Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Editions Six and Seven

ECBPThe barrel proof expressions of Elijah Craig have certainly cultivated a cult following in its own rite over the past few years. With proofs varying in all sorts of dimensions throughout the series, we figured it was time to take the most recent pair for a test drive.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Edition Six – Each release in the series is 12 years of age, but you certainly wouldn’t know it by the heat of this monster. At 140.2 proof, we’re entering Stagg territories of alcohol content, and boy does it show. Mike Tyson-like punches of wood on the nose with a bit of mint, and the body is all oak, toffee, and pepper. Perfect winter snowstorm drinking, even taking it down a notch with a splash of water. A- / $65

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Edition Seven – A sharp contrast to round six, this weighs in at 128 proof and is by far the runt of the proof litter (most have been firmly in the middle 130s). However, this cut in proof shows just how beautiful and versatile ECBP can get when the heat gets turned down a bit. Lots of vanilla sweetness balanced with some dark fruit and oak on the taste. A little bit of burnt char on the body and it finishes with a fruit and spice after taste and a nice lingering burn. Definitely not the best of the bunch, but far from the worst either. B+ / $65

heavenhill.com

Review: Chivas Regal Extra

Chivas Extra

Chivas? Yes, Chivas! And the brand is back with its first new blend in the U.S. in eight years: Chivas Extra.

Extra is made from Chivas’s collection of traditional malts and grain whiskies — including Strathisla single malt — that is finished in Oloroso sherry casks. The resulting spirit, positioned as a step up from the $25 Chivas 12 Year Old, is a surprisingly fun expression of Chivas Regal, distancing itself from the brand’s austere image through the use of the wine barrel finishing. (That said, Extra is bottled with no age statement.)

On the nose, it’s a bit hard to parse at first: It’s woody, with notes of brown butter, baked apples, tangerines, graham crackers, a little Mexican chocolate, and ample malt. The nose ultimately congeals all of this into a bit more cohesive experience, starting with huge cereal notes then layering on notes of sugary tinned fruit, (very) ripe banana, sandalwood, and a bit of cinnamon. The body isn’t heavy or oily, but it does have a chewiness that gives it an interesting grip on the palate. All told, it’s a solid blend, and something worth sipping on at least once if for no other reason than to remind yourself that Chivas is still hard at work.

Available now in major U.S. metros. Expanding to the rest of the U.S. later this year.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / chivas.com

Review: Beers Of West Sixth Brewing

When most drinkers think of Kentucky, bourbon is usually the first word to roll off the tongue. However, the Bluegrass state has quietly enjoyed the emergence of several quality microbreweries over the last few years. In the first of what I hope to be a series, I’ll be traveling through my old Kentucky home to sample what’s happening on the beer scene. First up is West Sixth. The subject of a somewhat comical lawsuit from Magic Hat, West Sixth Brewery has been making some interesting beers in its three years of existence, with several offerings in the development stage that could bring more national attention. Distribution has been limited regionally, but they’re looking to expand later this year. We figured it was a good time to check out the core lineup, as well as a special brew exclusive to its home base bar.

West Sixth Brewing India Pale Ale (IPA) – The inaugural offering from the brewery and the one that spawned the Magic Hat lawsuit, this earthy offering has hints of pine, grass, lemon and some citrus on the back end. A bit of malt comes through at the finish. 7% abv. B+ / $10 (per six-pack)

AmberWest Sixth Brewing Amber Ale –  This is a mildly malted Amber Ale that is big and crisp on rye with a bit of chewiness. A very sharp and savory finish makes it immediately enjoyable and tough to put down. 5.5% abv. A- / $10 (per six-pack)

