Category Archives: Rated B+

Review: Charbay R5, S, and Release III Hop Flavored Whiskeys

WhiskeyFall2013150dpi 525x419 Review: Charbay R5, S, and Release III Hop Flavored Whiskeys

It’s commonly said that “whiskey is made from beer,” though that’s typically not quite true. Most whiskey is made from a low-alcohol, fermented grain sludge that you would never want anywhere near your mouth (I know, I’ve tried it). Usually this is just called mash, but sometimes it’s colloquially known as beer, because it’s kind of the same thing (though whiskey mash does not commonly include hops in it).

Well, Virginia, you can also make whiskey out of real beer, too. This is not often done, because real beer is much, much more expensive than grain sludge. But that didn’t stop Ukiah, California-based Charbay from doing it anyway. The whiskeys below are all made from actual beer — hence the “hop flavored” moniker in the name. (The flavor comes from the hops in the beer, not from anything added after the distillation takes place.)

We’ve seen younger versions of at least one of these before… but these are all newly-released whiskeys. Thoughts follow.

Charbay R5 Hop Flavored Whiskey Lot 511A – A couple of years ago we reviewed a pre-release version of Charbay R5, a whiskey made from bottle-ready Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA beer. Now a more finished version of Charbay R5 is out, aged for 29 months (vs. 2012′s 22-month version) in French oak following double-distillation in copper pot stills. As with the younger (and unaged) versions of this spirit, R5 Lot 511A wears its beer cred right on its sleeve. The nose is intensely hoppy, but also almost sherry-like with orange and clove notes Lots of wood here, almost smoky. The body has real intensity, with clear notes of Racer 5 as the whiskey develops on the palate — herbal, bittersweet, and plenty hoppy. The finish offers ample grain notes, sweet and salty and impregnated with the essence of the fields from which this whiskey was born. Exotic and exciting. 99 proof. B+ / $79

Charbay S Hop Flavored Whiskey Lot 211A – Also made from a Bear Republic beer, this one Big Bear Black Stout. As with R5, it is double distilled and aged for 29 months in French oak. This whiskey has a more mellow nose, offering a curio cabinet full of brown sugar, cinnamon, incense, and more grain character than the R5. On the palate, you’ll find musky, dusky spice, a big grain profile, and subtle notes of coffee and dark chocolate. The mid-palate is more rustic than R5, but the finish is more compelling, fading into an echo of an Irish coffee. 99 proof. B+ / $140

Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey Release III - This is the third release from Charbay’s 1999 collector’s series, comprised of 10 barrels of whiskey distilled 15 years ago. Distilled from a bottle-ready pilsner beer (no brand name is offered), the distillate spent six years in new #3 “gator skin” char American oak barrels, then 8 additional years in neutral vessels before bottling. The whiskey is offered at barrel strength — and barrel price, apparently. A much deeper brown color than Charbay’s other whiskeys, this whiskey shows just what this distillery can do with enough time to kill. The nose is dense, full of vanilla and chocolate notes (and not at all pilsner-like). On the palate, it’s eye-burningly hot. Water dramatically helps reveal its charms, which include dark coffee, burnt marshmallows, and a dark, roasted grain character. While not entirely in the same wheelhouse, this is the most bourbon-like of Charbay’s whiskey lineup, sweet and spicy and bound up with lots of enticing dessert notes. Whether that adds up to $400 a bottle — provenance aside, this is a 6 year old whiskey when push comes to shove — is a matter that can be debated in the comments. But one thing’s for sure: Charbay Release III is a knockout the likes of which you aren’t going to encounter anywhere else. 132.4 proof. 2713 bottles made. A / $410

charbay.com

Review: Tanduay Asian Rum

tanduay gold rum 513x1200 Review: Tanduay Asian Rum

A new rum? Nah. Tanduay’s been being made for 160 years… in that classical bastion of the rum world: The Philippines. Yeah, who knew? (The brand lays claim that it’s “one of Asia’s best-kept secrets,” which seems to be right on the nose.) But Tanduay is very likely new to you (as it is to me), as it’s at long last making its debut on the mainland stage.

