Review: Jefferson’s Reserve Groth Reserve Cask Finish Bourbon

jefferson grothJefferson’s latest release is this limited edition — a standard bourbon that is finished in wine barrels from the Groth winery, which makes a high-end Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s no age statement on this one, only the promise on the label that it is “very old” Kentucky straight bourbon. (Update: Jefferson’s Reserve says the base whiskey is at least eight years old before finishing.) It must be, right? After all, it does have the word “Reserve” twice in the name of the product!

Kidding aside, Jefferson’s Groth whiskey is surprisingly fruity, with a nose of cherries, peaches, and apricots, plus a vanilla sugar cookie character. Slightly corny, it evokes a significantly younger spirit from the start. The palate continues the fruit-forward theme, pushing more of those peachy notes alongside red fruit. Baking spices including cinnamon and powdered ginger overtake the restrained, barrel-driven vanilla notes, ending things on a note that offers the essence of hard, fruit-flavored candy.

A bit of an odd duck for a bourbon — and one that possibly could have withstood some extra time in barrel before it hit the finishing cask — but one that is not without a few unique pleasures.

90.2 proof.


Review: 4 Pearl Vodka Flavors – Lime Basil, Strawberry Basil, Chocolate Hazelnut, and Pumpkin Spice

pearlIntroducing four new flavors from Luxco-owned Pearl Vodka (which recently rebranded all its bottles with a more streamlined design) — two fruity/basil blends, two dessert-focused for winter sipping. Let’s give them all a sample.

All are 70 proof.

Pearl Vodka Lime Basil – Gentler than you’d think. Heavy on candied lime peel, with just a hint of racier, Thai-style basil on the back end. Modest in structure, pure in its flavor elements, and offering a crisp body with a short finish. It’s a fine alternative to Hangar One Kaffir LimeA

Pearl Vodka Strawberry Basil – Somewhat chemical-smelling on the nose, a common problem with strawberry vodkas. There’s no hint of basil in the aroma, but on the palate it offers a heat more akin to black pepper than any kind of herb. A heavily sweetened finish washes that away, though, leaving behind a bit of a medicinal character. B

Pearl Vodka Chocolate Hazelnut – So, Nutella vodka! Nails it on the nose — though it’s heavier on hazelnut than chocolate. The palate isn’t far off, either. Cinnamon is a distinct secondary character but otherwise this vodka exudes lovely hazelnuts dusted with cocoa powder. Some vanilla marshmallow notes emerge on the finish. Dessert-focused vodkas like this are often largely undrinkable, but this is a surprising winner. A-

Pearl Vodka Pumpkin Spice – Far more restrained than I’d expected, with classic brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and clove notes. The sweetness is at first dialed back, but it doesn’t take long to start building up on the palate. As it begins to coat the mouth, it leaves behind a saccharine character that eventually becomes too much and hangs around for far too long. B-

each $13 /

Review: Macallan Amber and Gold

amberThe Macallan has never been a distillery to do things in a straightforward way. Case in point: the 1824 collection. There’s not just one. There are many.

There’s an 1824 Master Series (which Rare Cask is part of). And there’s an 1824 Collection Travel Retail (which these whiskies are part of).

Amber and Gold are part of neither of those. They are from the 1824 Series, which is a European-only line of NAS expressions delineated by color alone. (In the UK, all the Master Series whiskies are dumped into the 1824 Series as a big group.)

OK, so what’s the deal with the color names? The 1824 Series is, per Macallan, the only malt whisky line ever produced with barrels selected by the color of the spirit. Four versions are in release: Gold, Amber, Sienna, and Ruby, from least expensive to most. Again, there are no age statements in this line, but as color is generally tied to time spent in cask — all of these are drawn from sherry casks to keep the playing field at least somewhat level — you can at least get a sense of the age of the whisky just by looking at it. Or at least that’s the idea.

On my recent trip to Scotland I picked up samples of both Gold and Amber — and will have to leave the luxe other two for my next trip. Should you find yourself across the pond, well, here’s what you can expect from these drams.

Both are 80 proof.