West Sixth Brewing Lemongrass American Wheat – Like Bell’s Oberon this is a citrus-heavy wheat beer that is incredibly sharp on first taste, but mellows with subsequent sips. Not really sure where the lemongrass is, as the bitter lemon just dominates from start to finish. B- / $10 (per six-pack)

porter-8-300x200West Sixth Brewing Pay It Forward Cocoa Porter – Chocolate mania with a hints of coffee, and the deep winter sibling to Lemongrass American Wheat’s summer overtones. Marketing mythology says that the brewmasters add about 50 to 60 pounds of cocoa nibs per batch — each making around 35 to 40 barrels. After one sip I’m certainly inclined to take this assessment as truth. One of the best of the year round offerings, and a portion of each sale goes to benefit a local charity. 7% abv. B+ / $11 (per six-pack)

West Sixth Brewing Christmas Ale – A beautiful seasonal release, this is a brilliant mix of your typical Christmas beer fare: cinnamon, nutmeg, a dash of ginger all dancing around with some citrus and cloves for good measure. Incredibly well balanced, and I wish it was available year round. 9% abv. A- / $18 (per six-pack)

BelgianWest Sixth Brewing Belgian Style Blonde – This one was just released this past week, and it was a pleasant surprise to discover this while in the midst of sampling the other releases. Very much in the traditional Belgian form, this is quite crisp with lots of sweetness when compared to other options available, with much more emphasis on yeast than malt. A bit of pepper on the back end with an easy finish. Might be an ideal place for the newcomer to the brand to start and work their way inwards. A- / $11 (per six-pack)

Tasting: Chiantis of Ruffino, 2015 Releases

ruffinoRecently I had the chance to virtually sit down with Gabriele Tacconi, Ruffino’s chief winemaker, to hear about the launch of its “Gran Selezione,” a new, upper-echelon expression of Tuscany’s most famous wine, Chianti. Gran Selezione add’s a fourth tier to this wine region, from Chianti to Chianti Classico to Riserva to Gran Selezione.

Gran Selezione wines must spend at least 30 months aging (including 3 months in bottle), a 6 month increase over the legal standards that Riserva wines are subject to, and these wines must be sourced from 100% winery-owned vineyards.

How does Ruffino’s first “GS” stack up? We tried the full range of Ruffino’s Chianti lineup (well, all four categories of Chianti, anyway), to experience for ourselves. Thoughts follow.

2013 Ruffino Chianti DOCG – 70% sangiovese, plus a mix of other stuff. Bottled in a Burgundy-style bottle, evoking the old wicker basket bottlings. This is a simple wine but it’s far more pleasurable than you’d expect, offering a simple fruit structure (more strawberry than cherry), some touches of roasted meats, and hints of vanilla. Both lightly tannic and lightly jammy, but so simple and extremely light on its feet (and in color). B- / $6

2013 Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 20% cabernet and merlot. Some pepper on the nose, then bright cherry fruit. Lush on the body, its cherry fruit balanced by notes of bacon, roasted meats, and touches of oak-driven vanilla. There’s a simplicity to this wine, but also a depth of character that makes the non-Classico wine look a bit undercooked. B+ / $12

2011 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 20% cabernet and merlot. Somewhat jammy, with a clear cabernet influence on the tongue and some perfumed notes on the nose, driven by the merlot. Altogether it comes across quite a bit like a New World wine, fruit firmly forward, almost sweet thanks to significant oak influence, but nicely balanced and easy to enjoy. A- / $15

2010 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 10% merlot, and 10% cabernet sauvignon. Lots of similarity with the Riserva Ducale above, with lots of bold fruit up front and a finish that fades to chocolate and vanilla. There’s a nice and intricate tannin structure here, supporting blackberries, tobacco, and leathery notes. The finish tries to dial back some impressive fruitiness, but it can barely stand up to the assault. Old World, welcome to the New World. A- / $30

ruffino.com

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Casks 36.67 and 93.61

smws Cask No. 93.61Surprise, it’s two new outturns from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Thoughts follow on two current releases.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 36.67 – 9 year old Benrinnes from Speyside. Burly, with notes of wet earth and the essence of a pre-lit campfire. There’s fruit here, but it comes across a bit like a canned tropical medley, loaded with syrupy guava and pineapple notes. Water brings out all of the above, both an intense and oily oak character alongside that unctuous fruitiness. With time, things coalesce into something akin to a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, but with a curious, evergreen finish. 119.8 proof. B+ / $100

