Review: High West Bourye (2015) and American Prairie Whiskey (2015)

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Utah-based High West is a fun distillery to try to keep up with. Blink and they’ve got a new product. Blink again and it’s gone, replaced with something else.

It’s been a year since we last visited with High West and already things are evolving. Bourye — the bourbon and rye blend — was off the market and now is back, with an older collection of whiskeys comprising it. American Prairie Reserve — a blend of bourbons — is gone, replaced by American Prairie, which has some younger MGP bourbon in it.

Today we look at both of these newer releases. Thoughts follow.

High West Whiskey Bourye (2015) – Sourced from multiple distilleries, all whiskeys are at least 9 years old. These include a 9 year old bourbon (21% rye, 4% barley) from Indiana; a 10 year old rye (5% barley) from MGP; a 16 year old rye (5% barley) from MGP; and another 16 year old rye (10% corn, 10% barley) from Barton Distillery. Proportions are not disclosed. It’s got a gorgeous nose right out of the gate as the bottle is opened — almost like a heavily spiced apple pie is baking in the next room. Nosing the glass brings out notes of scorched caramel, cloves, and some toasted cereal — though alcohol is a bit heavy on the nostrils. The body is gorgeous and so easy to fall in love with. Nice notes of cinnamon toast, mixed dried fruits, some orange peel, and lots of added baking spice (especially cloves) come rushing at you all at once. The balance between spice and sweetness is just perfect here, with just a touch of wood on the back end to provide a nod at the not unsubstantial age this whiskey has seen. While hot on the nose, the body drinks just perfectly — silky with just the right amount of power to back things up. Reviewed: Batch 15B04. 92 proof. A / $63

High West Whiskey American Prairie (2015) – A blend of bourbons: 2 year old MGP (20% rye, 5% barley), 6 year old Kentucky mystery bourbon, and 13 year old Kentucky mystery bourbon. Again, the proportions are not disclosed. Significant barrel char, lumberyard, and granary notes on the nose. Butterscotch builds on the body, with some astringency quickly taking over. The finish is rustic and pushy, echoing a strong cereal (though not quite corny) character. That 2 year old bourbon makes an impact here, one which the older stock can’t quite undo. Tough to follow up the amazing Bourye with this one. Reviewed: Batch 9. 92 proof. B / $33

highwest.com

Review: Appleton Estate Signature Blend, Appleton Estate Reserve Blend, and Appleton Rare Blend 12 Years Old Rum (2015)

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It’s been six years since we last reviewed Appleton‘s Jamaican-born rums, and the company has recently done some label and nomenclature updates across the line. The distillery tells us that the recipes and the juice inside (nor the Rubenesque bottle design) haven’t changed, so let’s take a fresh look at one of the icons of the rum business and see how things are shaping up in 2015.

appleton1Appleton Estate Signature Blend – Formerly Appleton V/X. A blend of 15 rums, average age 4 years old. No age statement. The entry level Appleton is a bit rustic and punchy, with some sharp medicinal character to it. Clearly designed as a mixer, this nicely golden rum offers big molasses backed by barrel char notes and some burnt marshmallow. A touch of banana on the back end. It’s got more than a bit of a weedy finish due to its significant youth, but it does give this rum some funky character that’s fun to play with in a cocktail. 80 proof. B / $18

appleton3Appleton Estate Reserve Blend – Formerly Appleton Estate Reserve. A blend of 20 rums, average age 6 years old. No age statement. Quite a bit more refined than the Signature, with its rough edges filed down a bit. The Estate Reserve Blend offers a sherried note up front, full of citrus and cloves, that winds its way slowly into bold vanilla and Christmas spice character. Deftly balanced between the sharp attack and the festive finish, it manages to keep a foot in both the rustic and refined worlds. Great on its own or in cocktails. 80 proof. A- / $26

Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Years Old – Replaces Appleton Extra 12 Years Old. The youngest of Appleton’s age statement rums, this one (obviously) 12 years old. No blending information offered. This is top notch rum here, and easily the best of the bunch. Refined tropical notes — banana, coconut, brown sugar, vanilla-fueled barrel char — it’s all there, right on the nose. The body takes on a fruitier character, with chocolate lacing and more of a flame-kissed/charred fruit note, giving the rum a distinctly sweet, dessert-friendly character, yet it offers a little extra oomph thanks to the slightly higher proof. This one’s hard to put down — and so beautiful it’s a perfect candidate for straight sipping. 86 proof. A / $32

appletonestate.com

Review: Scales Sweet & Sour Mix and Margarita Mix

scales

We reviewed the Bloody Mary mix from Scales a few months ago. Today we are taking a belated look at its no carb/no sugar sweet cocktail mixers, including a Sweet & Sour and a Margarita mix.

