Review: Blue Nectar Tequila Complete Lineup (2016)

We first encountered Blue Nectar in 2014. The Lowlands tequila producer had an avant garde approach to production, which included a reposado-anejo blend and a flavored reposado in the mix. Since then, the company has done some rebranding (while keeping the perfume bottle profile), shuffled some labels and product names, and added a full anejo to the mix, while sticking with its “agave forward” flavor profile.

Here’s a fresh look at the full (and now complete) lineup of tequilas. All are 80 proof.

Blue Nectar Tequila Silver – A triple-distilled blanco, this tequila noses with notes of green pepper, some cinnamon, and ample, herbal agave. On the palate, the flavor of roasted agave dominates, with black pepper notes clinging to the back of the throat. Sweetness is present, but elusive, as hot vegetal notes tend to dominate. B / $43

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado Extra Blend – Double-distilled. Aged six to eight months in charred North American oak barrels and blended with three-year extra añejo. This effectively corresponds to the 2014 Reposado bottling. Though the nose is restrained and agave-heavy, it drinks with more oomph, offering notes of vanilla, nutmeg, and ample orange peel. The finish is lingering with notes of cola and barrel char — almost whiskey-like at times with a dusty, coal-fired finish. B+ / $48

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado Special Craft – Double-distilled. Aged six to eight months in charred North American oak barrels and infused with essential oils and a hint of agave nectar. This is the equivalent of the 2014 Special Reserve. This surprisingly noses more like a traditional reposado, with clear cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla aromas. The body is all kinds of crazy, though, very sweet, with notes of marzipan, banana, whipping cream, and saltwater taffy. The finish is gummy and lingering, impossibly sugar-rich. C+ / $53

Blue Nectar Tequila Anejo Founder’s Blend – A new addition. Double-distilled, and aged for one to two years in charred American oak barrels and blended with extra añejo, including a limited production five year old extra añejo. It offers a relatively traditional, old tequila nose, with deep vanilla, dusky barrel char, and sweet caramel notes at the fore. The palate is equally well-formed, offering more dark caramel, some chocolate, a touch of maple, and cinnamon. The agave hangs in there, showing its face on the finish as an afterimage of what’s come before. Nicely made. A- / $67

bluenectartequila.com

Review: Ballotin Chocolate Whiskeys

If ever there was a time of year for chocolate-flavored whiskeys, well, you’re soaking in it.

Former Brown-Forman exec Paul Tuell is the man behind Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey, a set of four flavored whiskeys with chocolate as the connecting thread among them. Each expression starts with aged American whiskey (origin and variety unstated, but these are bottled in Louisville, for what it’s worth) and is flavored with “all-natural essences of classic and contemporary chocolate favorites.” The goal: To create a product that “tastes like a “bourbon expression” of your favorite chocolate indulgences.”

Well, let’s see how they did with that goal. 

Each expression is bottled at 60 proof.

Ballotin Original Chocolate Whiskey – Bittersweet chocolate with a bit of vanilla and just a hint of cinnamon hits the nose first. On the palate, the chocolate is front and center, lingering for a few seconds before the more traditional whiskey notes push their way through, bringing both ample heat and an oaky, vanilla-heavy rush of flavor. The ultimate experience is closer to two different drinks experienced one after another, a silky Mexican chocolate up front, followed by a hit of whiskey — admittedly somewhat anonymous whiskey, but enjoyable nonetheless. A-

Ballotin Bourbon Ball Whiskey – A stronger vanilla profile touched with a lightly toasted almond note kick things off here, giving this a strong amaretto character. Chocolate is restrained and relegated to the back end, after the almond-whiskey mix fades out. B

Ballotin Chocolate Mint Whiskey – Fairly self-explanatory, smells like an Andes mint. This is a nostalgic whiskey, mint-forward up front, with the soothing chocolate notes rolling over you from there. The combination works very well — what’s missing, however, is any real sense of whiskey in this one. Though, to be honest, I think if it was more present, that might ruin some of the fun. B+

Ballotin Caramel Turtle Whiskey – Strong pecan notes give this a straightforward praline nose, and the palate follows suit with nuts first and foremost. The finish sees some whiskey-driven vanilla and caramel, but this time it’s the chocolate that doesn’t ever quite show its face. Quite a departure from most of the above, but not at all unpleasant, with light notes of nutmeg and gingerbread lingering on the back end. B+

each $30 / ballotinwhiskey.com

Review: Seagram’s Ruby Red Grapefruit and Golden Apricot Vodka

Seagram’s has just kicked off two new vodka flavors, focused on fruit. Both are based on American grain distilled five times and are naturally flavored.

Both are 70 proof.

