Category Archives: Rated B

Review: Tributo Tequila

tributo tequila 210x300 Review: Tributo TequilaTributo, aka Tributo a Mi Padre, is a new tequila brand – 100% agave, of course — with a bit of the twist. It’s high-end stuff, with serious production values and heavy attention to detail (the bottles alone look fancy fancy if you know what I mean)… but with prices designed to move. When’s the last time you saw a $30 anejo, eh? (Too bad the well-aged Extra Anejo doesn’t stick with the value theme.)

We reviewed three of Tributo’s expressions (the Blanco was not available). All expressions are 80 proof.

Tributo Reposado Tequila – Aged 7 months in white oak. Very modest straw yellow color. A little hot on the nose. Let the vapors blow off a bit before tucking in. Here you’ll find a nose of modest caramel and some cinnamon. The body is considerably more forward with the agave, but the sweeter finish gives it an almost candied feel. The finish is lengthy and quite vegetal, but not unpleasant, with a mild mint character to it. B / $28

Tributo Anejo Tequila – Aged 20 months in white oak. A touch darker in color, but still quite light. Considerable caramel on the nose, with just a hint of agave on it. Quite sweet on the body, with some whiskey character to it. Notes of vanilla, tea leaf, and a finish that heads toward that of caramel popcorn. Very enjoyable, and surprisingly and enticingly complex. A- / $30

Tributo Extra Anejo Tequila – Aged 42 months in a combination of white oak and French oak. Again there’s lots of caramel on the nose, but a surprising spicy-agave undercurrent persists. The sweet stuff grows in power, both on the nose and on the tongue, as you sip this well-aged tequila. The mouthfeel is round and full of caramel apple character, with subtle cinnamon notes. Agave makes its return on the finish, though more vegetal than it is spicy, but the herbal character is well integrated into the spirit — if for no other reason than to ensure you realize you’re drinking tequila and not rum. I’m not sure the final analysis adds a ton over the Anejo bottling — particularly at this price — but it’s definitely a worthwhile spirit on its merits. A- / $140

tributotequila.com

Review: Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Complete Lineup

Calvados XO Apreval 135x300 Review: Manoir dApreval Calvados Complete LineupDon’t call it apple brandy: It’s Calvados, the most exclusive of apple-based spirits and the only fruit brandy with a serious pedigree. Created by a family-owned estate of 25 hectares of apple trees (17 varieties are grown here) in France’s Pays d’Auge, on the banks of the Seine River, this French classic is making its way to the U.S. for the first time, with a staggering selection of expressions available… suitable for any price point. Apreval’s Calvados brandies are double-distilled, then aged in French oak barrels.

We got to to try them all… nine expressions of Calvados in total, ranging from a two-year old youngster to varieties aged nearly half a century (and priced as you’d expect). So, how do they acquit themselves? Thoughts follow, ordered from youngest to oldest.

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Blanche – Aged 2-3 years. Crisp apple aroma, but there’s plenty of heat here as well. The body offers tart apple (think Granny Smith), lemon peel, some floral elements, and a touch of wood on the back end. Rustic, almost pastoral. This is clearly young stuff, particularly on the slightly rubbery and lightly vegetal finish, but it still drinks well. I’d consider it primarily for cocktailing, sipping neat in a pinch. 80 proof. B / $55

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Reserve – Aged 4-6 years. Slightly nutty, almost Amaretto-like, on the nose, with clear apple cider coming through behind. A clearly stronger wood influence lends this Calvados a bigger and bolder body, with a rounded mouthfeel and stronger vanilla notes on the palate. The finish is still a little tough, though the more vegetal notes have started to balance out with the sweet ones. 84 proof. B+ / $67

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Grande Reserve – Aged 10-12 years. The nose is mellowing out here, with more of an applesauce and gentle honey character to it. The body offers strong apple flavors, balanced by hazelnuts, chocolate, and a light herbal quality. Good balance, with a bit heat on the back end. It’s definitely a Calvados I’d have no trouble sipping on, offering the best of both the orchard and the world of brandy. 84 proof. A- / $92

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados XO – Aged 15-20 years, noticeably darker in color (from here on out). Becoming increasingly Cognac-like on the nose, with sweet caramel, gingerbread, and incense notes… but still those unmistakable apples shining through beautifully. Robust on the body, with thick cinnamon-apple notes and a big Christmas cake character that lasts for a long while. The finish builds dramatically to something that is both sweet with notes of cake frosting, and savory, with a woody, almost earthy conclusion. Lots going on here, and probably my favorite expression in this lineup. 84 proof. A- / $134