Both are minimalist products flavored with sucralose. At 5 calories, it’s hard to come up with a less fattening way to sip a tall cocktail.

Some thoughts follow.

Scales Sweet & Sour Mix – Appropriately yellow-green, lemon-lime on the nose. The body’s quite tart, not overly sweetened, with a clear bite of raw citric acid (which is the second ingredient on the list). This actually helps to tame that sucralose aftertaste a bit, making this a surprisingly palatable mixer in the ultra-low-cal space. B

Scales Margarita Mix – Paler in color, slightly sweeter smelling. There’s more of a chalky texture here and the whole thing is quite a bit sweeter on the palate. It doesn’t offer clear lime notes like you’d want in a margarita mix, but it doesn’t overly offend. B-

both $5 per 32 oz. bottle / scalescocktails.com

Review: 3 White Wines from Kim Crawford, 2014 Vintage

kim crawfordThree new whites from New Zealand’s Kim Crawford — each made from one of three different varietals. On with the show…

2014 Kim Crawford Pinot Gris Marlborough – Fruit-forward, with both bright tropical and crisp apple notes. There’s a bit of nougaty sweetness that creeps in and grows in power as the body develops. That sugar, unfortunately, lingers on the tongue for a bit too long, cutting the much-needed acidity down to almost nothing. B / $16

2014 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Crisp with lots of tropical character, classic New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Again that sweet nougat character emerges, though here it is less overbearing and better integrated into the wine. Pineapple notes and modest acidity finish things up. B / $11

2014 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay East Coast New Zealand – The best wine in the bunch here, with everything restrained appropriately, from tropical fruit to sugar. Rather, touches of lemon, apple, and pear give this wine approachability both on its own and with food. Simple, but not without a level of refinement. A- / $14

kimcrawfordwines.com

Review: Woodchuck Lazy Hazy Lemon Crazy, Summer Time, and Pink Cider

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Three new seasonal, rare, and “reserve” ciders from Woodchuck, all built with the summer in mind. Thoughts follow.

Woodchuck Lazy Hazy Lemon Crazy Summer Shandy Hard Cider – Not like any shandy I’ve ever had. The apple is quite sour and overbearing, not really letting any lemon character shine through at all. The initial palate is off-putting and it never really elevates beyond to anything more refined from there. 4.2% abv. C-

Woodchuck Summer Time Hint of Blueberry Hard Cider – The addition of blueberry gives this cider some obvious and welcome sweetness, and the overall impact is fresh, fruity, and — indeed — summery. A lovely little pairing in one of the better ciders you’ll find out there. 5% abv. B+

Woodchuck Pink Hard Cider – A breast cancer-themed bottling. Straight apple cider, but with a pink hue to it. Quite dry, with clear and tart apple notes, but otherwise a fairly straightforward cider. 5.5% abv. B

each $9 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

Review: Uncle Bob’s Root Beer Flavored Whiskey

uncle bobsThe name should tell you all you need to know about Uncle Bob’s Root Beer Flavored Whiskey, a sourced whiskey (from parts unknown) that is flavored with natural root beer flavors.

The nose is straight-up Barq’s, sarsaparilla and licorice and lots of vanilla overtones. On the palate, a heavy syrup character takes hold, imbuing the spirit with deep notes of molasses, cinnamon, and classic anise. The sugar is strong here — and it may get to be a bit much after a glass. Uncle Bob might be a little more engaging with a little less sweetness and a little more bite, but as it stands it’s a fun little diversion from the flood of the usual flavored vodkas and whiskeys. Definitely worth sampling, particularly at this price.

70 proof.

B / $18 / unclebobswhiskey.com

Review: 6 Wines from Frank Family Vineyards, 2015 Releases

frank family NV Napa Valley PinotCalistoga-based Frank Family Vineyards has been on a tear of late. Recently we received a collection of six wines for consideration, including two from the standard lineup and four from the reserve line. (It’s easy to tell the difference at a glance, as the reserves all feature etched bottles rather than standard labels.) Let’s crack into them, starting with the “standard issue” wines!

