Review: Praga Vodka

praga vodka

This new vodka brand comes to us from — wait for it — Prague, where it is distilled from winter wheat.

It’s a sweeter style of vodka, though it isn’t blown out as some other new world vodkas tend to be. You get the sugar on the nose, along with a gentle graininess and a slightly musty, mushroom note. On the palate, white sugar again dominates, backed up by a slight lemon character, some caramel, and a touch of candle wax. The body is pretty clean, and the finish is short — not all that brisk, but not cloyingly sweet either.

All told, this is a fair enough choice for mixing, but that’s about as far as it goes.

80 proof.

B- / $20 / pragavodka.com

Review: Bloomery SweetShine Liqueurs

bloomery sweetshineWest Virginia-based Bloomery takes a unique, yet wholly appropriate, approach to creating its 10 liqueurs: Rather than using a grain neutral spirit for its base, Bloomery uses moonshine — at least that’s how the story goes.

Starting with 190 proof ‘shine, cane sugar, and local water, Bloomery’s SweetShine concoctions are flavored with local fruits, roots, and nuts.

We tried three of the company’s creations. Thoughts follow.

Note: All come in 375ml bottles. Be sure to shake well, as the translucent bottles make it hard to see the solids resting on the bottom.

Bloomery SweetShine Ginger – A bit sweaty on the nose, with overtones of overripe apple and some corny/vegetal notes that don’t exactly scream ginger. The body is sweet at first, then heavy with racy ginger oil notes, peppery and spicy but dragged down by its oily heaviness and a finish of buttered popcorn. 49 proof. B-

Bloomery SweetShine Pumpkin Spice – Again those buttered popcorn notes wash over the nose and palate, this time influenced by cinnamon and cloves. More brown sugar notes come to the fore, which are a better companion for popcorn than the ginger liqueur, offering a touch of brewed coffee character and caramel on the finish.38.4 proof. B

Bloomery SweetShine Black Walnut – This spin on a nocino starts off with big coffee and Madeira notes, with a smattering of nuts — finally something that can drown out the moonshine base. On the palate, it’s got authentic black walnut liqueur flavors — coffee-like but rounded out with earthy nuttiness. The finish is incredibly sweet and seemingly endless, enduring on the tongue for the better part of an hour. Reasonably approachable (though lacking any real bitterness), but best in moderation. 70.1 proof. B

each $25 (375ml) / bloomerysweetshine.com

Review: The Pogues Irish Whiskey

POGUES_BOTTLE_FRONTThey may have the second most famous name in Irish rock ‘n’ roll, but The Pogues are certainly the most notorious. Known for their hard-partying lifestyle in the ‘80s and ‘90s – many of their songs are specifically about drinking – it only makes sense that The Pogues would get their own Irish whiskey brand.

The only problem: The Pogues are now, in part at least, sober. The Daily Beast has an amusing interview with Pogues co-founder Peter “Spider” Stacy, who hasn’t had a drink in 17 years but who was tasked with selecting the ultimate whiskey that would become The Pogues trademark spirit. Made by West Cork Distillers, Stacy describes multiple rounds of tastings (or at least nosings) with his bandmates and says, “Eventually, the one we went for has, I am led to believe, a smooth peatiness.”

It is worth noting that The Pogues Whiskey is not peated.

So what do we have here? All told it’s a young but fairly traditional Irish, made of a blend of single malt and grain whiskeys, bottled in a completely black decanter.

The nose is classically Irish and nostalgic: fresh barley, light honey notes, and a little brown butter. The palate offers few surprises, with lots of toasty, roasted grains, a touch of cloves, and just a little vanilla. The body is very light — almost extremely so — which is of course what most Irish whiskeys are known for, but with The Pogues it’s almost thin to the level of cheesecloth. Pale gold in color, it certainly looks the part, too, a gossamer experience that might fly away if you blew on it hard enough. The finish is quick, almost absent; what’s there focuses on dusty granary notes.

All in all, it’s fair enough as a gimmick whiskey, but nothing anyone would write a song about.

Póg mo thóin!

80 proof.

B- / $33 / thepoguesirishwhiskey.com

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