Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Whoop & Holler American Whiskey 28 Years Old

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For this ninth release in Diageo’s Orphan Barrel Project, the company has turned to George Dickel, of all places, where it has unearthed a 28 year old expression of this Tennessee classic. Produced at Cascade Hollow in Tullahoma, it is made from Dickel’s standard mash of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley, and is put through the sugar maple charcoal mellowing process that is standard for Tennessee whiskeys.

At a whopping 28 years old, Whoop & Holler is the oldest whiskey in the Orphan Barrel Project releases to date. Considering Dickel just released its own 17 year old expression (which was already starting to feel a bit tired), this makes for a fine little comparison.

Things start off promising. The nose is sweet with notes of honey, orange peel, and a touch of brown sugar. The aroma is quite fresh on the whole, surprisingly youthful considering its age.

On the palate, more surprises await. This ought to be a wood bomb, but in reality the oak is dialed down, at least at first, as if the barrel gave up everything it had to the whiskey, then just decided to take a long break. Sweetness hits before any oak elements, a light butterscotch fading into notes of pencil shavings. Hints of eucalyptus and clove emerge, but these are fleeting.

And then, like that, it’s completely gone. Whoop & Holler fades away faster than Johnny Manziel, finally unleashing more of its charcoal-laden, wood-heavy side as the finish arrives. But this finish is short and unremarkable, drying up into nothing and proving itself a tragic dead end for an otherwise promising whiskey.

Bottom line: Needs less whoop, more holler.

84 proof.

B / $175 / orphanbarrel.com

Review: Not Your Father’s Vanilla Cream Ale

not your fathers cream ale

Is the third try the charm for Small Town Brewery and its “Not Your Father’s” line of hard sodas. While its root beer is acceptable, its ginger ale fell flat. Now let’s look at its vanilla cream.

Results: This one’s roughly in the middle of the trio.

To start with, it’s aided by copious amounts of sugar. The initial rush is like a glazed donut with vanilla whipped cream liberally applied to the top of it. It’s got a bit of a root beer kick, but that sassafras essence is again compounded by sugary vanilla wafers. Bottom line: If sweet vanilla is your jam, you’ll be all over this soda.

One word of warning. Make sure to drink it ice cold and fast, for when this Vanilla Cream Ale warms up the vegetal malt liquor base really starts to show itself, ultimately becoming quite dominating on the palate. As with other sodas of this ilk, that funky, raw alcohol note is tough to shake and lingers for far too long.

4.1% abv (considerably lower in alcohol than the other two products).

B / $11 per six pack of 12 oz. bottles / smalltownbrewery.com

Review: Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company Juices and Lemonades

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Florida-based Natalie’s Orchid Island makes fresh juices and lemonades, packing them in those familiar, squared-off, plastic pint bottles. These products are “gourmet pasteurized” but contain no preservatives, and must be kept refrigerated at all times. Is upscale juice worth the splurge? We checked out six varieties of juice and lemonade. For your consideration:

Natalie’s Orange Juice – A touch sour, but otherwise this is a reasonably credible orange juice that leans a bit toward the grapefruit/lemon end of the flavor spectrum. B

Natalie’s Orange Mango Juice – Light on the mango, which gives this blend a bit of a banana character — complete with a creamier body, almost smoothie-like at times. A-

Natalie’s Orange Beet Juice – Appropriately “beety,” it tastes awfully healthy, although the intense vegetal character of the beets makes this hard to drink a full pint of. I love beets, but beet juice — even when cut with a bit of orange — remains an acquired taste. (It’s worth noting that orange juice is the first ingredient, however.) B-

Natalie’s Lemonade – Nothing to complain about here. This lemonade nails the sweet and sour balance perfectly, with a slight lean toward fresh lemon, just as it should be. A

Natalie’s Strawberry Lemonade – Well-sweetened, with a nice balance between lemon and strawberry notes. Refreshing and tart, with a slight creaminess on the finish. B+

Natalie’s Lemonade Tea – The Arnold Palmer is a simple drink, but the majority of the time it is made, it tastes like garbage. Why is this so often screwed up? Good news: Natalie’s nails it. This is just about the perfect mix of lemonade and tea, starting off with that tart lemon kick, then settling down to finish with that gentle, sweet tea that lingers on the palate. That said, there are 48 grams of sugar in a pint, so perhaps drink only occasionally. A

