Tasting SakeOne Imports: Hakutsuru Draft, Tanrei Junmai, Superior Junmai Ginjo, and Sho-Une Junmai Dai Ginjo

Hakutsuru Sho-Une Junmai Dai GinjoSakeOne doesn’t just make interesting sakes in its Oregon home base, it also imports them — lots of them, in fact. In May 2014, SakeOne began importing the Hakutsuru line, which is Japan’s biggest export sake. All four of these sakes come from Hakutsuru collection. Let’s dive in, reader-san!

Hakutsuru Draft Sake – Draft sake is aged for 1 month at 41 degrees Fahrenheit before bottling and is unpasteurized. Dry, fresh, and uncomplicated, this is a basic, crystal clear sake with light notes of melon and (heavier) solvent character. Overall, its uninspired entry-level stuff that I’d recommend primarily for use as a mixer. C- / $3 per 180ml bottle

Hakutsuru Tanrei Junmai – A basic junmai sake but nonetheless a step up from the Draft, featuring clearer and stronger melon character, a creamier body, and mild hospital notes on the finish. Definitely easier to sip on, this is your basic sushi bar sake, dry with just a bare hint of sweetness. B- / $4 per 180ml bottle

Hakutsuru Superior Jumnai Ginjo – Stepping up the quality ladder is this junmai ginjo, which is made with more of the rice grain polished away before it hits the brewery. Big, fresh melon notes are punchy on the nose, but the body is oddly more astringent than the Tanrei bottling. Enjoyable at first, it ultimately gets a bit hoary on the finish, with a slightly sour milk character. B- / $8 per 300ml bottle

Hakutsuru Sho-Une Junmai Dai GinjoJunmai daiginjo is one of the highest levels of sake production, with considerably more of the rice grain polished away before it is brewed, but otherwise made in the same style as all junmai sake. Here the melon notes take on a deeper and much more brooding character, featuring some mushroom notes plus various herbs. B+ / $11 per 300ml bottle

hakutsuru-sake.com

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, Late 2015 Releases

bottle_sante-pinotThree late arrivals from the tail end of 2015 from the monstrous variety that Coppola manages to put out. Some quick thoughts on these late-arriving wines.

2012 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Cinema – 49% cabernet sauvignon, 45% zinfandel, 4% petite sirah, 2% syrah – Quite a sugary experience, it oozes with raisins, sweet tea, and blackberry jelly. The lengthy, New World finish is certainly fresh, if not exactly nuanced. B- / $32

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – Big and jammy, full of cassis and blackberry, with notes of coffee bean and tea leaf. Sweet but reasonably well-balanced, it’s a fair enough food wine but on its own the finish starts to get away from you as it pours on the sugar. B- / $16

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Pinot Noir California – Fruity up front, then a sizeable smoke influence takes hold. Some cedar wood and black tea notes come into focus, but otherwise this is a simple and perfectly drinkable expression of this classic grape — provided you don’t mind a little char on the back end. B / $12

francisfordcoppolawinery.com

Review: 4 Pearl Vodka Flavors – Lime Basil, Strawberry Basil, Chocolate Hazelnut, and Pumpkin Spice

pearlIntroducing four new flavors from Luxco-owned Pearl Vodka (which recently rebranded all its bottles with a more streamlined design) — two fruity/basil blends, two dessert-focused for winter sipping. Let’s give them all a sample.

All are 70 proof.

Pearl Vodka Lime Basil – Gentler than you’d think. Heavy on candied lime peel, with just a hint of racier, Thai-style basil on the back end. Modest in structure, pure in its flavor elements, and offering a crisp body with a short finish. It’s a fine alternative to Hangar One Kaffir LimeA

Pearl Vodka Strawberry Basil – Somewhat chemical-smelling on the nose, a common problem with strawberry vodkas. There’s no hint of basil in the aroma, but on the palate it offers a heat more akin to black pepper than any kind of herb. A heavily sweetened finish washes that away, though, leaving behind a bit of a medicinal character. B

Pearl Vodka Chocolate Hazelnut – So, Nutella vodka! Nails it on the nose — though it’s heavier on hazelnut than chocolate. The palate isn’t far off, either. Cinnamon is a distinct secondary character but otherwise this vodka exudes lovely hazelnuts dusted with cocoa powder. Some vanilla marshmallow notes emerge on the finish. Dessert-focused vodkas like this are often largely undrinkable, but this is a surprising winner. A-

Pearl Vodka Pumpkin Spice – Far more restrained than I’d expected, with classic brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and clove notes. The sweetness is at first dialed back, but it doesn’t take long to start building up on the palate. As it begins to coat the mouth, it leaves behind a saccharine character that eventually becomes too much and hangs around for far too long. B-

each $13 / pearlvodka.com

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Winter Ale

alaskaAlaskan’s Winter Ale is brewed with spruce tips plus a selection of specialty malts and hops. The beer is sweeter than you’d think, think less evergreen and more winter spice mix — cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Very heavy with malt, it’s quite sweet and it leaves behind a lengthy, sugary finish before fading out with the aid of a delicate dusting of hops.