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros – Bright and fruity with big cherry and ample vanilla up front, exploration reveals touches of cola and coffee, dusted with a bit of cinnamon on the finish. Well balanced on the body, its aromatics intensify and add depth with time in the glass. It’s a nice summer wine, but it has enough complexity to stand up to a formal dinner, too. A- / $35

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A blend of 80% cab, 11% merlot, 5% petit verdot, and 4% cabernet franc. Very dry, with traditional notes of cassis and raspberry. There’s a significant oak influence here, with vanilla overtones emerging after you spend an hour or so with this wine in the glass. It’s worth the investment. Let that lumberyard character blow off and mellow out a bit — or decant — to bring out the best in the 2012 Frank Family Cab. B+ / $50

And now the reserve wines…

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Lewis Vineyard Reserve – A really big wine (with 14.5% alcohol to back it up), this Carneros Chardonnay offers a nice balance of brown butter notes and applesauce on the nose. On the palate, it starts with crisp green apple then segues into some floral notes before finally settling into that big, deep, rich butter character. With its long and soothing finish, the wine ends up opulent and powerful — the kind of wine you might reach for with a high-end meal (but which won’t pair well with a red). A- / $65

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Lewis Vineyard Reserve – This Carneros-born bottling of pinot offers rich fruit, almost too much of it. While notes of black pepper and boysenberry are rich on the nose, the body pumps up the jam, pumps it up, while your feet are stompin’. Heavy Bing cherry notes on the palate, then the finish folds in a bit of mint and chocolate, which helps the dessert-like characteristics of the wine to increasingly dominate. A bit of a letdown in this strong field of wines. B / $65

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Chiles Valley Reserve – 83% zinfandel, 17% petite sirah. Chiles Valley is a sub-appellation of Napa, south of Pope Valley on the eastern side of the AVA. Don’t worry, I had to look it up, too. Whatever the place it’s from, this is solid Zin. Lightly raisiny on the nose, it also adds notes of herbs, namely baking spices, to the mix. The body is restrained, unlike many a Zin, showcasing the melange of spice and fruit, with a supple, slightly jammy, lip-smacking finish — with just a touch of chocolate. If you think you “don’t like Zinfandel,” give this bottling a try. A- / $55

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Petite Sirah S&J Vineyard Reserve – Dusty and dry at first, this Napa petite sirah features strong chocolate, plum, and blackberry notes, with heavy overtones of lumberyard, tree bark, and dried herbs — lavender, rosemary, and thyme. It leans a bit too far toward the bitter side of things, but a touch of blueberry and black pepper on the back end pull it back into focus. B+ / $60

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: 5 Beers from Good People

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Now celebrating seven years making beer, Birmingham, Alabama-based Good People was keg-only for several years. Now its beers can be obtained in an increasingly wide area, but only in cans, not bottles. (Of note, those cans are made from the thinnest aluminum I’ve ever encountered.)

We tried five of Good People’s offerings. Thoughts follow.

Good People IPA – Somewhat syrupy, malty and citrus-focused. The hops start off gentle, then push into a heavier, more earthy and woody character as the palate builds, leading to a boldly bitter — but slightly mushy — finish. 7.2% abv. B+ 

Good People Pale Ale – A cloudy rendition of pale ale that drinks a bit like a lager, with rounded caramel notes, modest hops, and a touch of vegetation on the back end. A dazzlingly good ball park beer, but a little underwhelming as a craft brew. 5.6% abv. 

Good People Brown Ale – Quite dark in color, with dense molasses and some root beer notes. As it builds, the beer takes on some port-like character, imbuing the sweetness at the beginning with some winey, woody notes on the back end. 5.8% abv. 

Good People The Bearded Lady American Wheat Ale – A surprisingly pale yellow in color, this wheat ale features mild granary notes, and a bit of a weedy finish. Very slight coriander and orange peel spice echoes after the finish fades. Refreshing, but relatively thin and unremarkable. 4.2% abv. B- 

Good People Coffee Oatmeal Stout – Completely opaque, with bracing coffee and chocolate notes that fade as lots of hoppiness comes to the fore. Chewy, sweet-and-savory, with a finish that melds the best of both worlds. A really fun stout, yet one that’s complex and exciting to dig into. 6% abv. A- 

all prices NA / goodpeoplebrewing.com

Review: Wines of Three Sticks, 2015 Releases

three sticks bien nacidoThree Sticks is an emerging cult wine with a serious following for its serious pinot noirs, which are largely under allocation at this point. Recently we received a smattering of its offerings — two chardonnays and three pinots — for review. Thoughts follow.

