Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2015 Edition

OF BB 2015

At this time of year we celebrate two big birthdays: Brown-Forman founder Garvin Brown, and yours truly.

Only one of us gets a “birthday bourbon” in his honor, though. Today we tuck into the 2015 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, a 12 year old bottling, in keeping with past expressions. Old Fo notes that this batch was all matured in the same warehouse instead of at multiple sites, and near a heat cycling duct, where it was exposed to very high temperatures.

The 2015 edition has a sharp nose, almost astringent as it reveals menthol, burnt sugar, and some hospital character. On the palate, things settle more into traditional bourbon character, but it’s still a bit of a bruiser in comparison to previous years’ releases. On the palate, Bit-O-Honey, more dark brown sugar, and big barrel char notes hit up front. As the finish builds, it takes on a sharp citrus character — flamed orange peel — along with some vanilla-chocolate character. An echo of menthol emerges on the back end, along with a not insignificant level of heat.

All in all, it’s a whiskey that’s missing a sense of balance. Though water helps to bring things together, it has the side effect of turning things a bit boring. There’s nothing offensive in the 2015 Birthday Bourbon, but it isn’t nearly as well structured as some of the past releases. (I re-sampled them back to 2010 and this was my least favorite; 2014 is drinking the best today, with 2010 faded quite a bit.)

Hey, not every birthday is going to be your favorite.

100 proof. 13,200 bottles produced.

B- / $70 /

Review: Flaviar “Eau de Vie! Oui!” Cognac Sampler & the Flaviar App

flaviar packs

We’ve been friends with Flaviar for quite a while, and we’re going to start looking more deeply into their sampler packs. These are available on a one-off basis or as a monthly subscription, featuring rum, whiskey, brandy, or just about anything else.

Today we’re looking at Flaviar’s Cognac sampler, a set of spirits packaged under the label of “Eau de Vie! Oui!” If you’re expecting a bunch of Remy Martin and Courvoisier, think again. With the exception of Hennessy and Martell, none of these are major-name Cogancs, and even the Hennessy is a Europe-only bottling. In other words, you’re getting stuff here you won’t likely find at your local watering hole.

Let’s take a look at the five Cognacs — each in 50ml quantities — in this pack.

Hennessy Fine de Cognac – Positioned between a VS and VSOP, not available in the U.S. (originally made for King George IV before he was crowned). It’s a junior Cognac, a little weedy and short, with some rough, wood-driven notes, but not without some charms. B-

Martell VSOP – Pretty nose, but a bit thin on the body. Solid caramel, vanilla, raisin, and baking spice notes. Well-integrated but not overwhelmingly complicated. An easy “house brandy” selection. A-

Baron Otard VSOP – Very mild nose, evoking cinnamon buns. Quite sweet on the tongue, more than the previous brandies, which really pushes the (raisin-studded) cinnamon roll character. Gentle, brown sugar finish… a well-made, mid-level brandy. B+

Dobbe Cognac XO – Lovely to see this XO taking on some rancio notes — fortified wine, coffee, dark chocolate. Lots of coffee on the nose, and a little tobacco and roasted nuts. A dense, almost pruny Cognac, but I liked its intensity quite a bit. Brooding and contemplative. A-

Gautier XO Gold & Blue – Nice, old Cognac here — well-developed golden raisins, baking spice, and lots of vanilla. While it doesn’t stray far from the path, it’s firing on all cylinders and drinking beautifully. A

Get a Flaviar Welcome Pack (including this one)

Flaviar’s also got a new app for iOS and Android, which lets you purchase bottles and tasting packs and see a “flavour spiral” for everything you’ve sampled. Kind of a neat spin on the flavor wheel, and fun to check out while you’re sampling spirits. Check it out on your relevant app store.