$NA per 16 oz. bottle / orchidislandjuice.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2016 Edition

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Here’s a quintet of whiskeys you might have heard of once or twice. Yes, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection has arrived, which will probably be sold out before I finish typing this sentence. Well, if you’re a glutton for punishment and want to take a stab at finding one of these rarities — particularly because this year’s batch is so exceptional — read on for the reviews.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Last year’s Sazerac 18 was famously bottled from the last drops of its massive quantity of well-aged rye, which had been sitting in tanks since 1985. 2016 marks the first “new” batch of Sazerac Rye in more than a decade. Distilled in 1998, there’s no tanked spirit in this batch — and, Buffalo Trace says, there won’t be any more tanked whiskey going forward. As it should, the whiskey tastes a bit different now, quite spicy on the nose with a huge baking spice punch while hanging on to its classic notes of brandied cherries, juicy raisins, and a layer of sandalwood. Some grassiness emerges on the nose, given time . The palate is racier and drier than expected, peppery on the back of the palate while allowing its cherry core to shine and light, toasty wood notes to emerge. The finish is lasting and allows some brown sugar notes to shine through, adding some balance to the lingering lumber. It may not be the same Sazzy 18, but it’s still a beauty. 90 proof. A-

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – The 2016 edition of the classic Eagle Rare 17 has been aging on the first, second and third floors of Warehouses H and K. The nose feels racier than usual, eventually settling down to reveal some surprises: exotic and heavily tropical notes of coconut and pineapple, with a healthy dollop of vanilla on top. This highly unexpected but delightful nose spills over onto the palate, which is well-sweetened to the point where it approaches rum, although that is tempered by plenty of wood later in the game. Some more toasted coconut and almond notes emerge on the back end, alongside a modest level of barrel char. It’s at once strikingly unusual and, at the same time, a classically fruit-forward bourbon that is well worth exploring. 90 proof. A

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Always the centerpiece of the BTAC yet often overblown, this year’s Stagg is a cherry-picked compilation of 142 barrels sourced from warehouses M, N, H, L and K. Old stock, high proof, as always — this one’s over 72% abv, bruising even by Stagg standards. Notes of unlit cigars, rosemary, and cloves kick things off on rich and dense yet surprisingly balanced nose. Another surprise: At full proof the bourbon doesn’t completely overwhelm the palate with alcohol, but it is so dusty and drying on that it’s tough to cut through the massive amount of tannin to really appreciate what’s going on. Water is always Stagg’s best friend, and this year is no exception, eventually coaxing sweetness from that intense tobacco character, plus cherry fruit, loads of vanilla, torched marshmallow, and more cloves. As it opens up in the glass — again, particularly with water — it develops an intensely smoky aroma, which is a natural companion with the tobacco notes but which does tend to dull the fruit and leave your mouth a bit dry. That aside, this year’s expression is quite unique and worth some exploration, nearly earning the vaunted reputation it’s always had. 144.1 proof. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – A 13 year old expression of Weller — uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon distilled in the spring of 2003 and aged on the third and sixth floors of Warehouses D, K, and L. As is becoming the norm with these BTAC Wellers, the nose is quite sweet, with (again) a butterscotch influence, plus marzipan and peppermint. The palate backs these up, but the finish takes a turn toward a more spicy, wintry character. While approachable at full, uncut proof, water may not be a bad idea, though more than a drop or two tends to dull some of the sweetness that otherwise makes this year’s Weller so compelling. One of the best expressions of W.L. Weller I’ve had in many years. 135.4 proof. A-

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – As always, this is a good-old six year old rye, the baby of the group, this installment distilled in the spring of 2010 and aged on the fourth, fifth and seventh floors of Warehouses I, K, and M. This year’s expression is better than it usually is, though the relative youth comes across immediately on the nose — moderately woody, with some butterscotch underneath. The tannin hits hard on the palate — those pushy lumberyard notes really lingering at the back of the throat. Unlike with the Stagg, water doesn’t restore balance but just dilutes the whole affair, bringing forth notes of burnt toast, heavy cereal, and lots of smoky oak. The finish is dusty and slightly green. There’s nothing all that offensive here, but compared to this field (or any other top shelf whiskey) it is just very ordinary. 126.2 proof. B

$90 each / greatbourbon.com

Review: 2015 Boen Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

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Joe Wagner is not one to shy away from bold and fruit-forward winemaking, and with his latest release, Boen, he is continuing the traditions of Belle Glos and the other wines in the Copper Cane collection.

