Review: Four Kings Rye 2015 Craft Collaboration

four kings rye

Last year, four craft distillers got together and made a collaborative bourbon by vatting together their own craft spirits into one mega-craft bourbon called Four Kings. (Don’t go searching for a review, we didn’t sample it.) This year, the quartet is back at it but is producing a rye instead.

The four distilleries include Corsair Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee, Few Spirits in Evanston, Illinois, Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan, and Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire, Iowa. Each contributed 30 gallons of rye whiskey into the final blend of Four Kings Rye.

There’s not a lot of information about what goes into each of the four ryes, but that probably wouldn’t be of much use, anyway. What we have here seems to be a craft spirit that is fully in keeping with the exuberant style of American craft whiskeys — at least at first, anyway.

On the nose, intense cereal notes start things off, then sharp citrus, menthol, and some hospital notes. The palate offers a lot more nuance once you push past that grainy introduction, with baking spices, gingerbread, baked apples, and well-integrated wood tannins. It’s a much more elevated experience than the brash and youthful nose would indicate, with a surprising depth of flavor to offer. Give it a try.

B / $50 / no formal website

Review: Wines of Kendall-Jackson and Jackson Estate, 2015 Releases

KENDALLJACKSONIt’s time to look at Kendall-Jackson’s latest releases, including a new pinot gris from the Vintner’s Reserve line and three releases from the more limited Jackson Estate collection. Thoughts follow.

2014 Kendall-Jackson Pinot Gris California Vintner’s Reserve – A simple wine, uncomplicated but loaded with melon character, creme brulee, and a touch of bitter anise on the back end. Hints of blue cheese and cured meats make for a curious (and not unpleasant) antipasti experience at times. Best with food. B / $11

2013 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley – A big, hairy, classic K-J Chardonnay, full of butter and nuts and brown sugar dripping off of a little essence of roasted meats. Stylistically, it’s love it or hate it, but for me it’s simply too far down the yellow (and I mean yellow) brick road. B- / $28

2013 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – Atypical pinot for Anderson Valley, with a density that’s more representative of southern California. Cola and coffee and black pepper on the nose are engaging, but the body veers toward hefty jam notes — some blueberry and some cherry — which tend to drown out the nuances. This wine grows on you with time (and air), though, its fruitier core ultimately settling into an engaging groove. B+ / $30

2012 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – A straightforward, “hot climate” Cabernet, offering an herbal entry that leads to blueberry, raspberry, and some juicy currants. Somewhat thin, the palate wears out pretty quickly as the wine fades out to a finish that’s a touch too bitter, though overall the impact is relatively innocuous. Think of it as a solid, but not altogether memorable, “house wine.” B / $36

kj.com

Review: Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron

bacardi maestro

“Gran Reserva.” “Maestro de Ron.” These are terms that one would expect to see applied to a dark, old, well-aged rum, but Bacardi is taking the unusual step of slapping them on its latest release, a white rum.

Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron is “designed to elevate the simple cocktail experience” and is intended as “the ultimate white mixing rum.” As with most white rums, it is aged in white oak, then filtered to white — though Maestro de Ron is said to be “double aged” — each barrel is aged for at least one year, then the barrels are married and aged again for a further three months.

That aside, the results are fine and the rum is capable, if less inspired than the name might imply.

The nose of this spirit — not quite white but rather the palest shade of gold — strikes familiar white rum chords. Hefty vanilla notes with a modest touch of fuel-like character give it that unmistakable Bacardi aroma. On the palate, the vanilla is backed up with more traditional white rum notes, including ripe banana, pencil shavings, coconut husk, and a touch of cinnamon — for the most part they are all flavors that would play nicely in tropical cocktails.

On its own, Bacardi Maestro isn’t altogether that exciting. It’s got too much of a bitter edge, particularly on the finish, which tends to highlight the petrol character a bit too clearly. There’s nothing wrong with a little funk in a white rum, particularly at this completely reasonable price level, but you’ll probably want to use it as intended — in cocktails, rather than by itself.

80 proof.

