Review: Barrell Bourbon Batch 5 and Barrell Whiskey Batch 1

barrell whiskey

Turns out Barrell Bourbon, first released in 2014, wasn’t a one-off. To date the company has released six small batch Bourbon offerings, all  of which are significantly different from one another. As a trend goes, they’re getting older — significantly so, considering Batch 1 was a mere five year old baby. The last two releases have both topped eight years of age (and the labels now include a clear age statement, front and center).

In addition to Barrell Bourbon, the company has also produced its first release of Barrell Whiskey, which is a blend of 7- to 8-year-old whiskeys aged in oak, including corn, rye, and malted barley whiskeys, in unspecified proportions — with no grain whiskey added. Like all Barrell releases, this first batch of Barrell Whiskey arrives at full cask strength.

Below we take a look at two recent barrels of Barrell: Batch 5 of the Bourbon, and Batch 1 of the Whiskey. Thoughts follow.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 005 – Made from a mash of 70% corn, 26% rye, and 4% malted barley. 8 years and 3 months old. Rich and traditional on the nose, it’s a caramel-fueled, wood-heavy, and a bit of a blazer of a whiskey when nosed and sampled at cask strength. Notes of fresh herbs and a smoldering finish redolent with barrel char are prominent. Water is a major aid with this one, really helping to clarify the spicier elements that emerge as the palate takes shape. Fresh rosemary and dried sage both come into focus, making for some interesting interplay with the charred wood elements. Some eucalyptus develops with time in glass, giving it a minty finish, with chocolate overtones. Compared to Batch 1 (again, a mere five years old), it’s a considerably more austere and well-rounded bourbon, with plenty of depth to investigate. 124.7 proof. Bottle #4446. A- / $80

Barrell Whiskey Batch 001 – A blend of 7- to 8-year-old whiskeys, as noted above. Lighter in color than the Bourbon, it has a freshness to it that belies its age — lots of floral elements on an otherwise clean and lithe nose. The palate offers a similarly clean entry, a bit fruity — apples and pears — with more of those white flower notes emerging with just a bit of time. The body is light and airy, almost Canadian in structure at times with just a light smattering of flavors influencing an otherwise gentle, lightly-sweetened core. Though it’s got nearly the same alcohol level, the whiskey isn’t nearly as fiery and off-putting as the Bourbon above. It drinks quite easily at full strength and without water. In the end, the finish (finally) hints at more traditional notes of vanilla and butterscotch, but it’s a fleeting impression as the spirit fades out as rapidly as it comes on. Primarily I see this as something to consider as an alternative to white spirits in cocktailing. 122.5 proof. Bottle #3765. B+ / $62

barrellbourbon.com

Review: Fizzics Beer Tap

fizzics

The Fizzics Beer Tap is not a complicated idea: It’s basically a svelte pump that takes beer out of one container and spits it into your glass. Basically a keg tap, only you don’t need a keg. It can pour from a bottle, can, growler, or even a pitcher or another glass. Just pop it open and stick the rubber hose into your beer and it’s ready to go.

Why do you need this? Sometimes this might be a matter of simple convenience, as when pouring from an oversized growler or large format bottle which is difficult to manage. Other times you might use Fizzics just to heighten the flavors of the beer. Just like your beer will taste better if you drink it from a glass instead of a bottle, it is likely to taste better if you drink it from a Fizzics system rather than simply poured directly into a glass.

In my testing, the Fizzics system was quite effective at aerating a beer, working much like a wine or spirits aerator does, coaxing out more of the beer’s flavors while giving it a bolder head. That said, use caution: If you love a beer, Fizzics will improve its presentation. But if you don’t like a beer, Fizzics will only make those flavors that disagree with you come across even stronger. That said, Fizzics doesn’t introduce as dramatic a flavor shift as you might think — the added carbonation is much more impressive — but it does have an impact. (Note: It’s absolutely not designed for use with anything at all except beer.)

The device is simple, easy to operate and clean, and is powered by two AA batteries, which makes it convenient for positioning the system anywhere. It’s great for parties when you want to serve big bottles (and show off a little) — as long as you’re willing to pay the rather steep price of admission.

