Review: Jim Beam Bourbon (White Label) and Black Extra-Aged Bourbon (2016)

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It’s hard to believe but we’ve never formally reviewed good old “White Label,” the bottom shelf of Jim Beam but, to be sure, one of the great values in the world of Kentucky whiskeymaking.

Beam recently revamped its bottle and label design — and in some cases the names of its products have been tweaked — which makes 2016 the perfect opportunity to give Beam a fresh review. Also on tap in this review is another look at Jim Beam Black Extra-Aged. Only last year Beam tweaked this bottling, which had previously been an age-stated 8 year old known as “Double Aged,” changing it up to call it XA Extra Aged. With the new bottle refresh, the name has been tweaked again — now it’s just Extra-Aged, losing the “XA” but gaining a hyphen. Let’s call that an even trade. Normally I wouldn’t re-review something we covered so recently, but given the pace of change in the bourbon business, a fresh taste couldn’t hurt. Who knows where it stands now.

Oddly enough, you’ll notice that different bottlings in the line have somewhat different designs. The squared-off shoulders of the Extra-Aged evoke the new Jack Daniel’s bottle (though there’s no risk of confusing the two), while White Label’s bottle sticks much more closely to the original Beam design (the new bottle is on the right in the above photo). Why not consolidate the design across the line? Eh, just drink your bourbon and ponder it quietly.

Thoughts for 2016 follow, as always.

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (White Label) – No sleight of hand here; the fine print still has the same age statement as ever: 4 years old. Made with a low-rye mashbill — the standard Beam mash. It’s distinctly corny on the nose, its youth worn on its sleeve, but that’s not an altogether bad thing. That caramel corn nose heads into a body that isn’t exactly rich, but which shows off modest vanilla and moderate barrel char. The finish finds some minor secondary tones — nuts and even a hint of coffee — nothing outrageously complex, but enough to give the whiskey a bit of nuance until the corn chip notes make their inevitable return. To be sure, this is a bourbon that’s all about the price point, but, hey, what a price point. 80 proof. B / $13

Jim_Beam_CorePlus_Dynamic_Black_int_F39_0Jim Beam Black Extra-Aged Bourbon – Same mashbill as White Label but, you know, “extra aged.” Extra-aged, got it. This is a clear step up from White Label, with a woody nose that’s intense with vanilla, gingerbread, and cocoa powder. The slightly higher-proof body is rounder and more intense, less complex than the nose might suggest due to a surfeit of popcorn notes, but balanced by caramel, charcoal, and some apple notes. The finish is clean and longer than White Label’s, with more of a warming influence. All told my notes are much in line with last year’s review. While spirits are always evolving in production, I don’t believe anything has changed significantly here in the last year. 86 proof. B+ / $21

jimbeam.com

Review: Mulberry Club Fruit Brandies

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Regions like Albania and Azerbaijan are known primarily for their brandies — though few of these bottles ever make it to our shores. Two that did come from Mulberry Club, and Azerbaijani producer of fruit brandies. The company sent us two to sample, one made from local cherries and another, of course, from mulberries.

Both are 100 proof. Thoughts follow.

Mulberry Club Mulberry Brandy – Intense and funky on the nose, with notes of raw alcohol, fruit pits, and petrol. Give it some time to let the more astringent elements blow off — think pisco — and gentle fruit notes emerge. It’s slightly citrusy, with heavy herbal overtones, featuring notes of black tea, nutmeg, and cloves. The finish remains a bit rubbery, with hospital overtones. Heavy stuff. C-

Mulberry Club Cornelian Cherry Brandy – Similar aromas as described above — with young brandy there’s not much way around it — but the body offers significantly more fruit and less funk, right from the start. It isn’t particularly identifiable as cherry, but more as a vague berry salad by way of some hot, hot heat. Relatively clean on the finish with just a touch of cereal notes, though quite warming. B

prices $NA / website NA

Round 2 Review: (Reformulated) LIQS Ready To Drink Cocktail Shots

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Last year we saddled LIQS ready-to-drink shots — little single-serve plastic shot glasses sealed with foil — with a bunch of C grades and promptly forgot all about them. Recently the company said the product had been reformulated to use real fruit juice and was anxious to get a fresh review. A few of the products have actual names now, instead of just lists of ingredients.