Asian or no, the Tanduay production process is fairly typical of modern rum-making. Column-distilled from local, Philippine sugar cane and local water, Tanduay’s new-make spirit then goes into charred barrels for years (see below for details), though all of its rums are blends of barrels of a variety of ages. Both of these spirits are bottled at 80 proof. Thoughts on each, as always, follow.

Tanduay Silver Asian Rum – Spends up to 5 years in first- and second-fill oak barrels, then filtered to a light gold in color, almost like a young reposado tequila. Pungent on the nose, with an indistinct alcohol character. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet-smelling — a surprise — but rather veering toward a more brooding, burnt sugar character. The body is on the exotic side, starting with brown sugar and evolving with notes of cloves, ripe banana, and marzipan. The finish offers some bitter orange notes, all of which adds up to an unusual and a slightly unbalanced experience. Not at all bad — this is a rum designed for mixing, to be sure — but a little funky for everyday sipping. B+ / $20

Tanduay Gold Asian Rum - Spends up to 7 years in barrel before bottling, not filtered for color. Bold, more distinctive rum-focused nose, with brown sugar and some vanilla. A more exotic character evolves on the palate, including coconut and mango notes, licorice candy, and again with the dense marzipan notes — almost bordering on Amaretto character. More balanced on the whole, and all in all this is a more pleasurable rum than the Silver, offering a denser body with better integrated flavors. Fun for a change, and not a bad price. (Turns out “gold” and “silver” cost the same for once!) As with the above, this would be great in a tropical cocktail. A- / $20

tanduay.com

Review: 2010 Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella Estate Collection

Sartori Amarone Della Valpolicella 153x300 Review: 2010 Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella Estate CollectionA bright and fresh Amarone, this wine offers ripe strawberry and cherry notes, tempered by just the slightest touch of raisin — more evident on the nose than on the palate. The finish sticks with the sweeter side of things, offering a touch of sour cherry and some intriguing black tea notes, too.

B+ / $40 / banfiwines.com

Tasting the Spirits of Sweden’s Spirit of Hven

Organic Winter Schnapps HR 525x742 Tasting the Spirits of Swedens Spirit of Hven

The Spirit of Hven Backafallsbyn Distillery, or simply “Hven,” can be found on a small island wedged between Sweden and Denmark (it’s part of Sweden). Hven, pronounced “venn,” was established in 2008 as part of the new guard of Scandinavian distilleries, where it produces a variety of white and brown spirits, including some seasonal schnapps (for which Swedes go ga-ga).

At present, Hven’s products aren’t distributed in the U.S., but you can have them exported to you by our friends at Master of Malt, if you’re game to give them a try. The conical bottles alone are conversation pieces.

We sampled six of the company’s offerings. Thoughts follow. (Note: All prices are for 500ml bottles.)

Spirit of Hven Organic Vodka - Organic grains are pot distilled, then matured in oak barrels, then distilled again, resulting in a clear spirit. I’m not sure this unique production method would qualify as “vodka” in the U.S., but such is life. As vodka goes, it’s very different and unusual, with a nose of pineapple jam, menthol, orange peel, and slight oily fuel notes reminiscent of Pine-Sol. It’s all very strange, but the body is fortunately cleaner, with brighter lemon notes, sweet nougat, and a clean finish. The overall impression is closer to gin or genever than vodka, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you’re expecting. 80 proof. B / $53

Spirit of Hven Organic Gin – Made with the same process as the vodka (including oak aging and secondary distillation), plus the addition of fresh botanicals, which include vanilla, cassia, juniper, cardamom, calamus root, Sichuan pepper, aniseed, and Guinea pepper. Strongly herbal on the nose, with notes of lemon peel and licorice atop juniper. On the tongue it offers some sweet vanilla notes to counter the juniper, anise, and slight pepper character. The creamier body, brought on by the oak aging, works well with the gin, giving it a rounder, more mouth-filling character. Exotic yet also quite easy to drink on its own or as a cocktail ingredient. 80 proof. B+ / $54