B / $25 / bacardi.com

Review: Innis & Gunn Rare Oak Pale Ale and Highland Ale

I&G Highland Ale Bottle with Box 660ml 2015 LO

It’s our second look at Scotland-based Innis & Gunn‘s beers, with two new oak-aged offerings (as all I&G beers are made) hitting the shelves now. The first is a seasonal brew, the second is a special edition that comes in a large-sized bottle and its own wooden carton.

Innis & Gunn Rare Oak Pale – Aged over Scottish oak, with the addition of elderflower and sweet gale (a medieval hops alternative) during the maturation. Sweet, but not aggressively so as in some Innis & Gunn bottlings, it offers distinctly floral and fruity notes — almost like juicy apple meets fresh violets. The vanilla-fueled oak plays out over all of that, with just the lightest touch of bitterness to even things out. 5.8% abv. B / $11 per four-pack

Innis & Gunn Highland Ale – This is an oversized, special edition brew, made from “Scotch Ale matured over oak chips infused with 18 Year Old Highland Scotch Whisky in Innis & Gunn’s patented Oakerators (think coffee percolator).” As with most Innis & Gunn bottlings, it’s very malty and quite sweet, pushy candylike notes with caramel sauce and cream soda notes. The whisky element comes through, a bit, on the somewhat racy nose and through a raisiny note on the body, but what this ale really needs is some bitterness to help cut through the sugar and add a little balance. 7.4% abv. B / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

innisandgunn.com

Review: Starr Hill King of Hop and Soul Shine (2015)

King of Hop 4pk_transIt’s time for one new, limited release — King of Hop — and the return of a seasonal — Soul Shine — to the Drinkhacker beer fridge. Let’s dig in…

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA – Not to be confused with the King of Pop, this is a classic, dry-hopped Imperial IPA with all the expected trimmings. Lovely citrus-pine notes up front, dusted with a touch of burnt marshmallow and notes of forest floor. Chewy and lightly resinous — but far from overpowering in the bitterness department — it’s a refreshing and well-crafted IPA with just a touch of uniqueness to carry things along. 7.5% abv. A- / $NA per four-pack

Starr Hill Soul Shine Belgian-Style Pale Ale (2015) – This “Americanized” Belgian ale grew on me a bit with this go-round, its late-game bitterness pairing a bit better with its heftier up-front maltiness and mushroomy, bready, slightly vegetal notes. 5.2% abv. B- / $10 per six-pack

starrhill.com

Review: 1792 Sweet Wheat Bourbon

1792 Sweet Wheat Bottle

1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon has long been a well-respected but widely overlooked part of the Buffalo Trace stable, which is understandable since it’s made at its own facility, Barton 1792, quite a ways away from the thriving Buffalo Trace headquarters.

But BT is breathing some new life into 1792 with this, the first of what is planned to be a series of new, limited edition expressions of 1792.

1792 Sweet Wheat is a wheated bourbon, aged eight years at the Bardstown facility. (The standard 1792 uses rye.) Fret not about flavorings or added sugar. There’s nothing overly “sweet” about the whiskey beyond the house style of the whiskey itself; the sugars are derived from standard barrel aging the same way they are in any other straight whiskey.

1792 Sweet Wheat starts off not with sugar but with lumberyard notes; the nose is surprisingly forward with wood, tempered with tropical notes and a touch of peach. On the palate, it’s not especially sweet either, offering notes of tinned fruit, coconut, cinnamon, ample vanilla, and some gingerbread notes coming up the rear. There’s ample wood structure here, giving the whiskey some tannin — and tempering the sugars — which is actually a bit of a disappointment considering the name of the spirit. Give it a little air and things open up in time — the chewy cinnamon bun of a finish is worth waiting for — but otherwise there’s not that much to get too excited about.

91.2 proof.

B / $33 / 1792bourbon.com

Review: Westland American Single Malt, Sherry Wood, and Peated Whiskey

westland sherry woodAmerican single malt whiskeys get a bad rap, and that’s usually for a good reason: Many of them are borderline undrinkable.

Seattle-based Westland is trying to change that perception with it offerings, all single malts, and all produced in the style of their Scottish inspirations. Westland makes its whiskeys from five different malts, including a base made from Washington state barley. They’re clearly made with care and conviction — and watch out for the various single cask releases (generally bottled at cask strength) that hit the market periodically.

