Review: Deepwells Botanical Dry Gin

deepwellsLong Island Spirits is the producer of LiV Vodka and other products — and now it’s at long last expanding into gin (after six reported years of tinkering with the recipe). Deepwells takes the triple-distilled LiV potato-based distillate and infuses it with 28 botanicals — 9 local botanicals and 19 “exotic” ones. That botanical list is exhaustive, and reads like this: almonds, apple, anise, basil, chamomile, cinnamon, coriander, cubeb berries, cucumber, elderflower, fennel, grains of paradise, grapefruit peel, honeysuckle, juniper berries, lavender, lemon peel, licorice root, lime peel, merlot leaf, nutmeg, orange peel, orris root, pansy flowers, pear, pineapple, spearmint, and watermelon.

Damn.

That is a huge list of stuff.

Watermelon? Pansy flowers? Everything you could possibly think to put into gin is here, and lots of stuff you couldn’t.

I’m pleased to report the nose smells nothing like watermelon but rather offers notes of wet earth, saddle leather, forest floor, and indistinct evergreen notes. On the palate, it’s a bit muddy, with some bitter citrus character colliding with some of the earthier elements, like orris and coriander. There’s so much gritty, earthy depth here it’s hard to appreciate some of the spirit’s more interesting characteristics — including some delicate floral notes that emerge as the finish starts to show. But ultimately this seems to be a textbook case of trying to jam too much into one bottle and ending up with a melange of flavors that just don’t seem to get along entirely well.

Maybe skip the watermelon next time?

94 proof.

B / $33 / lispirits.com

Review: 2013 Bridlewood Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon

Bridlewood 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso RoblesThis Gallo-owned winery focuses on very affordable bottlings primarily from central California vineyards. Thoughts on two wines from the newly-released 2013 vintage follow.

2013 Bridlewood Pinot Noir Monterey County – Rather dense, with some pruny notes on the nose. Quite fruit-forward, this pinot offers notes of intense jam, roasted meat, some root beer character, and some lumberyard underpinnings. Surprisingly tough, it drinks more like a syrah — bit with a slightly bitter edge on the finish. B- / $13

2013 Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – Inky and dense, with licorice overtones on the nose. Lots of wood on the body make this an imposing wine from the get-go, but it does manage to settle down with time to reveal more nuanced fruit — at least in the form of dried plums, raisins, and other firmer, grippier berries. Sweeter, with cocoa notes, on the finish. B / $14

bridlewoodwinery.com

Review: Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

crown royal rye

A Crown Royal Rye? Wait, isn’t all Canadian whisky “rye”? Hang on a sec.

There’s a lot of confusion about rye and Canadian whisky, and rightly so: By law in Canada, a whisky only has to have some rye in it to be called a rye, part of an outgrowth of hundreds of years of shorthand and tradition there. Today, most Canadian whiskies have quite a small amount of rye in the mash — like Bourbon, they tend to mostly be made from corn — yet the myth that Canadian whisky is largely rye remains.

Well, Crown Royal is going to confuse things even further with the release of Northern Harvest Rye, its first-ever legitimate rye in 75 years of operation. The mash for this whisky is a whopping 90% rye. By Canadian law, the other 10% is poutine. (Just kidding! Crown doesn’t specify.)

On first nosing, I thought perhaps Crown mistakenly filled this with its Regal Apple flavored whisky. Very strong apple notes on the nose are backed by a little caramel, giving it a distinct apple pie character. The body is again distinctly apple-fueled, but here more of the spice shows itself. Cloves and allspice are strongest, with some molasses-like sweetness sugaring things up a bit. The finish is slightly drying, and a bit of roasted grain character comes to the fore before fading out.

This is a truly strange whisky, unlike any other rye I’ve encountered in recent memory. The intense fruit character isn’t unpleasant, but it’s not what I’m looking for a quality rye. This whisky will likely resonate with many fans — but may well turn off just as many drinkers.

90 proof.

