Review: Kilchoman Single Cask Releases – Sherry Matured and PX Finish

kilchoman px finish

Lookee here: Two new single-cask, barrel-strength Kilchoman releases (literally, these are both made from one cask), exclusive to U.S. importer ImpEx. We got to try them both.

Kilchoman Single Cask Release Sherry Matured – Distilled in 2009, this Islay whisky then spent 5 years in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks. This is a powerful and searing expression of Kilchoman, blazing with peat smoke up front before segueing into notes of burnt orange peel, Madeira, black pepper, and iodine. Not exactly a subtle whisky, but rather a pure essence of Islay, filtered through a sherry haze. The 2012 lower-proof, non-single-cask sherry release of Kilchoman was a bit more manageable. 115.8 proof. Cask #85/09. B / $130

Kilchoman Single Cask Release PX Finish – Distilled in 2009, aged in first-fill Bourbon casks, and finished in a Pedro Ximinez sherry cask. A much more balanced and engaging dram than the above. It’s just as full of seaside peatiness as the Sherry Matured expression, but it finds a foil in sweeter orange and light tropical character, brown sugar, and a gentler expression of smokiness that approaches beautifully barbecued beef. Despite an even higher alcohol level that approaches 60% abv, it’s also an overall gentler whisky — something to savor by the fireside for this surly winter. 118.4 proof. Cask #394/09. A- / $130

kilchomandistillery.com

Review: Hudson Baby Bourbon and Four Grain Bourbon

4grain-bourbon

Tuthilltown Spirits, based in Gardiner, New York, has been on the forefront of craft distilling since its launch in 2005. Its Hudson line of craft whiskeys remains one of the most iconic exemplars of what can be done with a careful hand and a lot of ambition, and I’ve interviewed distiller and all-around nice guy Gable Erenzo on several occasions over the years  to talk about his approach to production and, particularly, aging. (Erenzo is a pioneer in the use of small barrels in craft whiskey aging; Hudson whiskeys are aged in a variety of casks ranging from 2 to 14 gallons in size — and Erenzo will often play loud music in the warehouse to get the bass shaking the whiskey in and out of the pores of the wood.)

Today, Tuthilltown markets four whiskeys in its permanent lineup, plus a variety of seasonal releases. Here we look at two of them, including Hudson Four Grain Bourbon and Hudson Baby Bourbon, the first bourbon distilled in New York.

Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey – 100% New York corn, double distilled and aged less than four years in small oak barrels. Unfiltered. This is a whiskey that has always worn its grain on its sleeve, and this bottling is no different. Pure popcorn up front — particularly on the bristly, rustic nose — finally gives way to something sweet after you give this whiskey some air, and some time. With ample patience, you’ll find notes of sweet cherry juice, butterscotch, menthol, and some baking spices. The back end is tough and astringent, bringing back that gritty popcorn character and proving it’s made in a frontier style in every sense of the word. All in all it is not without its charms, but it does require a certain mindset to really get into. Reviewed Year 14, Batch 4. 92 proof. B / $40 (375ml)

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a mash of corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley, double distilled and aged under four years. This is a gentler whiskey than the Baby Bourbon — as it should be, due to the addition of those other grains beyond straight corn. The nose is lightly minty, and adds notes of chocolate to a slightly corny base. The body is quite pretty, with a buttery and mouth-filling richness to it, offering notes of creme brulee, intense vanilla, some dried tobacco, and fresh-cut timber. On the finish, touches of popcorn re-emerge to remind you that, four grains or no, you’re still drinking bourbon, and a good one at that. Reviewed Year 11, Batch 24. 92 proof. A- / $42 (375ml)

tuthilltown.com

Review: Craigellachie 13 Years Old, 17 Years Old, 19 Years Old, and 23 Years Old

Craigellachie-23

These expressions from Speyside’s Craigellachie (pronounced CRAY-guh-lackey) Distillery have the same provenance as the three Aultmore whiskies we recently reviewed. Now part of the Dewar’s portfolio — which makes heavy use of Craigellachie in its blends — single malts from these stills are finally coming, and in quite a range of ages. Today we look at a quartet of whiskies: 13, 17, 19, and 23 years old. All are bottled at 92 proof.