None have age statements. All are 92 proof. Thoughts follow.

Westland American Single Malt Whiskey – Aged in new American oak casks. Surprisingly supple from the start, with a gentle nose of fresh malt and cereal, black pepper, a bit of lumberyard, and fresh mint. The palate is mild, again surprisingly so, offering notes of baking spices, especially cloves and ginger, then more wood and a butterscotch-driven finish. It drinks like a young Scotch, nothing over-complicated, but balanced and approachable. A nice surprise. B+ / $70  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Westland Sherry Wood American Single Malt Whiskey – Aged in American oak casks used for Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry. This ought to be a killer combination, but the sherry doesn’t really elevate the spirit appreciably. Here the nose is overwhelmed by burnt sugar and toffee notes, plus a touch of scorched citrus. On the tongue, it’s surprisingly malty, almost chewy, with notes of graham cracker plus a mushroomy character on the back end. While the sherry element is tangible on the nose, it doesn’t really translate completely to the palate. B / $70

Westland Peated American Single Malt Whiskey – Aged in a variety of used American oak and sherry casks. Modestly peated, this would be an appropriate introduction to this smoky style of whiskeymaking. The nose has a bit of a menthol edge to it, perhaps a remnant of the original spirit’s minty edge. The palate is mild with smoke, more barbecue than coal fire, with overtones of red fruit and cloves. The smoke lingers, but not for long, making for a pleasant and gentle winter warmer that doesn’t require an extreme amount of deep thought. B+ / $70  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

westlanddistillery.com

Review: 4 Centre-Loire Wines, 2015 Releases

The Loire Valley is a sprawling wine region in northwest France — and the Centre-Loire (named because it is located in the geographic center of France) is the home to some of its most renowned wines, including the widely beloved Sancerre.

Today we’re looking at four Centre-Loire wines, all composed of sauvignon blanc grapes and all produced in a tight geographic area — but each with a distinct focus. All are from the 2013 vintage except for the 2014 Pouilly-Fume. Start by getting a sense of where these regions are in relation to one another, then dig into the reviews.

2013 Joseph Mellot Domaine de Bellecours Sancerre – Fresh and fragrant, with a nice balance of tropical and citrus notes, plus a modest, tart grapefruit character that emerges on the clean, pretty finish. Refreshing and acidic, but still fruit-forward, it’s a textbook example of what an everyday Sancerre should be. A- / $20

102915972013 Domaine de Chatenoy Menetou-Salon – Nice combination of citrus and melon here, with some tropical character. Modest acidity on the finish, with an echo of melon notes at the very end. A simple and fresh wine. B+ / $16

2013 Les Pierres Plates Reuilly – An instantly funkier wine, with notes of blue cheese on the nose, and a little barnyard character on the palate that mixes with some tropical notes. That actually helps to add some character to an otherwise straightforward wine, but a little cheese goes a long way. B / $20

2014 Pascal Jolivet Pouilly-Fume – One of the most acid-forward and melon-flecked of the bunch, this powerful wine has a huge backbone that almost borders on ammonia-scented — though the essence of cantaloupe and honeydew swoop in late to save the day. B+ / $24

Review: Radeberger Pilsner, Clausthaler NA, and Schofferhofer Grapefruit

schofferhofer grapefruit

No fancy intro needed on this one. Here’s a collection of three semi-random beers from the U.S. distribution arm of Germany’s Radeberger Gruppe — including the company’s newly-available grapefruit-flavored hefeweizen and our first-ever review of a non-alcoholic beer! Can any of these be worthwhile? I smell a roundup brewing…

Radeberger Pilsner – Simple at first, Radeberger evolves its deep cereal and malt notes to reveal some surprising chocolate character, particularly on the back end. Slightly muddy, with some notes reminiscent of a brown ale, but not without ample charm. 4.8% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Clausthaler Amber Non-Alcoholic – There’s no getting around the fact that this is a non-alcoholic beer (or, at less than 0.5% abv, almost non-alcoholic), but let’s try to look at this in the context of, say, a curiously-flavored soda. On that front, Clausthaler isn’t bad, offering a sort of malt-flavored sparkling water that offers the essence of beer without all the social problems. There’s not much to get excited about here, to be sure, but if you absolutely can’t drink — or can’t drink any more — I can think of worse things to put in your gullet. D+ / $8 per six-pack

