Review: Crown Royal Regal Apple Canadian Whisky

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Apple is the cinnamon of 2015, showing up in all kinds of spirits but, particularly, whiskey. This familiar, nostalgic flavor seems to be a big crowd-pleaser, offering tartness, sweetness, and Americana all in a single package.

Now it’s Crown Royal’s turn, with its latest expression: Regal Apple. Regal on account of the crown, I guess. The spirit is specifically flavored with natural Gala apple flavor.

The good news is that this is a better product than Crown’s prior flavored whisky, Maple Finished. The bad news is that Maple Finished was so lackluster that that isn’t saying very much.

Here, the nose is distinctly apple-fueled, but almost bitter to the nostrils to the point of astringency. Some vague vanilla and baking spice character picks up the slack, but the apple notes are more central to what’s going on here. On the tongue, it’s fruity as expected. Not just tart apple notes — more authentic here than the nose would indicate — but also hints of pineapple, some lemon, and ample vanilla notes. For a bright, shining moment, Crown Royal Regal Apple is apple pie in a glass… but it doesn’t last. The finish takes a sour, mouth-puckering turn that has some unfortunate hospital character to it, marring what is actually a fairly decent start.

The world is probably not expecting much from Crown Royal Regal Apple, but in a world soon to be overrun by apple-flavored hooch, it’s probably as good as can be expected.

70 proof.

B / $25 / crownroyal.com

Review: Ed Hardy “Most Wanted” Spiced Rum

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Tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy was mentored by Sailor Jerry Collins… and some claim that Hardy has flown a bit too close to the sun, imitating Sailor Jerry’s style a bit too closely. Well, the detractors will have more to talk about with Ed Hardy rum, a spiced rum that looks on the surface, well, a whole lot like the rising star Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, which was released in 2008.

Rest assured that, uncannily similar label appearance aside, Ed Hardy Spiced Rum is not a mere repackaging of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. For starters, Hardy — which does not indicate where it is made, how long it is aged, or what it is spiced with — is bottled at 70 proof vs. Jerry’s 92. That alone distinguishes these two rums, but the flavor profile is quite different, as well.

The spice feels drawn from orange peel, cloves, and cinnamon, but it’s a bit underdone and not really racy enough to stand out against a mixer. The rum is sweet enough — not on the scale of the densely caramel-focused Sailor Jerry — but the lower alcohol level makes it come off as a little watery on the finish.

Ed Hardy does have one thing on its side, though, and it’s that the low alcohol level means it’s relatively easy to sip on straight. Not that you’re likely to ever encounter this outside of a conjoining with a healthy slug of Coke and, probably, a red Solo cup, but in case you want the option…

70 proof.

B / $16 / edhardyrum.com

Review: Infuse Vodka Peach and Orange Clove

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We encountered Infuse Vodkas about a year ago, reviewing four members of this unique flavored vodka lineup, each featuring solid botanicals suspended inside the bottle. Today we check out the remaining two vodkas in the lineup — though, unfortunately, they are not my overwhelming favorites of the bunch.

Again, all Infuse Vodkas are flavored not with mystery essences but with dried fruits and spices. Both are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Infuse Peach Vodka – The big slices of dried peaches look enticing, but this spirit is just way too medicinal. Suffering from much the same problem as Southern Comfort, Infuse Peach has a raw alcohol overtone to it that the peach notes only serve to enhance, not detract from. Even the peach notes are indistinct and a bit off-putting, more like a vaguely-flavored cough syrup than anything that came from the orchard. C-

Infuse Orange Clove Vodka – Gentle on the nose, almost lemonade-like, with just a hint of baking spice. The body is equally restrained, a layering of easy citrus fruit with clove and some evergreen notes, lending this vodka a quality on the palate that approaches that of many modern gins. The flavor isn’t altogether intense, and the finish is short. It’s pleasant enough as a simple mixer, but it doesn’t really push its component flavors far enough to replace either a solid, citrus-flavored vodka or a fruity gin. B

each $28 / infusevodkas.com

Review: Hush Spiced Apple Moonshine

Hush Spiced Apple Moonshine1Hush is a new brand that now encompasses a half dozen flavors of moonshine, hailing from the realm of North Charleston, South Carolina. These are corn-based products (grain neutral spirits) that undergo a secret, “patented refining process called TerraPURE” before bottling. (Technically it can’t be both secret and patented, but this is flavored moonshine, so who’s counting?)