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2015 Edition


As bourbon (and rye) mania continue to sweep the nation, this year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is setting up to be one of the hottest releases ever. (Surely you’re heard about Stagg? If not, read on for the spoiler…) As always, these are all highly capable, unique, and for the most part worthwhile whiskeys. But here’s the particulars on how each one breaks down for me this year.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – As it has for many years, this is 18 year old rye distilled way back in 1985 that has been sitting in a big metal tank since it hit its 18th birthday in 2003. Sazerac 18 changes a little each year, but not much. But now pay attention: This is the final release from the old tank. Next year’s release will feature whiskey distilled in 1998, and going forward, Sazerac 18 will be drawn from barrels filled 18 years prior. So — if you like what Sazzy 18 has been like in the past, get it now, as this is your last chance. In 2015, the nose offers exotic notes of brandied cherries, graham crackers, and whipped cream. This beautiful dessert character leads to ample wood on the initial rush of the palate — but this quickly segues to Christmas spices, more gingerbread, mulled wine, marzipan, and spiced, baked apples. The finish is long, soothing, and festive with its hefty spice character — perfect for holiday tippling. All in all, it’s a similar Sazerac 18 to the whiskey we’ve seen before, but like an old friend it’s one you still want to spend time with from time to time. 90 proof. A-

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – A 17 year old whiskey from the bottom three floors of Warehouses Q and I. Punchy with vanilla, caramel, and chocolate, this is a cocoa lover’s dream come true. A classic bourbon drinking at full maturity, it eventually reveals some allspice, barrel char, and a bit of menthol. This year’s whiskey is a fairly straightforward bourbon, one that even hints at its origins with some popcorn notes emerging on the finish — not something you often see in a whiskey of this age. Solid stuff on the whole, as it usually is. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – There’s quite a tale to go away with this one. Buffalo Trace says that it opened up 128 barrels of whiskey distilled in 2000 (making this 15 years old), but many of them only had 1 or 2 gallons of bourbon left in them. The shocking statistic: 84% of the original distillate evaporated! That’s quite an angel’s share… which means you are not going to find much Stagg on the market this year — one source I’ve seen estimates just 5000 bottles of this coveted whiskey will hit stores. 2015 is quite strong on the nose (this is 69% alcohol and dark as night, so prepare thy liver), but push through the alcohol to reveal intense vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves on the nose. The body is equally intense — lots of vanilla extract, cloves, and, surprisingly, licorice, plus a bit of barrel char on the back end. Give it water and it settles into a groove of burnt caramel and brown sugar with a little licorice kick. There’s not a lot of nuance this year — Stagg can often take on a dark coffee/chocolate tone — but it’s a very capable and highly enjoyable bourbon from start to finish. What else were you expecting? 138.2 proof. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – 12 year old W.L. Weller, from the second and sixth floors of warehouses I, K, and L. Appealing nose, and approachable even at this hefty proof (just 2% abv less than Stagg). It’s got a distinctly lighter style, with a nose of distinct butterscotch notes, fruit salad, and vanilla. On the palate, the butterscotch comes on strong, along with some marzipan and orange oil. Add water and the whiskey takes on an evergreen edge, though it’s still tempered with that almond paste/butterscotch sweetness. Kind of an odd combination of flavors — each enjoyable enough on its own, but all together a little bit scattered. 134.6 proof. B+

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Six year old rye, as per the norm, from the fourth and seventh floors of warehouses I, K, and M. Slightly light in alcohol for Handy vs. previous years’ releases. Restrained on the nose, far more so than anything else in the collection. It’s just not altogether there, aside from some nutty and grainy overtones. On the palate, at full bottle strength, it features hot, toasty grain, some citrus/orange marmalade notes, and more than a bit of astringency. Water helps, bringing out more sweetness and some baking spice, but also tons of grain and some antiseptic notes that make the whole affair seem undercooked. There’s nothing wrong with young whiskey, but I question whether a rye that’s drinking so youthfully has a proper place in this collection. 126.9 proof. B-

$80 each /

Review: Sonoma Cider The Crowbar, The Washboard, and Dry Zider

sonoma dry ziderTwo limited edition ciders and one very limited reserve release from Sonoma Cider. These ones aren’t exactly my favorites, but maybe the descriptions will entice your palate…