The Macallan Gold – The whisky is immediately youthful, with ample cereal notes, but also quite charming. The nose balances cereal with spice and gentle brown sugar notes. Lots of cinnamon here along with flamed orange peel. On the palate, ginger emerges along with more citrus — orange and lemon — though again it is backed by some sweetened breakfast cereal character folding in both sugar and grain. The finish is modest and very easygoing, a gentle conclusion to a relatively straightforward — but never unenjoyable — little whisky. B / $47 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

The Macallan Amber – Stepping up on the color wheel brings you to this whisky, which is just barely a shade darker than the Gold expression. Similar color or not, Amber really does kick things up in the flavor department. Much stronger sherry notes emerge right from the start, with a nose of spiced nuts and more citrus — plus lots of vanilla and some menthol. On the palate, it’s surprisingly bold — well sherried grains, candied ginger, more nuts (hazelnut?), and a fruity finish. All in all, there’s simply more going on here — and that’s generally a good thing. B+ / $56 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Review: 2011 Masciarelli Marina Cvetic Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Riserva

MC Trebbiano RiservaA curiously late release for an Italian white wine, this trebbiano from the Abruzzo region in south-central Italy pours a deep gold, offering notes of deep oak, roasted apples and pears, vanilla custard, and quite a few herbal notes. The big body dives into hardcore brown butter, coconut, and just a touch of tropicality. You are readily forgiven for assuming this is California chardonnay — and a readily drinkable one, at that — if you sample it blind.

B / $19 /

Review: Booker’s Bourbon “Noe Secret” 2015-06

bookersThe sixth (and presumably final) round in Booker’s 2015 limited edition series of small batch bourbon releases is this, “Noe Secret” (get it?!?!), which is a bourbon aged 6 years, 8 months, and 7 days.

For kicks (and a bit more introduction), compare to batch 2015-04, which we reviewed in September.

Like parachuting into a lumberyard, sawdust explodes around you as this whiskey is poured into the glass. After the initial wood notes fade, the nose evolves with notes of scorched caramel, some menthol, and cloves. The body is just as heavy on wood influence as you expect it will be after that lead-up, with barrel char driving the initial character of the palate. Over time, some caramel and vanilla sweetness emerge, touches of butterscotch, and mixed baking spices — but the massively drying, ash-laden finish wipes a lot of that away, leaving behind a thick layering of tannin and some somewhat bitter/herbal notes.

Fans of more rustically-styled bourbons will undoubtedly find this more to their liking than I did.

128.1 proof.

B / $60 /

Review: Sheep Dip Islay Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

SheepDip_Islay_Blend_nv_botSheep Dip is a relatively well-known blended whisky, but few realize that there are multiple Sheep Dips (Sheeps Dip?) to choose from. The “original” Sheep Dip is easily the best known and most widely available, but producer Spencerfield Spirit Co. has also produced vintage bottlings from time to time.

The latest expression is a (nonvintage) Islay Blended Malt — all peated single malts from Islay, with no grain whisky added. No other production information is available. It’s easy to tell apart from the other Dips: Look for the green label vs. the original’s white.

This is a much different whisky than the original Sheep Dip or, really, almost any other blended whisky. The nose is pure Islay, sweet smoke layered with salt spray and iodine. It’s not overpowering, but it isn’t shy about its agenda. The body follows suit, but downplays its hand. Here we find the lighter side of Islay, a more gently smoky body that comes across as almost watery at times. The familiar smoke-and-seaweed notes are still there, but dialed way back. Big Islay fans will probably find it quite a bit too gentle, almost to the point where it seems unsure of itself. The finish takes a slightly strange spin with a kind of gravelly and rubbery character, one which doesn’t exactly take things out on a high note.

80 proof.

B / $35 /

Review: J Vineyards 2014 Pinot Gris and 2013 Pinot Noir

CA_Pinot_Gris_2014-220x680Two new release from J Vineyards in Sonoma, California — a pinot gris and a pinot noir. Let’s try them!

2014 J Vineyard Pinot Gris California – A simple white, quite herbal and touched with notes of camphor and menthol. Light lemongrass notes up front give way to rosemary and sage. Best with food. B / $15

2013 J Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A soft and fruity wine, classically structured with cherry fruit, some raspberry, and some sweet tea. It’s a bit sweeter than I’d like, and the sugary backbone really starts to take over after a while. Ultimately that robs the wine of some of the grace that it exhibits up front, though it’s still a food-friendly sipper. B+ / $35

Review: Mezan Extra Old Rum XO Jamaica


If you’re familiar with Plantation Rum, which offers a wide range of expressions sourced from throughout the Caribbean and beyond, you’ll get the idea of Mezan, a line of rums that similarly has no specific home but rather sources product, most of it vintage dated. These are all limited-edition releases, so if you see one that strikes your fancy, best to snap it up quickly.

