Category Archives: Rated B+

Review: Laphroaig Select Single Malt Whisky

laphroaig select

Another step in the “NAS” (no age statement) movement that’s sweeping the whisky world, Laphroaig Select is a new expression from the Islay standby that is deathly devoid of numerics.

Laphroaig’s approach with this release is an interesting one, taking a variety of styles of the whiskies in its stable and mixing them all together. Select was made from a mix of Quarter Cask, PX Cask, Triple Wood, and straight 10 Year Old barrels. During development, six different blends were produced from these four spirits, after which Laphroaig fans voted on their favorite. They picked this one — and even chose the name, Select, which is at once incredibly boring and surprisingly descriptive.

It’s a fine little Scotch, even if it’s unlikely to knock your socks off. Here’s how it presents itself.

It’s straight up smoky peat on the nose, with some barnyard notes, giving Select a rather rustic character, at least at the start. The body is easier than the olfactory build-up would indicate. Dry and restrained, it offers hints of old sherry blended with waxy candle smoke, giving the spirit a bit of a holiday feel, with indistinct vanilla and baking spice notes coming along as the finish builds. As with any Laphroaig expression, ashy peat notes dominate the spirit from front to back, but with Select the distillery dials things back a bit to reveal a kinder, gentler Laphroaig that novice Islay drinkers will likely find approachable, but which peat-drinking veterans will still be able to enjoy.

B+ / $60 / laphroaig.com

Tasting Report: Cinsault Wines from Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard, 2014 Releases

Cinsault may not be a household wine varietal, but they sure seem to grow a bunch of it up in Lodi, located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. Recently the Lodi winemaking trade group sponsored a tasting of four Cinsault wines, all from the region’s Bechthold Vineyard.

Primarily known as a blending grape in the Languedoc region of France, Cinsault makes for surprisingly soft and fruity wines, often with a dash (or more) of spice. It lies somewhere between Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. As another point of reference, Cinsault and Pinot Noir were crossed to make Pinotage, the unofficial national grape of South Africa.

The four wines below demonstrate how widely variable wines made from this grape can be — even those made from grapes grown in the same vineyard. Thoughts follow.

2013 Turley Cinsault Bechtoldt Vineyard Lodi – Immediately spicy on the nose — cinnamon and ginger, unusual qualities in any wine — with tons of fruit. Strawberries and crisp rhubarb burst forth, with a long, slightly sweet finish. Most would guess this is Pinot. Either way, it’s lots of fun. [sic] on the spelling of the vineyard name on the label. A / $17

2013 Michael David Ancient Vine Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard - Dense and chocolaty, easily mistaken for Zinfandel. Earthy and lightly smoky, the only thing connecting this to the Turley is the strawberry at its core — but here it is more like strawberry jam or preserves. A much different, but compelling, wine. B+ / $25

2012 Estate Crush Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard – A more middle-of-the-road wine, offering a blend of jammy fruit and a dusting of baking spices. Strawberry is the clear fruit component here, pulling you into a vanilla-infused finish. B+ / $26

2011 Onesta Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard – A more brooding wine, somewhere between the prior two wines in intensity and depth of flavor. Give it a few minutes in the glass and plenty of strawberry notes come forward, along with ample chocolate and caramel character, adding nuance. Definitely a wine that would work with dessert — but also with the main course. Worthwhile. A- / $29

Review: Coppersea New York Raw Rye

Coppersea Bottle Shot (photo by John McJunkin)Coppersea Distilling is a new upstate New York-based craft distiller that’s doing things the old-fashioned way. Based on a farm in the Hudson Valley, the grains are grown locally, floor malted and milled on the premises, distilled, then blended with on-site well water.

With this product, the end result is an unaged rye (75% unmalted rye, 25% malted barley) — a rustic yet surprisingly refined spirit, which master distiller Angus MacDonald describes thusly: “The Raw Rye is what you would have gotten if, around 1825 to 1880, you walked into a bar in upstate New York, and said: whisky.” Just imagine: Frontier drinking right in the backyard of bustling Manhattan!