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 93.61 – 14 year old Glen Scotia from Campbeltown. An exotic mix of fire and spice, this iodine-laden whisky kicks off with supple notes of nougat and marshmallow, with hints of citrus and banana. The fire and smoke kick up then, starting with simple peat and pushing into some fishy, kippery notes. Iodine blends with some syrupy notes on the back end, leading to a dry and dusty finish. Some balance issues on the whole, but it’s not without some charms. Much more approachable with water. Compare to 93.47, which we reviewed last year. 116.6 proof. B / $135

smwsa.com

Tasting Comparison: Orange Bitters

regans bitters

After aromatic bitters, orange bitters are easily the most commonly called-for bittering agents in cocktails today. There’s also a huge variety of bitters available on the market. Are they any different? Which is best? I put three big bitters brands — there are plenty more, but these are all I had on hand — to the test to see which ones really made the cut.

Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6 – A 1990s recreation of Charles Baker’s orange bitters recipe, brought to you by Gary Regan and the Sazerac Company. Tangerine notes on the nose, with clear notes of cardamom and clove-like character on the back end. Orange enough, but with a bracing, Fernet-like bitterness that really lingers. The choice for drinkers looking primarily for a big, bitter punch. 45% abv. A- / $16 per 5 oz. bottle [BUY IT NOW]

Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters – Lighter in color, much sweeter, but more orange-focused than Regan’s, offering sweet tangerine notes up front that fade into cinnamon and clove notes. Quite a bit sweeter than other brands, with an almost candylike edge to them — but I like the way they impart a clear orange character (along with mild bitterness to a cocktail). I like these in punches and other party drinks and probably use them the most. Abv not disclosed. A- / $12 per 4 oz. bottle [BUY IT NOW]

The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters – Interesting nose — light on orange and heavy on notes of coffee, roasted/smoked meat, ginger, and other savory elements. The body is a nice mix of citrus and more savory elements, but they aren’t overwhelmingly bitter. The smoky element is curious, but a bit at odds with the typical usage of orange bitters. 39% abv. B+ / $27 per 200ml bottle [BUY IT NOW]

Bottom line: I prefer Regans’ in more savory cocktails (as in Manhattan variants and other whiskey cocktails) and Fee Brothers in sweeter, fruitier, and simpler ones (like the Casino or an old-school Martini).

Review: 2011 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder

nullMt. Brave isn’t called that because they think the name is cute. It’s because the fruit for this wine is grown at high altitudes on the dedicedly inhospitable Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley, California.

This 2011 Cabernet (94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc) is the picture of restraint. The nose is very mild, with notes of blackberry, tea leaf, mushroom, and cedar — but in the distance, not punching at your nostrils like so many bolder, Napa-born cabernets. The body doesn’t immediate run any specific direction. It’s light and lively, almost to the point of feeling watery, again a big surprise given the usual trajectory for this type of wine.

Instead, look for notes of simple red fruits, vanilla, and a touch of fresh herbal character. Again, this is all very simplistic and a tad underdeveloped, which means it drinks easily enough, but lacks the depth that a wine of this stature should have.

B+ / $75 / mtbravewines.com

Tasting 2015 Bruichladdich Releases with Distiller Jim McEwan

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Since Bruichladdich was reopened in 2001, just one man has been running the stills: Jim McEwan. A veteran from Bowmore (where he began working as a cooper at age 15), McEwan has overseen some 300 different bottlings of Bruichladdich during its wild first decade (and change) of production. When Remy Cointreau famously bought Bruichladdich in 2012, the distillery’s notoriously scattershot inventory was reined in, with the company focusing on a more targeted and more closely curated range of expressions.

