Review: Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine Dry-Hopped with Pekko Hops 2016

stone old guardian

This special edition version of Stone’s Old Guardian Barley Wine — part of its “classic” release collection — dry-hops this already intense barleywine with Pekko hops, a new variety out of Washington. (Warrior, Cascade, and Chinook are also represented.)

The results are punchy, juicy, almost chewy — intense raisin and Port-like notes kick things off and don’t let go for what seems like days. Molasses, toffee, dark chocolate, and an enveloping bitterness all push the palate around without regard for balance or elegance. The finish is almost sickly sweet at times, that Port note dominating the bitter elements.

Stone calls this a “beast of a beer,” and I’m inclined to agree. It’s a boozy blowout — a special occasion beer that merits a look on an unseasonably cool evening.

11% abv.

B+ / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / stonebrewing.com

Review: Wahaka Mezcal Complete Lineup

WAH007 - Tobala

Mezcal is always fun, but it gets really fun when you can compare different styles and species of agave that are used to create this unique spirit.

Wahaka, based in the Tlacolula Central Valley region of Oaxaca, offers five different Mezcals — four joven (silver) varieties, and one reposado. We tasted them all. Thoughts follow.

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Espadin – Espadin is the most common strain of agave used for mezcal, and from the nose you would expect this to be a rather smokily pungent expression of the spirit. The body is quite another experience, though — quite gentle, with ample sweetness, notes of apples, and some green banana. Beyond the smoke-filled nose, it’s as gentle as mezcal gets, with its savory notes quickly fading as it leaves behind a mildly herbal but mostly fruit-filled finish. If ever there was a “starter mezcal,” this is it. 80 proof. B+ / $33

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Tobala – Tobala is a wild, small, high-altitude agave known for fruity notes. Here, the nose offers a distinctly sweeter note, one that is studded with notes of peaches but also herbal rosemary notes. The palate hits the tongue with dried tropical fruits and segues into notes of fresh pineapple and mango, filtered through a smoky lens. These notes go together surprisingly well, with an especially sweet and tropical finish. If the Espadin is starter mezcal, this is the perfect chaser — and quite a little delight that doesn’t just sip well on its own, it also mixes well. 84 proof. A- / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Madre-Cuishe – Another wild agave strain, this mezcal presents with a more pungent and heavily peppered nose, offering ample sweetness but stuffing it with notes of smoked meats and a touch of molasses. On the palate, the sweeter house style endures, but considerable smoke and black pepper manage to dominate. Those looking for a burlier, meaty, and pungent mezcal will find it in this Madre-Cuishe expression That said, it is still accessible and quite engaging. 84 proof. A- / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Ensamble – As the name implies, this is a blend — 50% Espadin, 25% Tobala, and 25% Madre-Cuishe. The nose is straightforward and mildly smoky, fairly in line with the Espadin. On the tongue, some citrus — oddly absent in the single-varietal expressions — leads the way, meandering into more of that green banana, brown sugar, and marshmallow notes. There’s plenty going on here, but balance is something of a concern, with Ensamble turning out to be a bit plain, something less than the sum of its parts. 80 proof. B+ / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Reposado con Gusano – A lightly aged reposado mezcal, origin unknown — worm (gusano) included. The nose offers more of a barbecue sauce character, with an orange juice kick. Much sweeter than the jovens, this reposado offers immediate notes of fresh mango and papaya, banana (again), and that barbecue character hitting hard on the finish. Smokiness takes a distinct back seat here, which is common in barrel-aged expressions. Fun as a diversion… plus you can ponder that worm staring at you. 80 proof. B+ / $47

wahakamezcal.com

Review: Old Hickory Blended Bourbon and Straight Bourbon Whiskey

old hickory bourbonNashville-based R.S. Lipman revived this very old brand recently, but the spirit inside has nothing to do with whatever came before. Within you will find MGP-sourced whiskey which is bottled in Ohio.

