Review: Ardbeg Supernova Committee Release SN2015

ardbeg supernova 2015By now you have probably had your fill of news about how Ardbeg sent some whisky into space and how it became a magical superspirit after three years in microgravity. 2015’s Supernova bottling — Ardbeg’s mega-peated expression — is being released in honor of these findings. (Remember: There is no actual space whisky in the bottle.) What you might have missed amongst the hubbub is that SN2015 is the final release of Supernova. I don’t know if that really means there will never be another Supernova release (distilleries are awful about that whole “never say never” thing), but for now, it’s your last chance to get your mitts on this heavily peated and highly coveted spirit.

There’s no real production information provided for this year’s whisky, so let’s just dive in.

On the nose, peat smoke starts things off as expected, but with an undercurrent of maple syrup and orange marmalade. As with most Supernova releases, the body is composed of a mix of pungent smoke, iodine and sea spray, and preserved fruits. The finish evokes bacon and some chocolate notes.

For 2015 the overall level of sweetness is in regimented, pacing the smokiness of the whisky step for step. Despite the 100ppm of phenols, it’s not a peaty blowout, nor is it sherried into oblivion. All told, it comes across not unlike any number of highly peated whiskies on the market  — well crafted and full of flavor, but ultimately short on uniqueness to the point of vague anonymity.

Can it be that after all these years, Supernova will not go out with an interstellar bang as promised — but will rather simply fade away?

108.6 proof.

B / $200 /

Review: Starr Hill Boxcarr Pumpkin Porter

Starr Hill Boxcarr Pumpkin PorterAs pumpkin beers go, Starr Hill’s Boxcarr Pumpkin Porter is a pretty good rendition. Or, at least, it’s a non-awful rendition that manages to shy away from an over-sweetened, gloppy mess while also not attempting to do something insane like actually brew pumpkin pulp and turn that into beer.

Rather, Boxcarr is a lightly spiced porter, and the holiday spices pair nicely with the malty, bready brown brew. Some clove/allspice notes hit first — then are rapidly replaced by the main event, which is quite a bit more bitter than the 20 IBUs would indicate. On the finish, some (very) dark chocolate notes emerge, evoking an amaro at times.

Smells like Halloween to me!

4.7% abv.

B / $10 per six-pack

Oh… and also out now again as a seasonal is Starr Hill’s Whiter Shade of Pale, which is just as awesome as it was last year.

Review: Oppidan American Botanical Gin and Malted Rye Whiskey


Oppidan is a Chicago area-based microdistillery that is starting off with two products — a gin and an aged, malted rye. We tried them both. Thoughts follow.

Oppidan American Botanical Gin – A spin on London Dry, with grapefruit peel, hibiscus, cinnamon, elderflower, ginger, cardamom, and chamomile among the named botanicals. The nose is gentle and studded with mixed florals, moderate earth tones, and clear elderflower notes. On the palate, a wealth of flavors come forward — more floral notes, some chocolate, shaved licorice, some fennel, all with a seductive and lightly sweet finish. This is a feminine gin with a restrained and quiet body, a beautiful and delicate number that could pair well with just about anything. In a world where gin is an increasingly interesting category, it’s one of the best new bottlings you’ll find and I recommend it wholesale. 86 proof. A / $30

Oppidan Malted Rye Whiskey – A whiskey made from 100% malted rye, no age indicated. Clearly a young spirit, the whiskey is loaded with notes of grainy malt, smoke, and raw wood. The body offers some sweetness — vanilla, some baking spice, chewy wood, and beef jerky notes — but that youthful granary character is tough to shake. It’s hardly offensive, but you can find this same earthy and woody character in any number of young craft whiskeys on the market today. 92 proof. B / $45

Review: Sons of Liberty Hop Flavored Whiskey

sons of liberty hop flavored

Remember last year’s Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey from Rhode Island’s Sons of Liberty? Well, here’s another seasonal, the more straightforward Hop Flavored Whiskey.

Here’s how it’s produced:

This whiskey started its life as an IPA. After retaining the IPA flavors through distillation we aged the whiskey in American oak barrels. Once the aging process was complete, we finished the whiskey by dry hopping with Citra and Sorachi Ace hops for bright and complementary floral notes.