I sat down with McEwan in San Francisco to taste through eight current and upcoming releases, and one thing was made clear. You might be able to tame the number of SKUs that Bruichladdich is churning out, but you’ll never get rid of the distiller’s sense of adventure and experimentation. Case in point: His next trick involves 100 tons of barley given to farms in eight regions within Scotland, which has now been turned into whiskey and is aging in identical barrels on Islay. The results, when these spirits are matured and released in 2018, will demonstrate exactly how terroir impacts malt whiskey.

Until then, here are some brief thoughts on a guided (but unfortunately short) tour through eight of Bruichladdich’s finest current-release spirits follow.

The Botanist Gin – McEwan’s baby. A traditional, classic dry gin with a twist. Distilled from neutral alcohol and studded with 22 botanicals. Still a gorgeous, supple spirit. Recently repackaged. A

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley The Classic Laddie – This is a 7 year old version of the beloved Laddie Ten (which you’ll see again in, well, 3 years). Made from barley grown all over Scotland. 25% aged in sherry casks. Rich and honeyed, with a significant sherry influence. Big mouthfeel, big bite on the finish. A-

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2007 – Made exclusively from Islay-grown barley, the first such barley grown on the island since World War I. Not peated, but it offers salt and maritime notes, a lot of malt character, and a touch of iodine. A great dram. A

Bruichladdich Black Art 1990 4.1 23 Years Old – McEwan is a bit smug about Black Art, which is a well-aged whisky made from mysterious sources — involving a huge variety of barrel types of which McEwan will say nothing. It’s intended to “intrigue the consumer” and is a bottling McEwan says was made as “a protest” to the bullshit stories that distilleries are so fond of peppering their back labels with. Black Art hasn’t always been a favorite of mine, but 4.1 is drinking with a better balance, with nice chewiness and plenty of wine barrel influence to it. B+

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley – The first of two PC releases tasted today, this peaty dram sees some wine cask aging, which gives it so much fruit it almost goes toe to toe with the peat. Same deal as above; this is made from Scotland-only barley, from all over the country. B+

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Barley – Made only from the Islay barley mentioned above. This is a brand new release that also sees some wine casks for aging. It’s a searing whisky with lots of peat and seaweed in the mix. Nice balance. B+

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1 – Classic Octomore, ultrapeated to 157ppm, which gives it a dense smokiness and a barbecue-like sweetness out back. I’ve grown used to Octomore, but compared to 6.3 (see below) it’s a bit of a bore… 14 proof. B+

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.3 – In the nomenclature of Bruichladdich, .1 bottlings are global releases, .2 are for travel retail, and .3 denotes whisky made from Islay barley. This is the first .3 Octomore, and it’s easily the best rendition of this spirit ever. Peated to an absurd 245ppm — the most heavily peated whisky ever released by a mile — this 5 year old spirit (bottled in a frosted bottle instead of the usual black) is remarkably gentle on its own despite bottling at 128 proof. Some floral elements emerge along with vanilla, and it isn’t until you add a substantial amount of water that the peat really starts to kick up. Even then, it’s well integrated, balanced, and just lovely to sip on. Available April 2015 for about $225 (good luck). A+

bruichladdich.com

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Review: Riedel Veritas Champagne Wine Glass

Riedel Veritas Champagne_White_With_WineRiedel’s latest high-end glass looks like a stretched-out white wine glass, but it’s designed for Champagne. Towering at nearly 9 1/2 inches tall, this monster doesn’t resemble any vessel I’ve consumed Champagne from, but let’s try anyway. A traditional flute is designed to minimize bubble production while you’re drinking, and most of the time it takes real effort to get your nose down into the glass. With the new Riedel Veritas, that’s not the case. The wider mouth easily envelops your entire nose, which can lead to a bit of the pummeling of the senses when you’re dealing with a particularly bubbly bubbly. I’m not a big fan of the noseful of yeast effect and prefer a flute from this standpoint, but your mileage may vary.

