Review: La Quintinye Vermouth Royal – Complete Lineup

la quintinye Vermouth Rouge JBLQ HQThis line of French artisanal vermouths is newly available in the United States. Fans of the aromatic wine, be it straight up or in cocktails, should definitely pick up a bottle or two or three.

This is a modern style of vermouth, complex and a bit avant garde in its production. La Quintinye is made with 18 to 28 aromatics (I’m not going to list them all here, check out their website for details) depending on the variety, plus a blend of white wines (yes, white is used for all three versions). Uniquely fortifying the mix is Pineau des Charentes (color varying depending on the variety), a fortified “wine” that blends unfermented grape juice with Cognac, which is then aged in oak barrels.

We tried all three varieties and present our reviews for your consideration.

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Extra Dry – Vibrant yellow, with a nose of bittersweet herbs, some honey, various citrus peels, and a little Band-Aid note on the back. The body is sharp and, again, bittersweet, chewy with loads of green herbs and citrus-focused, plus a lively woody/brambly note on the finish that pairs well with a hint of crisp white wine and that distinct Pineau character. Has trouble holding its own with gin, but can overpower vodka if you’re not careful with it. 17% abv. B+

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Blanc – Blanc or bianco vermouth is essentially intended to be “sweet” (aka rouge) vermouth, but without the color. La Quintinye’s rendition is quite sweet (but not too much) and about the same shade of gold as the Extra Dry, offering notes of fresh sugared grapefruit, lemonade, peaches, and hints of cinnamon. Some sage notes emerge on the nose, but this is a lush and summery experience that really strikes all the right chords. Use in cocktails as a substitute for Lillet, St. Germain, or in lieu of dry vermouth — but I like it best on its own. 16% abv. A

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge – The classic sweet vermouth. Aromatic on the nose with florals, citrus peels, and some woody, slightly bitter notes evident. On the tongue, sweetness hits first — plums, raisins, and brown sugar then a touch of bitter root, tinged with notes of dark chocolate and vanilla. This is the most complex of the trio and probably my favorite of the bunch, likely because it is killer when used as a mixer with bourbon. An easy go-to for a sweet vermouth, any day. 16.5% abv. A

each $24 /

Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay Fifth Release

kilchoman 5th ed

The 2015 edition of 100% Islay from Kilchoman (which features nothing but Islay-born ingredients) is now in its fifth generation. This lightly peated bottling is a vatting of whiskies distilled in 2009-2010 and matured in first-fill bourbon casks, just like last year’s fourth edition. The major difference is an extra year of age (though, as usual, there’s no actual age statement).

How does that extra year impact release #5? The peat is really starting to mellow out here, showing sweet elements alongside some emerging chocolate notes on the nose. Ripe banana remains a strong component on the palate alongside more traditional caramel and vanilla notes, though a relatively heavier smokiness on the finish takes this expression of 100% Islay in a somewhat different direction than earlier bottlings. There’s a considerable amount of lingering roasted grain character here, too.

All told it’s a curious but quite enjoyable malt: The smoke starts off understated but eventually builds enough to showcase the whisky’s Islay heritage while still providing enough room for the barley to shine.

100 proof.

B+ / $100 /

Review: Copper & Kings Immature Brandy and Craft Distilled Brandy

copper and kings immature brandy

Yes Virginia, they make stuff other than bourbon in Louisville, Kentucky. Copper & Kings, which only opened last year, is a craft distiller of brandy (and a bunch of absinthes, which we’re reviewing soon), which are copper pot-distilled “just twice for character and taste.” Made from Muscat (or French Colombard, depending on what you read), two varieties are currently available. Thoughts follow.

Copper & Kings Immature Brandy – That’s an interesting, on-the-nose name for an unaged brandy. Astringent and alcoholic — it’s also perfumed and exotic, with notes of lychee, elderflower, and marzipan all on the nose. Intensely floral and perfume-focused on the palate, the earthier tones seep in without overwhelming things. The finish takes things to an alpine level, and almost reminds me of an Andes mint. Consider using in lieu of gin. 90 proof. B- / $x

Copper & Kings Craft Distilled Brandy – Take the above and age it in a combination of new white oak and used bourbon barrels for about two years — and blend it with some older, sourced pot-distilled brandy — and you have this spirit. Lots of vanilla-focused bourbon notes on the nose, some lumber. On the palate, lots of sweetness, with those marzipan notes from the Immature showing up right from the start. With prominent notes of brown sugar, some cinnamon, more almond extract, and a bit of stone fruit, you could be forgiving for thinking this was some kind of craft whiskey (perhaps even an Irish), particularly with its chewy burnt-marshmallow finish. 90 proof. B+ / $x

Review: Indian Summer Gin

indian summer ginA touch of saffron gives this newly-arriving gin (from Duncan Taylor in Scotland) a light yellow hue, adding to an otherwise relatively straightforward botanical bill that angelica bark, almonds, coriander seed, cassia, juniper berries, lemon peel, licorice root, orris root and orange peel.

