I don’t remember the last time we saw something new from Canadian Club (turns out it was 2011), but with absolutely no warning or fanfare the blender has released a new whisky. As the name fairly freely suggests, it’s 100% rye, produced by the rye giants at Alberta Distillers Ltd.
As a reminder, “rye” whiskey need only be 51% rye (the remainder being comprised of corn and other grains), and rye as we know it tends to be all over the map, mashbill-wise. This bottling is, of course, unadulterated rye, and while there’s no age information offered, we do know it is blended from three different barrel types: new white oak, once-used bourbon barrels, and refill Canadian whisky barrels.
Despite the “100%” moniker, this is an entry-level rye. The nose kicks things off with fairly heavy granary notes, with some brown butter, heavy-char wood, and some darker floral elements. The aroma comes across as relatively immature, lacking in the spicier elements inherent in a great rye.
The palate shows modest improvement, tempering the grain — still considerable — with butterscotch, caramel corn, and notes of burlap. These notes all fade away quite quickly though, finishing the experience rapidly and cleanly. That grainy focus sticks with you however, though not in an oppressive or unsatisfying way. Rather, it serves as a gentle reminder that no matter what grain or grains you put in the mash, it’s the time in the barrel that really matters.
B / $20 / canadianclub.com
Cana Brava was released by New York-based importers The 86 Co. in 2014, a Panama-sourced rum with three years of age. Now it’s back with an aged expression, bottled at seven years old after a lifetime of ex-bourbon barrel aging. (Note that 750ml bottles are easier to come by now; this is a one-time release.)
Wood-forward on the nose, the aromas on Cana Brava 7 Years Old head promptly toward dried spices, incense, and tea leaf. On the palate, the rum is again heavy on the wood, with largely savory notes of cloves, ginger, and carrot cake adding character. Dark brown sugar notes emerge in time and fold in sweetness, but less than you’d expect and later in the experience than you get from most aged rums. The finish is very dry and surprisingly short, fading out with some of the cocoa powder notes that you find in the white rum version of Cana Brava.
All told, it’s a perfectly workable rum that mixes well — but at this price level you can find quite a few more engaging bottlings to consider.
B / $45 / canabravarum.com
Guinness was experimenting with these two porter releases, based on old 1800s recipes, when I visited in the summer of 2015. Now they’ve made their way to the States, so everyone can see a bit about what Guinness might have tasted like — decades before it ever released its first stout.
English Porter isn’t an entirely well-defined beer style, but in many ways it presents as a slightly lighter version of stout. Porter gets its name from… well, let’s let Guinness explain:
With origins in a 1796 entry in the Guinness brewers’ diaries, the Dublin Porter was inspired by the golden age of porter in the 1800s. This was a time when porter was the working man’s beer and after a long day’s work in Dublin or London, Guinness would have been a respected choice. The West Indies porter is based on an 1801 diary entry for the first Guinness purposely brewed to maintain its freshness, on long sea voyages to the Caribbean and beyond. To guarantee the best quality upon arrival, Guinness brewers made a porter with more hops and a higher gravity.
Here’s a look at how both of these expressions (both tasted from bottles) fare:
Guinness Dublin Porter – This drinks like a very heavily carbonated version of Guinness Stout. At under 4% alcohol, it’s a surprising session beer that gives moderate coffee and licorice notes a sizable amount of hoppy fizz. Caramel notes emerge on the finish, along with a fairly intense maltiness, but ultimately it lacks real depth. 3.8% abv. B
Guinness West Indies Porter – Guinness Foreign Extra was designed for hotter climes and remains huge in the Caribbean, where it’s high-proof, racier profile is nearly ubiquitous. This is the porterized version of that beer, which offers a bigger hops profile, again with a ton of fizziness, and a heavy, somewhat oppressive nutty/malty character on the back end. Here the coffee notes creep in just as the finish is fading. Foreign Extra is a hefty experience, and West Indies Porter has the same approach, a heavily carbonated monster that is never as refreshing as the real thing. 6% abv. B
each $3 (500ml bottles) / guinness.com
Never mind the cringeworthy name: Wicked Dolphin is a quality rum made not in the Caribbean but in Florida (Cape Coral, specifically), where it has been distilled from local sugar cane since 2012.