Bold vanilla and fresh raspberry and strawberry notes lead the way into a creamy palate, uncharacteristic for pinot (even bold Russian River-style pinot) but at least drinkable and friendly on their own. Notes of tea leaf and cafe au lait add a dessert-like quality to the finish.

B / $27 / coppercane.com

Review: Mad March Hare Irish Poitin

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Mad March Hare is authentic Irish poitin, pot distilled from locally sourced malted barley and bottled without aging — a classic “white” Irish whiskey, albeit one that is festooned with imagery (and a name) drawn from the seminal work of an English writer.

Never you mind that contradiction; let’s taste what’s inside.

The nose is classic poitin — rubbery, with notes of diesel fuel, ultra-ripe fruit, and weedy vegetation. That sounds a lot worse than it is — poitin is always a monster of a spirit, a white whiskey with nothing held back, and as such it’s a bit of an acquired taste. The palate is gentler than that lead-up would indicate, with notes of fresh, sweet cereal — almost like kettle corn — plus a smattering of much more gentle fruit notes that lead to a slightly leathery finish. It’s a sweet relief from a somewhat off-putting nose, but again, such is the world of poitin.

80 proof.

B / $25 / madmarchharepoitin.com

Review: Beers of New Belgium, Late 2016 Releases

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New Belgium just doesn’t stop, and today we take a tour through eight new releases from the Colorado/North Carolina-based brewery, including two one offs and six beers that are part of its new “Collabeeration Pack,” comprising five collaborations plus the original from which they are all spun-off.

Let’s start with the sextet…

New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale – This is the original Fat Tire, included as a reference point and, one presumes, because it’s a pretty good beer. Nicely honed after many years of release, this is a malty and slightly sweet beer that eschews raw cereal notes and gumminess in favor of a clean and satisfying palate that culminates in a lightly bitter, well-rounded finish. There’s nothing too complicated here but it’s a significant step above some of the mass-produced brews out there, and good enough to conceivably recommend in its own right. 5.2% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Avery Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Wild Ale – A wild and funky take on Fat Tire, with the addition of Brettanomyces yeast. Results: Big and malty, with just a hint of sour cream-‘n’-chives character. Some lightly fruity elements hit on the finish, along with a dose of balsamic and chewy forest-like notes. Interesting, for sure, and an interesting tiptoe in the direction of wild fermentation. 6.2% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Hopworks Urban Brewery Fat Tire and Friends Fat Sour Apple Ale – A funky cross between a sour and a cider, this beer tries to thread the needle with minimal success, starting off malty and chewy, then taking an abruptly sharp turn into cidertown. The finish is sour but more akin to the kraut variety than the apple one. 5.9% abv. C+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Firestone Walker Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Hoppy Ale – Definitely West Coast IPA “inspired,” this beer finds some new territory by mixing in notes of roasted nuts and a touch of coffee with a modestly bitter backbone that offers a glimpse of the forest, though it skips the juicy citrus notes you find in a typical IPA in favor of a more straightforward, earthy character. The overall impact is surprisingly drinkable, closer in the end to a British pale ale than anything else I can describe. 6.0% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Rhinegeist Brewery Fat Tire and Friends Fat Pale Ale – This Belgian-style XPA is relatively innocuous as this series goes, offering pushy malt notes with grassy, with overtones of coffee and hazelnuts. It’s a big and chewy beer with subtle sweetness. Belgian fans will get a kick out of it. 6.0% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Allagash Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Funk Ale – A bit less funky than you might expect, considering this is a bottle-conditioned Belgian style ale that’s been treated with Brett. Lightly sour, the beer offers musty sourness, orange rind, and bubbly malt, with an earthy finish that echoes both tobacco leaf and balsamic vinegar. You’ll know from all of that whether this one is up your alley. 5.6% abv. B- 

