Review: Coopers’ Craft Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Coopers Craft bottle

Brown-Forman, maker of Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve, and Old Forester, has released its first new bourbon brand in 20 years: Coopers’ Craft.

There’s a lot of confusing information out there about Coopers’ Craft, so let’s try to clear it all up.

First, note that the whiskey’s name is Coopers’ Craft, not Cooper’s Craft. The whiskey is designed to “celebrate barrel-making and recognize the importance of wood” — coopers being barrel-makers. It was not crafted by a guy named Cooper. That apostrophe makes all the difference, and it’s going to be wrong every time you see it on a whiskey menu.

As Brown-Forman notes, “In addition to being matured in barrels raised by master coopers at the Brown-Forman Cooperage, Coopers’ Craft is crafted using a special beech and birch charcoal filter finishing process, creating a smooth and flavorful bourbon.” There’s some mention of a special wood toasting process with this whiskey, though it isn’t elaborated upon. As well, charcoal filtration is famously a big part of Tennessee Whiskey (though sugar maple is the preferred wood), but I don’t have statistics on how many non-Tennessee whiskeymakers are using it. I’ve read charcoal isn’t uncommon in Kentucky, even though few distilleries brag about it for fear of being compared to Jack. The use of beech and birch wood likely don’t add any significant flavor on their own.

It’s also been written that Coopers’ Craft is “lower proof.” Lower than Woodford Reserve, yes, but higher than JD, it turns out. At 82.2 proof, Coopers’ is largely in line with standard-grade bourbon.

What do we not know about Coopers’ Craft? Not the mash — which is said to be unique to this whiskey in the Brown-Forman stable — and nothing about the aging time (though I’ve read it’s a 4- to 6-year-old bourbon).

Well, how about the big question: How does it taste? Let me tell you.

The nose is quite sweet, distinctly fruity, with a strong but not overpowering wood component. Aromas of apricot and orange peel are evident, along with a touch of peach.

On the tongue, the whiskey is gentle, again showcasing bright fruit notes loaded with citrus and stone fruits. The barrel char creeps up as the initial attack fades, giving the spirit a chewy, though not overwhelmingly woody, character. Rather, the bourbon pumps up its vanilla notes and even offers a bit of licorice candy before finishing with notes of light baking spice, particularly a lingering cinnamon-sugar character.

Brown-Forman master distiller Chris Morris knows what he’s doing, and Coopers’ Craft is a solid product at an attractive price. It’s considerably different than the other mainstream brands in the Brown-Forman stable, and while it lacks in the complexity you might want for a sipper, it’s an easy choice to mix cocktails and for the occasional shot-on-a-budget.

82.2 proof.

B+ / $29 / brown-forman.com

Review: Kooper Family 100% Rye

KF_bottle

Kooper Family Rye is a single-grain, 100% organic rye whiskey made by a small, family operation located in Dripping Springs, Texas — a small town near Austin. This distillate itself is actually sourced from Koval in Chicago. It is shipped unaged to Kooper, after which it spends two years in white oak barrels from Missouri treated with a #3 alligator char.

On the nose the whiskey is a bit hot, grain-forward but engaging, with notes of black pepper, cayenne, fresh ginger, and menthol. On the palate the vanilla and spice from the wood hit first with a quick rush of flavor, followed by notes of orange peel, some raisin, intense mint, licorice, and quite strong pepper notes. Anyone looking for the trademark “spiciness” of rye whiskey need look no further — Kooper has all you could want and more. At the same time, there’s ample sweetness to balance things out — though in the final analysis, it’s the spice that ultimately rules the day (and the palate).

The finish is a bit astringent, but cleansing and still engaging. There’s no doubt that Kooper Family Rye is young — very young, to be sure — but it’s a fun entree into the world of craft distilling, made (or at least aged) by people who obviously know what they’re doing.

80 proof.

B+ / $43 / kooperfamily.com

Review: Barrell Bourbon Batch 6 and 7

barrell 6

Two new releases from our friends at Kentucky’s Barrell Bourbon, which take a variety of sourced whiskeys and release them at cask strength, one (often wildly different) batch at a time.

Batch 6 and 7 are here, as are our thoughts.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 006 – A close sibling to Batch 5, this is 70% corn, 26% rye, 4% malted barley, distilled in Tennessee, aged 8 years, 6 months — “low in the rickhouse.” Big and blazing up front, it’s got an overload of baking spices, and plenty of barrel char influence. Big rye notes attack the body, which is heavily herbal but also showcases scorched caramel notes. As with its predecessor, water helps a lot, which helps to coax out fruit while taking all that wood in the direction of buttered popcorn. Racy and spicy through and through, it’s a classic rye-forward bourbon that fans of big whiskeys will enjoy, though it never quite cuts all the way through the hefty wood character. Compare to the more well-rounded Batch 5 if you can. Reviewed: Bottle #1864. 122.9 proof. B+ / $80