Anyhoo, Hush sent us one of its many flavors — spiced apple — for us to put to the test. Which we did.

Pure apple cider attacks the nose. That unmistakable cinnamon/clove/baked apple mix permeates the room and, soon enough, your palate as it takes hold once you begin sipping. Well-sugared but not quite over the top, Hush rumbles along, content to hold forth its autumnal agenda until, eventually, some of the more bitter elements start to hit more squarely on the finish. Things start to gum up at the back of the palate at this point, but that isn’t much of a surprise. This is a simple spirit with modest goals, and by and large it achieves them.

80 proof.

B / $19 / hushmoonshine.com

Review: 2013 Terlato Family Vineyards Pinot Grigio Russian River Valley

Terlato Pinot GrigioFragrant on the nose with peach and apricot notes lead to a buttery body more reminiscent of Chardonnay than Pinot Grigio. The palate is long, lush, and loaded with vanilla and caramel flan, before exiting on a crisper, baked-apple finish. This isn’t a complicated wine, but guests at your next dinner party aren’t likely to mind it one bit as an aperitif.

B / $19 / terlatowines.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated Bourbon Warehouse Floor Experiments

buffalo trace Wheated Bourbon Warehouse Floor Experiment

Last summer, Buffalo Trace released a series of three experimental whiskeys, each aged on a separate floor of its wooden-floored Warehouse K. These rye-heavy bourbons were as different as night and day — and now BT is back to do the same experiment again, this time with wheated bourbons.

The experiment is otherwise the same as with the rye bourbons: 15 barrels placed in Warehouse K, five each on floors 1, 5, and 9, for 12 years. The point, as I mentioned last time, is that heat rises: Lower level warehouse floors are cooler than the ones at the top, and heat (more specifically variations between hot and cold throughout the day) is a significant factor in the way Bourbon ages.

All are bottled at 90 proof. Here’s how they stack up.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #1 - Lots of wood on this, but some butterscotch and brown butter notes help to temper the essence of the lumberyard which otherwise dominates. The body is both a bit astringent and a little watery, all of which combines to give this whiskey a slug of sweetness that settles uneasily atop a somewhat racy but lightly bitter backbone. The finish is tough, with an enduring vegetal character. C+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #5 - What an incredibly different experience this is, those butterscotch notes dominating some light cereal character underneath. Over time, more wood character comes to the forefront, with the finish offering a blend of both sweet and savory notes. Look for some dried mango, some cloves, and a little red berry fruit on the back end. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #9 – As with the rye, this wheated collection shows that up top is where it’s at. The core character remains the same — butterscotch plus melted, lightly burnt butter notes — but they’re elevated here by notes of baking spice, red pepper, and the essence of campfire smoke. Silky caramel and marshmallow (roasted?) are big on the finish, along with notes of brewed tea and some baking spice. Lots to enjoy, but it’s also got a punchiness that turns it into an interesting conversation piece. A-

each $46 (375ml) / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Koma Unwind Relaxation Beverage

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Koma Unwind is another one of these newfangled beverages designed not to turn you into a bon vivant but rather into a slumbering snoozer. This canned, sparkling beverage includes mostly familiar active ingredients: B12, milk thistle, valerian root, rose hips, and melatonin. These goodies are dropped into a rather familiar soda format — sweet and (mostly) grape juice flavored — technically labeled “Berrylicious.”

