Review: J.R. Revelry Bourbon Whiskey

jr revelryBased in Georgia, distilled in Indiana, bottled in Tennessee, and launched in New York, J.R. Revelry is a funky new whiskey with quite a tale behind it. It’s the brainchild of Rick Tapia, a Peruvian native laying claim to the title of the only Hispanic American making whiskey in the States — instead of tequila or pisco.

J.R. Revelry is distilled by Indiana’s MGP (nee LDI) — though J.R. calls this “the old Seagram Distillery” as a bit of light subterfuge and an attempt to sound a bit more austere. Fact is, they’re getting some pretty young stock — less than four years old according to the bottle — and pricing it awfully high. (No mashbill information is provided.)

I’m not overly concerned with provenance, though. Let’s see how it tastes.

J.R. Revelry is young and it shows. The nose is dense with lumberyard notes, burnt popcorn, and heavily charred malt, with just a hint of fruit underneath it all. Has this seen some extra-charred barrels, I wonder? The body follows the nose in lockstep, offering a surfeit of wood plus notes of leather saddle, cloves, and some mushroom. Fruitier notes make a welcome appearance late in the game, with a touch of apple pie spice, raisins, and cherry (more pits than fruit, though). The finish is very drying, leaving behind just a bit of that lingering fruit, but it remains quite tannic and a bit too rough-and-tumble for a bottle priced at 35 bucks.

90 proof.

B- / $35 / jrrevelry.com

Review: NV Fizz56 Brachetto Spumante

fizfizz56-bottlev1300dpiMost of us (myself included) can probably count on one hand the number of sparkling red wines we’ve consumed. If you’ve never given one a try, the oddly-named Fizz56 is a good place to start.

This is a sparkling Brachetto, a grape grown predominantly in the Piedmont region of Italy, and which is usually used in the production of (still) table wines there. It’s also used to make this frizzante wine, a light-bodied but quite sweet sparkler that will undoubtedly generate plenty of conversation.

Fizz56 is definitely a pre-dinner drink, sweet with fresh berry notes (particularly strawberry) plus perfumy floral elements, including rose petals and a bit of violets. The finish is candylike, with notes of maraschino cherry, sweet and unforgiving as it has its way with your palate. Thankfully, the light fizziness lifts away that sugar-coating, though, giving Fizz56 more of a refreshing quality than you otherwise might expect.

Definitely worth a taste.

B- / $21 / terlatowines.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM WINE.COM]

Review: The Manhattan: Barrel Finished Cocktail from Jefferson’s and Esquire

ESQ-BAM-Front

I don’t necessarily think bottled, fully-made cocktails are lazy. I use them a lot when entertaining or when I’m short on fresh ingredients. Some of them are really well made, too.

The jury is out on whether The Manhattan: Barrel Finished Cocktail is taking things a bit too far afield. This collaboration between Jefferson’s Bourbon and Esquire magazine — complete with silkscreened signatures from Trey Zoeller and David Granger on the back along with a ton of other, hard-to-read, typographically messy text — couldn’t be more pandering in its upscale aspirations. From the dark glass bottle to the wood stopper to the metal band around the neck, this is a drink that’s designed to look really, really expensive. Which it is.

So what’s inside? Jefferson’s Bourbon, of course, plus dry and sweet vermouth (making it a Perfect Manhattan) and barrel-aged bitters. The resulting concoction is barrel aged for 90 days before bottling. (This reportedly took two years of experimentation to get right.) There’s also the not-so-small matter of this, which is printed in all caps at the bottom of the back label copy: COLORED WITH CARROT EXTRACT.

Now that statement gives me some pause. This is a 68 proof cocktail made with basically just bourbon and vermouth, so why would extra coloring be needed? (And why the carrot, by God?) A typical Manhattan recipe would hit around 65 proof or lower, so this isn’t a case where the drink is watered down and Jefferson’s/Esquire is trying to pull one over on us. This is a fairly high-proof cocktail that’s mostly bourbon… so why with the carrots, guys?

