Review: Flora Springs Ghost Winery 2013 Red Wine and 2014 Malbec


Each year, Flora Springs celebrates its supposedly haunted old stone winery with fall-released wines released under the sub-moniker of “Ghost Winery.” We received two samples of current releases from the label, just in time for Halloween.

2013 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Red Wine Napa Valley – A blend of 52% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 17% syrah, 8% petit verdot, and 3% cabernet franc. This is a dark and dense wine, enigmatic with notes that might make you think of malbec, petite sirah, or something else altogether. Turns out it’s mostly a Bordeaux-ish blend, plus some syrah, which doesn’t really come through to the finish. Instead, the dense color of the petit verdot makes the strongest impression, with violets and other florals from it and the merlot making quite a showing. This is all layered over intense blackberry notes, touched here and there with menthol and chocolate syrup. Bold and mouth-filling, it needs a decent meal to keep it from becoming overwhelming. B+ / $40

2014 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Malbec Napa Valley – 100% malbec. An initially fruitier style of malbec, lightly floral but studded with blackberry and blueberry notes. The finish offers hints of tobacco, cloves, and licorice — it’s quite dry, which makes for an interesting counterpoint to the slightly sweeter attack. It’s atypical for a malbec but intriguing nonetheless, food friendly but also worth exploring as a solo experience. B+ / $55

Review: Bar Keep Bitters


Greenbar Distillery doesn’t just make vodka, whiskey, and a very cool liqueur, it also makes bitters, all of which are organic and bottled at 48% abv. Each was made in conjunction with a different bartender (or two), part of a series of bitters-designing competitions the company has sponsored for several years. Here’s a look at five of the company’s (many) bitter offerings.

Bar Keep Apple Bitters – Solid apple flavor, with a healthy grating of cinnamon on top. It fades away fairly quickly into a more general bitterness, taking the fruit character with it. B+

Bar Keep Lavender Bitters – Finally, some bitters you can use in your spa! Floral notes like this can be overpowering, but if you can find a cocktail where you want a pop of lavender, you’ve got a wholly credible candidate here. B

Bar Keep Fennel Bitters – A really like the licorice kick on this one, and it’s got quite a bit of cayenne spice to back it up. Don’t want to bother with an absinthe rinse? Try a drop of these bitters… but be careful with the quantity. A little goes a long way. A-

Bar Keep Saffron Bitters – Subtle flavors here, but they linger for quite a while. A little saffron always goes a long way, and in a cocktail it can be hit or miss. A tricky product with a distinctive flavor. B

Bar Keep Chinese Bitters – Inspired by Chinese five spice blend, but heavy on cloves, with a bit of cinnamon and anise. The more I toy with it, the more I like it, particularly the lingering but relatively mild finish. A-

each $13 per 8 oz bottle /

Review: Courvoisier VS, VSOP, and XO Cognac



Courvoisier is revamping the packaging of its VS, VSOP, and XO expressions, with the VSOP getting the biggest switch, moving from its old, iconic, and unwieldy bottle design (called the Josephine) to a more stylish, modern look (see above). Changes to the VS and XO aren’t as extreme. We took the opportunity to review all of the above in their latest incarnations. Thoughts follow.


All are 80 proof.

Courvoisier VS Cognac – Aged from three to seven years old. A fairly garden variety Cognac, this VS is a showcase of caramel and vanilla, with just a hint of apple and raisin fruit bubbling up toward the back end. Easy to enjoy, but difficult to truly love, it’s fine for a sidecar but just doesn’t have enough going on to merit serious attention. The finish sees some more raw, ethyl alcohol notes pushing through, as well. B- / $31

Courvoisier VSOP Cognac – No specific aging information supplied, but reportedly under 10 years old. Bolder and a bit tannic, it’s a little rough at first, but eventually it settles into a groove that showcases raisins, chocolate, caramel sauce, and heavy baking spices — maybe a bit too much, as the cloves tend to dominate before the raisiny finish makes a reprise. More exciting than the VS, but still a bit unbalanced. B / $41

Courvoisier XO Cognac – From eaux de vie 11 to 25 years old. On the nose, it’s immediately heavy on almond/marzipan notes, then dried fruits, baking spice, and toasty wood. On the palate, it’s immediately sweet with slightly winey notes, with cherry overtones — bold, but far from overwhelming, and not incredibly complex. A little menthol creeps in on the finish, along with a touch of pepper plus some vaguely soapy notes. All told it’s a perfectly credible cognac, though it doesn’t drink as particularly old or austere. I think it might be the only XO I’ve tried that I’d have no qualms about using to mix a Sidecar. B+ / $125

Review: Bache-Gabrielsen American Oak Cognac


Bache-Gabrielsen’s Hors d’Age Cognac is a favorite around Drinkhacker HQ, and so it was with great anticipation that I met its latest release: A VS Cognac that is further finished in new American oak (officially Tennessee oak) barrels for six months. (The initial aging period in French oak isn’t noted on the label, but it is 2 years.) As the label says, it’s “an innovative and bicultural product” to be sure!

If nothing else, that American oak gives the brandy a ton of color. The color of strong tea, it looks more like a whiskey than any Cognac you’ve likely encountered. Smells and tastes that way, too. On the nose, that classic, raisiny sweetness pushes through some distinct (and a little jarring) lumberyard notes, with secondary aromas of mint and orange peel.

