far too long.

Even though the wood program is, to say the least, unique with this whiskey, I was expecting at least lip-service to traditional Irish in The Cooper’s Croze. What I got was something entirely different. The character is more like a young American whiskey, malt-heavy, with a heavy, heavy kick of new oak, rather unlike anything from the Emerald Isle. That wild departure may be a good thing, depending on your point of view, but for me, the heavy influence of barrel char was a real turnoff, and my suspicion is that the rest of you out there will have a similar experience.

86 proof.

B- / $60 /

Review: Smirnoff Ice Electric Mandarin and Berry

smirnoff ice electric berry

Leave it to Smirnoff to invent a whole new category of booze. As it did with Smirnoff Ice, now the company as it it again with Smirnoff Ice Electric. Available at first in two flavors, Ice Electric is a non-carbonated beverage that comes in a resealable, 16-ounce plastic bottle. It looks like a Gatorade because it’s supposed to look like one, the idea being that you get hydration and a little buzz in a package that you can still take to the beach and sip on from time to time. The alcohol inside is non-carbonated malt liquor, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.

As with a real Gatorade, these are beverages better identified by color rather than ingredient, designed not to dazzle an audience but to liven up outdoor festivities. Do people care whether or not their fruity malt beverages are fizzy? I’m not sure… but I’m willing to at least give Ice Electric a try.

Both are 5% abv.

Smirnoff Ice Electric Mandarin – Tastes largely as expected, like orange Kool-Aid with a slightly bitter edge from the alcohol. Only semi-sweet, it is fortunately restrained on the sugar front, letting a lemon-lime character take hold on the finish. B-

Smirnoff Ice Electric Berry – The “blue” flavor. A general raspberry/strawberry mix, slightly sweeter but more artificial tasting than the Mandarin, and a bit funkier on the finish. It’s not really offensive, but like the Mandarin, not entirely memorable, either. C-

each $8 per 15.9 oz. bottle /

Review: Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company Juices and Lemonades


Florida-based Natalie’s Orchid Island makes fresh juices and lemonades, packing them in those familiar, squared-off, plastic pint bottles. These products are “gourmet pasteurized” but contain no preservatives, and must be kept refrigerated at all times. Is upscale juice worth the splurge? We checked out six varieties of juice and lemonade. For your consideration:

Natalie’s Orange Juice – A touch sour, but otherwise this is a reasonably credible orange juice that leans a bit toward the grapefruit/lemon end of the flavor spectrum. B

Natalie’s Orange Mango Juice – Light on the mango, which gives this blend a bit of a banana character — complete with a creamier body, almost smoothie-like at times. A-

Natalie’s Orange Beet Juice – Appropriately “beety,” it tastes awfully healthy, although the intense vegetal character of the beets makes this hard to drink a full pint of. I love beets, but beet juice — even when cut with a bit of orange — remains an acquired taste. (It’s worth noting that orange juice is the first ingredient, however.) B-

Natalie’s Lemonade – Nothing to complain about here. This lemonade nails the sweet and sour balance perfectly, with a slight lean toward fresh lemon, just as it should be. A

Natalie’s Strawberry Lemonade – Well-sweetened, with a nice balance between lemon and strawberry notes. Refreshing and tart, with a slight creaminess on the finish. B+

Natalie’s Lemonade Tea – The Arnold Palmer is a simple drink, but the majority of the time it is made, it tastes like garbage. Why is this so often screwed up? Good news: Natalie’s nails it. This is just about the perfect mix of lemonade and tea, starting off with that tart lemon kick, then settling down to finish with that gentle, sweet tea that lingers on the palate. That said, there are 48 grams of sugar in a pint, so perhaps drink only occasionally. A

$NA per 16 oz. bottle /

Review: Blue Ice Creme Brulee Vodka

Blue Ice Creme Brulee

Outside of its “G” line, Blue Ice has just one flavored vodka, and that flavor is… no, not lemon. Not citrus. Creme brulee. Or, as it is listed on the Blue Ice website: Creme burlee. Or, elsewhere, Creme burele.

That is an extremely weird choice for one’s sole flavor, but to be sure, “creme brulee” is shorthand for “vanilla.” (More “natural” flavors are relegated to the Blue Ice “G” line, which has a more organic reputation.) Anyway, if you think about an actual creme brulee while you’re sniffing a glass of Blue Ice Creme Brulee, you really do get a real custard sense in it. It’s not just straight vanilla, but sugary and eggy all at once, complete with that caramelized crust. So, on that note, well done, Blue Ice.

On the palate, sugar dominates, but the flavors continue the theme established by the nose. The more raw elements of the vodka battle with the heavier flavoring elements, but the finish positively pours on the sweetness, sticking to your mouth and, well, anything else that might come into contact with the vodka: This is some sticky, sticky stuff.

Sure, this is hardly a nuanced spirit, and outside of novelty cocktails Blue Ice Creme Brulee doesn’t have a whole lot of utility, but let’s be frank: Once in awhile, everyone’s mom comes to visit. And she’s gonna love it in her coffee.

Now let’s work on that spelling.

60 proof.

B- / $16 /

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2016 Edition


The first Limited Edition Small Batch release from Four Roses’ new master distiller Brent Elliott has arrived. This year’s selection is a blend of three whiskies: a 12-year-old Bourbon from Four Roses’ OESO recipe, a 12-year-old OBSV, and a 16-year-old OESK. Per the company, it is the first time in more than seven years that the OESO recipe has appeared in a Limited Edition Small Batch. (I’ve seen it only in this private bottling.)

