Review: Spiced Up Bourbon Barrel Chocolate Chili Sugar

Want to spice up a wintry cocktail? Try this new rimming powder from Spiced Up, which is made with a blend of Valrhona cocoa powder from France, Demerara pure cane sugar, and bourbon-barrel aged chili powder.

Spiced Up Bourbon Barrel Chocolate Chili Sugar offers fairly large granules that require significant liquid to adhere to the rim of a glass. Their impact is moderate but definitely present, with all three major components — cocoa, sugar, and spice — making their presence known, and in that order, with light chocolate leading quickly to brown-sugar sweetness, and a warming spice bringing up the back end. Lick a bunch off your glass and you can get quite a lasting heat from it.

There’s not much of an impact from the bourbon barrel treatment on the chili powder, but that might be asking for too much from a garnish that’s already putting in overtime. All in all, it’s a nice addition to the bartender’s arsenal.

B+ / $9 per 4 oz packet / spicedup.rocks

Review: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt

Japanese whisky has not been spared from the trend among distilleries of coping with high demand by transitioning to No Age Statement (NAS) offerings. Nikka’s Taketsuru Pure Malt now joins the likes of Miyagikyo, also in the Nikka portfolio, as well as Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Hakushu (from rival Suntory) to transition formerly 12-year-old offerings to NAS for those buying at the entry level.

Taketsuru Pure Malt is named in honor of Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky, and like the former age-stated version, it is made from a combination of whisky from both of Nikka’s distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo. The whisky is matured in a combination of sherry butts, bourbon barrels, and new American oak. It is considered a blended malt, but unlike classic Scottish blends which mix different types of whisky, Taketsuru Pure Malt is technically a vatting of exclusively malted whisky. But enough about all of that.

The color on the Taketsuru Pure Malt is very light amber, bordering on gold. On the nose, initially bland cereal notes quickly give way to stronger aromas of green grape, freshly cut grass, and lemon peel. Although it’s not wholly apparent on the nose, the palate immediately shows evidence of the sherry cask maturation with a gentle spice and subtle, ripe plum, followed by layers of toffee and butterscotch imparted by the used bourbon and new American oak casks. Overall, the palate is light but the mouthfeel is surprisingly syrupy, with a medium-to-long finish that fades into notes of pear and orange blossom honey.

The NAS version of Taketsuru Pure Malt lacks some of the balance and complexity of the 12-year-old Pure Malt; particularly its subtle smokiness. Still, if this is the price the drinking public must pay to see more of this Japanese whisky on the shelves, we’re not giving up much.

86 proof.

B+ / $60 / nikka.com 

Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Stocking Stuffer Whiskey

Seven Stills of San Francisco has recently embarked on a series of collaborative productions, whiskey made from beer produced by other notable breweries. For Stocking Stuffer, 7 Stills takes San Luis Obispo-based Libertine’s Wild Sour Stout, distills it, then ages the distillate in New American Oak and finishes the whiskey in Libertine’s own sour beer barrels.

Whiskey distilled from a sour beer, then finished in sour stout barrels? Now that’s a concept! Here we have a wholly unique spirit that kicks off with beery aromas — not particularly sour, but sharp with hops and notes of roasted vegetables and pipe tobacco. On the palate, more of a sour note comes to the fore, very sharp with notes of fruit vinegar and sour cherries emerging right away. But as the whiskey evolves in glass, the flavors don’t really take it very far — the initial experience endures for the long haul, at least until the finish, where a few grates of slightly bitter citrus peel await the drinker. That’s a strange bit of a letdown at the very end — but what surprises the most is how well this drinks despite an abv that’s just shy of 58%.

Sour beer fans, snap this up while you can. (It’s in extremely limited release now.)

115.9 proof.

B+ / $40 (375ml) / sevenstillsofsf.com

Book Review: Colonial Spirits

Look, our forefathers were not the most temperate bunch, and writer Steve Grasse endeavors to lay bare their improprieties in this rollicking exploration into the origins — literally — of American drinking culture.

This is a book about drinking like none other I’ve seen, unless you’re the type of guy that likes to tipple on, say, Cock Ale (a mix of beer, sherry, and chicken broth). But apparently it was big in the pre-U.S. colonies, not just because it was so delicious, but because it was an aphrodisiac, too.

