Another entry into America’s great and belated return to rum-making, Privateer hails from Massachusetts. I’ll spare you the lengthy backstory which includes a discovery of a colonial era flotilla of ships and a distillery owned by the ancestor of the distillery’s current proprietor. The bottom line: They’re making rum in New England again, people.
It’s unclear where the sugar cane for Privateer comes from, but it is distilled and bottled in New Essex, Mass. Thoughts on the distillery’s two expressions follow. Both are 80 proof.
Continue reading “Review: Privateer Rum” »
Knappogue Castle is one of the blue chips of the Irish whiskey world, producing well-aged spirits and a variety of rarities, including the ongoing “Twin Wood” series of limited edition whiskeys.
Twin Wood is Knappogue’s terminology for Irish that’s been matured in Bourbon casks and finished in Oloroso sherry barrels. The 14 years are spent in the Bourbon casks before the whiskey moves on to the sherry finishing.
14 years is a long time for Irish to spend in any kind of wood, but Knappogue Castle has a surprisingly light gold color. It’s got an ample nose, however. A big malty character dominates, mingled with exotic raisins, coconut, and orange character driven by the sherry.
The body is complex and unique. Again, lots and lots of malty grain here, plus plenty of oddities: banana, smokestacks, caramel candies, orange peel, coconut husks, and licorice, all in a bit of a jumble. I like a lot of the flavors in the whisky, but ultimately I’m still not sure about the way they all come together. It’s fun to tipple on but tough to get a handle on where it’s going.
B+ / $60 / knappoguewhiskey.com
Cachaca, the national spirit of Brazil, tends not to be the most nuanced of liquors, but Soul, made in Cruz do Espirito Santo, is one of the better renditions I’ve encountered of late.
Cachaca’s iconic aroma is typically that of gasoline, and while Soul’s got it too, it’s milder here than you usually encounter. It’s well balanced with strong lime and even a little chocolatey undertone, curious for an unaged cachaca.
The body is heavy on the citrus character, with very tart lime notes taking over where the nose leaves off. The texture is moderate — again, that acid keeps it from being too rounded — with a grassy character to it. The finish is quite acidic and mouth-puckering, which mutes and dampens the spirit’s funkier characteristics considerably. There’s rarely a whole lot to cachaca, but this is on the whole a quality product and a definite contender for a go-to spirit for a caipirinha.
B+ / $23 (one liter) / thecachaca.com
George Clooney seems to like his tequila like he likes his women: Sweet.
This much talked-about celebrity project doesn’t hide its backer on the back label like some vanity spirits: The Cloon’s signature is right on the front. (It looks like “Geogo Cloy” but that’s close enough, I think.)
Available in blanco and reposado expressions, this 100% Highlands agave tequila is currently an exclusive at BevMo retailers. Both are 80 proof.
Continue reading “Review: Casamigos Tequila” »
This final installment in the 2012 Classic Malts Selection whiskys is a fat old 30 year old from Speyside’s Auchroisk, aged in a mix of American and European oak.
Malty and woody on the nose, it’s interesting but restrained at first blush. The body brings out lots of sherry notes that you don’t really catch in the aroma, plus touches of banana, cedar, and incense notes. There’s plenty of wood here too, coming on heavier as you work through a glass. The finish keeps the lumber character rolling, but keep with it for long enough and you’ll find hints of cocoa powder to enjoy, too.
Solid dram, but perhaps showing the effects of a few too many years in barrel.
B+ / $359 / malts.com
In January we covered five of this year’s seven Diageo’s Classic Malts Selection. Why five? At the time, two weren’t yet upon our shores, so we’ve been waiting… and waiting… and waiting.
Finally they’re here, and first up we look at this unique Caol Ila, an unpeated malt from an Islay distillery that’s synonymous with peat. Lots of firsts here: This is the first sherried Caol Ila in this series of malts, aged not in ex-Bourbon barrels but rather European oak casks and the only unpeated Caol Ila released at 14 years old.
Continue reading “Review: Caol Ila 14 Years Old “Unpeated Style” Limited Edition 2012” »
Like all good rich guys in the San Francisco Bay Area, John Lasseter, of Pixar fame, has a winery of his own. Mind you, he’s no Johnny come lately to the wine biz. Lasseter has lived in Sonoma for 20 years, and he bought his first winery/vineyard property in 2002. Now, three generations of Lasseters work to produce the company’s wines, inspired by the “old world” wines of France.
Paysage is Lasseter’s rendition of a St. Emilion style Bordeaux, and the 2009 is made from 42% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Malbec, and 2% Cabernet Franc.