The nose is largely in keeping with tradition: juniper, strong citrus peel notes, and lots of heat due to the higher alcohol volume.

On the tongue, the licorice (surprisingly) hits first, with the juniper coming up quite a bit behind. This kicks off a little sweetness that isn’t really hinted at on the nose — almost evoking chewy licorice candy — before more evergreen notes take hold. On the finish, look for more of a grapefruit-like citrus character followed by the soothing earthiness of the angelica and orris root. Perhaps it’s here where the saffron is making its mark? Not on its own but as a complementary companion to some other herbal elements.

Exotic in appearance, Indian Summer offers some unique notes in its flavor profile, but they don’t quite come from where you expect them.

92 proof.

B+ / $45 /

Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2015 Releases

crossbarnWe’ve covered the wines of Paul Hobbs in the past, but this year we look at a larger collection of five offerings. Thoughts? Here they come!

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Fresh and easygoing, blending tropical notes with gingerbread cookies up front. The finish is creamy and caramel-focused, but it’s not overwhelming with this sweetness. Some light herbal notes add nuance on the back end. A letdown. B / $25

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Coast – Big and bright, punctuated with citrus and some fresh herbs — thyme and a touch of fresh cinnamon. The finish fades to a less distinctly acidic character, offering some chewiness and a bit of brown sugar — but all of that actually makes CrossBarn’s sauvignon blanc quite food-friendly, compared to most of the enamel-stripping examples of California sauvignon blanc out there. B+ / $25

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Rose of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Quite dry, perfumed with notes of both roses and white flowers. Gentle raspberry and strawberry notes dust the palate, but it’s far from overly fruited. Pretty and food-friendly but a bit underwhelming. B / $19

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – Excellent representation of Anderson Valley pinot, including bright cherry fruit, a dusting of spice, and gentle vanilla notes. A moderate, balanced body makes this approachable from all sides — summer sipping or enjoying alongside a steak — a real versatile player in any cellar. Stock up. A- / $35

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Nice and spice up front, with black pepper at play with blackberry notes. Some dusky baking spice emerges, offering cloves and some slight, bitter root notes. A dusting of sweetness on the back end complements what has come before, a little vanilla and citrus add layers of complexity atop a solid pinot noir. A- / $35

Review: Mezcal Alipus, 4 Expressions

alipus San Juan_alta

Del Maguey isn’t the only game in town if you want to explore single-village mezcals. Craft Distillers has put together a line of six different mezcals (including one special bottling of only 600 bottles) showcasing different terroirs in the pueblos of Oaxaca — all of which are a bit south of the capital. Each of these is 100% agave espadin, of course.

Let’s try four of them!

Mezcal Alipus San Andres – Fragrant on the nose, quite floral. The body features big orange and grapefruit notes, some cinnamon and black pepper, and gentle smokiness lacing throughout it all. Sweet and spicy, with a quiet demeanor to it. 94.6 proof. B+

Mezcal Alipus San Juan – These agaves are harvested from 1100 meters, the lowest elevation in this group (the rest all hover at around 1600 meters). Quite smoky, with some fruit underneath it. This is a more brash mezcal, though notes of banana and coconut bubble up on the finish to add some nuance. Overall, though, this is the most heavy-handed mezcal of the bunch — which is a good and a bad thing, depending on your POV. 95.4 proof. B

Mezcal Alipus San Luis – Milder, and instantly sweeter on the nose, with more of a barbecue character. Applewood bacon, some citrus, particularly lime, are heavy on the palate. A touch of red pepper on the tongue gives this mezcal a little more heat than the others, while some sweeter elements give the finish a gentle way out. There’s lots going on with this mezcal, which has a complexity that some of the other Alipus expressions lack. 95.6 proof. A-

Mezcal Alipus Santa Ana del Rio – Sweet, with piney notes. The least smoky of the bunch — definitely a starter mezcal for those afraid of it. A quiet spirit, it offers distinctly floral perfume notes on the nose, then some fruit on the palate — pomelos and peaches, perhaps? A bit rocky on the finish, as some medicinal notes emerge. Curious stuff. 93.8 proof. B

each $48 /

Book Review: The Craft Cocktail Party

C51R0OOuzRKL._SX403_BO1,204,203,200_ocktail party? OK. Craft cocktail party? Even better!