B+ / $170 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Monkey Spiced Rum

monkey rum spicedIt must happen to all of us. Zane Lamprey got so tired of drinking spirits that he figured he should just make his own. The result of that ennui with the drinking world is Monkey Rum (named for Lamprey’s stuffed monkey that is omnipresent on his televised boozing adventures), which is available in both Spiced and Coconut expressions.

We got the Spiced. The Coconut broke during shipping to Drinkhacker HQ.

Monkey gets its rum from Angostura in Trinidad, aged two to three years. It is then blended with cinnamon, vanilla, a hint of coconut, and “buttery caramelized flavors,” which I would take to mean caramel except that Monkey says that no caramel color is added to the product.

That said, Lamprey sure doesn’t lie about that buttery tasting note — right from the start, this is oily, gooey, unctuous buttered popcorn, injected with the essence of pure vanilla. Cinnamon is almost nonexistent, as the essence of melted caramels blended with pure, softened butter really takes center stage. That toasted coconut does make itself known on the finish, but otherwise stays hidden in the background.

Fans of deeply cinnamon- and clove-flavored spiced rums will find Monkey to be quite far afield. In fact, it’s a lot closer to a standard gold or aged rum than it is to Captain Morgan. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, that depends on your perspective. If you elect to drink spiced rum because of the spice, Monkey is a letdown. If you elect to drink it because of the rum, you might just be enchanted by this oddball novelty.

70 proof. No monkeys added.

B+ / $22 / monkeyrum.com

Book Review: The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual

510wyD4o16L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Dead Rabbit is a New York bar operated by Belfast natives Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry. Known for its beer and whiskey selection, this rustic place is also a cocktail mecca — and now it’s got a book to prove it.

Just flipping through The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual gives you an inkling of how much work you’re going to have to put into these cocktails. Chamomile tincture. Clementine juice. Tangerine sherbet. Roi Rene Cherry Liqueur. Nettle tea-infused Jameson Black Barrel Whiskey.

Yes, you will be spending some time creating a shopping list, infusing Everclear, and doing a lot of steeping.

The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual is not a book for the faint of heart but is clearly designed for those looking to elevate their home barcraft, create something special, or simple replicate the drink they had the other night at this establishment. You’ve got a dried tansy on hand, right?

All kidding aside, this is a thoughtful and well-crafted book of “secret recipes and barroom tales” — and what it lacks in practicality it makes up for in artistry and depth. It’s a book I’ll happily keep on the shelf and return to time and time again — even if I never actually prepare anything in its pages.

B+ / $16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Flor de Cana Rum – 7, 12, 18, and 25

Flor De Cana C18 700ml Front

Nicaragua’s best-known rum is Flor de Cana, which has grown in popularity and is available in nearly a dozen expressions now. Today we look at a full four of the distillery’s offerings, spanning the range from youngish to very old.

Update: Originally I referred to these rums as “7 Years Old” and so on instead of just “7,” and several readers commented and emailed to let me know that Flor de Cana does not actually say “years old” on the label. The bottles just show a number. I asked Flor de Cana to explain and this was the response:

Each bottle of Flor de Caña contains a unique blend of aged rums. Younger, more robust rums and older, more delicate rums, are blended to achieve a complex taste profile representative of the average age of the blend. Flor de Caña labels all of their rums with the average age of the blend.

Hopefully that clarifies the age situation (though perhaps imperfectly).

All are 80 proof.

Flor de Cana Gran Reserva 7 – This is the oldest of Flor de Cana’s “slow-aged” line, its standard lineup of seven various rums. Dense with caramel and vanilla, it’s a classic and well-aged rum, offering secondary notes of burnt butter and coffee grounds, though it’s still showing some petrol overtones held over from its youth. Woody and brambly at times, it offers some Madeira notes on the finish that offer a curious counter to the rum’s more traditional elements. B / $19

Flor de Cana Centenario 12 – This is the beginning of the “Centenarios” family, Flor de Cana’s highest-end bottlings. Centenario 12 takes things in a somewhat different direction than the Gran Reserva 7, with a punchy attack that leads to a heavy fruit character that the 7 doesn’t provide. Over-ripe banana, coconut, and a mix of cherry and apricot notes give this a kind of fruit cocktail character that sometimes finds itself at odds with the vague coffee notes that emerge over time. The finish is pulled in both directions, with some success, but also with some confusion to the palate. B+ / $30