This is a fruity whiskey, offering a malty character at times that tempers the notes of over-ripe apple and peach with notes of sweet breakfast cereal. On the palate, the whiskey is a touch gummy, an issue that is compounded by the heavy fruit character. Here it comes across with notes of candied apricot, canned pineapple, apple-scented bubble gum, and cotton candy. The finish is long and sweet and more than a little cloying, coating the palate before ending on somewhat bitter oak notes.

As those notes should indicate, this is not my favorite Four Roses Small Batch expression, and in fact may be my least favorite of them all from the last six-plus releases. While its unique fruitiness is not something I can complain about, the whiskey itself is out of balance and just comes across as weird on the palate, with a finish I can’t really get behind.

Compare to the 2016 Four Roses Single Barrel release.

111.2 proof. 9,258 bottles on sale in the U.S.

B- / $90 /

Review: Beers of New Belgium, Late 2016 Releases

new belgium Heavy_Melon_12oz_Bottle

New Belgium just doesn’t stop, and today we take a tour through eight new releases from the Colorado/North Carolina-based brewery, including two one offs and six beers that are part of its new “Collabeeration Pack,” comprising five collaborations plus the original from which they are all spun-off.

Let’s start with the sextet…

New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale – This is the original Fat Tire, included as a reference point and, one presumes, because it’s a pretty good beer. Nicely honed after many years of release, this is a malty and slightly sweet beer that eschews raw cereal notes and gumminess in favor of a clean and satisfying palate that culminates in a lightly bitter, well-rounded finish. There’s nothing too complicated here but it’s a significant step above some of the mass-produced brews out there, and good enough to conceivably recommend in its own right. 5.2% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Avery Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Wild Ale – A wild and funky take on Fat Tire, with the addition of Brettanomyces yeast. Results: Big and malty, with just a hint of sour cream-‘n’-chives character. Some lightly fruity elements hit on the finish, along with a dose of balsamic and chewy forest-like notes. Interesting, for sure, and an interesting tiptoe in the direction of wild fermentation. 6.2% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Hopworks Urban Brewery Fat Tire and Friends Fat Sour Apple Ale – A funky cross between a sour and a cider, this beer tries to thread the needle with minimal success, starting off malty and chewy, then taking an abruptly sharp turn into cidertown. The finish is sour but more akin to the kraut variety than the apple one. 5.9% abv. C+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Firestone Walker Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Hoppy Ale – Definitely West Coast IPA “inspired,” this beer finds some new territory by mixing in notes of roasted nuts and a touch of coffee with a modestly bitter backbone that offers a glimpse of the forest, though it skips the juicy citrus notes you find in a typical IPA in favor of a more straightforward, earthy character. The overall impact is surprisingly drinkable, closer in the end to a British pale ale than anything else I can describe. 6.0% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Rhinegeist Brewery Fat Tire and Friends Fat Pale Ale – This Belgian-style XPA is relatively innocuous as this series goes, offering pushy malt notes with grassy, with overtones of coffee and hazelnuts. It’s a big and chewy beer with subtle sweetness. Belgian fans will get a kick out of it. 6.0% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Allagash Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Funk Ale – A bit less funky than you might expect, considering this is a bottle-conditioned Belgian style ale that’s been treated with Brett. Lightly sour, the beer offers musty sourness, orange rind, and bubbly malt, with an earthy finish that echoes both tobacco leaf and balsamic vinegar. You’ll know from all of that whether this one is up your alley. 5.6% abv. B- 

And now, two one-offs from New Belgium…

New Belgium + Hof ten Dormaal Golden Ale – From the “Lips of Faith” series comes this collaboration with a small Belgian brewery, which has resulted in a somewhat wild, very slightly sour golden ale that offers loads of heavy, nutty malt, plus notes of fresh apple and pear, very ripe (mushy) banana, honeysuckle, and baking spices. The finish is throat-coating and a bit funky, loaded with heavy yeast notes. 7.0% abv. B

New Belgium Heavy Melon Watermelon Lime Ale – Somewhat self-explanatory, this seasonal brew shows off crisp, malty notes up front that quickly segue into fruit character — surprisingly, more lime-focused than watermelon, with overtones of honeydew and nougat. I won’t call it “girl beer” but I can’t control what other people do. (I joke, ladies, and I fully recognize you are all capable and discriminating drinkers.) 5.0% abv. B

$17 per 12-pack /

Review: 2015 Left Coast Cellars Truffle Hill Chardonnay and White Pinot Noir


left coast

This is our second spin through Oregon’s Left Coast Cellars’ offerings, and today we look at two white wines, a chardonnay and Left Coast’s signature white pinot noir. Let’s taste them both.

2015 Left Coast Cellars Truffle Hill Chardonnay Willamette Valley – A very dry style of chardonnay, harvested from a vineyard adjacent to a truffle farm and aged in French oak puncheons and stainless steel. Restrained apple fruit finds a rough companion in the form of heavy herbs and rather musty oak notes. The finish offers a curious note of cocoa powder, which I’m still trying to decide whether or not I like. B- / $18

2015 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – Quite acidic up front, with a somewhat heavy vegetal undertone. While some notes of orange blossoms and figs add some interest, the earthy elements ultimately detract, particularly on the finish. Again, this is a curious novelty but not something I’d seek out on a regular basis. B- / $22