Julie Reiner’s big, hardbound book takes the now-popular seasonal approach to organization, dropping a couple dozen recipes into each of the four seasons. Reiner, owner of the Clover Club in Brooklyn and the Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan, keeps things fairly simple — most of the cocktails only have three to five ingredients — but also very fresh. Most of the recipes have fresh produce, herbs, or juice in them, particularly those tied to the warmer months. The overall selection comprises both classics and freshened-up spins on them. It’s a concisely curated collection without a lot of fluff in it — which is both a good and a bad thing.

The Craft Cocktail Party features some full-color photography, but with a book like this — almost designed for the coffee table instead of the bookshelf — even more would be a nice feature. At the kind of craft cocktail soiree Reiner describes, I definitely want to see what I’m drinking before I run to the store for turbinado sugar.


Book Review: Beer for All Seasons

51OnBaUpZZL._SX380_BO1,204,203,200_A cynical beer drinker would say the concept of the new book Beer for All Seasons: A Through-the-Year Guide to What do Drink and When to Drink It is absurd. Beer should be drunk every day, amirite beer guys?

Well, author Randy Mosher of course has more sophisticated aims here: Pairing certain beer styles to certain seasons, holidays, festivals, and other occasions. Now this isn’t rocket science, really. You drink lighter beers in the summer on the beach and darker ones in the winter by the fire. And the only time you’d think of drinking a pumpkin beer is on Thanksgiving.

Well, not so fast, as Mosher reminds you that traditions and local customs may compel some surprising consumption. Black IPA for Easter dinner? Who knew?

Mosher’s got lots of general info about beer styles, production, glassware, and even pouring methods — and lots of color pictures to keep this all breezy and fun. This is also the first book I have seen that publicly called out the long-debunked “tongue map” as inaccurate and replaced it with more modern science. (It’s amazing how many people continue to hold on to this nutty idea that you only taste salt on the sides of your tongue and sweetness on the tip.)

Overall, this is a quick read that will make you instantly ready for a brew. Worth it for the putting all the information about all the “beer weeks” around the country in one place alone.


Review: Wines of Ehlers Estate, 2015 Releases

ehlers ESt. Helena-based Ehlers is a high-end Napa winery producing a modest number of red-centric wines. Today we’re looking at a total of four 2015 releases, including 2014 whites/roses and 2012 reds. The fun starts below…

2014 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc St. Helena – Crisp and loaded with citrus, florals, and mineral notes, all wrapped up in a nicely acidic package. Fresh lemon and grapefruit, white flowers, and a touch of honeysuckle all come and go through the course of sipping on this extremely deft, balanced, and masterfully crafted sauvignon blanc. It’s exactly what this varietal should taste like. A / $28

2014 Ehlers Estate Sylviane Rose St. Helena – A rose of 100% cabernet franc, pink and dry and pretty as can be. Notes of dried flowers, fresh raspberry, some citrus, a bit of vanilla creme brulee, and a touch of balsamic give this a dazzling complexity — but it’s the dry and cleansing finish that makes it exceptionally memorable (and food friendly). A rose to try even if you’re an avowed rose hater. A / $28

2012 Ehlers Estate Merlot St. Helena – 92% merlot, 8% cabernet franc. Light violet notes offer an entry into a well-crafted but ultimately somewhat boring merlot, which yields flavors of blueberry and rhubarb and overtones of chocolate. An herbal edge on the finish cuts some of the sweetness a bit, elevating the experience with some aromatics that come into play late in the game. Give it time and use a large glass for the best experience. B+ / $55

2012 Ehlers Estate “E” 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon – 95% cabernet sauvignon, 2% cabernet franc, 2% merlot, 1% petit verdot. Dense. Give it time upon opening, maybe with a decanter. As it opens up, it reveals all the gorgeous opulence you’d expect from a Napa cab — intense cassis, fresh rosemary, lengthy vanilla, and subtle lumber notes. Paired with a sizable steak, what’s not to like here? Subtle chocolate, woody bramble, and touches of root beer merge with time. Everything’s operating on all cylinders here. Beautiful, beautiful cabernet. A / $110

Review: Pura Vida Silver Tequila

pura vida silver

This 100% agave tequila is not to be confused with Vida or Dulce Vida, Pura Vida is a small brand with a focus on flavored tequilas. The company also makes straight tequila, including this unaged blanco. Pura Vida is in the process of moving to its own distillery; this sample is still produced at NOM 1414.

Moderate, peppery punch kicks off the nose, with some notes of lemongrass and a clear jalapeno edge. On the palate, there’s sweetness and spice, some surprising caramel character, and a more gentle lacing of agave with the tequila’s more up-front citrus notes.

The finish is clean but still offers an ample, classic tequila character. Overall, Pura Vida doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, but it does put together a quality blanco with plenty to recommend.

80 proof.

B+ / $35 /