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados 1980 – Single-vintage (harvest?) brandy from 1980, 33 years old. Just imagine, when these apples were picked, Jimmy Carter was President. Sultry nose, with a slight licorice note to it, along with ample wood. The body is vast, with the wood notes taking center stage.There’s even a touch of astringency here, as the deep oak character muscles aside the fruity apple cider core from time to time. Intriguing but a much different animal than the XO. Try the two side by side for a real mindbender. 84 proof. A- / $230

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Cuvee Victor – A blend of brandies, each at least 30 years old. Coffee and licorice notes on the nose lend this a Spanish brandy feel. There’s lots of dried fruit — not just apples but raisins, too — on the palate, but the finish takes things toward a winey character, almost like a Marsala, with some balsamic touches. Quite the curiosity — rich and austere. 82 proof. A- / $283

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Cuvee Gustave - A blend of brandies, each at least 40 years old. Dense coffee, mixed nuts, and dark chocolate notes. You won’t catch much more than a bare whiff of apple character on the nose, but it comes across on the body — dried, baked, then chocolate-covered and baked into an almond torte. Another intriguing, hoary, and unexpected spirit. 82 proof. A- / $356

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Brut de Fut 1974 – Single-vintage Calvados from 1974, 39 years old.  Stronger apple character here than in some of the other old expressions, with a distinct vegetal note on the nose. Spicy on the palate, with some cinnamon notes, but also a tougher, more rubbery finish. Not as successful as the blends. This is no longer in production. 84 proof. B / $NA

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Brut de Fut 1967 – Single-vintage Calvados from 1967, 44 years old (bottled 2011). This is a bit of an anomaly. This is a 44-year old 1967, bottled two years ago. It’s no longer on the market, but a 46-year-old version of the same spirit, bottled 2013, is available. Since this version spent 2 years less in cask, it’s not going to be identical to the new bottling, but it should be in the vicinity (the proof level may differ, also). A much hotter spirit, it’s got a more alcoholic nose that mutes some of the fruit from the start. The palate offers heavily woody notes with touches of mint, with a big lush apple in the core (ahem) of the brandy. But that that tough and tannic finish creeps in as the body begins to fade, dulling the fruit. 102 proof. B+ / $650 (current version)

apreval.com

Review: Smoke Liqueur

smoke liqueur 180x300 Review: Smoke LiqueurFirst things first: Smoke does not smell or taste like smoke. Expecting otherwise from this spirit — which is bottled complete with wisps of vapor on the label — will set you up for disaster.

In fact, Smoke is about as far away from soke as you could get. Made from “top-shelf” vodka that is flavored with pineapple, coconut, and moscato, this is a fruity, super-sweet club drink, ready for gulp-’em-back cocktails or sipping over ice.

The name is clearly drawn from the cloudy nature of the spirit. Poured straight, it’s a hazy white, not transparent, and it does indeed look “smoky.” If you’re a fan of Alize or Hpnotiq, you know what you’re in for here, minus the neon color scheme. Smoke offers ample pineapple and coconut on the nose, but on the body the fruitier elements are more pronounced: First pineapple, then a vague citrus sweetness that is likely driven by the moscato. The finish is long and quite sugary, though not saccharine. It’s very easy to drink — just like Alize and Hpno — but far from complex. It’s very much a pina colada without the cream, which some will thrill to and some will accuse of outright heresy.

52 proof.

B / $30 / smokedrinks.com

Exploring the World of Madeira with Blandy’s

Blandys5YRSercial 89x300 Exploring the World of Madeira with BlandysLike you, I don’t often think much about Madeira. If I want a dessert wine, I drink Port almost exclusively. When I see Madeira on a menu I invariably ignore it. But maybe I shouldn’t be. And maybe you shouldn’t be either.

Madeira is one of the most venerable wine styles from history which is still being produced. Its origins like in the 1400-1500s, when explorers began visiting the Atlantic island of Madeira as a port of call during trade runs. The fortified wines made here traveled well and lasted basically forever, even once they were opened. (Blandy’s says an open bottle of Madeira will last indefinitely.) Madeira was the It Wine of the 1700s in America, and was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The wines came in all sorts of styles, driven by the grape used to make them. There are dry(ish) Madeiras, and their are sweet Madeiras. Despite being made on one tiny island, these wines comprise a wide range of styles.

Madeira isn’t Sherry, and it isn’t Port, although it has a lot in common with both of them. The best way I can explain it is that Madeira is somewhere between the two of them — not as sweet as Port, but not as funky and off-putting as Sherry (usually) is.

Madeira is unique in the wine world in that the wine, while aging, is kept hot. Very hot — up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit — for a long, long time. This has to do with the traditional way in which Madeira was made, vinified and put into barrels, then shipped on long sea voyages to the tropics and back. They got lots of heat on these trips, and that gave Madeira its signature nose and taste.