And now, two one-offs from New Belgium…

New Belgium + Hof ten Dormaal Golden Ale – From the “Lips of Faith” series comes this collaboration with a small Belgian brewery, which has resulted in a somewhat wild, very slightly sour golden ale that offers loads of heavy, nutty malt, plus notes of fresh apple and pear, very ripe (mushy) banana, honeysuckle, and baking spices. The finish is throat-coating and a bit funky, loaded with heavy yeast notes. 7.0% abv. B

New Belgium Heavy Melon Watermelon Lime Ale – Somewhat self-explanatory, this seasonal brew shows off crisp, malty notes up front that quickly segue into fruit character — surprisingly, more lime-focused than watermelon, with overtones of honeydew and nougat. I won’t call it “girl beer” but I can’t control what other people do. (I joke, ladies, and I fully recognize you are all capable and discriminating drinkers.) 5.0% abv. B

$17 per 12-pack / newbelgium.com

Review: Elation Hemp Flavored Vodka

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Switzerland is the unlikely source for this vodka, triple distilled from wheat and rye and then flavored with hemp before being bottled. The company says it’s the “first established hemp flavored vodka (0% THC) to be sold throughout the United States,” but I’m not going to even begin to try to fact-check that. Elation admits that other hemp vodkas exist, but says its is different: “While other hemp vodkas use hemp seeds, Elation uses blossoms from the finest Swiss hemp to flavor the vodka.”

The nose certainly screams hemp, carefully riding that line between hops and skunk spray, between tobacco and salty licorice. The palate offers a touch of instant sweetness, but this is quickly chased away by the hemp notes that the nose provides. Slightly vegetal, slightly smoky, the finish reminds me of smoked kippers, iodine, and burning leaves.

It’s interesting enough to offer enough to at least merit a peek. Ultimately, I could take it or leave it — though it does offer some curious cocktailing possibilities.

80 proof.

B / $30 / elationvodka.com

Review: Peligroso Tequila Silver (2016)

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It’s a common thing in the world of tequila to release a blanco first, then wait a bit before releasing a reposado, then finally come out with an anejo to complete the lineup. Somehow, when it comes to Peligroso, we did everything all wrong. Six years we reviewed the distillery’s reposado, then followed that with an anejo in 2012. There was a liqueur released in 2013 even. Somehow we never reviewed the very start: Peligroso Silver.

Well, that’s only part of the story. The original Peligroso was bottled at 84 proof, hence the peligrosoness (danger) of the spirit. Somewhere along the way — probably when Diageo bought the brand in 2014 — the tequila was reformulated completely (including a new NOM), and it is now bottled at 80 proof. It is still a 100% agave spirit, however.

So, let’s take a fresh look at a silver tequila we never looked at to begin with and give Peligroso Silver a proper review.

Well, after all the buildup, I have to say there’s not a whole lot to get worked up about. The nose is racy, spicier than many silver tequilas I’ve experienced of late, but also quite green and vegetal, with a raw agave character to it. It’s not a bad lead-in, and at least it promises a bold flavor profile ahead.

Unfortunately, the palate just doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Up front are a whole bunch of weird notes — think green beans, creamed corn, and bubble gum. Eventually this meanders into a more traditional profile, featuring stronger, peppery agave notes and a not-insignificant amount of sugar. The finish however is quite bittersweet, with notes of pencil lead and smoldering tobacco. All of this might add up to a fair enough tequila if the body itself wasn’t so thin and watery, which makes for a rather uninteresting experience. In contrast to the bold body and bite of the original Peligroso, the new expression, at least its blanco version, is a bit of a letdown.

80 proof.

B / $32 / peligrosotequila.com

Review: 2014 Sequoia Grove Chardonnay Napa Valley

Sequoia Grove’s latest chardonnay release offers no real surprises, an oaky-buttery wine with equal emphasis on both oak and butter. This year’s offering finds some tropical and golden fig elements bubbling up late in the game (let the wine warm a bit to find more fruit in the mix), with a finish that evokes notes of brioche. That said, if vanilla and lumber-heavy notes aren’t your bag, take a pass on this one.