Cereal notes attack the nostrils from the start, but it’s touched with just a hint of honeycomb and golden syrup. The body builds on that, adding layers of complexity that I hadn’t thought I’d find. Notes of flinty stonework, mustard seed, tahini, and some burnt caramel character follow. That’s a lot to swallow, but Coppersea turns a melange of flavors into a fairly cohesive whole — at least for a white whiskey. You won’t escape that brash youthfulness here, but sometimes that’s not such a bad thing.

90 proof. Best with some water.

B+ / $70 / coppersea.com

Review: anCnoc Rutter and Flaughter Single Malts

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anCnoc (pronounced a-NOCK) is the whisky produced by the Knockdu distillery, presumably called thus because “Knockdu” was too easy to spell and pronounce.*

anCnoc, a Highland producer right on the edge of Speyside, is known for its unpeated spirits, but now it’s hitting the market with a quartet of peated expressions. These whiskies, all named after peat cutting and working tools, are known as anCnoc’s “peaty range.” The two not reviewed here includ Cutter and Tushkar (which is only available in Sweden). Rutter and Flaughter, which we sampled, are the two least-peated whiskies in the range.

No age statements on these, just pictures of funky shovels, which are just as good. Thoughts follow.

anCnoc Rutter Highland Single Malt – Peated to 11ppm, giving this a sweetly smoky toasted-marshmallow character on the nose. Initially quite sweet on the palate, it also offers notes of red bell pepper, almond, and plenty of candy bar nougat. It’s a simple spirit, but fun enough for an evening tipple — and well suited for fall drinking. 92 proof. B+

anCnoc Flaughter Highland Single Malt – Peated to 14.8ppm, but I find this to be a softer expression of peated malt. The nose is milder, with more cereal notes than smoky ones. The body brings that peaty character to the forefront quickly, offering a classic island-style composition that blends wood fire smoke with a fruity, almost tropical finish. Touches of iodine on the back end. 92 proof. B+

each $85 / ancnoc.com/peaty

* Actually to avoid confusion with Knockando.

Review: Wines of Benessere, 2014 Releases

Benessere is a small, family-owned vineyard and winery in St. Helena, where it focuses heavily on estate-grown grapes. Specifically, Italian varietals and Zinfandel dominate the bill. Today we look at a selection of five wines from the company. Thoughts follow.

2013 Benessere Rosato di Sangiovese Estate St. Helena Vineyard – Let this rose warm a bit before tucking into it. Straight from the fridge you’ll find it overbearing with astringency and hospital notes. With some air and warmth it reveals lots of strawberry, lychee, green banana, and mandarin orange notes. The finish is off, but it still works well enough. B / $18

2012 Benessere Sangiovese Estate St. Helena Vineyard – Lush and exciting, this is an easy-drinking wine that’s stuffed with sangiovese’s signature cherry notes, but also vanilla notes, wet earth, and gentle tannins to give it structure. A- / $32

2012 Benessere Zinfandel Collins Holystone St. Helena Vineyard – An old vine Zin, this wine initially attacks the palate with overwhelming sweetness, but eventually it settles into a highly drinkable rhythm, lush with jammy plums and raspberries, tempered with chocolate sauce notes, but it pulls out enough refinement enough to work with a hearty meal. B+ / $35

2012 Benessere Zinfandel Black Glass Estate St. Helena Vineyard – A more vegetal showing of Zin, its fruit demolished by a thin body that has a weedy, earthy funk to it. B- / $35

2012 Benessere Moscato di Canelli Napa Valley “Scintillare” – Standard-grade sweet moscato, orange oil studded with some hospital notes. Lots of honey, short finish. B / $25 (375ml)

benesserevineyards.com

Review: Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2006

Bruichladdich_Bere_Barley_2006_Islay_Single_Malt_Scotch_WhiskyI was privileged enough to score a dram of this through a recent trade with another local fellow who enjoys the Laddie just as much as I do, if not more. Lately I’ve been revisiting some of the Bruichladdich I have in the cabinet, just to see if time away has altered my enjoyment of the brand. It hasn’t. I still quite fancy my remaining ounces of Octomore, and Port Charlotte and “The Organic” are still just as satisfying as the first time. This expression of Bere Barley is of 2006 vintage and was bottled last year in an edition of 15,000. As usual with Bruichladdich, the packaging is modern and quite lovely. But let’s not judge a book by its cover.