Schofferhofer Grapefruit – Unfiltered wheat beer with grapefruit flavor (and cochineal color) added. It’s a super-fruity concoction not unlike a shandy or even a modern grapefruit-flavored malt beverage — with a bit of a vegetal tinge on the end. Not much in the way of “beer” flavor, but while the tart grapefruit character is quite sweet, it’s at least short of candylike. Harmless, and at 3.2% abv, I mean that in every sense of the word. B- / $7 per six-pack

radeberger.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #8 – Speyside 1991, Invergordon 1984, Balmenach 2007, North Highland 1995, Irish 2002, and Laphroaig 2005

exclusive malts

It’s quite a mixed bag in The Exclusive Malts’ latest batch, which includes a single grain release, two unnamed distillery releases and — a first for The Exclusive — an Irish whiskey release. With this batch I’m excited to announce that received the entire lineup to review, 6 whiskeys in total. Quality is all over the map. Thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 1991 23 Years Old – This mystery Speyside whisky was distilled in 1991, but no other production information is offered. It appears to be bourbon-cask-aged all the way, starting off with almost pungent boozy/grainy notes on the nose. Lightly medicinal on the tongue, the palate ventures into dense wood, a touch of coal dust, and some pastoral notes. Perfectly drinkable, but surprisingly simplistic. 102.6 proof. B / $160

The Exclusive Malts Invergordon 1984 30 Years Old – This is a single grain whisky, distilled in the Highlands near Dornoch Firth and aged in a refill oak hogshead. There’s lots of granary character on the nose with this one, then notes of orange peel, clove, and some occasionally intense lumberyard notes. The key component though, is the grain — racy, chewy, and full of cloves and allspice. It’s a hot whisky that takes some time to settle down, but once it does it reveals some charm. Whether that merits the supports the price tag is another question. 104.6 proof. B+ / $200

The Exclusive Malts Balmenach 2007 8 Years Old – Slightly pink, a clear sign that this is a Port-matured whisky. The Speyside-based Balmenach is primarily used for blending, so this is a real rarity. Unfortunately that doesn’t amount to a particularly special spirit; youth is still having its way with this bottling, which is heavy with granary notes and an almost musty, funky edge. Hospital notes mingle with raw wood notes, coffee grounds, and mushroom… a bit of a mess, ultimately. 105.2 proof. C+ / $79

The Exclusive Malts North Highland 1995 20 Years Old – Another mystery malt, sherry matured from somewhere in the north Highlands. (Note that labels may just read “Highland,” not “North Highland.”) Rich with citrusy sherry notes on the nose, the nose here also showcases notes of walnut, coffee, and a not insignificant amount of tar. No slouch in the body department, the palate is pushy with notes of menthol, burnt orange, matchstick heads, and ash. There’s fruit up front — figs, plums, and citrus — but the fade in to this melange of more savory notes is quick and a bit unforgiving. 109.2 proof. B- / $135

The Exclusive Malts Irish Whiskey 2002 13 Years Old – Distilled near the northern border of Ireland at an unnamed distillery (which sounds like Locke’s/Kilbeggan based on the description). It’s quite a lovely expression of Irish, beginning with rich honey and caramel notes before delving headlong into butter toffee, butterscotch, and milk chocolate. There’s just a touch of grain on the back end, a nod toward the rolling hills of Ireland. Supple and sweet, this whiskey isn’t overcomplicated but it offers an intensity and richness that is rare in the typically light-bodied world of Irish. Cask strength certainly helps with that. Gorgeous. 108.4 proof. A / $106

The Exclusive Malts Laphroaig 2005 10 Years Old – Last but not least, we close with young, peaty, cask strength Laphroaig. No surprises here, with gentle peat smoke and barbecue notes kicking things off on the nose, and a body that blends smoke with citrus, petrol, licorice, and dried herbs. Lots of character from the Laphroaig playbook here, but fans will find the high proof expression worth exploring. 108.4 proof. B+ / $146

impexbev.com