Most Madeira you’ll find on sale now is nonvintage, like the 4 bottles from Blandy’s tasted below. This is the easy-to-find, very affordable stuff. But vintage Madeira also exists, and if you’re looking for a really old bottle of something as a gift, Madeira is invariably your best bet (both on price and the odds that it will still be drinkable). The stuff really does last forever and it gets better and better. In fact, the best Madeira I’ve ever had was a Bual-varietal expression made in 1922.

Blandy’s recently sent a sampling of its simplest Madeiras, all five years old, each made from a different grape: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey. These are all basic, simple Madeiras, but they do showcase how variable this wine can be, from its dryest version to its sweetest. I gravitated to the sweetest (aka “richest”) versions personally, but see the charms in all of the varieties.

Thoughts follow.

NV Blandy’s Madeira Sercial Dry 5 Years Old – A pale, light amber/orange color. Fresh, Madeirized-sherry nose, with notes of orange, apricot, and wood oil. The body is mostly dry, offering an initial slug of woody fruit (or fruited wood), with a moderate finish that trails off, leaving behind a somewhat rubbery, oily conclusion tinged with blood oranges. Not at all unpleasant and dry enough to drink with dinner (oysters, maybe?). B

NV Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho Medium Dry 5 Years Old - Considerably darker, a ruddy honey/bronze color. Milder nose. More orange and toffee, and hints of chocolate. On the tongue, clear raisin notes offer a slight sweetness that may have some thinking this is a young tawny Port, but there’s less oxidation in this, along with a sharper finish and that classicly rubberized character in play. B+

NV Blandy’s Bual Verdelho Medium Rich 5 Years Old - Darker still, the color of brewed tea, tinged with a touch of red. Inviting, Port-like nose rich with raisins and spice. This follows through on the tongue, revealing Christmasy cinnamon, vanilla, and slight gingerbread notes, with just a hint of classic Madeirized character at the very end. Easily mistaken for a mild tawny Port, in a good way. B+

NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey Rich 5 Years Old - A shade darker again, almost (but not quite) a cola brown. Quite a different animal. Ample wood and cocoa powder notes on the nose, with hints of cola. The body offers all sorts of good stuff — walnuts and hazelnuts, more cola, chocolate, and a big, raisin-infused finish. A lot like a port, but backwards. Here the sweetness comes along in the end, not up front. Very drinkable and complex, and a natural fit with dessert or the cheese plate. A-

each $24 / blandys.com

Review: Jagermeister Spice (+ Jagermeister “Classic”)

Jägermeister Spice Bottle Image High res 525x1029 Review: Jagermeister Spice (+ Jagermeister Classic)

Few spirits are as misunderstood and mis-consumed as Jagermeister. A classic of every dive bar (and upscale ones always have a bottle behind the bar, too), this “Krauter-Liqueur,” essentially Germany’s answer to Italy’s amaro, is a digestive, bittersweet liqueur with lots to recommend. And yet it is served primarily in shot form, and frequently ice cold from wild contraptions that chill it down while advertising the classic green-and-orange bottles, which are installed into the machine three at a time. (Yes, a home version is now available for $199.)

But Jagermeister is now out with its first ever spirits line extension. And why not? Jager is, as its importer notes, “the #1 selling imported liqueur in the United States and the 7th largest selling premium spirit in the world.” Whoa.

How does the new spirit measure up to the original? And how does the original measure up against the competition in an honest-to-god tasting? I took the plunge. My revisionist thoughts follow. No Red Bull was harmed in the making of this review.

Jagermeister – The “master hunter,” launched in 1935, is a complex thing , flavored with cinnamon, star anise, ginger and cardamom — the full recipe covers 56 herbs, roots, blossoms and fruits — and aged in oak casks for one year. But it’s a surprisingly easygoing liqueur when you’re not downing it next to a PBR at sub-zero temperatures. At room temp, it reveals its charms: light anise notes, plenty of cinnamon, prunes, orange peel, almonds, and dried ginger. A chocolate and gingerbread character rumbles along on the finish, bringing with it thoughts of Christmas and warm fires. It’s altogether well balanced, yet complex. Sure, you can drink this ice cold, but that dulls most of the flavors aside from licorice and prune. Give “Jager” a try straight off the shelf instead of “ice cold” as instructed on the bottle and you might be pleasantly surprised with how complex yet balanced it is. 70 proof. A- / $17