Sonoma Cider The Crowbar – Dry cider, flavored with lime and habanero. Surprisingly spicy, with intense lime notes and quite a peppery punch behind it. It’s altogether a bit much for this otherwise simple beverage, but for the novelty factor it might be worth a look if you’re a heat-seeker. 6% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack

Sonoma Cider The Washboard – Dry, flavored with sarsaparilla and vanilla. This sounds — root beer cider!? — a lot better than it actually is. More sweetness would help to balance out the intense herbal character, and the vanilla is quite extracted. If you’ve ever tried to consume vanilla extract on its own, without some form of sugar to temper things, you can fathom where this cider is headed. 5.5% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack

Sonoma Cider Dry Zider – An organic, bone-dry cider that’s aged for three months in oak barrels that previously held Sonoma County zinfandel wine. A true oddity, with notes of dry red wine that pair with a crisp and clearly dry, tart apple character. Not a combination that I would have imagined — try blending your zinfandel and sauvignon blanc together and you’re on the right path — but it works better than expected. Again I can’t help but think stylistically it would be improved by some sweetness, but that’s just me. 6.9% abv B- / $NA per 22 oz. bottle

Review: 2014 Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel Cotes de Provence Rose

Chateau d'Esclans Rock AngelRarely have I been so unoffended by a wine.

In this case, Provence-based Chateau d’Esclans makes a rose from (red) grenache and (white) vermentino (aka rolle) and bottles this barely pink wine as Rock Angel. (The wine replaces the company’s previous rose, Whispering Angel.)

It smells basically like almost nothing at all, just the lightest fragrances of peaches, citrus, and vanilla, but largely gossamer thin on the nose. The body is a little more present, thanks to some citrus-fueled acidity and some peach/tropical character. Clean finish. At $25 this is crazy money for a wine of this level of simplicity, but at least, on a technical level, there’s nothing especially wrong with it.

Ho hum.

B- / $25 /

Review: Magic Hat Ale, Electric Peel, Miss Bliss, and Belgo Sutra

magic hat Electric Peel Bottle JPGA quartet of brews from Vermont’s Magic Hat, including two seasonals, a new full-time release, and limited edition available only on draft. Let’s go!

Magic Hat Ale – Seasonal for fall. A simple name for a simple beer, an Irish-style red ale with ample malt and a slightly fruity, caramel-heavy palate. Magic Hat Ale serves up some chocolate notes and a bit of caramel apple on the finish, but it’s nothing too get too excited about in the end. 4.6% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Electric Peel Grapefruit IPA – Year-round. Grapefruit is rapidly becoming the “it” beer ingredient, but it gets a bit lost in this chewy, resinous, and otherwise standard-bearing IPA. Lots of piney notes mixed with a strong but less distinct citrus character give this a pleasant balance without blowing you off your barstool with the hops. A slightly sour tang on the finish nods in the direction of the Ruby Red, but if you didn’t know what was in the bottle in advance, you’d probably never realize it was there. All in all, quite enjoyable on its merits. 6% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Miss Bliss – Seasonal for fall. This is a lightly spiced ale made with malted rye and dusted with coriander and orange peel. I’m normally not a fan of spiced beers, but Miss Bliss really surprised me. It’s delicate on the tongue with lightly floral notes, then kicks up ample caramel as the body picks up steam. As it develops, the sweetness remains in check while the herbal notes take over. The finish is soothing and nostalgic, reminding the drinker of dry autumn leaves, Halloween, and Thanksgiving baked goods all at once. Refreshing as hell, too. 4.5% abv. A / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Belgo Sutra – Very limited. A Belgian dark ale, available on tap only, made with six different malts and fermented over figs and dates. This could be a sugar bomb, but Magic Hat keeps it in check with a bit of Apollo hops to balance things out with some bitterness. That said, it’s still strong, dark, and teetering on the edge of being syrupy, but the malt is big and bold, silky with caramel notes, while the figgy fruity element manages to shine through. Drink one with your fez on. 8.2% abv. B+ / $NA (tap only)

Review: Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, 2014 Vintage

479155“Two Lands harnesses the creative power of collaboration by bringing together two award-winning winemakers from opposite sides of the world to create a range of premium and totally unique Australian wines that marry Californian winemaking craft with Australian varietal character.”