Nearly every page of Colonial Spirits has some fun fact or eye-raiser that will keep you engaged and intrigued, whether it’s Ben Franklin’s own list of euphemisms for drunkenness (over 100 of them — of which I’m adopting “top heavy”) or a recipe for making dandelion wine. What is Ass’s Milk? Well, read the book to find out. Sure, not all the stories and diversions are as interesting as the vignette on curative beverages for common Colonial illnesses, but hey, neither are all the stories from American history.

Will you be whipping up any of the myriad concoctions in Colonial Spirits to serve your guests? Well, probably not for New Year’s Eve, but perhaps for the Fourth of July you’ll want to break out one of Martha Washington’s punch recipes, no? OK, President’s Day?

B+ / $14 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Tempranillo Roundup (2016 Releases): Vara, Bodegas Paso Robles, Castoro, Berryessa Gap, Matchbook, Becker Vineyards

Tempranillo is the star of Spain’s Rioja region, but it is also grown internationally, including right here in the U.S. Today we look at six tempranillo wines from five different regions to see how terroir can affect the wine — though you’ll note that many are blended with other grapes, with graciano particularly popular. (Graciano is another Rioja native that is commonly blended into tempranillo wines around the world.)

While you consider the importance of graciano from a viticultural perspective, sip on one of these…

2013 (Lot #013) Vara Tinto Especial Tempranillo – From the Santa Maria Valley. 75% tempranillo, 13% grenache, 9% syrah, 3% graciano. From the color alone, it’s a thin wine, extremely so. There are interesting notes on the palate, though, including red berries which meld with brisk orange zest, notes of sandalwood, and just a touch of currants on the back end. As summery a red wine as you’ll find. Sorry that it’s December. B+ / $12

2009 Bodegas Paso Robles Solea Central Coast – Despite the name of the winery, this is a Central Coast bottling. 86% tempranillo, 14% graciano. A lush wine, loaded up with a big and juicy currant character, with lighter notes of licorice and cloves backing up the heavy fruit up front. The finish seems plum and some orange peel notes, the latter particularly giving the wine a bit of a lift. Well done. A- / $35

2014 Castoro Cellars Tempranillo Whale Rock Vineyard – From Paso Robles. A mainstream wine, with big notes of plums and ripe cherries, the lush body leads to a berry-scented finish that hangs on the palate for quite awhile. Some tannin is evident, with a touch of balsamic detectable, but the finish remains heavy on the fruit. B+ / $30

2014 Berryessa Gap Tempranillo – From Yolo County. This is a drier style of tempranillo, a bit dusty, its mild berry core coated with notes of licorice and clove oil. Some olive notes and dried plum notes add intrigue, but a slightly sour edge calls out for a robust food pairing. B- / $18

2012 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills – 84% tempranillo, 8% graciano, 8% petit verdot. Another Yolo County wine, this one showcasing a bigger body and a bit more fruit — heavy with raspberry and strawberry particularly. Balsamic notes are the connecting thread between the two wines, though here they make a stronger showing, particularly late in the game. There’s also a candy licorice (not at all salty or bitter) on the finish. Again, the wine shows how food-friendly tempranillo can be. B / $15

2013 Becker Vineyards Tempranillo Reserve Texas – While no one was looking, Texas has become a hotbed of tempranillo production. This Hill Country producer’s is unorthodox and stands apart from the rest of the wines in this roundup thanks to significant brown sugar, cinnamon, and brown butter notes, which give the wine a lightness and liveliness that the other wines in the field don’t have. That’s a good and a bad thing, as it makes for a somewhat less “serious” wine that lacks body and offers a gummy yet thin finish, but it does show a whole other side of the grape. C / $25

Review: Siegfried Rheinland Dry Gin

Dunno about you, but when I think of Germany, my thoughts immediately run to gin. Gin! Siegfried isn’t the only German gin — in fact, Germany’s Monkey 47 is one of the best you can find — but they are still relatively rare, at least in the U.S.

Here’s a little information about Siegfried, straight from the distiller. I’m leaving all the poor grammar from a bad translation intact because I find it endearing:

Siegfried Rheinland Dry Gin is a regional product from the German area of “Rheinromantik” and a classic Dry Gin: a defined taste, subtle enough to delight with a weighted composition of 18 fine Botanicals, his charm and straight character.