The nose offers traditional plum notes backed with spices, especially mint. The body is thick and intense, with extracted blackcurrant notes. The mint makes a comeback here, along with some tannic, woody notes on the finish. I don’t get a great feeling of integration in the end, though some years in bottle may help to bring the pieces together.
350 cases made.
B+ / $40 / lasseterfamilywinery.com
1) Who is Clyde May? An Alabama farmer and WWII veteran who turned to illegal whiskeymaking to supplement his income… and learn a thing or two about craft distilling. In 2002 Clyde’s son Kenny May decided to revive the family business and open a distillery.
2) Where is Conecuh Ridge? Southern Alabama, near the Florida panhandle. It’s reportedly where at one point the heaviest concentration of moonshine activity in the U.S. was taking place. (There still seems to be some hanky panky going on in the whiskey biz here; several years ago Kenny was busted for violating Alabama liquor laws; ownership has since changed hands.)
3) What, they make whiskey in Alabama? Yeah, and this whiskey — formerly branded as just Conecuh Ridge Whiskey — is evidence that these characters knew what they were doing.
Continue reading “Review: Clyde May’s Conecuh Ridge Whiskey” »
The secondary title of Fred Noe’s memoir could serve as ammunition for contentious debate among scholars and devotees of bourbon culture. “The Bold Story Of The First Family of Bourbon” is a hefty declaration when considering the many families of Kentucky whose heritage calls back several generations — some right down to the Commonwealth’s pioneering days. That said, few families have loomed so large or contributed so much to the advancement of bourbon as those with the surname Beam.
Continue reading “Book Review: Beam, Straight Up” »
We covered Merlet’s new Cognac a few weeks ago, but the company is arguably best known for its fruit liqueurs, which we’re finally getting around to covering them. All of them, actually. Thoughts on these high-end liqueurs and two unique Cognac/liqueur blends follow.
Merlet Triple Sec – Triple sec is perhaps the toughest liqueur there is to mess up, and Merlet’s, made with bitter orange, blood orange, and lemon, is perfectly solid and is at times a bit exotic with its melange of interrelated fruit flavors. A very pale yellow in color, the lemon is a touch more to the forefront than I’d like, lending this liqueur a slight sourness, but on the whole it’s a perfectly worthwhile and usable triple sec that I have no trouble recommending. 80 proof. A- / $30
Continue reading “Tasting the Liqueurs and C2 Cognac/Liqueur Blends of Merlet” »
To call the LeSutra line of liqueurs garish would be a vast understatement. Decked out in pastel colors, emblazoned with tiny fleur-de-lis icons, and sporting oversized metallic stoppers, you don’t walk past the lineup of four LeSutra bottles and not ask, what the heck is that?
Launched by producer Timbaland, these are (duh) club-friendly spirits intended as sippers at the table in your fancier bottle service establishments. Obviously they work as mixers, Alize-style, too.
Continue reading “Review: LeSutra Sparkling Liqueurs” »
Given the recent onslaught of titles dedicating themselves to a single spirit or beverage, the bookshelf of the cocktail connoisseur may find itself with a little less room to spare these days. Thankfully Albert Schmid’s paean The Old Fashioned is compact enough at 110 pages to fit right in, leaving room for those massive wine and cocktail tomes we’ve been reviewing as of late.
Continue reading “Book Review: The Old Fashioned: An Essential Guide to the Original Whiskey Cocktail” »
That Boutique-y Whisky Company isn’t something I made up. That’s really what it’s called.
This oddball label (again, I mean that literally, as the labels have comic book-style drawings on them) is being used for a new line of independent bottlings of single malt Scotch whiskys. Like most single malts, these whiskys are a blend of casks of different ages from the same distillery. They are bottled without age statements, and the drinker should expect significant variability from distillery to distillery and from batch to batch. These are all limited releases — a few hundred bottles each — that will simply not be repeatable in the same formulation once they are sold out. If something below sounds interesting, best to snap it up now. (By and large, they are bargains.)
We sampled four of the Boutique-y malts — there are dozens — from this first batch of releases. Thoughts follow. (Note that these are 500ml bottles, 2/3 the size of normal ones.) Continue reading “Review: Malts of That Boutique-y Whisky Company, Batch 1” »
James Teitelbaum has traveled the globe and has, apparently, seen nothing but its bars. This exhaustive book, subtitled “The Traveler’s Guide to Superior Libations,” takes you through more than 40 cities and hundreds of cocktail bars to let you know, should your travels take you to Austin or Anchorage, here’s where you can get a really good cocktail.