I’ll leave that question for the commenters to wrestle over and simply get on to the tasting, which I sampled both straight and on the rocks. (It’s better shaken with ice and strained, served very cold.) The nose is heavy on winey notes, almost a madeirized character that overpowers the whiskey surprisingly handily. On the palate the dry vermouth is surprisingly clear, with bitter herbs muscling past the bourbon’s gentler vanilla notes. That classic whiskey sweetness is quite fleeting here, replaced with pungent notes of licorice, overripe citrus, and a touch of lumberyard character. I liked this well enough at first, but over time the vermouth became so dominant that I found myself left with a vegetal, slightly medicinal aftertaste that got considerably less appealing over time.

And yeah, it is pretty orange.

68 proof.

B- / $40 / esquire.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: 8 Poliakov Flavored Vodkas

poliakov

Poliakov may look and sound Russian, but this is a French product (from the same company that distributes Label 5 Scotch), and it’s a big, low-cost seller in that country. Little is known about its production except for a vague “triple distilled” label. While there is a straight, unflavored version, we only received a passel of flavors — excuse me, “flavours” — to review.

Some are completely clear, some are slightly tinted in color, and some are quite colorful — as the photo above will demonstrate. Thoughts on eight varieties follow.

All are bottled at 75 proof.

Poliakov Lemon Vodka – Pretty citrus nose, with a little mint. There’s less going on on the palate, though, which offers a vaguely bitter/sour profile with some cleaning fluid notes on the back end. B-

Poliakov Peach Vodka – The nose has chemical overtones, and the body is quite astringent. Peach by way of disinfectant. C-

Poliakov Mandarin Vodka – Clear orange, veering toward mandarins, on the nose — with some woody notes underneath it. The body is punchier with orange character than the lemon version is with its citrus. Perfectly pleasant, with an uncomplicated finish. B+

Poliakov Green Apple Vodka – Overly sweet on the nose, with distinctly artificial apple notes. The body is sweet and sour, with a chewy, woody back end. Undistinguished. C

Poliakov Strawberry Vodka – Bright red/pink in color. Very, very sweet up front. The nose is easily mistaken for cherry, and the body could just as well be melted hard candies. Inoffensive, but usable mainly as a sweetener rather than a flavoring agent. C+

Poliakov Cranberry Vodka – Cranberry is a very difficult flavor to work with, and this one has clearly been doctored up the way most cranberry juice has, too. That’s not such a bad thing, as what’s in the bottle is a curious and compelling blend of tart cranberry and slightly sweet cherry/red berry notes, which together create a balanced and compelling little mixer. B+

Poliakov Vanilla Vodka – This one’s pushed right to the edge of the dessert cart, and just about falls over. Smells and tastes like a bakery confection, with chocolate and coconut notes backing up the vanilla. Some charred wood elements infect the nose, but that actually helps to add a little balance to the concoction. B-

Poliakov Caramel Vodka – Another colored vodka, this one an amber brown. As expected, it’s pushy with sweetness on the nose, but the palate is gentler than you’d expect, offering some touches of sweet tea, coffee, licorice, and other unexpected nuances. Again that characteristic char is here, giving a bottle of erstwhile panty peeler a little something extra. B-

each about $10 (likely) / vodka-poliakov.com

Review: Piehole Flavored Whiskeys

PieHole

Piehole is arguably the most maligned name in spirits today. Named in honor of a common insult, designed with labels that feature buxom farmer’s daughters, and a member of what is probably the most reviled category of spirits on the market — flavored whiskey — that’s three strikes before the bottle’s even open.

Piehole is Canadian whisky, flavored with one of three “pie flavored liqueurs.” No one’s trying to pass off artisan biodynamic infusions here, this is classic whisky-‘n’-chemicals, just like mom used to make. (Presuming mom worked down at the local food science lab.)

Well, without further ado, let’s have a taste of these three Pieholes, shall we?

All are 70 proof.