I tried Koma before bed and went to sleep with no trouble. I slept straight through the night until about 6am, when wild and lucid dreams roused me. I’m not sure if Koma aided my sleep quality, but it didn’t seem to have damaged it at all.

Koma tastes fine for what it is — spiked purple stuff — but I have to wonder about the wisdom of adding 45 grams of sugar to a beverage that’s called “koma” and is designed to get you to go to sleep. (The 12 oz. can’s ingredients label is misleading, as a “serving size” is only 8 oz.) There’s a sugar free version but it suffers from the same bitter edge that most diet sodas do… though it’s nonetheless probably a smarter choice before bedtime. A shot-based version (not reviewed here) is also available.

B / $2 per 12 oz. can / komaunwind.com

Review: Wines of Smith-Madrone, 2015 Releases

smith-madroneThree new winter releases from Smith-Madrone, located at the top of Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain.

2012 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Napa Valley Spring Mountain District – Buttery, with strong notes of vanilla and nuts. Not much in the way of a surprise here, with modest pear and lemon notes duking it out with that big, brown butter back end. Ultimately there’s a bit too much wood on this traditionally styled California Chardonnay for my tastes, but it’s a fair enough sipper in the right context. B / $32

2013 Smith-Madrone Riesling Napa Valley Spring Mountain District – Fresh, moderately sweet Riesling, this bottling offers notes of honey and candied apple, with notes of honeysuckle flowers. The floral notes lend a perfumed, but fresh, character to the finish. A- / $27

2011 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Spring Mountain District - Solid, but uncomplicated, with notes of green olive studding simple cassis and raspberry notes. Modest finish, with more fresh, savory herbs coming to the fore. A solid effort. B+ / $48

smithmadrone.com

Review: Wines of Esporao, 2015 Releases

esporaoThree new offerings from Portugal’s Esporao, new releases from the company’s Reserva line as well as its Quinta dos Murcas Reserva offering. Some thoughts follow.

2011 Esporao Reserva Red DOC Alentejo – Made from a blend of traditional Portuguese grapes, including aragonez, trincadeira, cabernet sauvignon, and alicante bouchet. Incredibly dense, this wine starts with licorice notes and jumps straight down an earthy, leathery hole. The wine simply doesn’t let up, finishing dry as dust, with a raisiny character and a tannic, brambly back-end. B- / $25

2013 Esporao Reserva White DOC Alentejo –  A blend of antão vaz, roupeiro, perrum, and semillon. Bold, buttery, and honeyed, this wine is packed with ultra-ripe fruit — rich and sweet like a Sauternes — but without the unctuous body. That sweetness makes it a bit much for food, but the pushy fruitiness is fun enough in its own right. B / $20

2010 Esporao Quinta dos Murcas Reserva DOC Douro – This blend of old vine tinta roriz, tinta amarela, tinta barroca , touriga nacional, touriga francesa, and sousão is a cut above the other wines in this roundup. Simple red berry and currant notes slide their way into more complexity — tea leaf, coffee bean, and some savory herbs — but all wrapped up in a rounded, mature body. There’s the slightest hint of vinegary oxidation on the very back end, which lends a touch of austerity and maturity to what might otherwise be a too-simple wine. It’s working surprisingly well right about now. A- / $40

esporao.com

Review: Newcastle Scotch Ale

newcastle ScotchAle_01Newcastle is embarking on an experimental collection of collaborative beers, made with a number of old-school European breweries. First out of the gate is this one, Newcastle Scotch Ale, made in the company’s sister brewery, Caledonian, in Scotland. Fittingly, it’s a Scotch Ale. Here’s how it tastes.

Malty up front, the burly brew offers licorice notes that fade into chocolate character after a time. There is some coffee-licked bitterness in the middle, while the finish melds both the cocoa notes and that syrupy maltiness into a rounded, warming finish. Initially a bit off-putting, this brew grows on you as its chewy, Christmassy characteristics become more present — and more inviting over time.

6.4% abv.

B / $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com