Old Hickory — not just named after Andrew Jackson but featuring his picture on the label — is offered in two varieties, a blended whiskey and a straight bourbon. Both are reviewed here.

Old Hickory Great American Whiskey Blended Bourbon Whiskey – “Black label Old Hickory.” This is a blend of bourbon and other, unspecified whiskey. The label says it’s 89% four year old whiskey and 11% two year old whiskey, but offers no other direction beyond that. The nose offers ample caramel and vanilla notes, but also tons of almonds and a bit of baking spice. There’s unusual depth of aroma here for a whiskey with such an uninspired provenance, but the body doesn’t go far enough in backing it up. On the tongue it’s a relatively simple whiskey, with notes of caramel sauce and sweet tea, plus lots of that almond character. There’s a touch of chemical character on the finish, something driven more by youth, I suspect, than anything funky in the production. Its disappearance arrives quickly, though — just like that, Old Hickory Blended is all but gone. 80 proof. B- / $30

Old Hickory Great American Whiskey Straight Bourbon Whiskey – “White label Old Hickory” is a real bourbon, but it carries no age information on the bottle, but research shows its components to be a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 7 years old. Slightly higher abv than the black label, the nose combines the sweetness of the forebear alongside a not-insignificant lumberyard-plus-barrel char influence. The almond notes are muted here, replaced by more of a butterscotch character. On the palate the moderate sweetness is backed by a slightly bittersweet note, a bit herbal with some anise notes. All told, it’s a relatively straightforward but well-crafted bourbon with plenty of elements to enjoy. 86 proof. B+ / $35

oldhickorywhiskey.com

Review: Saint James Cuvee 1765 Rhum Vieux Agricole

SAINT JAMES - Cuvée 1765Saint James is a massive Martinique rum operation with dozens of product offerings in its vast lineup. Oddly, few of them seem common on U.S. shores, though that may slowly be changing as the distillery’s footprint grows larger.

Cuvee 1765 is the company’s latest offering, bottled to commemorate the company’s 250th anniversary. There’s no real product information to offer here — or rather, it’s all written in French on the neck tag on the bottle — but as with most of these types of releases, it’s clearly a barrel selection of older rums fit for the big occasion that have been put into a fancy bottle.

Saint James Cuvee 1765 offers a quite heated nose, pungent with traditional agricole notes — hot rubber and asphalt, but balanced with burnt sugar and some nutty notes. On the palate, the rum opens up while maintaining that agricole funkiness at its core. Light brown sugar and caramel, some flambéed banana, pungent vegetal notes, and a lengthy, cane-driven sweetness that endures for quite awhile. There’s ample alcohol here, but Cuvee 1765 is warming without being hot, decidedly of the earth without being “green.”

All told, it’s a fine example of a moderately-aged rhum agricole that showcases the uniqueness of this style of rum — and a spirit that is fun to explore as you both sip and mix with it.

84 proof.

B+ / $57 / saintjames-rum.com

Review: Peychaud’s Aperitivo

PeychaudsAperitivoPeychaud’s is one of the most classic bitters brands — and lately owner Sazerac (Buffalo Trace’s parent company) has been pushing the brand even further. First came a barrel-aged version of Peychaud’s Bitters. Now comes a whole new category of product: Paychaud’s Aperitivo.

If you’re familiar with Aperol or Campari, you understand the basics of the aperitivo category: bittersweet, emphasis on bitter, bright red in color, and quite low in proof. (At 11% alcohol, Peychaud’s is comparable to both of the aforementioned liqueurs.)

But Peychaud’s doesn’t hail from Italy, the home of the aperitivo. It hails from New Orleans. What is Sazerac doing with this category to set it aside from the Italianos? Let’s give it a taste.