Flor de Cana Centenario 18 – Lots of barrel influence here (I called it “smoke” in a relatively naive, early review, when this rum had a slightly different name), with more of that over-ripened fruit quickly coming up behind. Lots of tropical influence here — especially ripe, almost fermented pineapple — plus some coconut syrup notes (think Malibu). As with the 12, it doesn’t quite come together for me as it should, again showing some coffee (and perhaps black tea) character that feels at odds with all that fruit. Remarkable family resemblance to the 12 here. B+ / $40

Flor de Cana Centenario 25 – The top of the Flor de Cana line, here we see those fruit and barrel char notes giving the rum a bit of an oxidized Madeira note, a touch winey, but loaded up with caramel and some emerging chocolate notes and more of a raisiny note in lieu of some of the fresh tropical fruit notes described above. The finish loses the plot a bit, though, with a somewhat saccharine note (combined with more coffee bean character) that dulls the vibrancy that is initially so thrilling to the palate. That said, it’s definitively the expression of Flor de Cana to beat — although it may just beat your wallet into submission along the way. A- / $150

flordecana.com

Review: Starr Hill Snow Blind Doppelbock and Hopfetti Triple IPA

starr hillTwo new winter brews from the tireless innovators at Starr Hill — in two wildly different styles. Let’s dig in.

Starr Hill Snow Blind Doppelbock – A burly brown monastic-style lager, toasty at first, with lots of caramel and chocolate notes coming up behind. The beer is so dense and bold it’s a little off-putting at first, but with time (and a touch of warmth) it becomes quite charming in a winter wonderland sort of way, showcasing gentle, sweet spices alongside the toasty notes. An excellent beerhall selection; pretzels are a must. 7.7% abv. B+ / $9 per six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Starr Hill Hopfetti Triple IPA – A 16th anniversary celebration beer, featuring six types of hops (and more of them than any other Starr Hill bottling to date). IPAs don’t come much bigger than this, a syrupy, resinous, and unctuous brew that is loaded with alcohol, pine notes, and ample juicy oxidized citrus. As an IPA lover, even I find this about at the limit of my enjoyment — not because it is overly bitter (at 72 IBUs it’s almost mild in comparison to some out there) but because it is so syrupy on the palate. Is it the texture that’s throwing off maple notes or is that really a side-effect of one of these hops? The finish reminds me of carrot cake — tons of cream cheese frosting included. 10.2% abv. B+ / $10 per 22 oz. bottle

starrhill.com

Review: Nero D’Avola Wines of Sicilia DOC – Mandarossa and Morgante

ManrarossaSicily is heavily pushing the newly-launched “Sicilia DOC” label, and rightly so — it’s the place to go for wines made from Nero D’Avola grapes, as close to a official wine for this region as you’ll find.

The official group behind the Sicilia DOC sent us two current releases bearing the new AVA on the label. Thoughts follow.

2014 Mandrarossa Nero D’Avola Sicilia DOC – Heavy earth and tobacco on the nose gives one the expectation of a dark and brooding wine, but the body on this oddity is tart cherries, Jolly Ranchers, and red rope licorice. Complex in all the wrong ways, it smells exotic but drinks cheaply. C- / $10

2013 Morgante Nero D’Avola Vendemmia Sicilia DOC – Far better realized than the Mandarossa, this is a classic Nero, with dense tannins, dried herbs, and black cherry notes. As it opens up it reveals notes of cola, and the tannin on the finish smooths out with touches of chocolate. A nice and complicated little wine. B+ / $14

siciliadoc-continentedelvino.com

Review: Domaine Dupont Calvados – Fine Reserve, Vieille Reserve, Hors d’Age

Calvados Dupont Hors d'ageThese Calvados bottlings hail from the Pays d’Auge, the primary production area for the classic apple brandy in France’s Normandy region.

The company produces over a dozen different expressions of Calvados (plus cider and other beverages). Today we look at three of the more common bottlings, all on the younger side of the company’s offerings. Let’s look at each in turn. (Note: Prices tend to vary widely, so shop around.)