Barrell Bourbon Batch 007 – This bourbon is made in Tennessee from 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley, and is aged just 5 years in #4 char oak barrels — putting this batch alongside the almost identical Bourbon Batch 1. I was promised ahead of time that this bourbon was “wise beyond its years,” and the nose comes across as a bold, relatively well-aged expression, with notes of butterscotch and heavy wood char. The body is more youthful than that would indicate, fairly heavy with popcorn and mushroom notes on the body. Water offers some improvements by coaxing out ample sweetness and balancing the affair, but it’s ultimately a bit short on nuance. Reviewed: Bottle #5446. 122.4 proof. B / $80  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

barrellbourbon.com

Classic Book Reviews: The Home Bartender’s Guide and Song Book, American Bar, and Louis’ Mixed Drinks

song book

Old timey cocktails are back, and so are old timey cocktail books. While cheap paperback reprints have been rampant in recent years, now these out of print tomes (originals can run up to $700 on Amazon) are being remade with fancy hardcovers and all the original detailing intact.

Here’s a look at three, all recently republished by Cocktail Kingdom.

Originally published in 1930 (in the thick of Prohibition, it should be noted), The Home Bartender’s Guide and Song Book is a true classic of the home bar, one which melds cocktail recipes with, yes, drinking songs. As a look back in time, it’s fun to marvel at both the archaic recipes (martinis are made with bitters!) and the impressive drinking shanties, which presumably you were meant to sing when at a cocktail party:

Host, please do your duty,
Give us each a drink,
Just a little drink,
Just a little drink,
Just a little drink or two.

What tune you were supposed to sing these songs to is not revealed, but it probably doesn’t matter when you’ve had a Shameless Hussy, White Satin Cocktail, or Shaluta! cocktail or three. (To make a Shaluta!: One part “Dago Red,” one part gin, one part lemon juice, “handle any way you like.”) Mmmm.

It’s doubtful anyone will actually make cocktails using this book, but it’s a fun trip to the past nonetheless, complete with period typefaces, line drawings, and, of course, ample — yet subtle — racism. B+ / $28

Louis’ Mixed Drinks, originally published in 1906, was ahead of its time in offering recipes for bottled cocktails (pre-mix and keep ’em on hand!). Other cocktails included are era-appropriate, including 12-layer Pousse Cafes and plenty of fizzes, flips, and cobblers. Author Louis Muckensturm also was a bit of a wine fan, and if you need overviews of vintages from 1880 to 1905, he’s got you covered. This book is a bit less enchanting than The Home Bartender’s Guide (and harder to read owing to the elongated, narrow format) but, as with all of these tomes, a fun glance backwards at, you know, simpler times. B / $28

American Bar, from 1904,  is entirely in French, so you’ll need to bring your translator to bear on this one. No rating / $28

cocktailkingdom.com

Review: Stonecutter Spirits Single Barrel Gin

stonecutter ginStonecutter Spirits is based in Middlebury, Vermont, and this is the company’s signature product, a gin matured in former bourbon barrels. The botanical bill, source of the barrels, and length of aging isn’t revealed — aside from the note that juniper, orange peel, and cardamom are used (which doesn’t tell us a whole lot).

Stonecutter’s nose is promptly in line with other aged gins, moderate to heavily herbal but laced with considerable and sweet vanilla notes. The palate kicks things off with a healthy juniper and bittersweet citrus peel slug — heavier than you get from a typical aged gin — before jumping into some more exotic and odd flavors, including coconut, pineapple, and lingering vanilla notes. The finish is herbal and racy with red pepper, tempered with notes of cocoa powder and bubble gum.

While I don’t suspect any oddball botanicals are used in the production of Stonecutter, as the description above might indicate, this aged gin ultimately comes across as a bit scattered. That said, it’s quite charming in its own right, and would make a good addition to basic mixers. I’m thinking ginger beer?

90 proof. Available in Vermont.

B+ / $55 / stonecutterspirits.com

Review: Beers of New Belgium, 2016 Releases

new belgium Citradelic_12oz_Bottle.pgA monster collection of seasonals, limiteds, sours — and two gluten-reduced bottlings — from Fort Collins, CO and Asheville, NC-based New Belgium. Let’s dig right in.