Seagram’s Ruby Red Grapefruit Flavored Vodka – Authentic and sharp on the nose, with bold grapefruit notes. On the palate, there’s candied grapefruit here, with quite a heavy sugar character backing it up. The finish is clean and relatively short, considering the sweetness inside. Probably not a bad choice as the base for a Greyhound or a Sea Breeze, or even to put a spin on a Cape Cod. B

Seagram’s Golden Apricot Flavored Vodka – There’s a vague fruit character here, but unlike the above it’s hard to peg as anything specific. Blind I might have guessed peach, or some kind of mixed citrus flavor. It’s tough to pick out particularly because the level of sweetness is downright overpowering. Amazingly, even all that sugar isn’t able to temper the heavy medicinal character, which claws roughly at the back of the throat. Probably fine if your punch calls for lots of fruit, but otherwise it’s not terribly versatile. C-

each $12 / infiniumspirits.com

Review: David Nicholson Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

bottle_reserve

Luxco, the makers of Blood Oath, Rebel Yell, and Ezra Brooks, recently repackaged and rebranded its David Nicholson 1843 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a bourbon with which I had been previously unfamiliar. As part of that rebrand, the company is launching a new expression: David Nicholson Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

The bourbon is made with a higher-rye mashbill, is “extra aged,” and is bottled at a full 50% abv, but otherwise little production information (and no formal age statement) is offered.

Let’s taste it anyway!

There’s nice color here, but the nose is light and quite gentle, which is surprising for a 100 proof whiskey. Notes of vanilla and caramel are present as expected, alongside some notes of white pepper and a touch of forest floor. It’s not altogether aromatically thrilling from the start, but the palate ups the ante by lacing its toffee, butterscotch, and ginger spice notes with a stronger grind of black pepper, which adds some nuance while at the same time causing the whiskey to scratch a bit at the back of the throat. Otherwise the finish is relatively drying and modest, fading out with echoes of that aromatic earthiness and a bit of gumminess that clings to the roof of the mouth.

 

100 proof.

B / $40 / davidnicholsonbourbon.com

Review: NJoy Spirits Wild Buck Whiskey and Mermaid Rum

NJoy Spirits, not to be confused with N’Joy coffee creamer, is the brainchild of Natalie Goff, nee Joy, and Kevin Goff, who make two products, a whiskey and a rum, in Weeki Wachee, Florida, which they promise is a real place. The whiskey is a true craft spirit, no sourcing here, made from local grains and purified rainwater and without artificial coloring or flavorings, and it is made in small batches, aged in variously sized, new, charred oak barrels. The rum is sourced, but it is aged in the company’s own whiskey barrels. “We use no automation at our distillery except for a grain grinder. We fill our bottles by eye and hand label, cork, and sanitize all bottles,” says Natalie.

We tasted both of NJoy’s products. Thoughts (and more production details) follow.

Wild Buck Whiskey – This is a 100% rye made from local Florida grain (30% grown by NJoy itself); the second distillation (of two) is in a pot still. Again, aging is in new oak barrels of various smaller sizes (5, 15, and 25 gallons), but no age statement is offered (the company says barrels are generally 10 to 24 months old). Distinctly youthful on the nose, the whiskey offers aromas of lumberyard along with eucalyptus, mushroom, and a touch of dried fruit. The essence of rye comes further to the fore on the palate, where hefty baking spices interplay with the whiskey’s significant charred wood influence to create a mixed bag of flavors. In time notes of black cherry, significant mint, and cloves push through the hefty wood notes, but the overall impact is still one of a whiskey that will benefit substantially of a few more years of aging; a 5 year old reserve is planned down the road. 100 proof. B / $60

Mermaid Rum – This is 75% 3 year old Florida sugar cane rum blended with 25% Caribbean pot still rum which is then aged in once-used Wild Buck Whiskey barrels for 90 days. The nose alone could knock you over. It hits with the power of a pure pot still rum, full of intense phenolic solvent notes alongside heady alcohol. Brown sugar and molasses notes bubble through this, but the focus remains squarely on the funky hogo and raw alcohol character. On the palate, the rum explodes with sweetness, showcasing myriad flavors that you just can’t suss out in the overpowering nose. Brown sugar leads the way to gingerbread, ripe banana, coconut, cocoa nibs, orange peel, and, on the finish, more of those cloves. The conclusion has those petrol notes lingering on the palate, but it’s the explosion of flavor beforehand that lingers on the mind. A masterful blend. 100 proof. A- / $40

wildbuckwhiskey.com

Review: Twang Beer Salt

It’s common to jam a wedge of lime into your beer when sipping on a Mexican lager. Others prefer a lick of salt instead of the sweet-and-sour kick of citrus, and that’s why Twang — “The Original Premium Beersalt” — exists.