Jagermeister Spice – The bottle says this is a “Cinnamon and Vanilla Blend,” which are clearly two of the major components of standard Jagermeister, so what’s the difference between the two? In addition to those two components being pumped up in the mix, the biggest difference is right on the label: At 50 proof, this is a dramatically less alcohol-laden product. This is clear from start to finish. The color of the poured spirit is substantially lighter, the body considerably less powerful. Cinnamon, allspice, and a buttery vanilla cookie character are very strong on the nose, which starts it off as a very holiday-focused spirit which is quite inviting. But the body, while it offers those same notes on the tongue along with touches of anise (the only real taste of the original Jagermeister to be found), is quite flat. It tastes a little watery, not nearly as rich and warming as the classic version of the spirit. The finish fades rather quickly. The end result is not at all unpleasant, but it just doesn’t take the Jagermeister brand to anywhere unexpected and new. (Curiously, the label invites you to drink Jagermeister spice at room temperature. Told ya I was on to something.) B / $23

jager.com

2013 Pumpkin Ale Roundup

in bottle with pumpkins 200x300 2013 Pumpkin Ale RoundupAh, Halloween approaches, and that means pumpkin-based beers are hitting the shelves en masse. We’ve had a fridge-load show up at Drinkhacker HQ in recent weeks, which can mean only one thing: Roundup Time!

Here are some thoughts on three new, and wildly different, pumpkin brews.

Hermitage Brewing Company Fruit Crate Pumpkin Ale – A standard pumpkin ale brewed with no additional spices, just organic pumpkins. Strong malt on the nose, big body, moderately bitter on the palate. There’s a very minor baking spice component driven by the gourd itself, and present mostly on the back end. But as for pumpkins? I don’t really get them at all in this weighty, wintry brew. 9% abv. B / $4 (16.9 oz)

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale – Brown ale brewed with pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Those looking for a more festive brew — where the spicy components are more at the forefront — will enjoy this one. The cinnamon sugar notes are pronounced, particularly on first pour. The sweet stuff works well with the modestly malty body, and the hops on the finish offer a respite from the sugar. 7% abv. A- / $3 (12 oz.)

Hangar 24 Local Fields Gourdgeous – Imperial porter brewed with pumpkins, molasses, and spices. Very dark color, quite exotic on the nose. The molasses makes itself known right away, heavy and dense on the nose. Beneath that, ample nutmeg and allspice notes… more clove-oriented than the Dogfish Head. A somewhat dense beer, it takes things to a curiously chocolaty place in the finish… but leaves the pumpkin behind along the way. 8.5% abv. B+ / $8.50 (22 oz.)

Review: Cabin Still Bourbon Whiskey

CabinStill 200x300 Review: Cabin Still Bourbon WhiskeyAfter my initial voyages to the bottom of the shelf with JW Dant and Kentucky Gentleman, I reasoned my exploratory adventure should further continue with another value bourbon.

Cabin Still was originally part of a line at the now legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery, along with W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, and Rebel Yell. The brand name was purchased in 1993 by the Heaven Hill distillery at the same time as JW Dant and has remained in the company’s portfolio for the past two decades. It doesn’t really get the respect it deserves — not even a mention of it on Heaven Hill’s brands page.  That’s a shame because at 36 months in age, this is not a bad bottle, especially when considering it has a purchase point of around $10.

The initial nose has faint hints of oak and butterscotch, and the taste keeps the oak resonating throughout with a wee bit of alcohol burn at the end. There isn’t much of a finish to it, and the whole experience is restrained at best. There’s little to no lingering to be had on the finish whatsoever, whether tried neat or on the rocks.

Unlike the beautifully detailed artwork on the outside, Cabin Still isn’t elaborate or complex but serves its purpose well when mixed with cola, and I’m sure it could serve as a fine mixer for any other drink in which bourbon is required. I’m told by elder sages of the Kentucky Bourbonati that pre-Heaven Hill versions of this brand taste far superior to today’s edition, almost akin to a 12 year old WL Weller.

$9 / B / no website (c’mon Heaven Hill, where is the love?)

Review: Jack Daniel’s Winter Jack Tennessee Cider

jack daniels winter jack 137x300 Review: Jack Daniels Winter Jack Tennessee CiderI first encountered Winter Jack several years ago on a trip to Germany. There it was, this curious bottle set on the back bar in an outdoor Christmas market, where it was subtitled an “Apple Whiskey Punch.” Turns out the holiday-themed spirit has been popular in that country for a few years, and now, Winter Jack is finally making its way from Deutschland to America, rebranded as a “Tennessee Cider.” Same difference, I suppose, and in fact it’s the same product, just rebranded for its American release.

Winter Jack is a mix of apple cider liqueur and classic Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Emphasis, as you’ll see below, is on the cider liqueur.