Piehole Apple Pie Flavored Whiskey – Lots of sweetness evident on the nose, though the apple notes don’t quite come through until the body takes hold. They nailed the crust flavor here — slightly well-done — but that combined with the heavy sweetness directs the finish toward a more generalized, super-gooey-sweet character that’s hard to peg as any specific fruit. The cinnamon flavors help establish it as apple pie more than anything else. Drinkable. B-

Piehole Cherry Pie Flavored Whiskey – This one’s quite medicinal on the nose, a common hazard among cherry-flavored spirits. Here things go off the rails, with an intense cough syrup character that simply doesn’t let up. It’s arguably not distinctly cherries and it’s definitely not pie, adhering closer to the melted Jolly Rancher motif one tends to find in this spirits category. The finish veers wildly into astringent elements that linger uninvited for quite awhile. D+

Piehole Pecan Pie Flavored Whiskey – Very sweet again up front, offering a fairly authentic glazed and heavily sugared pecan character on the nose. The aroma is almost like a praline, really, and that carries over to the body, though again, as with the apple pie expression, an almost burnt cookie character threatens to unravel things. While the nutty elements are fun enough (and conceivably cocktail-worthy in modest dosage), there’s so much sugar here that it’s tough to get through more than a few small sips of the stuff; a full shot would probably kill you. Not from the alcohol, but from the diabetes. C

each $15 / pieholewhiskey.com

Review: 12 Smirnoff Flavored Vodkas

smirnoff churros

Smirnoff recently repackaged its vodka lineup — again — which now spans a whopping 39 flavors (not to mention three unflavored expressions). That’s 8 more flavors than you can get at Baskin-Robbins… and with similar ingredient descriptions.

The company sent us a healthy dozen of these flavors — palate be damned! — for consideration. (They’re harmless, for the most part.) So let’s get to it.

All are 70 proof unless noted.

Smirnoff Citrus Vodka – Simple citrus notes, heavier on grapefruit overtones than you’d think. The nose is sweet and driven by navel oranges but the body is milder, bittersweet, and imbued more with citrus peel than juice. B

Smirnoff Peach Vodka – Somewhat artificial and quite sweet on the nose, like a peach candy or a heavily flavored peach tea. The palate is again quite sweet but just on this side of canned peaches. Not disagreeable. B+

Smirnoff Blueberry Vodka -Here the is tougher and evocative of bitter blueberry skins, but the body pushes forward more legit blueberry flavor, at least at first. This fades with the finish, which returns to an ever-so-slightly weedy character. B

Smirnoff Vanilla Vodka – More caramel on the nose than vanilla, with a white cake frosting character on the tongue. This settles into more of a vanilla soda character as the body develops, though the very sweet finish is moderately cloying. B-

Smirnoff Green Apple Vodka – Big, candylike green apple character attacks the senses, with an extreme level of sweetness to manage once it hits the palate. Built for your appletini (and little else), this sweetly fruity concoction is less offensive than it seems like it will be thanks to a clear and unmuddied flavor profile. B

Smirnoff Strawberry Vodka – Far less fragrant than many of the other vodkas on this list, this spirit’s body isn’t clearly strawberry but rather muddier, with a profile more akin to sugary, mixed berries. Nothing special, and more importantly, not much strawberry. B-

Smirnoff Raspberry Vodka – Punchy raspberry candy notes on the nose. Not at all unpleasant, with ample sweetness but not enough medicinal character to give it a little backbone. Some chocolate and vanilla notes in there, too. B+

Smirnoff Watermelon Vodka – As Jolly Rancher as it gets, this candy-coated spirit starts sweet and only gets sweeter as the body takes hold. Tough to imagine imbibing this level of sugar in any significant quantity. C+

Smirnoff Whipped Cream Vodka – Revisiting this classic concoction, it’s (still) incredibly tough on the nose, just overwhelming with burnt sugar and cake frosting notes. The body is better, with coconuts and more of that vanilla frosting to show off. 60 proof. C+