Craigellachie 13 Years Old – Youthful on the nose, with strong granary notes backed by a bit of spice. The body pushes past the cereal character and offers lively citrus and vanilla, cloves, pungent honeysuckle, and melon notes. It may be loaded with flavor, but the overall presentation is still quite rustic, particularly on the somewhat astringent finish. B / $45

Craigellachie 17 Years Old – Settling down nicely, and at 17 years old, Craigellachie takes on a huge nutty character, both on the grain-scented nose and particularly on the deep and rounded palate. There’s more of that honeysuckle, plus well-oiled leather, maple syrup, and wisps of salty sea spray. A definitive fireside dram. B+ / $NA

Craigellachie 19 Years Old – Here we see Craigellachie building some austerity, with a nose that recalls Madeira. The body still holds on to its malty cereal core before delving into butterscotch and honey, and just a touch of the seaweed/iodine you find in the 17. B+ / $NA

Craigellachie 23 Years Old – For its final performance, this 23 year old bottling sees those seaside notes, just hinted at in the 17 and 19, taking more of a starring role. Big iodine notes hit the palate right from the start, giving this whisky a bit of an Islay feel. Ultimately, the fruit elements — gentle citrus and pear — are hidden behind this seawall, making for some interesting, but somewhat frustrating, exploration. B+ / $300

lastgreatmalts.com

Review: 2011 Sanford Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills

Sanford Pinot Noir

The nose of this Santa Rita-originated Pinot Noir offers tantalizing black cherry and raspberry notes, plus hints of black pepper, but the body is heavily extracted to the point where it starts to get a bit pruny. Notes of green olive, currant jelly, and brewed tea. Fun at the start, it ultimately takes things too far out of bounds.

B / $44 / sanfordwinery.com

Review: Bluecoat Barrel Finished Gin

Bluecoat has become a beloved gin of the New American school, and now the brand is taking things a step further by launching a barrel-finished expression.

Essentially this is standard Bluecoat that is aged — for an unstated length of time — in new American oak barrels. This gives the gin a lively bronzed yellow color, something akin to a reposado tequila.

On the nose, the juniper is restrained, relegated to the background while notes of cedar wood, butterscotch, and honeysuckle take over. There’s also a sharp, acidic edge to the aroma, something that’s tough to identify but which I can best describe as a lingering floral character that’s mingled with crushed red berries. The body is more juniper-forward than all that would imply, but there’s a lot more going on here as well than simple botanical notes and wood. On the palate you get a rush of evergreen that is chased by a wild collection of notes that include forest floor, orange peel, cream soda, and some hospital character. There’s a whole lot going on, but finding a balance in all of this is elusive to the point where the spirit ultimately becomes confusing.

94 proof. Available February 2015.

B / $TBD / bluecoatgin.com

Review: McMenamins Billy Whiskey and Aval Pota Apple Whiskey

BillyWhiskey_4

In the Portland area (and elsewhere in Oregon and Washington), McMenamins is a bit of an institution. Operating dozens of restaurants and some two dozen breweries, the bar/pub/dining destination is also home to two different microdistilleries, which have been running since 1998: Cornelius Pass Roadhouse Distillery in Hillsboro and Edgefield Distillery in Troutdale.

At these locations, the company uses copper pot and column stills to manufacture spirits for sale exclusively at a handful of McMenamins locations. (These include numerous whiskeys, two gins, two rums, three herbal liqueurs (coffee, hazelnut and herbal), and several brandies.) Thoughts on two of the company’s whiskeys follow.

McMenamins Billy Whiskey – Made primarily from a wheat-based mash (malt barley makes up the rest), Billy Whiskey is pot distilled then aged for two years in new oak barrels before bottling. The nose is youthful but not brash, with ample cereal notes touched with popcorn, vanilla, and the heavy, young wood elements that are wholly characteristic of young whiskeys like this. The palate has more to chew on, if you will. Notes of caramel apple, mixed nuts, Cracker Jack, and banana bread come on strong here. While the finish is lightly cerealed and a bit racy, it’s just mature enough for easy sipping, and just complex enough for lasting enjoyment. 87 proof. B / $35 / mcmenamins.com

aval potaMcMenamins Edgefield Distillery Aval Pota – Made in a column still, this is apple flavored whiskey inspired by Irish poitin. Made from malted barley then infused with fresh apples and a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon, it is bottled with no aging information. The nose is very heavy on the apples, though its closer to applesauce than apple pie. Appealing, it invites exploration on the palate, but here things start to break down. The initial apple rush is sweeter than expected, but that doesn’t last long, as a sizable alcoholic burn quickly takes over. A bit raw and punchy, it quickly washes away the apple and leaves behind an indistinct medicinal character. 66 proof. C / $26 / mcmenamins.com

Review: 2011 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

sequoia groveA fine, if unremarkable, Cab from Rutherford’s Sequoia Grove. This wine features an indistinct fruit medley at its core, plums and blackberries mostly, dancing with modest oak notes and gentle to moderate tannin structure. The finish is dusty and slightly chalky, the tannins finally building up some body to support the wine through to the finish. I’d suggest aging this for a few years, but I’m not sure what limited fruit is present would hang on that long.