Stylistically, it’s not my favorite, but considering it’s been made for 15 years running, it surely has a fan or two out there.

6.4% abv.

B- / $8 per six-pack / alaskanbeer.com

Review: 2012 Matchbook The Arsonist and Tinto Rey

71jzazc7YdL._UY490_CR0,0,450,490_Two new releases just arrived from our friends at Matchbook in Zamora, California. One of them blew my socks off. Keep reading to find out which one!

2012 Matchbook The Arsonist Red Blend – 52% petit verdot, 24% cabernet sauvignon, 24% merlot. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better wine at this price level. Petit verdot at this concentration is very rare, but Matchbook makes it work far beyond all expectations. Brilliant violets and plum mingle with notes of chocolate and spice, melding together in the context of a fruity but balanced palate. Modest acidity and a lengthy, satisfying finish give this wine elegance and long-haul legs. It drinks well on its own, but it’s a gorgeous food wine — pair with just about anything. A / $22

2012 Matchbook Tinto Rey Red Blend Giguiere Family – 50% tempranillo, 27% syrah, 11% petit verdot, 8% graciano, 4% tannat. A less masterful wine, but it works well enough. A little thin on the palate, it offers notes of green vegetable and hemp rope, with a backbone of cherry, tea leaf, and dark chocolate. Somewhat scattered, it never comes together the way I’d like, and it exits on a relatively lackluster, moderately bitter finish. B- / $17

crewwines.com

Review: Manhattan Margarita

manhattan margarita

First, let’s clear up the confusion.

  1. Yes, it’s a pre-mixed margarita, not a Manhattan. The color is from citrus juices added to “perfect” the recipe.
  2. No, it’s not from Manhattan. It’s from California. “Manhattan” refers to Manhattan Beach.
  3. No, it’s not made in Manhattan Beach, which is in Los Angeles. It’s made in Graton, in Northern California. It was created in SoCal, though.

What’s in this ready-to-drink bottle or orange? “Silver agave tequila, triple sec, lemon, lime, orange, cranberry, and pineapple.” That’s a lot of stuff for a margarita — and if you switched the tequila to rum you’d have yourself a tiki drink — but let’s not judge it by its cover. How does it actually taste?

The orange color is immediately tricky. I don’t know if it’s a trick of the mind, but I get an initial rush of carrot flavor when first sipping on the cocktail. That may be an effect of too much fruit flavor hitting all at once. The pineapple and cranberry and all that citrus — it all comes together a little haphazardly, almost, indeed, like a sloppy tiki drink.

The tequila is what sends things in another direction, adding an agave bite and a slight petrol burn to the proceedings. But it’s that racy, sweet-and-sour lime character that is so essential to a great margarita which I missed the most. This is probably a pretty subjective area, as others may find the fruit cluster bomb more palatable. Your mileage may vary.

30 proof.

B- / $20 / manhattanmargarita.com

Review: Anchor Distilling Christmas Spirit White Whiskey 2015

christmas spiritEvery year, the folks at Anchor Distilling take the prior year’s Anchor Christmas Ale, distill it, and turn it into an unaged white whiskey. Last year it was known as Christmas Spirit, as it is again for 2015.

The 2015 Christmas Spirit is classic white whiskey, cut with notes of seasonally appropriate herbs and pine needles. Moderately rubbery — a commonality found in most white whiskeys — the body showcases milk chocolate notes, more evergreen, and a touch of citrus at times. The finish is heavy with both rubber and petrol notes, and it goes out on a surprisingly heavy bitter note.

This 2015 bottling is definitely the most white whiskey-like of the three renditions of this spirit I’ve sampled to date (which invariably veer in the direction of gin). And that is not necessarily a compliment.

90 proof. Available in California only until December 31.

B- / $55 / anchordistilling.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old Experiments

buffalo trace OFSM Experimental Sept 15

The latest round of experiment bourbons from Buffalo Trace are a return to its roots: using an “old fashioned” method to sour the mash.

Wait, isn’t all bourbon made with a “sour mash?” Yes, but as BT explains it, all sour mash is not created equal. I’ll let them take it away:

Distilled in May of 2002, this Old Fashioned Sour Mash experiment used Buffalo Trace’s proprietary mash.  The bourbon was cooked and cooled to standard; however, the similarities stop there. The mash was allowed “to sour” before yeast was added to start the fermentation process, a method long abandoned due to its more laborious process.

This sour mash method differs from the more common process used today by nearly all bourbon manufacturers. The routine method calls for cooking and cooling the mash, and then immediately adding yeast and a small amount of previously distilled mash (or “setback”) as it cools to sour the mash.   The traditional old-fashioned sour mash process fell out of favor many years ago, and it was not until a gathering of distillery “old timers” that Buffalo Trace was inspired to revive it.

The experiment portion of the whiskey concerns entry proof — two versions of the above whiskey were made, one entered the barrel at 105 proof, one at 125 proof. Both were aged for 13 years on the seventh floor of Warehouse I.

How do they stack up with each other? Let’s dig in.