Smirnoff Cinnamon Churros Vodka – Shut up! Who doesn’t love churros!? Somehow this vodka actually nails the distinct pastry/sugar/cinnamon combination of a churro, That doesn’t make it right, though. This vodka kicks things off with that sweet cinnamon but the finish is so saccharine that it coats the mouth and never lets go. 60 proof. C-

Smirnoff Sorbet Light White Peach Vodka – The first of two low-calorie vodkas here, there’s a weird astringency up front, then a huge flood of candied peach notes. Funky and artificial on the back end, with petrol/chemical notes that are hard to shake. 60 proof. D

Smirnoff Sorbet Light Summer Strawberry Vodka – Quite medicinal, both on the nose and the body, which evokes cough syrup to a far greater degree than Smirnoff’s standard, fruit-flavored expressions. Ugh. 60 proof. D-

Forget this, I’m done.

each $12 / smirnoff.com

Review: Wines of La Merika, 2015 Releases

La Merika Cab bottle 001All of a sudden these La Merika wines are everywhere I look. Bottled by Delicato, these are affordable, bulk wines produced primarily in the California Central Coast region. You probably won’t pick one up at Ruth’s Chris, but with a couple of these bottlings, you could do worse.

2013 La Merika Pinot Grigio Monterey – As pale a wine as I’ve ever seen, this Pinot Grigio offers a nose of canned pears, with a touch of ammonia. The body is lightly tropical with more old/canned fruit notes, and a heavily bittersweet finish that recalls dried, faded herbs that have been sitting in the cupboard for the last decade. Largely unpleasant. D+ / $13

2013 La Merika Chardonnay Central Coast – A standard-grade Chardonnay with reasonable fruit and modest oak, a perfectly acceptable everyday/party wine that will excite no one but offend none, either. Mild citrus and a touch of tropical character add at least some nuance. B- / $13

2012 La Merika Pinot Noir Central Coast – Traditional cherries on the nose, plus some vanilla — this leads to a slightly oversweet but also surprisingly smoky palate, which ultimately fades away to a bittersweet note on the finish. Notes of cola add something to the otherwise somewhat watery palate. C / $15

2012 La Merika Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast – Surprisingly not at all bad. Ample fruit, with currents and raspberries, with a little dusting of chocolate underneath. Vanilla notes emerge with time, but the wine manages to stay out of jam territory while still keeping the tannins very lean. There’s no real complexity, but there’s nothing offensive about it at all. Again, a surprisingly great value. B+ / $15

lamerika.com [BUY THEM NOW FROM WINE.COM]

Review: Charbay Blood Orange Vodka

charbay 8in72dpi_BloodOrange_AloneCharbay says it takes six months to infuse the flavor into this golden-orange-colored vodka, which is distilled from American corn and rye, then flavored with 100% California-grown blood oranges.

The nose and body of this vodka both veer more toward tangerine than classic blood orange, which has a bracing bitterness to it. On the nose particularly I get notes of vanilla, almonds, and then a slightly mushroomy, vegetal character that builds as the spirit gets some air.

This vodka starts off just right for a citrus-focused spirit, but over time in glass it develops a funk that just doesn’t feel right. The finish takes on distinct notes of Madeira and sherry — which are a bit at odds with the bracing citrus character that would work more effectively here.

80 proof.

B- / $29 / charbay.com

Review: Beehive Distilling Jack Rabbit Gin

beehive

Utah-based Beehive Distilling makes gin and only gin. Production involves some traditional technique melded with a few newfangled flavoring agents. Beehive explains:

Jack Rabbit is produced on a small (300-liter) hybrid column still in Salt Lake
City. Beehive’s lead distiller macerates crushed Albanian juniper, orris root, grain
of paradise and coriander in grain neutral spirits for 24 hours before redistilling
the spirit. During distillation, fresh sage, rose petals and lemon zest are added
to the gin basket for vapor infusing; the resulting distillate is proofed to 45%.
The finishing water comes from the Wasatch Mountains, and is further ROI filtered
for purity. Heads and tails cuts are made on each run, with only the mids—or hearts—being used for the final product. Three runs off of the still are combined for each batch, yielding roughly 65 cases. Prior to bottling, the combined runs are rested for one week in our holding tank, allowing the flavors to bind. After resting, the gin is filtered one last time before being hand-bottled, labeled and batch-numbered.