Spirit of Hven Organic Aqua Vitae – This unique aqua vitae — essentially a flavored schnapps — is oak matured twice, both before it is distilled and after it is distilled in copper pot stills. Flavored with lemon and orange zest, along with caraway and St. John’s wort, this is a moderately gold spirit with a nose of dried herbs. A seemingly mix of random spice cabinet selections leads to a surprisingly delightful little concoction on the tongue. Lots of vanilla and caramel notes, with hints of gingerbread, hot chocolate, and marshmallows, leaving those herbal hints on the nose far behind. A bit of honey is added to this aqua vitae as well, which gives the spirit a unique but welcome touch of sweetness. All told, it’s a unique little spirit. Usually that’s a bad thing, but in this case, the results are surprisingly delightful. 80 proof. A- / $58

Spirit of Hven Organic Summer Schnapps (2011) – Presumably this changes from year to year, given the vintage date on the bottle, although most of the bottles I see online do not have a date indicated. This schnapps is flavored with bitter orange, rhubarb, elderflower, and apples and mixed with locally harvested botanicals before barrel aging to a modest amber. If you’re familiar with the Scandinavian essential spirit Aquavit, you’ll find these Summer Schnapps familiar. The nose offers a bittersweet rhubarb/cinnamon character, with a bit of a musty root beer note and a touch of dark chocolate. The body has more sweetness, at least at first, with orange and apple notes at the forefront. That sweetness turns bitter with more of that root character — licorice is a hefty here — and a wood oil, musky finish. Not bad for Aquavit, but nothing I’d drink during the summer. 76 proof. B- / $56

Spirit of Hven Organic Winter Schnapps – No date on this, but the fine print says it was produced in 2012. Produced as above, but flavored with oranges, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom, then oak-aged. Fruitier on the nose, with more sweetness and distinct cinnamon notes. On the body, considerable a apple cider character emerges, tempered by wood notes. Very Christmasy… the cloves emerge as strong contenders after the spirit opens up in the glass. But as with the summer version, the bitter finish is powerful, almost amaro-like in its intensity. Curious stuff. 76 proof. B / $56

Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 1 Dubhe Single Malt Whisky – A much, much different animal than all of the above. Named for a star in the Big Dipper, this first in a series of single malts (6 more are planned) is aged in a combination of American, French, and Spanish oak, though no age statement is offered. The nose is classic malt whisky — the base grain, lumber, and coal fires. Rustic, but pleasing. On the tongue, it’s surprisingly delightful. The grain gives way to lightly sugared toast, orange peel, sesame seeds, and light nougat and even butterscotch notes, emerging in classy, layered fashion. Most curious of all: The moderate smokiness on the nose totally fades away on the tongue, ultimately revealing a young spirit that nonetheless displays amazing refinement. Released March 2013, 10,250 bottles made. 90 proof. A- / $154

backafallsbyn.se

Review: Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished and Port Finished Bourbons

Abraham Bowman digitized Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon 525x911 Review: Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished and Port Finished Bourbons

Two new expressions recently arrived from our friends at Virginia-based, Sazerac-owned A. Smith Bowman, both specially-finished Bourbons bottled under the Abraham Bowman line. Thoughts follow.

Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon – This whiskey starts with 6-year old Bowman Brothers Bourbon. It is then transferred into old Bowman barrels which have, in the intervening years, been used to age Hardywood Brewery Gingerbread Stout for 12 months. The 6-year old spirit spends an extra two months in these Bourbon-Stout barrels, then four more months in regular, used Bourbon barrels. Got all that? Whew! The whiskey itself is fun stuff. Hot up front, it settles down to reveal ample spiciness, gingerbread character to be sure, with plenty of cinnamon and cloves. The sweetness emerges — comes on strong, really — in the finish, offering caramel apple (emphasis on the caramel) notes with touches of sawdust at the very end. While surprisingly young at heart and in structure, there’s still plenty of “old soul” character here to recommend it. 90 proof. B+/ $70

Abraham Bowman Port Finished Bourbon (2013) - As with the above, this Bourbon is finished in barrels that began as Bowman whiskey barrels, then were used to age local Virginia Port wine for 15 months. 12 year old Bowman Brothers Bourbon is then aged in these used Port barrels for another four months before bottling. (If you’ve encountered this whiskey before, a prior bottling released in 2012 was quite different: an 8 year old whiskey that spent 8 months in Port barrels from a different winery.) As for 2013, big wood notes dominate the nose, with chocolate coming to the forefront after a time in glass. This chocolate syrup character becomes evident on the palate, alongside some intense vanilla extract notes, a touch of orange peel, and more wood. As the whiskey develops it begins to exhibit some mildly raisin-like Port wine notes, but they’re kept in check by some very old Bourbon stock underneath them. All in all this is an interesting spirit, but my hunch is that the 2012 — with younger base whiskey and more time in Port barrels — was a little more fleshed out. 100 proof. B / $70

asmithbowman.com

Review: 2011 Sartori Ferdi Bianco Veronese IGT

Sartori Ferdi 150x300 Review: 2011 Sartori Ferdi Bianco Veronese IGTA unique white wine made entirely from garganega grapes from the Soave region of Italy. (As with the red wine Amarone, these grapes are dried before they are vinified, spending 40 days in the sun boosting their sugar levels.) The wine is partially fermented in stainless steel and partially in oak.

The wine initially offers a very muted nose. This opens up as the wine gets warmer, with honey and clear apricot notes evident. On the body, it’s surprisingly vibrant, again offering ample apricot with a slight caramel edge to it, particularly on the finish. The body is big, with floral elements that dance in and out on the tongue and in the nostrils.

B+ / $15 / banfiwines.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Stave Drying Time Experiments

buffalo trace Stave Drying experiment 525x517 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Stave Drying Time Experiments

When trees are cut down and turned into lumber, the wood planks are dried, or “seasoned,” by leaving them out in the open air. After a few months, the wood has lost enough of its oiliness to allow the staves to be turned into barrel planks. (If the wood isn’t dried at all, the moisture will likely lead to significant barrel leakage.)

But stave drying also has effects on the way the bourbon tastes — impacting how the whiskey is absorbed into the wood, and the amount and types of tannins, sugars, and other chemicals that are released into the spirit.

For this Experimental Collection release, Buffalo Trace focused on the very narrow variable of stave-drying time. The distillery normally dries its staves for six months. That’s the “control” in this experiment. For comparison, some wooden staves were dried for 13 months before being turned into barrels. Both were then coopered and filled with the same new make spirit (BT’s rye mash #1), and aged for 15 years. Both are bottled at 90 proof. New wood vs. old… which makes a better bourbon? Thoughts follow.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Standard Stave Dry Time – Proof that you needn’t mess with a winning formula. 15 year old rye-heavy bourbon in all its glory, full of vanilla and caramel character, and touched with orange oil, cloves, and cinnamon. Great balance, and incredibly well-rounded, this is just a great, well-aged bourbon that finds everything firing on all cylinders. A

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Extended Stave Dry Time - Hotter on the nose, with clear mint notes. Punchy, with much stronger orange fruit notes and a finish that is reminiscent of balsa wood. The vanilla is kept in check, with just hints of caramel. A racier spirit but one that starts to spiral out of balance. Amazingly instructive in how a small thing can impact a spirit in such a major way. B+

$46.35 each (375ml bottles) / buffalotrace.com

Review: Zwack, Unicum, and Unicum Plum Liqueur

Unicum Plum 198x300 Review: Zwack, Unicum, and Unicum Plum LiqueurFour years ago I covered a line extension from Hungary’s Zwack, which confusingly was launching for the first time a spirit called Zwack. Previously, Zwack’s sole product was the bitter Unicum, and “Zwack” was nowhere to be found on the label.