I’m in no position to tell you whether Teitelbaum’s picks in Cleveland or Vienna are solid, but I can vouch for the quality of his selections in the San Francisco Bay Area… although I will note Teitelbaum’s extreme penchant for tiki bars.
Continue reading “Book Review: Destination: Cocktails” »
Much like Kirkland, Master of Malt gets its hand on single malt whisky from time to time, which it bottles with an age statement… but without revealing the distiller. This Speyside malt is MoM’s fifth installment of its 30 year old whisky, now featuring a new bottle and label design.
This whisky is heavily sherried, a deep amber, with lots of orange on the nose. It’s still surprisingly young — fresh grain notes abound — and the wood influence is far less than you’d expect. Like any good 30 year old, it has a certain austerity to it, but here this comes across with more of an oatmeal character, flavored with some flamed orange peel.
There’s not a whole lot beneath it — touches of banana and wisps of smoke pay homage to age — but that’s no matter. It’s gone before you know it.
B+ / $206 / [BUY IT HERE]
Reader Alex Trembley turned me on to 2 Gingers in the middle of 2012, and finally we’ve been able to track down a bottle of this Irish Whiskey to review. Why the trouble? It’s only sold in Minnesota… at least for now.
The name 2 Gingers connotes spicy, ginger beer-laced drinks, but the moniker has nothing to do with the aromatic root. In reality, the name refers to redheads, the kind of folk which are in heavy supply in 2 Gingers’ homeland of Ireland.
Continue reading “Review: 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey” »
The title is most certainly not a misnomer, as Henry G. Crowgey’s Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking wastes no time in immersing the reader in his world, beginning with a discussion of Egyptians, Moors and the migration of distillation practices to Europe. Originally published in 1971, this challenging read holds a venerable place in bourbon’s literary canon, and for over four decades has stood as a pillar of information to those immersed in their own research. It has once again been re-pressed for a new generation of book and bourbon lovers alike.
Crowgey delivers on his premise: providing the reader with die-hard facts from the commonwealth’s primal origins to the years slightly preceding the Civil War, leaving no information unchecked and no barrel untapped. On selecting this time period for the book’s endpoint, he laments
“There was never a serious attempt on the part of 19th-century historians to perform the necessary research. Thus was much valuable history was lost, perhaps beyond recall, and therefore arose many pleasant legends in its stead.”
With the exception of a few small turns, Crowgey eschews scientific theory and methodology in favor of the minutiae: bills of deed, political theater and eloquent passages all intertwine to capture both the history of bourbon and of the Commonwealth with which it seems inextricably linked.
As a factual, historical, academic tome it is thorough and highly informative. It is a delight to watch a master scholar get his hands dirty and tell a history free of corporation-approved tales. However, it is also what makes Kentucky Bourbon such a challenge of a book to absorb. Those looking for an easy read may find these pages difficult or cumbersome in detail. Definitely an offering for enthusiasts and students of the craft.
B+ / $15 / [BUY IT HERE]
The “Smart Guide” series of books are designed as an alternative to the “for Dummies” books, and that makes sense to me. Who wants to be a dummy when you can be smart, right?
The format, however, is pretty much the same: Lots of sidebars, lots of iconic graphics, lots of entry points. And everything is written with simplicity and the absolute basics in mind.
Continue reading “Book Review: The Smart Guide to Single Malt Scotch Whisky” »
Formerly a private label distiller of Cognac for the major houses, Merlet (pronounced mer-lay) has launched its own label, under its own name. (The company also makes a variety of fruit liqueurs, which we’ll be reviewing soon.) The first product, launching now in the U.S., is called Merlet Brothers Blend, a marriage of eaux-de-vies ranging in age from four to 12 years old.
My first encounter with Brothers Blend was a little off-putting. I found it hot and young, typical of a pre-teen Cognac. On further tasting, after letting the bottle simmer down for a few weeks with a little air in the headspace, things have interestingly improved.
Continue reading “Review: Merlet Cognac Brothers Blend” »
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is home to many a splendored thing: actors Clooney, Depp, and Shatner, bluegrass music, horses, Lionel Hampton, Loretta Lynn, and of course bourbon. While these are all claims of which to be Kentucky proud, one of the finer small indulgences signaling spring’s imminent arrival to the Bluegrass is the season’s first sip of Mint Julep.
Indeed, even the poets have sung of its luxury. Clarence Ousley pontificated on the wedding of mint and bourbon in his poem “When The Mint Is In The Liquor,” so eloquently writing that “When the mint is in the liquor and/its fragrance on the glass/it breathes a recollection that/can never, never pass.”
Continue reading “Book Review: The Kentucky Mint Julep” »