The spirit pours a very pale, Chardonnay-like color. The nose offers cinnamon, applesauce, and honey, but it isn’t overpowering… a lot like sticking your nose into a glass of your kids’ juice. On the body, initially it’s quite mild as the nose would indicate, offering a simple apple juice/cider character that slowly builds to a more tart, fresh apple-driven finish. The spirit leaves you with quite a bit of sweetness, which is where the barest touches of caramel and vanilla show up, the thumbprint of JD turning out to be quite a latent one on this spirit. The overall effect is appealing, though it doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression. In the end, Winter Jack clearly prefers to let the cider liqueur do more of the talking, which is fine, I guess. You can always add more whiskey to suit your tastes, after all.

Intended to be served warm.

30 proof. Check the website below for availability in your state.

B / $18 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Mellow Corn Straight Corn Whiskey

Mellow Corn 225x300 Review: Mellow Corn Straight Corn WhiskeyWith the craze of flavored spirits reaching a fever pitch, I’ve been patiently waiting for the corn whiskey renaissance to take on full steam. There have been promises via Hudson, Balcones and other distillers, but it doesn’t seem to be taking on momentum the way the “white dog moonshine” trend of 2012 did.

The folks at Heaven Hill make Mellow Corn from a minimum 81% corn with a bit of rye in the mix to spice things up a bit. The bottle which I sampled upon is bottled in bond at 4 years, which I’m told by the elderly gentleman sitting three stools away at the bar makes a difference vs. the 3-year-old edition.

As you’d expect, the nose is pretty much straight up corn. The taste provides an oily, buttery popcorn experience and the finish is a lingering… you guessed it…. corn feel, with a wee bit of heat courtesy of the rye, serving as a gentle reminder you’re not drinking corn oil from the bottom of a movie theater popcorn machine, but rather are drinking corn whiskey. It’s sweet with a little bit of bitterness, and it offers absolutely no complexity whatsoever.

Drinkers searching for something similar to bourbon may be taken aback, even disappointed, by the taste and experience of a corn whiskey. However taking Mellow Corn on its own terms, it’s quite unique and worthy of experimentation. Give in to it the next time you’re craving something different, especially at $10 for a 750ml bottle.

100 proof.

B / $10 / heavenhill.com

Review: Three 2012 Sauvignon Blancs from Chile

Cono Sur Organic Sauvignon Blanc Bottle 199x300 Review: Three 2012 Sauvignon Blancs from ChileJust because summer is over doesn’t mean you should stop drinking white wine. These three Sauvignon Blancs are all highly drinkable offerings from the world’s greatest remaining budget wine region: Chile. Here’s what 10 bucks will get you at your local purveyor of affordable hooch.

2012 Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc San Antonio Valley - Fresh and fun, with notes of pineapple, lemon cake, and creme brulee. Modest acidity gives balance, but the sweetness keeps things simple. Easy to enjoy. A- / $10

2012 Root:1 Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley – The brand takes its name because its rootstock is ungrafted. This Sauv Blanc is slightly creamier on the body, but features more of a tangy, lightly bitter edge on the finish. Otherwise, it’s tropical and lemony, with an easygoing structure. B+ / $9

2012 MontGras Reserva Sauvignon Blanc San Antonio Valley – There’s quite a bit of restraint here — with less fruit, and a more moest body — but the fresh pineapple and coconut flavors that come along in the finish give this wine plenty of tropical fun to it. Probably the most food-friendly wine in this bunch, and the least effective on its own. B / $11

Review: Blue Crab Bay Co. Bloody Mary and Margarita Mixes

blue crab sting ray 108x300 Review: Blue Crab Bay Co. Bloody Mary and Margarita MixesBlue Crab Bay is an artisan food company on Virginia’s Chesapeake coast, and just a few of its products are non-alcoholic cocktail mixers. We tasted them all, both with and without spirits.

Blue Crab Bay Snug Harbor Bloody Mary Mix - Extremely thick. The nose is earthy, like a big beefsteak tomato, with mushroom notes. On the body, big and chewy tomato character, without vodka it’s almost pastelike. It starts without a whole lot of spice to note, just a hint of pepper and maybe some celery salt, with just the faintest touch of heat on the lips… but not on the tongue. This builds over time as you sip it to a decent level of burn — think a typical medium salsa. It’s a good choice for Bloody fans who find tomato to be the most important ingredient. B / $10

Blue Crab Bay Sting Ray Bloody Mary Mix – Adds clam juice to the Snug Harbor formula (this is often called a Clam Digger, Red Eye, or Caesar, depending on where you live), which strangely makes this mixer not more maritime in tone but rather sweeter and less savory. It’s not quite as thick, either. The mushroomy notes fade away as they leave behind a character that brings some lemony citrus notes and a bit more salt to bear. This is more evident when you add vodka to the mix. While overall you’ll find this to be similar to the Snug Harbor product, I think it does make for a slightly better finished product. B+ / $10