So let’s oblige, and check out three of the four varieties on offer. (Note that at least one of the old LIQS, including the Cucumber Lime version, is no longer in production.)

LIQS Vodka Kamikaze – Vodka, triple sec, and lime juice. A kamikaze should be sweet, but there’s too much of it here, and the lime flavors don’t really make it through with enough citrus bite. There’s a touch of vanilla here, which comes across as a bit weird in the end. All told, it’s relatively harmless, but with a saccharine aftertaste. 45 proof. B-

LIQS Vodka Lemon Drop – Vodka, sugar, and lemon juice. Probably the best of the bunch, which is good because there’s just not much you can mess up here. The attack is a touch medicinal but moderately strong lemon notes hit along with an appropriate amount of sugar. Nothing too fancy here, but it’s good enough in a pinch. 45 proof. B

LIQS Tequila-Cinnamon-Orange – Well, this one never got a real name and is still known by its ingredients. It’s still the only non-vodka based shot in the lineup. The cinnamon is a touch strong here, and it also features a vanilla character that gives it a Creamsicle character. Easygoing despite the higher proof level, it has an overall gentler approach than the 2015 version, without the overbearing aftertaste. A vast improvement. 55 proof. B

$18 for six 1.5-oz. shots / liqsshot.com

Review: Hard Frescos

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Mexican sodas are one of life’s little pleasures. Naturally someone had to try and improve on them by adding alcohol.

Hard Frescos are, as is common in this category, not really sodas but rather malt beverages with copious flavoring added. In other words, they’re heavily doctored and sweetened in order to attempt to drown out the malt liquor funk that is omnipresent in these kinds of drinks. To its credit, everything is natural in each of the four Hard Frescos expressions, and each includes 25% fruit ingredients in the bill. All of the expressions clock in at 5% abv, and all bottles are 11.5 oz. (16 oz cans are also available.)

Can you shortcut your way to a Tequila Sunrise with a Hard Fresco? (Strangely, a Paloma-esque grapefruit soda is not available.) Let’s find out.

Hard Frescos Cola Buena – Smells like cola (this is “brewed with real kola nut”), but the palate is sickly sweet with notes of cheap, Chinese candies and laden with an overripe fruit character that dominates any vanilla-cinnamon notes that one expects from a cola-flavored drink. The aftertaste is epic and, I should add, far from buenaD+

Hard Frescos Juicy Jamaica – A hibiscus flavored drink, again very sweet and fruity, but here the sweetness is more warranted, making the experience come across more like a boozy fruit punch. The malty funk found in the Cola Buena is largely absent here; if you can handle some heavy strawberry and cherry notes (and precious little floral character), this isn’t a bad spin on an, indeed, juicy punch. B

Hard Frescos Citrico – Flavored with “real citrus and guava” — but looks like orange soda. Tastes like it too (with a slight tropical edge), but again there’s a funky, medicinal character underneath that tends to dominate the experience. It’s more evened out than the cola, but more obviously “alcoholic” than the jamaica. If you imagine this to be a very cheap and abstract version of a margarita, it makes the experience a bit more worthwhile. B-

Hard Frescos Tangy Tamarind – Jarritos made me a tamarindo convert, but this Hard Frescos rendition is decidedly weird, offering notes of cocoa powder, walnuts, marzipan, and brewed tea — all of which are various shades of brown but none of which taste anything like tamarind. This concoction, whatever it is, doesn’t taste particularly offensive, but it pales in comparison to what a real tamarind soda is like. C+

each about $4 per 11.5 oz bottle / hardfrescos.com

Review: 1792 Full Proof Bourbon

1792 Full Proof Bottle

The latest (and fourth) limited edition release in the recently emergent 1792 Bourbon line is this one: “Full Proof,” a kind of weird way to denote that the bottling proof was the same as the entry proof into the barrel.