B / $30 / crownroyal.com

Review: Sauvignon Blancs of Brancott, 2015 Releases

brancottBrancott is a bit like the Mondavi of New Zealand. It was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, a region that has become one of the world leaders in this style of grape. Today, Brancott makes dozens of wines, including eight different sauvignon blancs. We reviewed five of them, from entry-level juice to some surprising rarities that I wasn’t even aware of before cracking into them.

2014 Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Entry level, and it shows. The tropical notes are strong, but come across more like canned mango and pineapple, with a slightly vegetal note. Best when served very cold, which helps accentuate the acidity. C+ / $14

2013 Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Note that it doesn’t actually indicate “Brancott” on the label. The nose is tropical but also strongly bent toward melon notes. On the body, it’s slightly frizzante, which I’m not sure is intentional, but it brings out the cantaloupe/honeydew notes more distinctly. A little odd, but it grows on you. B / $18

2013 Brancott Estate Flight Song Sauvignon Blanc – A low-cal wine with 88 calories per 5 oz glass and 9% alcohol. Strongly orange on the nose, with floral notes and tropical underpinnings. Slightly buzzy on the tongue with a touch of fizz, but clean on the finish with and echo of more fresh citrus. Easy and breezy, so they say. Surprisingly good for “diet wine.” B / $15

2013 Brancott Estate Letter Series Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – A well-balanced sauvignon blanc, with strong pineapple and mango notes on the nose and a solid level of acidity in the body. Some sweet caramel and light almond notes continue on the palate — but the finish veers sharply into some earthier, mushroom tones, a bit discordant here. B / $26

2010 Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Very well-aged for a sauvignon blanc, this wine starts with tropical character and then showcases creme brulee, vanilla caramel, and light lychee notes. Much more complicated then the relatively straightforward big-fruit-then-acid wines above, Chosen Rows uses a little funk to add depth to what is normally an uncomplex style. Bottled in the most exotic screwcap I’ve ever seen. A- / $65

brancottestate.com

Review: Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso and Vermouth Chinato

Alessio_Vermouth_TORINOTempus Fugit Spirits has turned to vermouth for its latest products, importing from Italy a pair of fortified, aromatic wines: Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso and Alessio Vermouth Chinato, both “inspired by a true ‘Renaissance man,’ Alessio Piemontese.”

These vermouths are both produced in a considerably more bitter style than the typical Italian or sweet vermouth on the market. Both feature added bittering agents in the form of wormwood and, in the case of Chinato, cinchona bark. As such, they straddle the line between vermouth and amaro, and can be easily consumed on their own much like the latter. (They’re best chilled.)

Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso – “Based on a classic di Torino recipe from the late 19th century, Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso is designed to be enjoyed as what was commonly called a ‘Vino di Lusso’ (luxury wine), a wine thoroughly consumed on its own. Created with a fine Piedmont wine as the base, this authentic Vermouth di Torino contains both Grande and Petite Wormwood, along with over 25 other pharmaceutical-grade herbs, roots and spices.” It’s quite dense and dark, with intensely bitter amaro notes on the nose — licorice root, stewed prunes, and cloves — and not much in the way of sweetness. The body offers a more bittersweet character, however, tempering the heavy bitter components with some raisin and baking spice notes. A fairly dark chocolate character comes along on the finish to add some mystique. I really like how it all comes together, and it works well as a cocktail ingredient and drinks beautifully on its own. 17% abv. A- / $22