Blue Crab Bay Jalapeno Infused Margarita Mix – Coastal Virginia is not an area I typically associate with the margarita, but hey, who’s checking. This “jalapeno infused” mixer is quite easy on the spice, so heat-a-phobes needn’t be overly concerned. The mix itself is quite mild, with restrained but authentic lime notes, modest sweetness, and just a touch of heat. Fine if you’re making pitchers for a tailgate party, but not quite developed enough for your top shelf tequilas. B / $5

bluecrabbay.com

Review: Jim Beam American Stillhouse 2013 Clermont Limited Edition Bourbon

JB Stillhouse 2013 Sm 525x784 Review: Jim Beam American Stillhouse 2013 Clermont Limited Edition Bourbon

Jim Beam’s new American Stillhouse is a new visitor’s center and production facility is getting a new whiskey to call its own. Specially bottled with a custom, vintage-dated label, Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe has put out this 2013 Clermont Limited Edition bourbon in an edition of just 7500 bottles, each numbered and signed by Noe. (No age statement or mashbill information is available.) We were lucky enough to nab one.

The nose is unexpected and intriguing, with characteristics of maple syrup, bacon, and deeper level baking spices — allspice and nutmeg. The body is even more unusual. Here you’ll find not the traditional vanilla sweetness of bourbon but something much different. Huge wood notes are evident, with secondary notes of incense, raisins, and leather. Lots of tannin throughout, with a very drying finish. In the end the fruit components take on more of a prune-like character, with plenty of wood notes to round out the finale. I can’t say it’s overwhelmingly pleasant. It’s got a certain frontier curiosity around it, but the fruit and sweeter elements are so muted that it comes across as decidedly flat.

80 proof. Reviewed: Bottle 1542/7500.

B / $40 / americanstillhouse.com

Review: Wild Turkey Forgiven Whiskey

wild turkey forgiven 133x300 Review: Wild Turkey Forgiven WhiskeyIs it possible that a distillery like Wild Turkey made a new whiskey by mistake… and that it turned out so well they decided to commercialize it? Well, I don’t want to get in the way of a self-described “wild tale” or this new whiskey, the first-ever widely produced whiskey that’s a blend of bourbon and rye.

Made from 78 percent 6-year-old bourbon and 22 percent 4-year-old rye, Forgiven is immediately a curiosity, though well in line with the Wild Turkey repertoire. The nose is well installed in bourbonland: Big, lumberyard sawdust notes which immediately come across as something much older than a mere 6 years of age. Mild vanilla notes come across alongside them, but the dominant aroma is purely, simply wood.

On the body there’s fortunately more to discover. Creamy marshmallow backed up with milk chocolate, some apple, and a touch of spice are well evident on the palate. Of course, there’s plenty of wood to go along with it, and here it’s almost overpowering. As for that rye, it’s not much more evident than in a high-rye bourbon. There is a slight kick on the back end as a little red pepper shows itself, but otherwise, you’d be fully forgiven (get it?) for thinking this was just a big, woody bourbon.

Forgiven is fine for a sipping whiskey, but I’m unconvinced that it adds anything new to the Wild Turkey pantheon. I’m happy to drink it — it’s completely harmless — but it just doesn’t have a lot of nuance that you’ll find either in straight bourbon or standard rye.

Was this truly an accidental discovery? It seems absurd to suggest that no one has blended two whiskeys together in the past — Wild Turkey makes plenty of both of these spirits — but having experienced the final product of putting them together, it’s easy to see why a mixture like this has never been commercialized until now. There just wasn’t any point.

91 proof.

B / $50 / wildturkeybourbon.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Teeling Whiskey Company Irish Whiskey and Poitin

Teeling 21 Yr Old Single Malt Silver Reserve 258x300 Review: Teeling Whiskey Company Irish Whiskey and PoitinWe don’t see a lot of new Irish whiskey brands on the market, so when a curiosity like Teeling comes around, Drinkhacker takes note. The Teeling Whiskey Company (aka TWC) is a new brand with some surprisingly old stock. Founder Jack Teeling has roots in the Irish biz dating back to the late 1700s, and now he’s bringing the family business back with this independent distillery.

Mashbill information is a little complicated, so here it is from TWC’s Teeling: “Both [the whiskey and poitin] are a blend of grain and malt whiskey mashbills. The grain mashbill is 95% maize and 5% malted barley, and the malt mashbill is 100% malted barley. The blend of both consists of 35% malt whiskey (or spirit in the case of the Poitin) and 65% grain whiskey (or spirit in the case of the Poitin).” Got it?