The color is a gorgeous summer yellow, with a nose that’s heavily floral mixed with a blast of barley that opens up after a few drops of water (best to let it sit for a few minutes in the glass). There’s an immediate bit of crispness to the taste, almost acidic before giving way to soft citrus and traces of honey and pepper. By contrast to other expressions in the stable, it is surprisingly light, almost summery. The finish is lengthy and pleasant, with a mild tinge of smoke and sweetness. It’s surprisingly complex, given its relatively young age of 7 years, but at $60 it’s a reasonably good buy. Had I the opportunity to pick up a full bottle, I would strongly consider it. It’s not the best in Laddieland, but it’s certainly far cry from the worst.

100 proof.

B+ / $60 / bruichladdich.com

Review: Chieftain’s Tobermory 1995 18 Years Old Cask #1287

Chieftan's Tobermory

Chieftain’s is a venerable independent bottler operated by Ian Macleod (which owns Glengoyne, Tamdhu, and many other whiskey brands). This is our first review of a Chieftain’s release, an 18 year old Tobermory, from the Isle of Mull. Thoughts on this overproof limited edition follow.

A well-aged dram, this whisky is showing well, with a nose of orange and grapefruit peel that’s integrated with menthol and a bit of bacon drippings. The body’s a bit tougher. Here the more burly essence of this island whisky comes to bear, offering some sea salt and seaweed notes, plus a core of stewed fruit. Hints of smoke come along, which meld well with the inevitable cereal notes that seep forth in the finish. For all its oddball character, this all comes together in a remarkably cohesive way, drinking pretty well in more of an everyday-dram fashion than a special occasion whisky.

92 proof.

B+ / $110 / ianmacleod.com

Review: Taken and Complicated Wines, 2014 Releases

Complicated Chard bottle 006What’s Liam Neeson’s favorite wine? Taken!

Taken Wine Co. is a five year old winery that bottles under two labels — Taken and Complicated. Part of the Trinchero empire, these are most affordable wines designed to be crowd pleasers. Thoughts follow.

2011 Taken Red Wine Napa Valley - 60% cabernet, 40% merlot. A soft and ready-to-go red that balances fruity plums and currants with touches of leather, chocolate, and hints of balsamic. Well balanced and supple. Probably not called “Complicated” because it’s anything but. B+ / $30

2012 Complicated Chardonnay Sonoma County – Slightly floral on the nose, with hints of sugar cookies and almonds. The body plays up the sweet side of things — apple butter and brown sugar — but notes of sage and pine add curiosity. The incredibly long finish is surprisingly sugary, which isn’t the way I’d like to see this wine end up, but give it time to warm up a bit and things settle down. B / $18

2012 Complicated Red Wine Central Coast – A mash-up of grenache, syrah, and carignane. Quite drinkable, full of fruit but far from jammy. Restrained, even, showing notes of tea leaf where you’d otherwise find chocolate syrup. Nice balance between raspberry (lots), strawberry, and even some citrus notes. An easy, affordable drinker. A- / $20

takenwine.com

Review: 2013 Domaine de Nizas Languedoc Rose

13 Rose-0Here’s a harmless but quite food-friendly Languedoc rose composed of 40% syrah, 40% grenache, and 20% mourvedre. Light strawberry notes on the nose become more evident on the palate, overcoming some bitter root and grassy notes that tend to dominate when the wine is very cold. A touch of floral character — roses and violets — emerges as the wine develops in the glass.

B+ / $17 / domaine-de-nizas.com

Review: Ardbeg Supernova Committee Release SN2014

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Ardbeg’s Supernova, alongside Bruichladdich’s Octomore, is one of the legends of super-peated whiskies. Originally issued as a special edition “Committee Release” in 2009, it was so popular Ardbeg did it again in 2010. And then… nothing.

For the last four years peat freaks have been wondering what happened to Supernova. Well now it’s back, as the official 2014 Committee Release edition, launched in part to commemorate Ardbeg’s historic whisky-in-space experiment and the liquid which just returned to earth from three years in orbit a few weeks ago. The space-centric “Supernova” name seems just about perfect.

Ardbeg doesn’t reinvent the wheel with Supernova 2014 — the primary difference from the prior bottlings being the addition of more sherry-cask matured spirit to the mix.