That all comes through quite clearly in the finished product, and this Sons of Liberty release cuts a profile similar to many other hop-flavored craft whiskeys I’ve had, pushy with hops up front and roasted cereal and a touch of popcorn notes emerging after. There’s a bit of hospital character and furniture polish up front on the nose, but the body sticks with the hops and cereal combo pretty closely. As the finish emerges, some orange peel and some tobacco notes emerge. Curious stuff, but its youth speaks even louder than the hop flavoring. Beer nuts should particularly seek it out.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3 (2015 release).

B / $48 /

Review: Wines of Balletto, 2015 Releases

Balletto_CH_Teresa_bottleBalletto is primarily a grape grower — 90% of the company’s harvest is sold to other vintners — but it also vinifies its own wines, including a wide range of NorCal classic styles. Recently we tried four modestly priced bottlings. Thoughts follow.

2014 Balletto Rose of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Fresh, with light strawberries and some floral notes. A touch of creme brulee underneath on the palate, with grapefruit notes adding tartness to the finish. B / $18

2014 Balletto Chardonnay Teresa’s Unoaked Russian River Valley – A crisp and nicely acidic unoaked chardonnay, loaded with green apple and grapefruit, plus a dusting of fresh herbs — rosemary in particular. Cleansing on the finish. A- / $20

2014 Balletto Chardonnay Russian River Valley – Restrained on the butter/wood component, but the toasty wood notes eventually evoke brown butter and some melon notes. Uncomplicated but well balanced. A- / $28

2013 Balletto Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A bit bloated at first, with modest cherry and currant notes and some licorice. Dried herbs lead to a light finish, but give this wine some time and some light chocolate notes emerge, adding some structure. B / $29

Review: Tippleman’s Not Quite Simple Syrups


Our friends at Bittermilk cocktail mixers have recently expanded to the world of syrups. Bottled under a new name, Tippleman’s, these are all sweet, non-alcoholic mixers designed to sub in for the “sweet” component in your drink. We tried them all on their own and in a cocktail. Each comes in 500ml bottles. Here’s what we thought.

Tippleman’s Syrup Burnt Sugar – An organic sugar/molasses-based syrup. Dense, molasses brown color. Port wine notes on the nose. Extremely sweet, with bitter coffee and berry overtones. It immediately dominates any cocktail it’s dropped into with both sweetness and a bitter edge. I like the bold direction it goes, but use it sparingly and with the appropriate spirits. A- / $12

Tippleman’s Syrup Lemon Oleo Saccharum – 2000 pounds of lemons go into each batch of this classic oily citrus concoction. Nice balance between lemon and sugar, with herbal overtones. There’s less lemon in cocktails made with it, as the sugar tends to wash the citrus out a bit. A solid, but understated syrup. B+ / $22

Tippleman’s Syrup Barrel Smoked Maple – Old Willett bourbon barrels are shaved, remoistened with bourbon, and smoldered under organic Grade B maple syrup. A dark brown oddity that smells like charred wood, but tastes like well-sweetened barbecue sauce. Clearly invented for whiskey cocktails, this is love-it or hate-it territory, a syrup that totally dominates its cocktails, but in a fun and unique way. A- / $29

Tippleman’s Syrup Falernum – A traditional tropical syrup, this is flavored with spices and lime peel, plus ginger juice (and lots of sugar). Quite intense with cardamom and some allspice, vanilla on the finish. An easy choice for any tropical drink you want to whip up, Very similar character when used as a mixer, creating that festively tropical yet brooding, Chinatown kinda vibe that really takes you someplace else. Well done. A / $17

Tippleman’s Syrup Ginger Honey – Ginger juice plus organic wildflower honey, diluted with water. This ought to be a no brainer, but it just doesn’t come together. A nose of fortified wine and citrus dominate, but the body is closer to sweet and sour sauce than anything the above would imply. The ginger is abruptly overwhelming in cocktails, with a kind of perfumy “grandma” character that is difficult to properly describe. Funky and old-fashioned. B- / $20

Tippleman’s Syrup Island Orxata – Cracked corn and toasted sesame are soaked to make a milk-like base, then bitter almond and jasmine is added. That doesn’t sound at all enticing, and the creamed-corn nose and marzipan-meets-cream-of-wheat texture aren’t exactly inspirational, either. Not offensive in cocktails, but it adds a layer of weirdness that is tough to shake. I’d rather not think this much about my mixed drinks. B / $16

Review: Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey

Pikesville-RyeHeaven Hill loves to make rye, and based on the enormous success of Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond, people like to drink it, too.