Teeling Whiskey Company Poitin – Ah, Ireland’s white whiskey made from who-knows-what (but see above in TWC’s case), and it’s got a lot going on. The nose is fragrant and intriguing: rustic and young, but with notes of lemongrass, black pepper, and hot coals. Fiery at a blazing 123 proof, the body still shows some charms even without water: marshmallows, orange flowers, and a finish of burning embers. It’s complex yet curious, a white whiskey made the way it really ought to be. High-test white spirits like this always need some coaxing to bring out their charms, but Teeling’s does it quite a bit better than most. B+ / $42 (500ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Teeling Whiskey Company Small Batch Irish Whiskey - Small batch whiskey, bottled with no age statement (but blended from hand-selected casks aged between 4 and 7 years old), but finished in ex-Flor de Cana rum casks. The combo makes for some unusual and quite delicious flavors. The nose offers sweet vanilla, creme brulee and very light wood notes. Elusive, but engaging. On the tongue, it’s quite sweet, but kicked up a bit from the rum, with some fun citrus notes, more of a chocolate marshmallow back-end, and a silky smooth finish. The whiskey and rum are working well together here — that doesn’t always happen — offering a sizeable bite, but one which is tempered with ample (yet balanced) sweetness. Really good stuff, with ample depth. Reviewed: Edition bottled 2/2013. 92 proof. A / $53 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Teeling Whiskey Company 21 Year Old Silver Vintage Reserve 1991 Irish Whiskey (pictured) - Unlike the above, this is single malt Irish. 21 years old, at that. 21 year old Irish sounds like it’s going to be incredible, but this is a case where things have gone a bit too far. The lively amber color doesn’t let on to what’s in store, which starts to reveal itself with a malty, bread-like nose. The body offers more of that — a really intense grain character that comes off as fully unexpected in a whiskey this well-aged. Where is the sweetness? Where is the spice? These characteristics are hinted at on the finish, but here you also get more heavy barrel char notes that outweigh any fruity sweetness that remains in the spirit. Interesting enough as a sipper, but a huge letdown from my admittedly high expectations. 92 proof. B / $217

teelingwhiskey.com

Review: Jim Beam Red Stag Hardcore Cider

red stag hardcore cider 109x300 Review: Jim Beam Red Stag Hardcore CiderThe latest addition to the ever-expanding line of Red Stag by Jim Beam is this, called Hardcore Cider. You don’t need a lot of imagination to figure out this is infused with apple cider “and other natural flavors.” Apple is a natural complement for bourbon (and plenty of cocktails mix whiskey and cider), so this combination makes sense.

On the nose, the spirit is full of deep apple character — baked apples in a touch of cinnamon syrup, like grandma used to make. The body follows suit: This is a whiskey where the flavoring takes the reins and runs with it. The bourbon element of this Red Stag is elusive to the point of absence. If the fruit were a bit brighter, you could be excused for thinking you were drinking Calvados. A touch of vanilla at the very end reminds you it’s been in a barrel, but vanilla is such a natural counterpoint for apples that it doesn’t immediately come across as a bourbon element.

This is not a bad product, but the relative absence of bourbon flavors — even with 80 proof whiskey as the base — make me wish for something that showcased the whiskey along with the cider. That said, I’d mix this with ginger ale or use it as a base for a punch and see what happens.

80 proof.

B / $18 / jimbeam.com

Review: NV Calamares Vinho Verde

 Review: NV Calamares Vinho VerdeA decidedly simple Portuguese bottling, a blend of Alvarinho and Loureiro grapes. Slightly effervescent, and quite easy to get down — being 9% abv doesn’t hurt. The nose, more vaguely citrus-meets-alcohol in character, isn’t anything special, but crisp pear notes meet lemon and pineapple on the body are a surprising delight. The finish is short and a little watery, but hardly a deal-breaker.

B / $10 / visionwineandspirits.com

Review: Wines of McGah Family Cellars, 2013 Releases

McGah Family Cellars Scarlett 300x200 Review: Wines of McGah Family Cellars, 2013 ReleasesDid you know: The founders of the Oakland Raiders now have a wine label? McGah Family Cellars is the winemaking arm of the McGahs, which owned the Raiders from the founding in 1960 to 2005. Now they make wine using fruit from their own 65-acre Rutherford vineyard in addition to selling it to other wineries.

Don’t go looking for “McGah” on the label. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue and it’s relegated to the fine print on the back. Instead, you’ll find the company’s wines released under the below brand names. Thoughts follow.