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain “One Sky” – Intensely golden in color and creamy on the palate, this is as textbook as Sonoma chardonnay gets. Roasted nuts, butter, browned and caramelized apple — what else could you want from this style of heavily-oaked chardonnay? A little acidity might help to brighten up the heavy body and balance things out, but who’s keeping score, eh? B / $50

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Valley “Origin” – There’s less power here, with a little tropical zest — think Hawaiian POG juice — to balance out the lightly nutty, buttery body. Better acidity gives it a more engaging and approachable structure. B+ / $48

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard – Lovely pinot, a combination of light and lively red berry fruit and a spicy, peppery note to give it some kick. Light notes of vanilla and chocolate add a touch of sweetness, but the fruit is what carries the day, leading to a light, summery, well-balanced finish. A- / $65

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Classic Russian River pinot, dense and slightly meaty, but overflowing with deep fruit notes — dark cherries and blackberries — cracked black pepper, and some caramel notes. Sweetness pervades the experience from start to finish, but it’s balanced by exotic spices and savory notes. A dazzling counterpoint to the southern California bottling above. A- / $60

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills “The James” – Definitely the weak link in the pinot lineup here, a more rustic styled wine that first comes across with some bitterness before getting to the meat of the wine, which offers jammier blueberry character and a somewhat overripe finish. Easy enough to drink, but a distant third next to its more sophisticated brethren. B / $60

threestickswines.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Distillery Series – Sweet Mash Redux and Double Double Oaked

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This year, Woodford Reserve takes a page from the Buffalo Trace playbook and is launching a series of one-off, limited release whiskeys for our fun and enjoyment. They aren’t quite as “experimental” as the BT Experimental series, but they are also not as unique as Woodford’s annually-released Master’s Collection whiskeys (which remain a separate entity).

Per Woodford:

The Woodford Reserve Distillery will release up to three expressions of the Distillery Series concurrently at various times throughout the year. The inaugural two offerings, Double Double Oaked and Sweet Mash Redux, will be available for purchase at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, KY, with a suggested retail price of $49.99 for a 375ml bottle. These small-batch offerings range from finished whiskies to straight bourbons and other unique spirits. Master Distiller Chris Morris has spent the last several years developing and perfecting the individual expressions within the Distillery Series which, in true Woodford Reserve form, offer consumers a first-hand look into the brand’s creative dexterity. Made with the same approach as other Woodford Reserve products that focus on adjusting one or more of the five sources of flavor, Distillery Series expressions represent alterations across four of the five sources: grain, fermentation, distillation, and maturation.

In case you missed it: These are only available in half bottles, sold directly from the Woodford distillery in Kentucky.

So let’s taste these two inaugural releases, eh?

Woodford Reserve Distillery Series Sweet Mash Redux – Sweet Mash was an early Master’s Collection release (2008) and now it’s back as a Distillery Series release. It’s explained: “While traditional Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select is a sour mash bourbon, modifying the fermentation process to include a non-soured mash creates a bourbon of higher pH effect and heightened fruit notes throughout.” I’ll leave that as it stands, and move on to the tasting. It’s a curious spirit, with a nose that doesn’t exactly scream fruit. Rather, it showcases notes of lumberyard, dense grains, and some toasted spices. The palate does run to fruit, but I find it more in the raisin/fruitcake arena. I catch prunes alongside some crystallized ginger and clementine oranges, but then the wood and cereal combo come back and come back strong. Curious, but not my favorite expression of Woodford. 90.4 proof. B / $50 (375ml)

Woodford Reserve Distillery Series Double Double Oaked – Take Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, then finish it for an additional year in its second, heavily toasted lightly charred new oak barrel, that’s Double Double Oaked. Tasting Double Oaked today I find it quite a delight, sweet and surprisingly delicate for something with such a scary name. Double Double Oaked then, what might that be like? The nose is considerably more wood-focused, it turns out, and initially more reminiscent of rack Woodford than the original Double Oaked. Sip it and give it time however and it develops quite a sweet intensity on the palate, with strong notes of butterscotch and fresh cinnamon rolls. The finish offers some curious notes. Camphor? Cherry pits? Hard to peg, but I can say that while I like it quite a bit, the standard Double Oaked has a touch better integration and balance. 90.4 proof. A- / $50 (375ml)

woodfordreserve.com