Peychaud’s color is roughly in line with Aperol, maybe just a shade lighter. On the nose: immediate bitter orange, a touch of cherry, and hints of caramel. Aperol fans may find an initial familiarity here: Peychaud’s is so sweet and orange-focused you might initially confuse it for a type of triple sec. Juicy with mandarine notes, the initial attack folds in some marshmallow to sweeten it up.

It takes a few seconds for the bitter elements to come to the fore, but they’re quite restrained even as the finish arrives. Here, it really just flicks at the back of the throat with a quinine character, one that lingers for a bit as a sultry companion to that initial sweetness. It’s a vague sort of bitterness — one that doesn’t really resemble Peychaud’s Bitters in its classic format in anything other than color.

I tried making a Spritz with Aperol, Luxardo Aperitivo, and Peychaud’s Aperitivo, and Peychaud’s took a solid third place — it just didn’t have enough bitterness to hold its own in the drink. (By the way: This time out, I found the Aperol version to be my favorite.)

22 proof.

B+ / $20 / sazerac.com

Review: Russell’s Reserve Bourbon 10 Years Old and Rye 6 Years Old (2016)

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Wild Turkey has been on a rebranding tear of late, updating its labels and corporate design in a push of gentle modernization of its image.

We took the opportunity to crack open two new bottles of its Russell’s Reserve line — the 10 year old bourbon and the 6 year old rye, both staples of the world of mid-level premium whiskey. Both have undergone their second rebranding since launching in 2007-08.

So, without further ado, let’s tuck into a fresh look at these widely available bottlings.

Both are (still) 90 proof. Pricing is current.

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon 10 Years Old2008 review; 2010 review. Classic ‘Turkey. The astringency hits you first on the nose. It needs to aerate and blow off a bit before settling into its groove, where those classic, big citrus notes come to the fore, alongside a touch of roasted nut character. The palate loads up with vanilla and caramel, more of those nuts, and a malted milk character that becomes evident, almost chewy, on the back end. A scant touch of hospital character grips on tight at the finish, but as with the somewhat funky nose, it eases up over time. Current rating: B+ / $30

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye 6 Years Old2007 review; 2010 review. Fresh rubber and banana are immediate on the nose, with cotton candy notes. The nose would indicate that it’s an ultra-fruity rye, but the body takes things in another direction. Namely: Classic rye spices, with cinnamon and clove notes, black pepper, more banana, and marzipan. A bit of gumminess on the finish makes the farewell feel a bit clammy as it fades away, though. All told, I prefer it slightly to the bourbon. Current rating: B+ / $38  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

wildturkeybourbon.com

Review: Cannonborough Beverage Co. Sodas and Mixers

cannonborough

Charleston-based Cannonborough Beverage Co. started making its fresh fruit sodas in 2012, where they are sold for drinking soda and for use as cocktail mixers. These all-natural sodas come in 750ml bottles (the crown caps can be a problem unless you’re preparing drinks for a party or a punch bowl), and can be purchased online from the company.

We tasted all three varieties of the Cannonborough lineup. Thoughts follow.

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Grapefruit Elderflower – Sweet elderflower hits the nose, and with a sip the grapefruit quickly takes over. The sugar-meets-flower notes of the elderflower do battle here, with sweetness shining brightly for a second, before the sour grapefruit finishes things off. My clear favorite of the bunch, I’d love to mix with this versatile product. A-

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Honey Basil – Herbal and sweet on the nose, but the earthy, spicier basil notes run the show on the palate. Seemingly built for mixing with gin, it’s a combination that works very well — as a sweeter alternative to a gin and tonic. Less fun on its own, though. B+

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Ginger Beer – A complex mixer compared the relatively straightforward remainder of the lineup, made with ginger, habanero, vanilla, and cloves. Quite foamy, and much sweeter smelling than I was expecting. Sweet citrus notes — sugared lemon/lime, primarily — hit the palate first, with the racy ginger — crushed bits of ginger root are readily visible in the liquid — providing a fiery, bracing finish. A bit scattered. B

each $10 per 750ml bottle / cannonbevco.com