It’s a good move. Supernova 2014 is sweeter on the nose than you’d think, battling the peat back with fresh sugar notes.  On the palate, my immediate remark is that I’ve had far peatier whiskies before. Has Ardbeg given up the ppm race? I’m not really complaining… but at “just” 100ppm this is surprisingly gentle compared to some other Ardbegs out there.

The sherry makes a real difference here, bringing juicy orange notes to the forefront when the whisky first hits the palate. Keep it on the tip of your tongue and Meyer lemon notes emerge. But once the whisky slides back to the throat, it’s all over. The smoke takes root and everything dries up. If nothing else, it definitely doesn’t drink like it’s at 55% alcohol. It’s completely approachable at bottle strength — almost to the point of simplicity — though that may not be such a great thing for the target audience of this spirit.

Those familiar with ultra-peaty whiskies will know what’s in store for them here, for the most part. Supernova 2014 doesn’t reinvent the 100+ ppm wheel, but it does tweak the form a bit with the addition of additional sherry-casked malt. Compare against what you have left of 2009/2010 for extra fun.

110 proof.

B+ / $180 / ardbeg.com

Review: 2012 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay

2012 Overlook ChardonnayThis new Chardonnay from Landmark isn’t a Sonoma appelation wine like last year’s: It’s made from 83% Sonoma, 11% Monterey, and 6% Santa Barbara grapes.

The overall impact is pleasant, but uninspiring. Aggressively meaty on the nose, it lets some fig, peach, mango, and banana character through after a bit, but only after putting up a fight. As it warms, the wine exudes more of a melon character, reminding me a bit of prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe slices.

B+ / $18 / landmarkwine.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Fourteen

We’re near the end of Buffalo Trace’s exhaustive (and exhausting) Single Oak Project, a series of 192 bourbons all made in a slightly different style — an attempt to find the whole grail of whiskeydom. With this round, we’ve got 168 down, 24 to go. Home stretch!

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s our past coverage to date:

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 14 features whiskeys all aged in barrels made from the bottom half of the tree, put in barrel at 125 proof, and aged in a wooden-floor warehouse. Variables include char level, stave seasoning, wood grain, and of course recipe (rye vs. wheat). We’ve seen iterations on these variables in the past; at this point, the project is mainly about cleaning up what’s left in the lineup.

Two whiskeys — the classically structured Barrel #2 and the Stagg-like Barrel #34 stood out in an otherwise fair but unremarkable field. Nothing in this round was particularly unlikable, except perhaps the unbalanced Barrel #172. The overall winners so far (based on popular vote) are Barrel #82 and #83. I graded them both at a B+.

Complete thoughts on round 14 follow.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #2 – Classic, with lots of depth of flavor. Touches of sandalwood, honey, and walnuts all meld together into a well-integrated, creamy, and lightly spiced (yet lengthy) finish. It goes down almost too easy, offering all the classic bourbon notes with every sip. Easily the best of this round. A (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #12 – Foresty — with eucalyptus and solid oak notes. The hearty body melds chewy wood with some modest fruit notes. A bit ashy on the finish. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #34 – Bold up front, with a rich, chocolaty nose. It all follows through to the body, with a rounded, almost malty character that pushes through to a racy, brown sugar-infused finish studded with cloves, cinnamon, and cayenne. A (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #44 – Dessert time! Marshmallows and light nuts on the nose. The body is all silky caramel and nougat, until some wood-driven astringency arrives on the finish. Slow start, but it builds to a delightful middle and an agreeable, balanced end. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #66 – Blazing with heat and big wood character, it’s hard to catch much nuance on the nose. The body however reveals some surprises: Spicy rye character at its core, with touches of baking spices blended with red pepper. Big and bold, it’s loaded with lumberyard notes that really hang on. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #76 – Racy with both baking spices and more savory ones — think red pepper, thyme, sage, and pine needles. Lots going on here that’s unusual for bourbon, but it’s not a whiskey without some charms — so Old World in its austerity, herbaciousness, and restraint. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #98 – Indistinct, alcohol-redolent nose, but the body is bursting with fruit. Orange and cherry notes play with dark brown sugar tones, and some cinnamon red hots on the finish. A fine whiskey; too bad the nose isn’t there to finish the job. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #108 – Intriguing on the nose, this whiskey strongly exudes cherry cola notes, with underpinnings of oak. The body is moderate and a bit more scattered. The cherry’s not here, but the cola notes are big, along with some tea leaf, heavy charred wood, licorice, cardamom, and a touch of cloves. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #130 – Unusual notes of lemon and wood here — think Pledge, but in a way you might drink — at least on the nose. The body is more indistinct in its citrus focus, drinking hot while offering ample notes of wood oil and cloves on the back end. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #140 – Traditional: vanilla, caramel, wood. This could be any rack bourbon, but it’s classy and refined — a darker, woodier, coal-fired, more cigars-in-the-back-room bourbon than most of the comparably fruity expressions you get in the SOP. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #162 – Mild menthol on the nose leads in to a very easygoing palate. The body on this one is liquid caramel from front to back, spiked with cloves. Strangely, a bit of barnyard character emerges on the nose after some time in the glass, dulling what is otherwise a pleasant, anywhiskey experience. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #172 – Not an incredible level of character here. The nose is filled more with raw alcohol than anything else, the body is a fiery experience that finishes with smoke and brimstone. Not the Project’s best. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