The company is expanding its rye portfolio with Pikesville, a 6 year old straight rye bottled at a blazing 110 proof — clearly inspired by the success of Rittenhouse at 100 proof. (Pikesville has been an existing, lower-end brand for Heaven Hill, but the company says this is a new and updated expression.)

There’s no mashbill information other than that it’s made from “at least 51% rye,” with corn and barley making up the remainder, as expected. The whiskey is produced at the Bernheim distillery.

So, on to the tasting.

It’s buttery and honey-sweet on the nose at first — then a bit of bubble gum aroma, which isn’t exactly what I’m looking for in a rye. On the palate, there’s plenty of heat as you’d expect, followed by significant notes of dried hay, butterscotch, and vanilla cookie overtones.

Fairly straightforward and uncomplicated, I didn’t find a whole lot of that traditional baking spice that you expect to find in rye. Rather, the overall impression is more akin to one you’d find in a lighter style of bourbon (albeit one bottled at a significantly higher proof than usual).

Bottom line: It’s fine, but if you’re looking for a Rittenhouse replacement, keep moving along.

110 proof.

B / $50 /

Review: Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and Alexander Valley, 2012 Vintage

louis martiniThe 2012 vintage releases from cabernet-focused Louis Martini are here. (For 2011 vintage reviews, click here.) Let’s see what this vintage has in store for us!

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Dense and raisiny on the nose, almost pruny at times. The body offers dried herbs atop a plum, raisin, and dark chocolate core. Somewhat bittersweet and drinking quite tight at the moment, with a lengthy finish that kicks up the sweetness around the edges. Not bad, but a bit workmanlike. B / $25

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County – Cohesive and well-structured, this wine offers a better balance than the Napa bottling, with plenty of fruit but less jamminess. Chocolate notes are easy to enjoy, but the kick of licorice gives it some nuance. The finish is drying but far short of astringent. All in all, it’s a solid and easily drinkable effort. A- / $19

Review: The Balvenie Tun 1509, Batch 2 Single Malt

The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 2 Bottle & Tube Diagram side 750ml EMAIL

Balvenie’s roughly annual Tun release is here, with Tun 1509, Batch 2 now arriving on our shores. (For the first in the series, see Tun 1509, Batch 1.)

Similar to Batch 1, Batch 2 is a vatting of 23 traditional American oak casks and nine European oak sherry casks, a somewhat smaller collection of barrels comprising this collection.

Here, the sherry influence is naturally strong on the nose, but that sharp, citrus note is balanced by deeply nutty, malty overtones. Some burnt marshmallow comes along in time. Topping 100 proof (Batch 1 was just 94.2 proof), it’s got more heat on it than you’d expect, and a drop or two of water does the whisky justice.

The body is initially quite warm and loaded with nutty notes, lots of malt and cereal. This drinks like a younger whisky and, judging from the alcohol level, it probably is, offering a palate that is dominated by wood and heavy, well-roasted grains. Sherry makes an encore appearance on the back end, fading out with a mix of sharp orange, cloves, and more granary notes. Again, the overall impact is one of youth — and though there’s nothing wrong with younger stock, I’m not sure it’s the right direction for the Tun series.

Let me put it another way: It’s not the right direction for a $350 whisky.

100.6 proof.

B / $350 /

Review: Highspire Pure Rye Whiskey

Highspire_NB_With_Shadow100% heirloom rye. Double pot distilled. Aged for 130 days in used Paso Robles wine barrels. Chill filtered. Finished with oak staves. Made in Kentucky.

Winemaker Austin Hope has turned to whiskeymaking with this foray into distilling with Highspire, a very young rye (not legally able to be called one due to its odd production process) that certainly needs more barrel time under its legs before hitting your gullet — but which has some charms to show off.

The nose of this bright amber spirit starts with somewhat smoky wood notes and intense, roasted grain character. There’s lots of vegetation here on the palate, from dried rye to some wild-tasting weedy notes. The wine makes a bit of an appearance later in the game, with some gentle raisin notes adding nuance along some vanilla that finally makes an appearance. The finish features ample grain, well-roasted and leading to some chocolate and coffee character. Give it time, and these disparate notes eventually start to gel into a more cohesive whole.

In the end, this is extremely young whiskey but it isn’t without some charms. Fans of nicely-aged rye won’t find this compelling, but it does present an interesting profile in a crowded field of often dull craft spirits.

80 proof.

B / $35 /