Alessio_Vermouth_CHINATOAlessio Vermouth Chinato – “Alessio Vermouth Chinato is also based on a classic di Torino recipe from the late 19th century combined with the additional bittering of Cinchona bark and more than 25 other balancing herbs, including Grande and Petite Wormwood, and reflects an almost-lost style of bitter vermouth.” The nose is somewhat less appealing, lacking some of the intensity of di Torino, but otherwise cuts a similar aromatic profile. The body seems to miss out on some of the di Torino’s depth, trading the back-and-forth of sweet and bitter for a focus that veers more toward sour cherries with a strongly bitter undercurrent. The finish is lengthy and mouth-coating, rather than the bitter cleansing character you get with the di Torino. Better as a mixology ingredient. 16.5% abv. B / $25

anchordistilling.com

Review: Old Monk Very Old Vatted XXX Rum 7 Years Old

Old_Monk_XXX_rumOld Monk, a rum that’s made in Uttar Pradesh, India, is a major international seller which has a bit of a cult following on our shores. That’s probably owing more to the low price point, unique decanter, and novelty design than anything else. But let’s see how it tastes.

This expression (there are a handful of varieties) is a vatted (or blended) rum that is aged for a minimum of seven years. It appears to be traditionally produced, using molasses and used whiskey barrels for aging (though I have no official evidence of this).

The copper-hued spirit kicks off with plenty of hogo, a funky, almost winey nose with notes of dried spices, dense molasses, and some charcoal. Powerful and pungent, it leads the way into a body that is dense with baking spices — cloves, particularly — along with quite bitter (very dark) chocolate, coffee grounds, burnt nuts, and notes of old wood. The sweet molasses core is unmistakable, and when combined with the spicier elements it makes Old Monk a very good mixer. But on its own, Old Monk sips a bit too far on the tannic side. Save it for parties and punches.

B / $16 / no website

Review: Balblair Vintage 2003, 1999, 1990, and 1983 Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskies

BB 1983 Pack Shot

I encounter Balblair regularly at whiskey events, but I was surprised to see that in all these years we’ve only ever done a formal review of Balblair one time — of the Vintage 2000 release.

Today we’re fixing that with reviews of four more expressions from this Highland distillery. On with the show!

Balblair Vintage 2003 – 10 years old, aged in bourbon barrels. Pale in color, and a bit fiery on the nose. Roasted grains, with a touch of honey, are aromatically intense — with some coal fire and a bit of industrial character. The body offers a bit of almond, some citrus, and a touch of cloves. The whisky hasn’t quite settled down yet, though, to bring out this whisky’s true charms. 92 proof. B / $70

Balblair Vintage 1999 – 15 years old, aged in bourbon and sherry barrels. (My sample doesn’t indicate, but I’m presuming this is the Second Edition bottling.) Surprisingly racy, there’s red pepper and turmeric on the nose, with a backing of dried barley notes. The body is malty at its core, with winey-citrus sherry notes to add some complexity. Vanilla milkshake notes on the finish are nice, but they can’t temper this whisky’s ample heat, which lingers on the modestly scorching finish. 92 proof. B / $90

Balblair Vintage 1990 – 21 years old, aged in bourbon and sherry barrels. (Again, I presume this is Second Edition.) Much different nose here, with notes of toffee and caramel, along with walnuts and cloves. The body is dense, slightly smoky and heavy on the wood component, giving this malt a bit of a fireside character — with some lumberyard, more nuts, and slight vegetal notes on the back end. The finish is a bit short, with some late-arriving notes of raisins and spice. 92 proof. B / $140

Balblair Vintage 1983 – 30 years old, aged in bourbon barrels. The best Balblair I’ve ever had is the 1975 edition. ’75 is no longer on the market, and this just happens to be the whisky that is replacing it. It’s also a knockout. The nose is rich with butterscotch, menthol, spiced nuts, and fudge. The palate kicks things off with well-aged malt, chocolate sauce, and nougat before fading into notes of rich honey, chocolate malt balls, and almond candies. The finish is long and lasting, making this a delight from start to finish. 92 proof. A / $330

balblair.com

Review: 21st Amendment Down to Earth Session IPA

21st am down to earth21A’s session IPA clocks in at a mere 4.4% abv, with 42 IBUs noted on the can. Made with Cascade, Mosaic, and Warrior hops, it’s a fine enough example of the sessionable IPA trend, though it doesn’t entirely lift itself above the crowd. On the nose, tons of grapefruit and piney undertones offer promise, and on first blush the body is filled with classic IPA notes.