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

Review: Wines of Baglio di Pianetto, 2014 Releases

9 - Ramione_2009Sicily’s Baglio di Pianetto takes the classic grapes of this fiery island and funnels it through the mystique of a French chateau style of production. That’s what they say anyway. The production at this winery (which also has a resort on the premises) is extensive. Today we look at a selection of six wines — two whites and four reds, including two DOC “reserve” wines. Thoughts on everything follow.

2013 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Insolia Sicilia DOC – From the higher-end DOC bottling of Baglio di Pianetto comes this 100% insolia, a lovely white that has a lightly peachy nose, flecked with apricots and oranges. Also look for hints of graham cracker. The body follows suit, showing some of that vanilla you find in the Ficiligno, but drinking really wonderfully on its own. Look for a bit more earthiness up front here than with the aforementioned wine, but with a finish that’s both sweet and tart, and more citrus-driven. Equally enjoyable. A / $NA

2013 Baglio di Pianetto Ficiligno Sicilia IGT – A blend of insolia and viognier. What a fun white this is, lush with white peaches, apricots, lemon, and vanilla. It’s a perfectly dialed-back expression of viognier, that overwhelming fruit showing both restraint and mouth-filling gorgeousness. A / $16

2012 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC – Not a particularly refined Nero, a bit weedy, a bit barky, and a bit of old fruit. Dusky and brooding, but lacking the oomph of more powerful Neros. Some fun touches of licorice and vanilla emerge on the nose if you give it time. Fine, but more apropos as a food wine. B / $NA

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Ramione Sicilia IGT – This is a blend of merlot and nero d’avola. Softer than you’d think, with a strongly fruity nose of blackberries, touched with a bit of tobacco and leather. A simple wine, with some mild astringency on the finish. Works well with tomoto-based dishes. B+ / $20

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Shymer Sicilia IGT – A blend of syrah and merlot, which sounds like it will be a whole lot better than it ends up being. There’s almost no body or soul on this wine. It drinks like one of those grape-flavored waters you might buy when Aquafina just doesn’t do it. Has the fruit already raced out of this wine, or was there none to begin with? Not worth bothering with. C- / $20

2007 Baglio di Pianetto Cembali Nero d’Avola IGT – This 100% nero d’avola starts off muted and dull, but fruit emerges with some time in glass. Bright cherry and currant notes are fun for a bit, but they quickly turn toward the raisiny, with balsamic notes and some racy oxidized character coming to the forefront — indicative of this wine’s age. B / $20

bagliodipianetto.com

Review: AVIV 613 Vodka

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Sorry, Easter egg hunters, AVIV 613 Vodka is not named after the area code for Ottawa, Canada. It is rather named for the city in which it is made — Tel Aviv, Israel — and a purported 6/1/3 proportion of ingredients used in its production. I wouldn’t dare try to explain this unique process, so I’ll let AVIV 613 do the job:

Yossi Gold, our master distiller, arrived at the precise formulation of AVIV 613 after three years of trial and error. He begins with wheat and barley distilled three times. To that he adds thrice-distilled alcohol from a mash made from olives, figs, dates, grapes, and pomegranates. He tweaked the quantities of the ingredients, along with the proportions of the alcohol, until he reached the exact flavor notes and strength of each he wanted.