Note, this isn’t quite the same thing as cask strength. Says 1792’s creator, Sazerac:

Bottled at the same proof it was originally entered into the barrel, the bourbon was distilled, aged, and bottled at the historic Barton 1792 Distillery. New oak barrels were filled with 125 proof distillate in the fall of 2007 and left to age in Warehouses E, N, and I for eight and a half years. Warehouse I is one of the oldest warehouses at Barton 1792 Distillery. All of these warehouses are seven stories high, metal clad, with concrete bottom floors, and windows all the way around the outside, allowing some direct sunlight inside. After the barrels were emptied, the bourbon underwent a distinct filtering process, forgoing the typical chill filtration, and instead was only passed through a plate and frame filter.  This allowed the bourbon to maintain a robust 125 proof for bottling.

I’m not 100% sure what that last part means — 1792 surely rises above 125 proof during aging and has to be cut down a bit to reach 125 proof again —  but the point is that 1792 Full Proof is an overproof expression of the standard bottling. Here’s how it acquits itself.

On the nose, notes of cocoa powder and cocoa nibs engage with rather dense, toasty sawdust. Some notes of ripe banana — perhaps banana bread — emerge in time as undercurrents. On the palate, it’s quite a racy whiskey, fiery and a bit harsh at times. There’s sweetness underneath, but it is masked by a ton of wood, charcoal, and licorice notes, which endure on the finish with a sultry ashiness. Water helps, tempering the wood notes and letting some baking spice show through, but it dulls the experience. In the end, it remains a little muddy, finishing a bit like a damp cinnamon roll — nothing offensive, but just a bit off structurally.

125 proof.

B / $45 / 1792bourbon.com

Review: Beronia 2011 Rioja Crianza and 2010 Rioja Reserva

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These affordable Rioja wines actually include the grape breakdown on the labels, a rarity for Spanish wines. Naturally, both expressions are mostly tempranillo, with some other native grapes added for kick. While I did not try pairing them with seafood, Beronia is suggesting they would pair well thusly. If you try them with the other, other, other white meat, please let us know how the pairing turns out!

2011 Beronia Rioja Crianza – 90% tempranillo, 8% garnacha, 2% mazuelo. A somewhat dusty wine, but pleasant and rounded with currants, brambly berries, tobacco leaf, and licorice notes, all in reasonable balance. The fruity finish comes off a bit young, and slightly immature. B / $16

2010 Beronia Rioja Reserva – 94% tempranillo, 4% graciano, 2% mazuelo. The wine starts off a touch thin but it reveals more of its charms after a moment, taking dense fruit notes and layering on notes of tobacco, leather, and a touch of coffee bean. Nicely balanced between fruit and more savory notes, its long finish adds a lightly herbal and balsamic element to the mix. A- / $21

beronia.com

Review: G’Vine Floraison and Nouaison Gin (2016)

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It’s been six years since our last encounter with G’Vine (and nine years since our first)… so now’s a good time to give these now-classic gins (which are distilled from Ugni Blanc grapes in France, just like Cognac) a fresh look. Let’s look today at new samples of both G’Vine Floraison and G’Vine Nouaison to see if our original assessments still hold.

G’Vine Floraison Gin – G’Vine’s “fresh and floral” expression is still a winner, offering pretty, flowery, and almost perfumy notes atop very gentle juniper and other herbs. The citrus notes I previously called out feel dialed back a bit now in the wake of even stronger floral elements, though lemon peel is particularly evident. The finish remains refreshing and quite clean, leaving behind traces of white flowers — but also a bit of rubbery Band-Aid character, too. 80 proof. B+

G’Vine Nouaison Gin – This is the “intense and spicy” gin from G’Vine, and it drinks more like a traditional London Dry. The nose and up-front palate is all juniper, which comes across as almost overly simplistic, but as the body evolves and the finish emerges, the gin begins to fade into a heavy hospital character, featuring notes of rubber, tree bark, anise, and hazelnuts. What’s left behind is a bit astringent and mouth-coating. It cries for a mixer. 87.8 proof. B

each $29 / g-vine.com