B / $28 / sequoiagrove.com

Tasting the Wines of Roussillon, 2016 Releases

 

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The Roussillon is France’s southernmost wine region, nestled into the wedge formed between Catalonia, Spain and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region there are dozens of sub-regions, including some well-known ones like Minervois, Corbieres,, Fitou, and Banyuls. The Roussillon is but a small part of the broader Languedoc-Roussillon region, and is often simply lumped into the sprawling Languedoc province.

This hot climate is home to both table wines and dessert wines. Rose is common here, made largely from Rhone-style grapes, as are sweet wines, including muscat (and lots of it) and the dessert wines from Banyuls, which are made much like Port with the addition of fortifying spirit, a unique process not seen elsewhere in France.

Below you’ll find reviews of four Roussillon bottlings, including two dry roses and two dessert offerings, all of which are affordable buys. Thoughts follow.

2015 Penya Rosé Côtes Catalanes – A simple rose, made from 96% grenache and 4% syrah, this wine balances heavy floral elements with lively strawberry and some citrus notes, plus a healthy smattering of dried herbs, which become heavy on the finish. The finish is quiet and lightly sweet, with hints of lavender. B / $9

2015 Domaine Lafage Miraflors Rosé Côtes du Roussillon – 50% mourvèdre, 30% grenache, and 20% grenache gris. Fragrant and balanced, this rose offers classic strawberry notes complemented by gentle florals and a touch of brown sugar. This is all layered atop a surprisingly rich body that shows off a density rarely seen in rose. A- / $15

2014 Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls Rimage – A classic, dense-ruby Banyuls made of grenache noir and carignan. Fresh red berries and tart cherries, with overtones of chocolate syrup and a surprising toasted almond-hazelnut character. Notes of hickory wood and some licorice give this a rustic character you won’t find in ruby Port, but that seems to add to the wine’s uniqueness and charm. 15.5% abv. A- / $22 (500ml)

2014 Domaine de la Coume du Roy Muscat de Rivesaltes – An extremely sweet muscat dessert wine (16% abv), it offers ample aromatics of the orange blossom variety, followed by a dense body of orange-mango-peach-apricot notes. The finish is sugary to the point of being cloying, with moderate to heavy notes of fresh, green herbs. All told, it’s a bit much to handle after a big meal. B- / $22

Review: George Dickel Distillery Reserve Collection 17 Years Old

 

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Who doesn’t love a good backstory on a whiskey? Here’s how Tennessee’s George Dickel positions this new 17 year old limited edition release, which is available only at Dickel’s visitor’s center and at a few Tennessee retailers.

When Distiller Allisa Henley first discovered George Dickel Tennessee Whisky’s newest 17-Year Old addition to the portfolio, she wasn’t really even looking for it.  At the time, she was searching George Dickel’s single story barrel warehouses for 9-Year Old whisky to use in the Hand Selected Barrel Program she’d launched in 2014.  However, after pulling a sample from a row of 17-Year Old barrels near the back of one of the warehouses, she knew it was too good not to share as the extra time in the barrel had resulted in a perfectly balanced, flavorful sipping whisky.

The whiskey is made from Dickel’s standard mash — 84 percent corn, 8 percent rye and 8 percent malted barley. Its only real difference it sees vs. No. 8 and No. 12 is its time in barrel.

Let’s sample what’s in the bottle.

The nose offers some curious aromas: Old wood, scorched mint, and clove-studded oranges. There’s vanilla sweetness deep down in there, but it’s underneath a thick layer of austerity. On the palate, sweet butterscotch and maple syrup quickly emerge; exposure to air dulls things fast, leaving behind heavy notes of leather, peppercorns, and burnt newspaper. The wood is intense from the start, and this gets stronger as the palate and the finish develop, to the point where it becomes nearly overwhelming.

Old bourbon can be dicey, either soulful and supple or overblown with too much wood. Dickel 17 isn’t quite a bust in the latter category, but it’s definitely getting there. On the plus side: At least Dickel pulled it out of barrel when it did. A few more months and one feels this would have been too far gone to drink.

87 proof.

B / $75 (375ml) / georgedickel.com