Domaine Dupont Calvados Fine Reserve – Aged two years in barrel, half in new oak. A bright gold brandy, it features the classic mustiness you get with young apple brandies, followed by heavy notes of baked red apples. Light baking spices emerge on the end, then a lightly woody astringency takes hold. A very simplistic expression of Calvados, it is best regarded as a mixing alternative for vodka or even gin. 80 proof. C / $30

Domaine Dupont Calvados Vieille Reserve – Aged four years in barrel, 25% in new oak. Here the Calvados is settling down nicely, throwing off some of its medicinal and astringent notes and showcasing more of its apple core. A purer apple note — fruity and slightly sweet — is evident from the nose and follows as you work into the body. On the palate, it’s both surprisingly light and floral, with just a touch of nutmeg giving it a slightly wintry edge. The tougher, more industrial notes endure on the finish, but they aren’t as overpowering as in the Fine Reserve. 84 proof. B / $50

Domaine Dupont Calvados Hors d’Age – Aged six years in barrel, 25% in new oak. Further maturation gives this Calvados more austerity, though the upgrade isn’t as immediately evident as it is with the jump from Fine to Vieille. Again fresh apples dominate, with some baking spice and particularly nutmeg offering strong secondary notes. The finish feels hotter than both of the above, not due to industrial notes but more from the clearer presence of alcohol. This leads to more of a warming and cleaner finish that lets the more pure and fresh apple character shine through. B+ / $75

calvados-dupont.com

Tasting SakeOne Imports: Hakutsuru Draft, Tanrei Junmai, Superior Junmai Ginjo, and Sho-Une Junmai Dai Ginjo

Hakutsuru Sho-Une Junmai Dai GinjoSakeOne doesn’t just make interesting sakes in its Oregon home base, it also imports them — lots of them, in fact. In May 2014, SakeOne began importing the Hakutsuru line, which is Japan’s biggest export sake. All four of these sakes come from Hakutsuru collection. Let’s dive in, reader-san!

Hakutsuru Draft Sake – Draft sake is aged for 1 month at 41 degrees Fahrenheit before bottling and is unpasteurized. Dry, fresh, and uncomplicated, this is a basic, crystal clear sake with light notes of melon and (heavier) solvent character. Overall, its uninspired entry-level stuff that I’d recommend primarily for use as a mixer. C- / $3 per 180ml bottle

Hakutsuru Tanrei Junmai – A basic junmai sake but nonetheless a step up from the Draft, featuring clearer and stronger melon character, a creamier body, and mild hospital notes on the finish. Definitely easier to sip on, this is your basic sushi bar sake, dry with just a bare hint of sweetness. B- / $4 per 180ml bottle

Hakutsuru Superior Jumnai Ginjo – Stepping up the quality ladder is this junmai ginjo, which is made with more of the rice grain polished away before it hits the brewery. Big, fresh melon notes are punchy on the nose, but the body is oddly more astringent than the Tanrei bottling. Enjoyable at first, it ultimately gets a bit hoary on the finish, with a slightly sour milk character. B- / $8 per 300ml bottle

Hakutsuru Sho-Une Junmai Dai GinjoJunmai daiginjo is one of the highest levels of sake production, with considerably more of the rice grain polished away before it is brewed, but otherwise made in the same style as all junmai sake. Here the melon notes take on a deeper and much more brooding character, featuring some mushroom notes plus various herbs. B+ / $11 per 300ml bottle

hakutsuru-sake.com

Review: Uncle Val’s Peppered Gin

UVPG_BottleshotThe third gin in the collection from 35 Maple Street’s Uncle Val’s line, Uncle Val’s Peppered Gin starts with a juniper infusion… and diverges from there. Three kinds of peppers round out the rest of the bill — black pepper, red bell pepper, and pimento.

The name doesn’t lie. As gin goes, this is a racy, spicy, and indeed peppery spirit. The nose features some woody notes alongside the pepper — mainly of the black variety. It isn’t particularly hot a la Tabasco, but rather crackling with the punch of fresh pepper. The body has some sweetness and juniper-driven evergreen notes up front. The back end is where just a touch of heat comes to the fore, but it’s mild and fades quickly, leaving behind an echo of juniper and some hints of cinnamon.

Exotic and unusual, it’s a solid bottle to have for when you want to mix with a gin that’s slightly off the beaten path.

90 proof.

B+ / $40 / 35maplestreet.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]