Reviewed here is Mezan’s XO bottling from Jamaica. It carries no vintage date, and the rum was produced by several Jamaican distilleries — then re-barreled for marrying and further aging before release. Let’s give it a taste.

“Extra Old” or no, Mezan XO sure seems youthful. The nose is rustic and a bit tough, studded with hospital overtones, petrol notes, and notes of fresh rubber tires. The body acquits itself more amiably, with softer vanillas and caramels, some coconut husk and banana notes, and a significant level of hogo funk on the finish — classic, but young, Jamaican rum. This is a rum that comes on strong, then sticks with you for the long haul. Nothing wrong with that, but I’d probably be more enchanted if it had some more age on it.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #008146. 5000 bottles produced.

B / $34 /

Review: Captain Morgan Cannon Blast

captain morgan cannon blastCaptain Morgan already has a vast command of bars around the world. Now the company is getting into the shot game with the launch of Captain Morgan Cannon Blast, “an intensely delicious shot” that comes in the cleverest packaging I’ve seen in years.

What’s Cannon Blast? “Caribbean rum with spice and natural flavors.” Isn’t that the same thing as Captain Morgan anyway? Turns out, no.

Cannon Blast’s nose is quite sweet, offering distinct notes of orange candies, a touch of cinnamon, and a bit of cherry — nothing particularly rum-like at all, actually. The body is extremely sweet — far beyond anything in a straight rum — with more of than orange candy note pervading the experience. Some mixed fruit elements come into play before the finish kicks in — pure cinnamon, and lots of it, adding a Fireball-like bite that comes on strong and lingers for at least a minute. This washes away most of the fruitier elements and leaves the drinker with quite a smoldering burn to contend with — for better or for worse. It’s not bad, but you’re definitively in “shot” territory — as intended — with all the ham-fistedness that comes with it.

As for the aforementioned packaging, Cannon Blast comes in a simulacrum of a cannonball and is etched with paint that fluoresces under black light. Shine one on the Captain and he turns into a creepy skeleton. That may not be a big deal at home, but up in da club it’s bound to help sell more than a few test tubes full of the stuff, at least in the hands of the right wench.

70 proof.

B / $16 /

Review: Ciroc X Vodka

ciroc x

‘Tis the season for luxe vodka bottlings, and at the top of the heap you’ll find this monster from Ciroc, an ostentatiously-packaged vodka that retails for two-fiddy. Er, $250.

Ciroc is of course vociferously repped by P. Diddy, who has been stumping for the brand for more than a decade. And now, it seems, it’s time to push things to a new shelf which they’ll have to build above where the top shelf is now.

Cîroc X, aka Ciroc Ten, is made using a blend of French grapes just like regular Ciroc is, “including the first harvest grapes of 2013 vintage, which are said by vintners to be the crispest of the harvest,” OK? Other than that, no real production information is available. And you really shouldn’t need it, anyway.

Just for kicks, let’s taste the vodka!

The nose is clean, just a touch medicinal but otherwise very mild, with perhaps a hint of mint. The palate is equally quiet, offering an old world astringency that echoes hospital character over anything else — primarily antiseptic, touched just barely with vanilla, and fading out with a clean, simple finish that has a tinge of sweetness.

I have few tasting notes for Ciroc X because there are few available to write. This is a very neutral, uncomplicated spirit, which is precisely what a vodka should be. For straight sipping, Ciroc X offers a straightforward and quite enjoyable experience, and its fluid design makes it blend well naturally with just about anything. I can’t complain about the vodka at all, really.

That said, there’s no getting around the price tag and the fact this this is a vodka primarily made to be admired from afar and not to be literally consumed. There simply isn’t $250 inside the bottle, and there really can’t be. Instead, it’s a solid $30 spirit with $220 of flash surrounding it, and that is quite a predicament. There’s not necessarily a right answer to the calculus there, but it’s how you approach that kind of equation that will demonstrate not just what kind of drinker you are, but what kind of person you are, too.

Please show your work.

80 proof.

B / $250 (1 liter) /