The linden tree has a leading role in the ancient German Nibelung Saga, where a leaf landed on Siegfried’s back, while enjoying his bath in a defeated dragon’s blood. Like in the saga, linden also change the game in Siegfried’s recipe. Linden blooms are the lead botanical, create a unique taste experience and at the same time underline the symbiotic connection between brand and product.

So, of the 18 botanicals in Siegfried, we know just one: linden blooms. I don’t know a lot about linden trees, but Wikipedia has some pretty pictures. The blossoms are said to be quite fragrant (and beloved by bees), but the aroma isn’t described.

As for the gin, it is quite a bit different than a traditional gin, which relies on the distinct flavor and aroma of juniper berries to give it its signature character. Here the overall character is instantly unusual, but appealing on the nose with a more floral character that is reminiscent of lavender and lilac, with just a hint of woodsy evergreen. The palate is equally unorthodox, building on the floral base with heavily aromatic notes of camphor and jasmine, before turning to a lightly earthy, woody, mushroom-like character. This isn’t entirely in balance, as the floral elements overwhelm everything else, and the finish takes the gin into a slightly rubbery territory — particularly evident as it lingers on the tongue.

It’s a unique experience — and often an engaging one — but cocktail mavens will need to experiment heavily to find the right pairing. (I’m thinking elderflower, lime juice, and other sweet-tart mixers.)

82 proof. Batch #049.

B+ / $31 / siegfriedgin.com

Review: Expresiones del Corazon Barrel-Aged Tequila (Blanco, Buffalo Trace Reposado, Thomas Handy Anejo & Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo) 2016

For a few years now, Corazón Tequila has been releasing special, limited editions of its tequila under the name Expresiones del Corazón. The idea? Age tequila in barrels that used to hold some of the most prized whiskeys from Buffalo Trace Distillery. This year’s release includes the usual blanco, plus tequilas aged in Buffalo Trace, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac (new to the lineup), and Old Rip Van Winkle barrels. (To compare, check out the 2015 and 2013 releases of these tequilas.)

All are 80 proof.

Expresiones del Corazon Artisanal Edition Small-Batch Distilled Blanco – Unaged tequila (rested for 60 days in stainless steel), this is the base for what’s in the barrel-aged expressions that follow. The nose offers gentle herbs along with a detectable sweetness, plus notes of white pepper and lemon peel, a fairly complex introduction. On the palate, lemon-dusted sugar kicks things off, backed by notes of light agave and some forest floor character. It’s a blanco that’s on the soft side, but it’s also lively, sweet, and quite harmonious. On the whole, it’s a fresh and versatile blanco that comes together well without overly complicating the formula. B+ / $60

Expresiones del Corazon Buffalo Trace Reposado – Aged 10 and-a-half months in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Light and fragrant on the nose, with some butterscotch and ample vanilla notes. The body is also quite light considering the time spent in barrel, but pleasantly laced with milk chocolate and vanilla caramel before notes of black pepper and gentle agave make their way to the fore. The finish has a bit more oomph than in previous years, making this the best expression of the Buffalo Trace Reposado I’ve encountered to date. A- / $70

Expresiones del Corazon Thomas H. Handy Anejo – Aged 19 months in Thomas H. Handy Sazerac whiskey barrels. On par with the color of the Reposado above. Lots of red pepper on the nose, with very heavy herbal notes of thyme and rosemary. The body is a surprising bit of a blazer, again with red pepper and spice — think cinnamon red hots — paving the way for notes of burnt caramel, dark chocolate, and smoldering embers of a wood fire. Fun stuff, and wholly unexpected given the general gentleness of the series. The official tasting notes say only that this tequila has “a light, sweet taste,” which could not be more wrong. Very limited quantities. A- / $80

Expresiones del Corazon Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo – Aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon barrels for 23 months. As with prior renditions, this is extremely light in color. A nutty tequila, with notes of marzipan alongside the butterscotch and vanilla. It’s light on the agave, but it’s there. On the palate, there’s a peppery start that quickly segues into vanilla and caramel notes — the two sides play off one another quite beautifully — before finishing with a bit of an herbal lick. This is a nicely rounded tequila that offers both great balance and more complexity than you’d think. A- / $80

expresionesdelcorazon.com

-->