New Belgium Side Trip Belgian Style Pale Ale – A modernized Belgian ale, made (in America) with Belgian malts, hops, and yeast. Bready and malty up front, the initial sweetness fades to reveal notes of coffee, cinnamon strudel, and caramel, with a slightly earthy finish. Mildly hoppy, and best when it’s nice and cold. 6% abv. B / $7 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Hoppy Blonde Ale – Blonde ale dry-hopped with Mosaic, UK Admiral, and Centennial hops — the results being a bit strange indeed. On the tongue, it kicks off with plenty of drying bitterness, but as that initial rush starts to fade, the rest of the brew doesn’t keep up. The finish is a little vegetal and mushroomy, with a rough and rustic character to it. 5.7% abv. B- / $10 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Citradelic Tangerine IPA – IPA brewed with Citra hops and tangerine peel, plus hop oddities Mandarina Bavaria, Azzaca, and Galaxy. Results: Surprisingly un-tangerine like. The fruit doesn’t run to either peel or pulp here, instead offering notes of caramel and baked bread, along with modest hops. Surprisingly plain-spoken with almost none of the citrus I was expecting. 6% abv. B- / $10 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Glutiny Pale Ale – Crafted to remove gluten, not gluten-free, mind you. You wouldn’t know anything’s up from the body, which is mildly hoppy and offers some citrus sweetness along with a little herbal kick. The finish is more bitter than you’d expect from its 30 IBUs, but it’s otherwise fresh and pretty clean. On the whole, it tastes like it could be any mild pale ale out there — perfect for the ball game, methinks. 6% abv. B+ / $9 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Glutiny Golden Ale – The traditional maltiness of a golden ale is dulled in this gluten-reduced version of the same, giving it an earthy and muddy character. Some nuttiness adds a little bit of intrigue, but mostly this is just too dull of a drinking experience to merit any excitement. 5.2% abv. B- / $9 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Lips of Faith Transatlantique Kriek 2016 – A collaborative brew with Oud Beersel, this is a blend of Belgian cherry-spiked lambic, New Belgium golden ale, along with its wood-aged sour. All blended up, it makes for a sour that’s relatively clean, the pure cherry essence hard to shake, starting off like a fresh cherry soda that fades to a somewhat malty character by the finish. Fairly fresh and inviting, it’s a bit of a starter sour but worth a look whether you’re into this style of beer or not. 7% abv. B+ / $15 (22 oz.)

New Belgium Lips of Faith La Folie Sour Brown Ale 2016 – Intensely sour, with strong cherry and plum notes. Quite zippy at first, it’s a bit overwhelming in short order, mouth puckering at first and grimace-inducing on the somewhat funky, vegetal back end. Some nutty character midway along adds nuance — as well as an echo of walnut. Sourheads will probably dig it, but it’s too far down that road for my palate. 7% abv. B- / $15 (22 oz.)

newbelgium.com

Review: Samuel Adams Spring 2016 Releases

sam adams rev_noble_bottle (2)Seven new releases from our friends at the Boston Beer Company, including a number of Brewmaster’s Collection releases and two additions to the Rebel IPA group.

Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Crystal Pale Ale – An pale ale made with Crystal hops, fairly representative of the style. Rather earthy up front, this hoppy brew offers notes of mushroom, leather, and dried herbs, without any of the evergreen notes you see in west coast style IPAs. Rather, the finish heads into a slightly sweet and malty character, with a touch of juicy orange. Simple, but quite drinkable. 5.3% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Noble Pils – A classically-structured Czech pilsener, made with all five varieties of Noble hops. This takes that golden, malty character you expect from a pils and punches up the bitterness quotient, though it feels far from overblown hop bomb, instead offering lightly floral notes, some grassiness, and a slight touch of citrus on the otherwise malty finish. 4.9% abv. B

Samuel Adams Escape Route – An unfiltered kolsch, this beer offers a bold attack with a healthy slug of malt, plus notes of lemon juice, wet earth, and some vegetal character that endures on the finish. A fair enough example of the style, offering solid (if uninspiring) refreshment. 5% abv.  B

Samuel Adams Session Ale – A lower-alcohol Extra Special Bitter (note the fine print), malty and hoppy and decently balanced between the two. The beer showcases a fairly strong nutty character that grows on the palate as you drink it. The finish culminates with a superfine level of fizz on the tongue, which feels almost soda-like at times. Overall, however, the beer is fully drinkable, but ultimately quite harmless.  5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Scotch Ale – A fairly typical brown ale, heavily nutty, malty, and slightly raisiny on the back end. The finish leaves behind a smokiness that catches in the back of the throat. It’s not a style I typically gravitate to, but should a cold snap hit this season, it’s worth a look. 5.5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA – Grapefruit peel and juice give this IPA a nice burst of citrus, but almost in passing. The fruit can sometimes get lost amidst the sizable amount of hops in the beer, but on the whole the IPA feels balanced and eminently drinkable, elevating the experience the way a squeeze of lime in your Pacifico can give a little something extra to it. My only complaint: The finish comes across as a touch muddy. 6.3% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Rebel Cascade IPA – IPA made with Cascade hops, big and west coasty. This is a bold and very citrus-forward IPA, with ample bracing bitterness riding high on the back end. Juicy and lush, it’s a great example of the IPA style without feeling like it was hopped to within an inch of its life. 7.3% abv. A

each about $8 per six-pack samueladams.com