At some point Unicum left the U.S. market, leaving Zwack the company’s sole product in the line available on our shores. Now, Unicum is coming back, branded as “Zwack Unicum,” and a new spirit, Zwack Plum Liqueur, is also joining the group as a third wheel.

We first wrote about Zwack’s launch in 2009. Here’s a fresh look at the full lineup in 2013.

Zwack Unicum Liqueur - This spirit, originally crafted from more than 40 herbs and spices in 1790. Very bitter, it’s a digestif for the Fernet fan, with sweetness a distant afterthought. I compared a fresh sample with a bottle I have from 2001, and based on informal tasting, the formula does not seem to have changed. Pushing past the initial shock of bitterness, Unicum offers a heavy cinnamon note character, with orange peel beneath. Secondary notes include licorice, dark chocolate, dried herbs, and some wood, driven by the six months Unicum spends in oak barrels before bottling. This is a solid alternative to Fernet, offering its own take on the bitter liqueur without reinventing the category. 80 proof. A-

Zwack Liqueur - Alternately known as “Unicum Next” internationally, this is Unicum’s lighter-colored and far sweeter take on Unicum, clearly designed for a younger, more sweet-toothed audience. Slightly syrupy, Zwack is quite fruity, driven as I noted in my original review by cherry notes — though these are more of the cherry jelly variety than the fresh fruit. Tasting today, I also get strawberries, iced tea, and a strong, orange candy finish. It’s quite a different beast than Unicum, one which lends itself to drinking as a shot, using as a mixer, and generally appealing to a more novice drinker. That’s neither good nor bad… but it’s not Unicum. 80 proof. B+

Zwack Unicum Plum Liqueur (pictured) – Take Unicum and age it instead for six months in oak casks on a bed of dried plums (huge in Hungary) and you have Unicum Plum. The nose isn’t immediately distinguishable from Unicum, licorice and spice notes. The body is instantly familiar, but brings more fruit to the table — a Port-like prune character that helps to balance out some of Unicum’s overwhelming bitterness. If you’re looking for something somewhere in between Unicum and Zwack on the bitter to sweet spectrum, Unicum Plum may fit the bill, though I find the bitter Unicum more exciting. Note the lower alcohol level. 70 proof. B+

each $32 (1 liter bottle) / zwack.hu

Review: Cabo Wabo Diablo Coffee Liqueur

cabo diablo 193x300 Review: Cabo Wabo Diablo Coffee LiqueurIt seems like just about every premium tequila producer is expanding into coffee liqueurs, and the latest comes from Cabo Wabo, the Sammy Hagar-founded  tequila company. Called Cabo Wabo Diablo, this liqueur includes 100% agave tequila laced into an Arabica-based coffee liqueur.

A tiger-eye brown spirit, Diablo is less dark in color than you might expect, particular around the edges of the glass. There’s also less tequila character here than in many other similarly crafted spirits. The nose offers deep coffee notes, slightly nutty, with just a hint of agave and a touch of lemon. The body mostly follows suit, offering a milder coffee character with ample sweetness, some chocolate notes, and a finish that grips the back of the throat with herbal character and spice. A nice combination of flavors, all in all, but not particularly “diablo.”

70 proof.

B+ / $23 / cabowabo.com

Review: Liqueurs of Vietnam’s Son Tinh

sonh tinh box 300x224 Review: Liqueurs of Vietnams Son TinhAnd now for something completely different…

Son Tinh is a liqueur producer based in Vietnam. The company makes a wide range of spirits, including a shochu-style liqueur, bitters, and fruit-based liqueurs. At present the company makes 11 products, 6 of which we (miraculously) got to sample, delivered via an awesome, custom-made wooden crate straight from Vietnam!