Remember that the distinctive sweet finish of AVIV 613 comes from flavors that are not added to the vodka, but which evolve from the perfect blending of grain and fruit alcohol. Water from the Sea of Galilee, the lowest freshwater source in the world, contributes to it’s unique taste and smoothness.

Distilling AVIV more than 4 times removes too many of its natural flavors. We distill the grains 3 times and the fruits 3 times before they’re blended and distilled 1 more time. Then AVIV goes through 6 filtration processes to make it ultra clean and smooth.

The nose is not any more clearly distinctive than any number of modern, moderately sweet vodkas. You can smell sugar up front on the nose, alongside mild charcoal and flinty earth notes. The sweetness fades with some aeration, leaving behind some more generalized hospital notes. The palate is less sweet than you’d think, with a pleasant silkiness to the body. Given all that goes into the mash, there’s strikingly little flavor to contend with — and certainly no olives or pomegranates. Rather, it arrives alongside quite mild notes of butterscotch, licorice, and a bit of cake frosting on the finish. It’s apt enough for stirring into a cocktail, but hardly something you’d expect to have come from the Sea of Galilee.

80 proof.

B+ / $35 / avivvodka.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2014 Edition

buffalo trace 2014 BTAC

 

Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection needs no introduction, I’m sure — this is one of the most well-respected and sought-after annual whiskey collections on the market. Closely allocated and tough to find, you’re best off starting your hunt now. These releases formally hit the market in late September/early October.

Thoughts on the 2014 lineup follow.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – It’s an open secret that Sazerac 18 has been sitting around in a stainless steel vat for years and doesn’t really change (effects of oxidation notwithstanding), making this less of a special release and more of a limited allocation of a very special spirit. Sazzy 18 rarely fails to disappoint. This year is no exception, with the whiskey showing a woody — yet fresh — nose, cherries jubilee up front on the body, and a finish that takes you to places of marzipan, apple pie, and streudel. Watch for apple cider notes to come along after you think the finish has faded away. 90 proof. A

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – This edition of Eagle Rare 17 is a vatting of whiskeys from the second, third, and sixth floors of Buffalo Trace’s Warehouse I and K. Aged “nearly two decades,” according to the company — so as with last year, it may be a bit older than 17 years. This one’s a smooth operator, not quite the burly old guard that it can sometimes present as. Instead, it’s all silky caramels, bittersweet chocolate, Bing cherry, and graham crackers. Some spicier notes of cloves and allspice develop in the finish. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – The one you’ve been waiting for. The bruiser of the bunch. The hottest bourbon that isn’t named Pappy. It’s telling that the Stagg is set apart from the rest of the batch in the photo above, I think. This is a monster of a whiskey. Just look at the depth of color compared to the other whiskeys in that lineup — and remember, there are some 18+ year old whiskeys in there! As always, this is the kind of whiskey that, as grandma used to say, would put herr on yer chest, and at 138.1 proof it’s nearly a return to the heady days of 2012 and prior, when the whiskey regularly hit 70% alcohol. Fear not the water on this one — a selection of barrels from warehouses C, H, I, K, L, P, and Q distilled in 1998 (making it 16 years old). You can douse it 1:1, water to whiskey, and still get plenty of its character. And that would include tobacco, (very) dark chocolate, fresh roasted coffee bean, slate, and pencil lead. A smattering of spices arrive in time for the finish — cinnamon and cloves, the usual stuff — which help to season what is, as always, a dark, mammoth, brooding whiskey. This year, Buffalo Trace has just about nailed it. Stagg is always a tough nut to crack — and my palate tends to prefer more nuanced spirits — but the sheer depth of its flavor has me finding myself drawn more to this release than it has in recent years. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – A massive blazer, this is the hottest release of Weller in history. This is a 12 year old bourbon from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th floors of warehouses D, K, and L — basically a mutt from all over the place. An initial rush of smoke starts things off with thoughts of log cabins and a touch of mothball. The palate settles down after adding significant amounts of water, ultimately revealing some plum, chocolate, and coconut — but in the end the wood and smoky qualities take hold, pushing everything else out of mind. 140.2 proof. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Last year Jim Murray named the 2013 Handy Rye his #1 whiskey in the world. This created a massive run on Handy, despite the fact that no sane person would ever name this cask strength rye — typically 6 years old, as it is again this year — the best whiskey in the world. 2014’s Handy was aged on the fifth floor of warehouse M and arrives at a fairly typical strength for this spirit. This year’s expression exudes classic rye notes — lots of roasted grain character, chewy scorched cereal notes, some caramel, some baking spice, and a lengthy, campfire finish. Over time, some curious notes come forth — I can describe them only as fresh upholstery. Ample water is a must. I like it fine, but it frankly doesn’t hold a candle to the Sazerac 18 — which will probably be a hell of a lot easier to find thanks to Mr. Murray. 129.2 proof. B+