From a flavor perspective, the glass works very well. Flavor notes are rich and the palate carries through with brightness and intensity. Compared to my day-to-day flutes, I found it easier to get just the right amount of wine in my mouth for a proper experience — and the wine stayed surprisingly well-chilled throughout the experience.

That said, this glass is so delicate and the stem so wafer thin I can’t imagine a pair of these making it through a year of even casual use without being destroyed.

B+ / $60 per pair / riedelusa.net  [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Sixteen

This is it! The end! The last 12 bottles in the unfathomably ambitious Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project have arrived. I’ll be offering some in-depth coverage of the lessons learned from the project in the months to come — more on this later — but for now it’s time to consider this last dozen whiskeys on their own merits. Meanwhile, hats off and glasses raised to Buffalo Trace for putting on such an impressive and — likely — industry-shaping experiment.

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s the entire Single Oak Project:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven
Round Twelve
Round Thirteen
Round Fourteen
Round Fifteen

This final round is a mixed bag of basically the leftovers in the project. The only constants are stave seasoning (6 months) and barrel char level (#4). Everything else — recipe, entry proof, wood grain, warehouse type, and tree cut varies. As always, all expressions are bottled at 90 proof.

There are no major standouts in this round, but there’s plenty of intrigue in the mix. As for the field as a whole, barrel #82 remains the fan favorite among all the bourbons released to date, with #109 and #111 close behind.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #7 – A melange of aromas here, but heavy on the mint. The body has more of a chocolate mint character to it, but some racy heat and a slightly odd oatmeal character underpins the finish. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 15 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #20 – Well-rounded, with touches of cinnamon atop some traditional, lumber-heavy notes. The body heads strongly into sawdust territory, with some citrus notes on the back end. Fine, but undistinguished. B (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #39 – Gentle nose, heavier on lumberyard notes than anything else. There’s some cola amidst the vanilla caramel notes and a touch of citrus oil on the very back end, but otherwise this bourbon comes off with a bit of a thud. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 18 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #52 – A racier expression on the nose, with peppery notes and some cereal character behind that, but it settles into a creamy caramel character as the body takes hold. Quite a pleasure, with two faces to consider. A- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 18 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #71 – A little raw on the nose, this whiskey seems like it will be a fire bomb on the palate, but that’s not the case for the most part. Caramel, cinnamon, and red hots candies are all in the mix, and working well together. The finish is a bit hot, with some rougher granary notes dominating. B- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 13 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #84 – Engaging from the start, a little minty, with a little butterscotch character to it. Lovely and dessert-like on the palate, with an echo of that mint on the finish. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #103 – A fireside whiskey, almost smoky at times. The palate’s a little thin, but it does offer some red fruit and curious berry notes to spice up the vanilla and lumberyard notes on the body. Particularly fruity on the finish. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 13 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #116 – Chewy with cereal, but layered with menthol notes. Rounded on the palate, it’s got fruitcake and nutty elements that fade with the arrival of a more grain alcohol character on the back end. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 12 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #135 – More citrus here than most of the other expressions in this round, with a bit of butterscotch to back it up. The finish is warming, and quite drying at times. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #148 – Oaky, and a bit racy. Plenty of red pepper here but the dusty, vanilla-tinged caramel that makes up the core makes it both balanced enough and worthwhile on its merits. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #168 – Plenty of lumber at first, but a unique element of hazelnuts emerges if you give this whiskey some time, a bit of Nutella character that lingers for quite awhile before some cayenne pepper notes kick back up on the back end. A little weird, but worth sampling for its uniqueness alone. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 8 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #180 – A simpler whiskey, without a lot of classic bourbon character to it. Here I get more simple lumberyard notes, some cereal, and mixed fruit, but it’s missing that vanilla slug, particularly on the rustic back end. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 10 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com