Wicked Dolphin makes a white rum (not reviewed here), but it’s best known for its spiced version. Below we’ve got a review of both it and Wicked Dolphin’s coconut-flavored rum below. Thoughts follow.
Wicked Dolphin Coconut Rum – Made with real coconut water. The rum offers a fairly standard nose for this style, sweet and authentically coconut, without harsh overtones. The body offers a mild departure from the expected — with the distinctly milky, creamy notes of coconut water vs. the harsher, biting notes of more widely used coconut extracts. This makes for a fairly gentle rum in a world where not a lot of nuance is the norm, fresh on the fiish, with lightly nutty notes lingering as it fades. 60 proof. A- / $23
Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced Rum – Tastes like Florida? (Gators and tourists?) Actually, the white rum is flavored with honey, oranges, and various spices — plus a bit of aged rum to round things out. Unlike most spiced rums, it is bottled at full proof. The honey notes are clear and striking both on the nose and palate, with a heavy cinnamon and clove character underneath. Initially somewhat bitter with heavy orange peel notes, it opens up over time as the citrus becomes juicier and more floral, lending the rum a somewhat soothing character. The finish offers a touch of sweetness, but it’s held in check by the more savory herbal notes. Definitely worth experimenting with in cocktails. 80 proof. B / $25
OK folks, get ready for a flood of rose reviews. They are arriving in force for what appears to be a very pink summer ahead. First up: Dark Horse, a Central Valley cheapie that sees only a seasonal release. Harmless (it’s a blend of 40% grenache, 20% barbera, 20% pinot gris, and 20% tempranillo), this affordable bottling presents a palate of strawberries, brown sugar, with a lightly earthy but largely sweet-leaning wine. Light herbal notes on the finish give it a rosemary dusting but otherwise the wine sticks to what’s tried and true.
B / $8 / darkhorsewine.com
German wines are only made for roast pork knuckles and boiled sausages with lots of kraut, right? Not so. Here’s a look at a couple of German bottlings that are down-right cool for the summer, designed for lighter fare.
2013 S.A. Prüm Luminance Dry Riesling – A lovely Mosel riesling, offering a mix of citrus and tropical character, with ample acid to back up all that fruit. I wouldn’t exactly call it “dry” — there’s plenty of juicy fruit here to give at least the impression of sweetness, and just a touch of caramel sauce particularly on the nose — but it works well as a food companion and as an aperitif on its own. A- / $15
2013 Guztler Pinot Noir Dry – Germany’s not my go-to region for great pinot (note the prominent “dry” indication on the label), but this bottling from Gutzler, in the Rheinhessen (western central Germany), isn’t half bad. Up front it offers fruit, but restrained, showing a hint of spice atop its easy cherry core. The finish has a little of that classically German, mushroomy funk, but otherwise offers a clean and food-friendly profile. B / $20
File under ???
First, some history.
Mastiha is a unique spirit made exclusively in the Mediterranean, and it is best known on the Greek island of Chios, where it has protected status. A cousin of ouzo, it is a liqueur that starts with neutral spirits and flavors that with resin from the mastiha tree, also known as the crying tree. “The resin droplets, known as mastiha tears, are left to slowly seep out of the bark and dry in the natural sunlight to form translucent golden crystals. Before the first autumn rain, when the tears are ready to be harvested, the area around the tree is cleaned, leveled, and coated in a fine white soil on which the tears fall and are gathered,” per the company that is making FOS. (The tears look a lot like demerara sugar crystals.) Additional “secret ingredients and special formulas” give FOS its ultimate character.
Presented as a moderate-proof liqueur, FOS Greek Mastiha offers a nose of pine needles, anise, and eucalyptus — making one instantly recall Greece’s infamous retsina wine. That’s not intended as a slight, for FOS tastes less like Pine-Sol and more like an evergreen-dusted lemon candy — sweet, with a lacing of, well, resin. That resin character hangs with you for quite awhile, its sweetness never quite overcome by the heavy herbal component, but rather oddly complemented by it. Like ouzo, it’s nothing I’d turn to on a regular basis, but I could see how this stuff could grow on you.
B / $32 / ambrosiagrp.com