2011 Ten Seventy Green Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford Napa Valley – Impressive acid, but the grapefruit notes on this traditional Sauv Blanc are balanced with lemon and blood orange character. The finish is crisp and clean, with a slight and pleasant sweetness to it that adds mystery. A- / $20

2010 Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon – Young and drinking today as relatively unripe. The nose is green and driven more by menthol notes than fruit. The body offers similar notes, revealing a simple and youthful wine that needs time to mature. Aeration helps to coax out some of the muted blackberry and plum notes, but barrel toast, tar, and that menthol character end up stealing the show. Needs time. B / $60

mcgcellars.com

Review: J.W. Dant Bourbon

4605 6544jwdantoubnbox 199x300 Review: J.W. Dant BourbonFirst, for your consideration, a bit of history: Joseph Washington Dant was a well-known Kentucky distiller who in 1836 gained a reputation for making his whisky using a log still. For those not versed in the distillation arts, that’s essentially a hollowed out tree trunk with copper piping running through the center. The logs would then be filled with mash and steam would run through the copper pipe for the distilling process. Dant would go on to own a proper distillery some 40 years later, and generations of his family would continue to work in the industry. Eventually they would honor his legacy with a bottle bearing his name in the late ’50s. The brand would stay in the family name until Heaven Hill purchased it in 1993; the bottle has stayed in Heaven Hill’s core lineup since, though it is no longer made in a log. (No age statement is offered.)

And now the tasting: At first, Dant seems promising. A fresh, neat pour offers up traces of orange, spices, and a bit of smoke on the nose; ideal for cocktails for the forthcoming autumn season. The first sip and swish ease in with a bit of the usual suspects: vanilla, caramel, and oak, but then follow up with an absolute knockout punch of heat and alcohol which linger until the (somewhat) short, oaky finish. Nothing really changes much over the duration of a glass. It mellows with a bit of ice, but the song remains the same.

Overall it’s not an unpleasant experience, but definitely not a stand-up memorable tasting event either. It’s a bit like that very odd dating situation where things went fine and nothing went wrong, but considering the field is wide open and plenty of options remain available, a second date might happen only with a bit of reluctance. Heaven Hill would be well served in re-tooling the brand to compete on a pedigree with other big names like Stagg, Parker’s, and Booker’s. It’s the least it can do for a man who contributed much to the advancement of bourbon. He certainly deserves the consideration.

B / $18 / no website

Review: 4 Imported Sakes from SakeOne

WinterWarriorKO 91x300 Review: 4 Imported Sakes from SakeOneOregon-based SakeOne is America’s largest producer of sake, and it’s one of its biggest importers of Japanese sakes, too. Recently the company added two new imported sakes to its lineup. We tasted them both (plus two previously available expressions), and have some opinions to share.

Here are thoughts on the four new products, which should all have fairly broad, national distribution.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry Sake – A dry style, with fresh melon and light almond notes on the nose. Some earthiness adds curiosity (particularly on the nose), but the fruit is solid, with a big cantelope finish. Refreshing and easy to drink, with plenty to explore. B / $30

SakeMoto Junmai Sake – A bit more rustic, with some bite on the back end that you don’t get in more refined sakes. Still, at this price you’re getting a surprising level of quality: mushroom layered with melon and some floral notes, with a fresh, honeydew-infused finish. B- / $11

Murai Family Nigori Genshu Sake – Undiluted (genshu) sake bottled at 19.9% alcohol. Unfiltered also, which makes it creamy and cloudy, an increasingly popular style. Big nose, bigger body. Melon meets roasted nuts, with a palate that features tapioca, sweet mango, and cotton candy. Easy to love. B+ / $25

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior (pictured) – Nigata (snow based) style sake, this sake has perhaps the most fruit of the bunch, as well as the best balance. Tropical notes with melon, lightly floral aromatics, and a lightly oily body that is still refreshing and clean, this is my favorite sipper of the lineup. A- / $27

sakeone.com

Review: Hermitage Brewing Company India Pale Ale Single Hop Series – Calypso

hermitage calypso 300x170 Review: Hermitage Brewing Company India Pale Ale Single Hop Series   CalypsoOur third review in San Jose, California-based Hermitage Brewing Company’s Single Hop Series of IPAs brings us to the Calypso hop, “a dual purpose hop that was originally bred from the Nugget hop varietal.”

The nose is extremely fruity — big apples and some light citrus notes. On the body, waves of warm caramel sauce and a big, malty back-end take hold. Here you’ll find a more burly, campfire-style brew, not nearly as bitter as its 70 IBUs would indicate, mouth-filling, warming, and surprisingly creamy. Ultimately a crisper and more bitter brew is more to my personal taste, but as experiments go, this is one of the more interesting ones out there.

7% abv.

B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle / hermitagebrewing.com