Well, let’s see how that pans out.

2014 Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Pinot Grigio Australia – A bit creamy and buttery for a pinot grigio, but not as tropical as what you might see out of New Zealand. The fruit component veers toward pears with a touch of mango, but the finish is a bit too restrained. B- / $14

2014 Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Chardonnay Australia – Quite a surprise, as it’s very aromatic and perfumed on the nose, almost to a grandma’s-bathroom level — unusual for chardonnay. On the tongue, there’s a significantly off-putting overripe melon character that’s paired with a blown-out, artificial-tasting butter flavor (think microwave “double butter flavor” popcorn). The finish has a mouth-coating chemical character to it. Pass. D+ / $14

Review: Left Coast Cellars 2013 Pinot Noir and 2014 White Pinot Noir

Willamette, Oregon-based Left Coast Cellars makes pinot noir — no surprise there — but it comes in two varieties: A standard red cuvee and a white wine. All grapes have white juice of course; the color comes making the wine with the skins. But white varieties of the major red wine grapes are quite rare. Let’s see this one pans out, alongside its standard pinot…

2013 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – Very light body, with fresh berries backed by light floral elements. Secondary character includes a hint of cinnamon, with just a little fresh thyme to back things up. Things turn slightly strange — a bit sweet with more baking spice than I’d like — as the finish builds. Quite drinkable, particularly with food. B+ / $24

2014 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – There’s a reason they turn pinot noir grapes into red wine, it seems — this white offers some initial grassiness and minerality, but this evolves into a lightly vegetal overtone, with a hint of mushroom character. This evokes a relatively low-end white, but the unique varietal choice makes it more interesting than that simply on a novelty basis. B- / $24

Review: Copper & Kings Immature Brandy and Craft Distilled Brandy

copper and kings immature brandy

Yes Virginia, they make stuff other than bourbon in Louisville, Kentucky. Copper & Kings, which only opened last year, is a craft distiller of brandy (and a bunch of absinthes, which we’re reviewing soon), which are copper pot-distilled “just twice for character and taste.” Made from Muscat (or French Colombard, depending on what you read), two varieties are currently available. Thoughts follow.

Copper & Kings Immature Brandy – That’s an interesting, on-the-nose name for an unaged brandy. Astringent and alcoholic — it’s also perfumed and exotic, with notes of lychee, elderflower, and marzipan all on the nose. Intensely floral and perfume-focused on the palate, the earthier tones seep in without overwhelming things. The finish takes things to an alpine level, and almost reminds me of an Andes mint. Consider using in lieu of gin. 90 proof. B- / $x

Copper & Kings Craft Distilled Brandy – Take the above and age it in a combination of new white oak and used bourbon barrels for about two years — and blend it with some older, sourced pot-distilled brandy — and you have this spirit. Lots of vanilla-focused bourbon notes on the nose, some lumber. On the palate, lots of sweetness, with those marzipan notes from the Immature showing up right from the start. With prominent notes of brown sugar, some cinnamon, more almond extract, and a bit of stone fruit, you could be forgiving for thinking this was some kind of craft whiskey (perhaps even an Irish), particularly with its chewy burnt-marshmallow finish. 90 proof. B+ / $x

Review: 2012 Veglio Michelino & Figlia Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba

viglio Low Histamine Dolcetto d'Alba bottleHere’s something you don’t see every day: Italian wines with reduced histamines. Why histamines? Some say these are responsible for “red wine headaches?”

How does a wine turn out with its histamines taken away? Let’s take a look.

2012 Veglio Michelino & Figlia Barbera d’Alba DOC – Slightly sweet, atypical of barbera, with notes of blackcurrant jam and a touch of vanilla and chocolate. Silky on the body, but that sweetness lingers too long for a wine of this style. B- / $20

2012 Veglio Michelino & Figlia Dolcetto d’Alba DOC – Somewhat more herbal, with a modest bitterness clinging to a gentle, plum-focused core. Relatively thin, and a little watery on the finish. Fair but not really distinguished in any way. B- / $20