The body is where things really start to diverge, two feet firmly planted in two diverging worlds. First there’s chewy caramel and vanilla, then raisiny sweetness shortly thereafter. A big slug of spice hits next — cloves and cinnamon, the former particularly odd in a Cognac — followed by racy cayenne and black pepper, then ample notes of raw, toasty wood. It’s this finish that will really be divisive among drinkers. Echoing the flavor of many a young bourbon, the finish builds upon a heavy wood influence that will turn off fans of more delicate brandies, but will engage drinkers who like the burlier flavors found in whiskey. As it stands here, it’s quite incongruous on the palate, a mishmash of styles that both enchants and confuses. As a fan of both Cognac and whiskey, I find it in turns appealing and off-putting — but something I’d like to keep exploring as time goes on.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 /

Review: Wild Sit Russ and Wild Docta’ Alcoholic Sodas


Two new alco-pops (that is, alco-soda-pops) from the Wild company, which produces Wild Ginger and Wild Root. Let’s explore.

Wild Sit Russ Alcoholic Citrus Soda – Sit Russ (bad name or the worst name?) An alcoholic version of Sprite, though the color is closer to Mountain Dew. The flavor of this one is surprisingly clean, without much of that weird malt beverage overtone so common in these types of drinks. Instead, it offers a fairly clear lemon-lime character (heavier on the lime) but quite sweet through and through. Carbonation is decidedly minimal; it could definitely benefit from more, and would help to mask a slightly vegetal finish. But on the whole, the simplicity of this concoction is its strength, and it makes for one of the better installments in this series. 4.5% abv. B+

Wild Docta’ Original Rock & Rye Soda – Rock and Rye? Let’s make it clear: This is a Dr. Pepper clone, right down to the maroon shading on the can. Tastes like it too, particularly on the nose, which nails the raisiny-pruny character of Dr. Pepper, pelting it with just the right amount of vanilla. As the palate evolves, however, it loses steam, fading back into simpler notes of molasses with the characteristic plum/prune more as an afterthought. Fair enough to enjoy, though! 5% abv. B

each $9 per six-pack of cans /

Tasting Riesling Two Ways: 2014 Blue Fish vs. 2015 Relax


Riesling gets a bad rap, because many drinkers associate it only with sticky-sweet wines that are suitable only for the dessert course or the cheese plate. Remember: Riesling comes in all shapes and sizes, from tooth-strippingly sweet to nearly bone dry. The two German rieslings we review below are both closer to the center of the spectrum, but both do a good job of showcasing the two faces of riesling that you’re likely to encounter today.

2014 Blue Fish Riesling Pfalz – This is on the border between dry and medium dry, a crisp and refreshing riesling that offers just the lightest hint of tropical fruit, plus a touch of lemon curd, particularly evident on the rather acidic finish. Aside from some light touches of herbs and a squeeze of tangerine, it’s a straightforward but wholly approachable wine. B+ / $10

2015 Relax Riesling Mosel – Semi-sweet, but not unpalatably so, with notes of lemon, pineapple, and fresh honey syrup. The sweetness builds on the finish, but a modest acidity helps to temper the finale, at least to a degree. Overall, it manages to be quite fresh, though squarely focused on the sweet experience. B- / $10

Review: Glenfarclas 12 Years Old, 17 Years Old, and 105 Cask Strength (2016)


Recently I looked back at my early reviews of Glenfarclas 10 and 12 year old single malts and was a bit appalled at their naivete. An upgrade was required, and I got my hands on a trio of expressions: Glenfarclas 12 Years Old, 17 Years Old, and the coveted 105 Cask Strength expression.

For those unfamiliar with this Speyside classic, Glenfarclas is all single malt, 100% sherry cask matured (using both oloroso and fino sherry barrels). Consistently underrated, it’s a distillery that’s always worth a look no matter what age you see on the bottle.

Glenfarclas 12 Years Old – Classic Speyside. On the nose, there’s lots of honey and maple notes, with a biscuity character that offers lightly buttery, grainy notes. The sherry influence is slight, offering some punch on the nose but also just a hint of orange peel on the finish, following a body that offers tastes of chocolate malt balls, lightly roasted peanuts, and some dried ginger. This is a perfect “everyday” dram — not overwhelming, but with enough nuance to merit continued exploration — and affordable. 86 proof. A- / $47

Glenfarclas 17 Years Old – There’s an immediately stronger sherry influence on the nose with this older expression, ripe with aromas of orange peel and oil which complement the underlying grain character. On the palate, the bold body kicks off with classic Glenfarclas biscuits and honey, moving from there into notes of lemon peel, gingerbread, and walnuts. Stronger sherry notes build with time in glass; the finish finds this in relative balance with the barley character. 86 proof. B+ / $70

Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength – This is a 10 year old expression of Glenfarclas bottled at 120 proof (not 105, which refers to its original proof under the old British system). The bottle and label have changed in recent years, but what’s inside seems to have stayed the same. This is a richly sherried whisky, complex with notes of Christmas spices, marzipan, honeycomb, brown butter, and ample orange peel — both on the nose and the palate. Boldly malty at its core, the whisky finds intrigue in the way it builds upon that, folding in nuts, spice, fruit, and more. Cask strength gives the whisky the level of heat and the complexity that you’d expect, which you can either embrace with both arms or, perhaps more sensibly, temper it with a healthy splash of water. (It can handle plenty.) Either way — or perhaps both ways — it’s well worth exploring. 120 proof. A- / $92