$80 each / greatbourbon.com

Review: Glenglassaugh Revival, Evolution, Torfa

Glenglassaugh Revival infront

Brought back from the dead in 2008, Glenglassaugh is a storied distillery that had been dormant since 1986. Last year the newly-running distillery changed hands and was fell to BenRiach, which is now bottling a number of expressions consisting of  both new make spirit and old stock. None of the old stock offerings — some reaching up to 40 years old — are reviewed here, but this trio of whiskies should give you a sense of the kind of stuff Glenglassaugh is putting out… and a hint of what it will be releasing down the line.

Note, the distillery is Speyside-based, though like some others, it also puts the more general “Highlands” descriptor on the label.

Thoughts follow.

Glenglassaugh Revival – The first expression released from Glenglassaugh after being mothballed for more than 20 years, non-peated but matured in a mix of ex-red wine and fresh bourbon casks, then vatted and finished in sherry casks. Heavily malty, with a nose of crude wood fire notes and a wet cement character. The body doesn’t stray too far from its simple underpinnings, with notes of malt extract, cinnamon and raisins, orange peel, and ample oakiness. Lots going on here, but finding the balance among the collection of parts is tough. 92 proof. B / $60

Glenglassaugh Evolution – Matured completely in ex-Tennessee whiskey barrels and bottled with no age statement. Light maritime notes on the nose, with a distinct pear character beneath the seaweed and coal fires. The body plays up the smoky notes, making this non-peated whisky come across as lightly peated. Notes of over-ripe banana, Bit-O-Honey candies, and green vegetables come together in a wildly unbalanced way on the body… and yet it’s so unique and strange you can’t help but keep sipping on it. Worth a try for novelty value alone, my rating notwithstanding. 100 proof. B / $70

Glenglassaugh Torfa – Torfa is “turf” in Gaelic, turf meaning “peat” in this usage. A “richly peated” whisky, it offers no other aging information. Drinks a lot like an Islay. Sweet barbecue smoke dominates the nose and rushes the palate, alongside cherry and citrus notes — the BBQ sauce to this otherwise meaty spirit. The smoky fruit notes are lasting (with hints of bubblegum), but the spirit is otherwise on the simple side. Probably the most fun of the bunch, however. 100 proof. B+ / $65

glenglassaugh.com

Review: Newfoundland Screech Rum, Spiced Rum, and Honey Rum

screech spiced rumWho woulda thought they’d name a rum after this guy?

In all seriousness… Back in the old days (like, yesteryear), Newfoundland-based sailors drank a lot of rum. They got their rotgut from Jamaica, and it didn’t even have a name. As the story goes, decades later an American WWII G.I. drank a slug of the unwatered-down rum while visiting and upon swallowing he gave off a howl of pain. The noise was described as “The Screech,” and the rum finally had its name.

Today, Screech Rum is still a partly Canadian product, sourced in the Caribbean as always and bottled in Newfoundland. A straight expression is available, along with a spiced rum and one flavored version. Thoughts on all three follow.

Newfoundland Screech Rum – Aged Jamaican rum, no age statement, with caramel color added (it’s quite dark in coloration). The nose is quite funky, with notes of well-burnt/almost-blackened sugar, charcoal, and beef jerky. On the tongue, things sweeten up, but it’s still easy to see how Screech got its name. Though this expression is far from barrel proof, it’s got a healthy amount of hogo to it, its overpowering burnt sugar notes somewhat balanced by some, well, non-burnt sugar. Not much fruit here, just secondary character of ash and smoldering lumber, and a dusky finish that lasts for ages. Definitely for fans of more rustic (yet aged) rum styles. 80 proof. B- / $17