B / $38 / sequoiagrove.com

Review: Master of Mixes “Chef Inspired” Bloody Mary Mixers

bloody mary mixers

Brunch season is here (isn’t it?), which means it’s Bloody Mary time for millions. Few of us bother to make our own mix when there are plenty of solid, ready-to-go mixes on the shelf.

Master of Mixes is a brand that’s been around forever, producing the usual Pina Colada, Margarita, and Bloody Mary mixes to make home cocktailing easier. But while MoM has traditionally focused on the lower end of the scale, it has recently partnered with the Food Network’s Anthony Lamas to produce three slightly more upscale Bloody Mary mixers. (If you’re looking for these, check to ensure you’re getting the “Chef Inspired” versions; MoM makes several other Bloody mixers, some with the same names even, but which are not inspired by anyone.)

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired Classic Bloody Mary Mixer – Quite “juicy,” not ketchup-chunky like so many products in this category. There’s plenty of Worcestershire flavor here, and a surprisingly pungent amount of celery in the mix, too. As the finish takes hold, it’s the celery salt notes that easily wins out, going down with plenty of that spice gripping the palate and lingering for minutes. B

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired Loaded Bloody Mary Mixer – For the Bloody fan that likes more “stuff” in his drink, this concoction is instantly much sweeter than the Classic expression, offering clear notes of cucumber and green bell pepper to get things going. Touches of carrot, garlic, sweet corn, and black pepper all emerge in the glass, creating something akin to a liquefied ratatouille. More soup than sipper, this one’s simply less effective in a cocktail. B-

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired 5 Pepper Bloody Mary Mixer – Naturally there’s a spicy one to contend with. The five peppers on the ingredient label include red pepper, habanero, jalapeno, ancho, and chipotle. Only one of those is especially hot, and for a mixer with a bunch of chili peppers on the label this one’s remarkably restrained. The attack is heavy on the tomato and black pepper notes, with heat building only as the drink settles on the palate for a while. The finish is both lip-searing and salty — just how a good Bloody should go out. While it’s the least complex of the bunch, the addition of a good slug of heat — but not quite overpowering heat — makes this my favorite. B+

each $5 (1 liter) / masterofmixes.com [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: 2012 Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast

smith & hook cabernetA blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah from the San Antonio Valley, Arroyo Seco, and Paso Robles AVAs, this inky black wine is simply overflowing with blackberry jam and liquid chocolate. There’s no structure here to speak of. Instead it’s all juicy berries and a quick, lightly-tart finish that serves to lightly cleanse what quickly becomes a palate overwhelmed by sweetness. When pairing, think of cheese plates and chocolate mousse, not steak and rack of lamb.

B / $30 / smithandhook.com

Review: Solbeso No. 1 Fresh Distilled Cacao

Solbeso Bottle 2

First: Solbeso is not a creme de cacao, and it is not a cocoa-flavored anything. Solbeso is a new type of spirit that is distilled directly from cacao fruit, the first and only spirit of its kind (at least that I’m aware of).

How does this work? Cacao pods are picked at various South American farms, the fruit surrounding the pods (not the pods themselves) is juiced, and fermented with a combination of local yeast and Champagne yeast. Distillation is completed in hybrid column/pot stills on a regional basis, then the various regional distillates are finally brought together and blended in the United States before bottling.

So, to recap: This is a distillate of fermented cacao fruit juice.

Almost clear in color, Solbeso is closest in character to a white rum. The nose is not chocolaty, but rather indistinctly sweet. As you exhale, there are touches of light cocoa powder, cinnamon, and brown sugar — notes that grow in intensity as they develop in the glass. There’s also a moderate burn on the nose, but it’s nothing too overwhelming.

The body  is more citrus-focused at first, offering a sourness that mingles with dusky floral elements. Solbeso’s tasting notes identify (rightly, I think) this as honeysuckle. Again, my mind turns to hints of chocolate — cinnamon-infused Mexican chocolate is a better analogy — but maybe that’s just my mind playing with me? The finish is a bit rustic, but continues to showcase both citrus/floral notes as well as a dusky, cocoa-hinting character that sticks in the back of the throat.

All in all this is quite the odd duck and doesn’t show its greatest strengths on its own, but it is something which would fare well as a substitute for white rum in any number of cocktails — even something as mundane as a rum & Coke. Others have compared Solbeso favorably to pisco, and Solbeso Sours are also worth exploring.

80 proof.

B / $35 / solbeso.com