Twang, which also makes a line of margarita salts, sells five different flavors of beer salt (none of which are just “salt”), in little bottles that you apply directly to the glass or the rim of your bottle as you drink. New to the game is its Clamato Chili-Lime Salt, which is sold in a small can and which is designed for Micheladas, Bloody Maries, and other tomato-centric beverages. The little bottles are resealable and portable… and should last for quite a while in normal use.

Ideally no beer you drink should need manipulating in order to be palatable, but I know you don’t always have a choice of what to sip on — or maybe you just want to try something new for a change. Either way, keep reading for reviews of all five beer salts, plus the Clamato version.

Twang Michelada Especial Beer Salt – There’s a nice and well-balanced mix of tomato, lime, chili pepper, and salt in this, and it pairs quite well with lager. You really can taste all the disparate elements, which is quite a surprise. It’s clearly a way to make a poor man’s michelada, you bet, but there’s nothing wrong with slumming it once in a while. A-

Twang Lemon-Lime Beer Salt – Leans heavily on the lime, but lemon gives it a stronger kick on the back end. I was less thrilled with it as a pairing companion for any beer, but perhaps experimenting with different beer styles would find a more natural mate. B-

Twang Lime Beer Salt – As the above, without the lemon kick on the back end. I really enjoy a lime in my Pacifico, but this just didn’t replicate the experience for me. Too salty perhaps? B-

Twang Orange Beer Salt – Extremely orange heavy — only a salty kick late in the game distracts from the idea of Pixy Stix — presumably designed for use with wheat beers. It’s not really to my taste, but again, this could be a question of finding the right beer to pair it with. Either way, it’s less versatile than I’d like. C+

Twang Hot Lime Beer Salt – Less fiery than I was expecting (and hoping for), but the addition of spice gives the lime flavor more versatility and intrigue. A reasonable pairing with lagers, but still quite tart and lingering beyond its welcome. B

Twang Clamato Chili-Lime Salt – Again, this is a slightly different product intended for more than just beer, but as with the Michelada salt above, it fights above the expected weight. The two products are actually quite similar, though this one has less salt, larger granules, and just a hint of that briny shellfish character. Definitely a keeper for bloodies, (real) micheladas, and other exotic drinks. B+

$2 per 1.4 oz bottle (Clamato version is 1 oz) / beersalt.com

Tasting Affordable Bordeaux, Late 2016 Releases

Hey folks, don’t want to spend big bucks for wine for the holiday table? Check out this quintet of affordable Bordeaux wines — which generally fared much better than the last round of affordabordeaux that we reviewed.

NV La Fleur de Francois Cremant de Bordeaux Rose Brut – A sparkling rose made from 90% merlot and 10% cabernet franc. Rather malty and yeasty, but balanced by floral notes and notes of fresh berries, this wine drinks much like the better-known Cremant d’Alsace, melding cereal character with fresh fruit. Simple but versatile, with a round body that can stand up to heavier foods. B+ / $16

2013 Baron Philippe de Rothschild Mouton Cadet Bordeaux Blanc – Fresh and grassy, this blend of 69% sauvignon blanc, 28% semillon, and 3% muscadelle drinks with its sauvignon blanc foot forward, a grassy and lightly tropical experience, with light lemon juice notes clear and strong on the finish. Highly drinkable but definitely simple, it’s a versatile wine that works as a summer sipper or as a pairing with lighter fare. A- / $10

2011 Chateau le Calvaire Bordeaux Superieur – This wine (a 64% cabernet/36% merlot blend) may have no pedigree, but it’s an outstanding bottling that I recommend without reservation. Silky, fresh fruit, heavy on cherries, finds companionship with very light currant notes, some floral elements, tea leaf, and a bit of cinnamon. Well-balanced from start to finish, it showcases fruit without being at all jammy, its tannins deftly folding in on the wine as it fades out with a gentle, lingering floral touch. An amazing value wine. A- / $11

2012 Chateau Timberlay Bordeaux Superieur – 85% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% cabernet franc. This is a fairly workaday Bordeaux, with fruit dialed way back so that only some tart, unripe cherry notes remain. Notes of tobacco and balsamic fill in the gaps, but the dusty and mildly astringent finish isn’t much to look forward to. C / $16

2014 Barton & Guestier Bordeaux – 85% merlot, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Another simple wine, and young. That said, fruit is dialed down a bit, leaving this wine to showcase mild herbs, some wood, and a significant amount of tannin. Watch for raspberry on the back end, which helps the wine rise to the occasion with a bit more gusto. B / $10

-->