Newfoundland Screech Spiced Rum – This is wholly different stock, made from Demerara rum from Guyana, aged 4 to 8 years. Spiced, with no sugar added. This is a compelling spiced rum. Again that burnt sugar character is strongest, with light vanilla and cinnamon notes coming up behind — almost French toast-like at times. Unlike the straight version, here at least those secondary elements stand a fighting chance. The smoldering finish of the straight rum fades as the spiced element grabs hold, giving this rum a considerably better balance on the whole — though it. 70 proof. B+ / $18

Newfoundland Screech Honey Rum – Why should whiskey have all the fun? Here’s a new idea: rum flavored with honey. This starts with the same aged Jamaican rum as above, then receives “natural honey flavor.” Coulda fooled me. The overall impact is more of a lemon-flavored rum, or some kind of lemon-honey amalgam. Either way, the rum is largely lost and the finished product comes off like some kind of liquified throat lozenge. 70 proof. C- / $18

screechrum.com

Review: Elijah Craig Single Barrel 23 Years Old Bourbon

Elijah Craig 23-Year-Old

Following on its Elijah Craig Single Barrel 21 Year Old expression, Heaven Hill is jumping straight to 23 years old for this increasingly improbable yet clearly popular series. I guess 22 was an unlucky number.

Old bourbon, living in the shadow of Pappy Van Winkle, remains a dominating force in the whiskey business. But with so many bourbons drinking beautifully at 7 or 8 years of age, how does one approach a whiskey that’s three times as old?

Very carefully.

The Elijah Craig Single Barrel offerings are really starting to show that Bourbon really does have a lifespan, and with this expression Elijah shows us what his golden years look like.

All that wood is really having its way with this whiskey, but there’s still a bit of life left in it. The nose now borders on hoary: lumberyard and old rowboat planks, dusted with cinnamon, vanilla, and notes of Madeira and Port wine. The body is more lively, a bit of applesauce and salted caramel, but hardly a fruit bomb. The woodier notes dig their fingers in deep well before the finish really gets going, the end result being almost astringently mouth-puckering in the way it completely dominates your palate.

Fans of “old bourbon” who prise those intense wood characteristics will thrill to Elijah Craig 23. Those looking for more refinement and nuance from a whiskey that dwells outside the lumberyard may find this round of Elijah more than a little overbearing.

Reviewed: Barrel #26. Barreled on 2/26/90. 90 proof.

B+ / $200 / heavenhill.com

Review: Torani Sweet Heat Syrup

torani sweet heatTorani’s line of coffeehouse syrups now spans some 120-plus flavors, and it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. The latest concoction is Sweet Heat, which has particular eyes on the world of mixology.

Sweet Heat is a concoction of pure cane sugar and … wait for it… ghost peppers, the now well-known “hottest chili pepper in the world.” Crystal clear, it gives up few hints based on the nose. Surprisingly fruity, it comes across more as an apple, grape, pineapple syrup — or some blend of the three.

On the palate, it starts off sweet (and similarly fruity as the nose would indicate), but the heat makes its presence known after five or ten seconds. Fiery throughout the mouth, it’s a big rush of spice that burns heavily, but which manages to stay on this side of overwhelming. The heat builds then fades of the course of about half a minute. The more you sip on it — or the cocktail you’ve built with it — the more you get used to it. I really like spicy cocktails and can appreciate how using this syrup in place of regular simple syrup could get you a nifty spin on any number of drinks, but I’m not in love with that fruity element, which I worry is more likely to mess up your cocktail than the spice element does.

B+ / $4 / torani.com [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Flora Springs 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and 2012 Merlot

flora springs 2012_napa_valley_merlot_bottleTwo new releases from Flora Springs in Napa.

2013 Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Sololiquy Vineyard Oakville – Crisp, with mild lemon and orange notes. Very clean, with minimal mineral notes and light acidity. Extremely pale in color, this wine is the very definition of a “summery white” — light as a feather and elusive when it comes to character, but hard not to like. B+ / $17

2012 Flora Springs Merlot Napa Valley – Chocolate notes come across first on the nose, with a touch of root beer essence in back of that. Woodsy/root notes continue to dominate on the palate, but that chalky bittersweet chocolate character makes a powerful appearance on the finish. Worth a look. B / $18

florasprings.com