Here’s a look at the nearly full lineup. Son Tinh’s liqueurs are slowly making their way to stores — the company did win Distillery of the Year at the New York International Spirits Competition in 2013 — with wholesale pricing of between $9 and $16 per 450ml bottle. Availability is expected in late 2014.

Meanwhile, thoughts follow.

Son Tinh Minh Mang 160x300 Review: Liqueurs of Vietnams Son TinhSon Tinh Nep Phu Loc – A clear sticky rice liqueur similar to shochu. Fragrant, grassy nose. Moderately sweet on the tongue, similar to a western-style vodka, with some marshmallow/nougat notes and a slightly earthy undertone. Simple and quite pleasing, could be used interchangeably with either shochu or vodka as a base spirit in cocktails. 76 proof. A-

Son Tinh Minh Mang -  A light amber herbal liqueur that boasts 19 ingredients, matured from 3 to 5 years before bottling. Intense and immediately pungent, with a nose of bitter roots, dirt, and Thai basil. The body hints at sweetness before delving back into a hefty bitter character, dense with licorice, burnt orange peel, and more tough root character. A bit of a tough slog, even for amaro lovers. 76 proof. C

Son Tinh Nhat Da – A dark brown herbal bitters matured from 3 to 5 years, the name means “one night.” Complex nose of coffee grounds, licorice, tar, and burnt lemongrass. The body is overwhelmingly bitter (plus a touch of that unavoidable sour edge), offering intense licorice and absolutely blackened coffee character. Strong and punchy, it never lets up with even a hint of sweetness to even things out. I’d say you’d get used to it, but you won’t. 76 proof. C

Son Tinh Chanh Leo - Passion fruit liqueur. Pale gold, some edgy sour fruit notes on the nose. The body is full of sour apple and pear notes, with candied lemons and dried mango character. It’s a bit scattered, falling back on a brewed tea character before a modestly bitter finish takes hold. 54 proof. B-

Son Tinh Mo Vang – Apricot liqueur. Deep amber, with musky perfume on the nose. A taste on the tongue arrives with a rush of sugar… before cascading into an intensely sour experience. The apricot is initially vivid, but leaves an aftertaste of bitter roots and fruit vinegar. 54 proof. B

Son Tinh Tao Meo – Rose apple liqueur, based on the rare fruit of the rose plant. On the nose, a mix of fruit and flowers, as the name would imply. More perfume than fruit, and blessedly dialed back on that sour character. What remains is a somewhat Madeira-like spirit with notes of raspberry and rose petals. 54 proof. B+

sontinh.com

Review: Baron Tequila Platinum

baron tequila 186x300 Review: Baron Tequila PlatinumBaron is a new brand of 100% agave tequila, triple pot-distilled from organic agave. (While it’s specifically billed as gluten-free, note that all 100% agave tequilas are naturally gluten-free.)

This blanco also boasts of a “zero-zero taste profile,” but it’s actually quite a pungent spirit. The nose is full of vegetal agave notes — a punchy mix of earth, mushroom, green pepper, and baking spices. On the body, the palate is rich and offers ample depth, revealing layers of lemon, black pepper, more of that earthy mushroom character, and a touch of vanilla on the back end. The overall effect is powerful but a bit muddy, leaving this a big blanco that fans of more forward tequilas will likely enjoy.

Currently available only in New York. 80 proof.

B+ / $55 / baronspirits.com

Review: NV La Marca Prosecco

La Marca Prosecco 750ml 88x300 Review: NV La Marca ProseccoA standby of big box stores and mega liquor retailers, La Marca is unmistakable with its Tiffany-blue label and its frequently sub-$10 price tag. Fresh nose, with a touch of green bean edge. The body is toasty and a bit bready, backed with apple cinnamon character and a touch of grapefruit. It’s nothing special, but it’s an easy enough wine to sip on.