(There is also a barrel-aged expression, which we aren’t reviewing here.)

This is a racy gin, almost bruising at times. The nose is lightly floral but dusted with cereal notes, some dried herbs, and just a hint of sweetness. Hitting the palate it is fiery with red pepper, menthol, and juniper berries (which are more earthy than that more aromatic, piney, needle-like character that’s more traditional in gin). It doesn’t take long from there for the spirit to develop its true, pungent body. The sage influence is profound and lasting, a deep vegetal character studded with white pepper, licorice, and petrol exhaust. The finish is dense with underbrush notes, almost peaty at times.

A true curiosity more than an everyday sipper.

90 proof.

B- / $30 / beehivedistilling.com

Review: Beers Of West Sixth Brewing

When most drinkers think of Kentucky, bourbon is usually the first word to roll off the tongue. However, the Bluegrass state has quietly enjoyed the emergence of several quality microbreweries over the last few years. In the first of what I hope to be a series, I’ll be traveling through my old Kentucky home to sample what’s happening on the beer scene. First up is West Sixth. The subject of a somewhat comical lawsuit from Magic Hat, West Sixth Brewery has been making some interesting beers in its three years of existence, with several offerings in the development stage that could bring more national attention. Distribution has been limited regionally, but they’re looking to expand later this year. We figured it was a good time to check out the core lineup, as well as a special brew exclusive to its home base bar.

West Sixth Brewing India Pale Ale (IPA) – The inaugural offering from the brewery and the one that spawned the Magic Hat lawsuit, this earthy offering has hints of pine, grass, lemon and some citrus on the back end. A bit of malt comes through at the finish. 7% abv. B+ / $10 (per six-pack)

AmberWest Sixth Brewing Amber Ale –  This is a mildly malted Amber Ale that is big and crisp on rye with a bit of chewiness. A very sharp and savory finish makes it immediately enjoyable and tough to put down. 5.5% abv. A- / $10 (per six-pack)

West Sixth Brewing Lemongrass American Wheat – Like Bell’s Oberon this is a citrus-heavy wheat beer that is incredibly sharp on first taste, but mellows with subsequent sips. Not really sure where the lemongrass is, as the bitter lemon just dominates from start to finish. B- / $10 (per six-pack)

porter-8-300x200West Sixth Brewing Pay It Forward Cocoa Porter – Chocolate mania with a hints of coffee, and the deep winter sibling to Lemongrass American Wheat’s summer overtones. Marketing mythology says that the brewmasters add about 50 to 60 pounds of cocoa nibs per batch — each making around 35 to 40 barrels. After one sip I’m certainly inclined to take this assessment as truth. One of the best of the year round offerings, and a portion of each sale goes to benefit a local charity. 7% abv. B+ / $11 (per six-pack)

West Sixth Brewing Christmas Ale – A beautiful seasonal release, this is a brilliant mix of your typical Christmas beer fare: cinnamon, nutmeg, a dash of ginger all dancing around with some citrus and cloves for good measure. Incredibly well balanced, and I wish it was available year round. 9% abv. A- / $18 (per six-pack)

BelgianWest Sixth Brewing Belgian Style Blonde – This one was just released this past week, and it was a pleasant surprise to discover this while in the midst of sampling the other releases. Very much in the traditional Belgian form, this is quite crisp with lots of sweetness when compared to other options available, with much more emphasis on yeast than malt. A bit of pepper on the back end with an easy finish. Might be an ideal place for the newcomer to the brand to start and work their way inwards. A- / $11 (per six-pack)