But as the body develops, a wateriness comes along, dulling and diluting the promising opening act. Ultimately those fruity/piney notes turn a little muddy and a little sour, lending Down to Earth a dull and somewhat less satisfying finish.

B / $9 per 6-pack of cans / 21st-amendment.com

Review: Wines of CrossHatch, 2015 Releases

10586853Santa Barbara’s Carr Winery recently launched this second label, CrossHatch, named in honor of antique winemaking equipment — and inspired by the “co-fermenting” system Carr uses in “harvesting multiple varietals on the same day then crushing and fermenting them together.” All of the CrossHatch wines are blends — though the wines have no individual names, so check the fine print on the label to see which one you’re getting.

All are very small production wines (under 300 cases). Thoughts follow.

2012 CrossHatch 60% Merlot 40% Cabernet Franc Santa Ynez Valley – The Cabernet Franc is having its way with this one, with some dense licorice, plums, and bittersweet chocolate dominating the blend. Some floral notes, with Merlot’s characteristic violets, bring up the rear, which is moderately sweet with raisins, milk chocolate notes, and some vanilla. A bit clumsy, but plenty drinkable. B- / $28

2012 CrossHatch 60% Grenache 40% Syrah Santa Ynez Valley – Intensely fruity, with chocolate notes on the nose. The body’s a mishmash of styles, offering jammy plums and cherries, more chocolate, red pepper, mint, and some raisiny, Port-like notes on the back end. A bit wide-ranging, but surprisingly drinkable (and food friendly). B / $25

2014 CrossHatch 70% Viognier 30% Marsanne Santa Ynez Valley – Intensely astringent and medicinal, with a skunkiness underneath. Some of the viognier’s peachy elements muscle through the muddiness, but the finish is all dirt and funk. Not entirely tenable. C- / $17

carrwinery.com

Review: American Star Vodka

AmericanStarVodkaCroppedLook closely at the label — “Star Vodka” is a totally different product — and you’ll see a small “American” in the etching above the “Star” on this exceptionally hard-to-read vodka bottle from Ascendant Spirits (makers of Breaker Bourbon).

American Star is distilled (at least) five times from corn (the bottle just reads “grain”) in Santa Barbara County. A straight expression and three flavors are available. All are 80 proof, and all are reviewed below.

American Star Vodka – Pungent on the nose, with notes melding medicinal notes with some marshmallow character. The body’s a bit muddy, its distinct vanilla character enhancing the vodka’s creaminess on the palate. The finish isn’t sharp or cleansing but rather fades away with a lengthy (but not unpleasant) fade away. Best as a mixer. B

American Star Caviar Lime Vodka – At first I thought this was some kind of terrible typo for Kaffir Lime, but it turns out caviar lime is its own wacky thing. This vodka uses these finger-shaped limes for flavoring, resulting in a quite successful spirit. The nose is distinctively lime — very fresh and not at all artificial smelling, with some floral undertones. On the palate, the citrus sustains, with a touch of vanilla — driven perhaps by the base spirit — to add some nuance. Much cleaner than the straight version. A-

American Star Strawberry Vodka – Tinted pink, flavored only with organic strawberries. Along with fresh berries, the nose offers floral notes and hints of whipped cream. It’s an enchanting lead-up, but the body is less successful. Here we find the vibrant fruit overwhelmed by astringency, sour elements, and a finish that comes across as artificial and unpleasant. Unfortunate. C-

American Star Ghost Chili Vodka – The infamous ghost pepper (hardwood smoked here) finds a home in this lightly yellow-colored vodka. The nose doesn’t offer many hints, but the body is hot as all get-out. Searing red pepper attacks the palate almost immediately, but later on the smokier elements, and just a touch of sweetness, offer some relief from the heat. Not much, though. Tread with caution. B

each about $33 / ascendantspirits.com