Both are bottled, as usual for the BTEC, at 90 proof.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old 105 Entry Proof – This is very uncharacteristic bourbon both for Kentucky and for Buffalo Trace in particular. The nose offers wood and spice, but also notes of camphor and dried flowers. The body takes this and runs — from the fields to the cedar closet and back again — offering drying herbal notes and licorice. A bit of toffee on the back end reminds you this is bourbon and not some weird Scandinavian whiskey. B-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Old Fashioned Sour Mash 13 Years Old 125 Entry Proof – More going on here. Brown butter, vanilla, butterscotch, and baking spices all find a home in the nose — overall fairly traditional stuff. The body has echoes of the herbal funk of the 105 — particularly up front — but features a sweeter, more candylike character with hints of chocolate and cinnamon. This is easily the more palatable of the two whiskeys, but it’s also the more interesting, as the lightly herbal elements provide some balance and nuance to an otherwise traditional bourbon structure. One to explore if you can grab a bottle. A-

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: Rebel Yell Bourbon, Rye, and American Whiskey

rebel yell

St. Louis-based Luxco (which also makes Ezra Brooks and Admiral Nelson’s Rum) is behind Rebel Yell, a line of value whiskeys which has recently begun to show up more and more in bars and on store shelves. What’s the haps about “The Yell?”

The Rebel Yell line begins with its core product — old-school Kentucky Bourbon, in the form of a brand dating back to 1849. But recently Rebel Yell has been expanding, both into flavored whiskeys (not reviewed here) as well as a rye and a blended whiskey, both of which we taste below.

Let’s put this trio to the test!

Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a corn/barley/wheat mashbill. No age statement, but this wheater is clearly quite young. Heavy roasted corn notes dominate the nose, with just a touch of baking spice underneath. On the palate, there’s plenty more of that corn character, plus some sweet chocolate notes that emerge only after the corniness begins to fade. This sustains for much longer than you’d think, taking the initially quite rustic whiskey out on a nicely seductive note. A very basic whiskey, there’s just not much more to report. 80 proof. C+ / $15

Rebel Yell Small Batch Rye Whiskey – Made from a mash of rye, corn, and barley. Distilled in Indiana by MGP, aged two years. Much spicier on the nose than the bourbon, with gentler, grain-fueled notes coming up underneath. The palate is surprisingly full of life, with a rounded body that showcases both the spice and the cereal notes, including a bit of cherry fruit on the back end. All in all, the whiskey features a relatively well-balanced structure that belies its youth but showcases an overall better construction. Rebel Yell Rye is a capable mixer at the least, a surprisingly acceptable sipper at the best. 90 proof. B / $21

Rebel Yell American Whiskey – A 50-50 blend of the bourbon and rye above, all in one bottle, but raised up to 90 proof rather than the expected 85. Aged 2 years. This comes across like, well, a pretty even mix of the two spirits — featuring both the baking spices of the rye plus the ample corn notes of the bourbon. It’s not a bad combination in the abstract, but the two whiskeys don’t entirely complement each other in a meaningful way. The playfulness of the rye is ultimately dulled by the more brash corn character of the bourbon, though the flipside — the spicier rye giving the corn a boost — could also be said to be true. In the end, the whiskey lands right where it should — somewhere in between the two spirits that go into it. 90 proof. B- / $21

rebelyellbourbon.com

Review: Sonoma County Distilling Sonoma Rye Whiskey and Cherrywood Rye Whiskey

SCD_CherrywoodRye_RTRemember 1512 Spirits? This tiny Rohnert Park, California operation has grown by leaps and bounds — and recently changed its name to Sonoma County Distilling Company. SCDC is pumping out products, mostly young whiskeys, including bourbon, wheat whiskey, and at least two ryes, both of which we’re reviewing today.

Let’s take a look at what this humble operation north of San Francisco is pumping out.

Sonoma County Distilling Co. Sonoma Rye Whiskey – 100% California rye, primarily unmalted rye with malted rye as a secondary grain. Double distilled and aged in new charred American oak, finished in used barrels. It’s young stuff (likely only a year or two old, though there’s no age statement), and on the nose it’s full of youthful roasted cereal notes, raw lumber, and some hospital notes. The body is more well-rounded, adding ample baking spice notes driven by the rye, some cherry fruit, and gentle vanilla. The finish is quite lumber-driven, with an echo of cereal. 108.8 proof. Reviewed: Batch #8. B- / $50

Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye Whiskey – This is a more complicated product, made from (primarily) unmalted Canadian rye, cherrywood smoked malted barley, and unmalted Canadian wheat. It’s double distilled, then aged in new oak and finished in used barrels. And this one carries an age statement: A minimum of one year in oak. The results: Not at all what I was expecting, in a good way. The nose is youthful and lightly grainy, but more breakfast cereal than toasted bread, with hints of butterscotch. The body is where this whiskey really shines, offering gentle sweetness, with plenty of vanilla, cake frosting, and dried fruits. There is a slight smokiness on the back end, compounded with toasted nuts and — finally — some heavier grain elements. The finish isn’t a standout, but the palate offers plenty to enjoy. I’d use this freely as a cocktail base. 96 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. B+ / $50

sonomacountydistilling.com