B+ / $12 / lamarcaprosecco.com

Review: Sandeman 2011 Vintage Port and 40 Year Old Tawny Port

Sandeman 40YO Tawny 211x300 Review: Sandeman 2011 Vintage Port and 40 Year Old Tawny PortWe’ve covered the Port-makers at Sandeman fairly regularly through the years. Today we get the honor to look at two of its most treasured bottlings: the latest vintage port release (2011), and the 40 year old tawny expression. Thoughts follow.

2011 Sandeman Vintage Port - Classic currant and some coffee notes on the nose. The body is fresh and less brooding than many of its contemporaries, with ripe blackberry and currant notes that lead to a tight finish. I’d give this at least a decade to mature and mellow before sampling again. Rating today: B / $75

Sandeman Tawny Port 40 Years Old – Tea brown in color. Surprisingly familiar, it drinks like a younger tawny, with steady notes of cola, raisins, black tea, and that familiar “old wine” character. Finishes with raspberry notes on the back of the palate. Lots of depth here. Try it with a rich dessert. 20% abv. B+ / $110

sandeman.eu

Review: Magic Hat G-Thing and Heart of Darkness

magic hat gthing 106x300 Review: Magic Hat G Thing and Heart of DarknessTwo new/seasonal brews from Magic Hat, both with winter on the mind…

Magic Hat G-Thing – A ginger spice ale that’s light on the ginger, balanced with a solid ale backbone and touched with just a bit of spice (ginger and cinnamon). Mind you, it’s more ginger than gingerbread — the spicy addition offers ginger’s characteristic bite, not the more sweet-and-savory character you get with a baking cabinet full of gingerbread spices. Additives aside, the beer offers caramel, toasted bread, and light coffee notes, with a modestly bitter finish. Nods at the holidays without overdoing it. 5.7% abv. B+ / $NA

Magic Hat Heart of Darkness – A winter-themed English stout. Black as night, with relatively traditional character for the style. The nose is coffee-inflected, with some cocoa powder behind it. The body has more of the same, with some woody tannic notes underneath. Hard-edged and bitter on the finish. Nothing much new in the stout world here, but it’s representative of the style — neither breaking new ground or messing up a well-trod formula. 5.7% abv. B / $NA

magichat.net

Review: 2012 Clean Slate Riesling Mosel

Clean Slate Riesling Image 60x300 Review: 2012 Clean Slate Riesling MoselSomewhat sweeter than most dry Rieslings, but still crisp and clean, offering ample citrus, tropical notes, honey, and a finish of lightly roasted nuts. With a little more acidity you’d think you were drinking an Australian Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh and lively, this one’s an easy summer sipper (sorry, January!) but also works well with spicy food and lighter fare. Great price for an “uberfresh” wine.

B+ / $10 / cleanslatewine.com

Review: Chicken Cock Flavored Whiskeys

chicken cock whiskey 525x762 Review: Chicken Cock Flavored Whiskeys

Chicken Cock!

I can’t do the origin story justice. Here it is in the distiller’s own words.

Originally established in 1856 in Paris, Kentucky, Chicken Cock quickly became a significant 19th century Bourbon brand. Forced to move production to Canada during Prohibition, Chicken Cock was smuggled across the border in tin cans, where it rose to fame as a popular pour at some of the era’s most famous speakeasies, including the eminent Cotton Club in Harlem. When patrons ordered a “Chicken Cock,” waiters would present the tin can tableside and ceremoniously open it to reveal the bottle of Chicken Cock Whiskey inside. With an aluminum package and bold, new flavors, Chicken Cock Whiskey is back to once again bend the rules in the 21st Century.

Returning to its southern roots, Chicken Cock is bottled in Charleston, South Carolina in three different varieties – Chicken Cock Southern Spiced Whiskey, Chicken Cock Cinnamon Whiskey, and Chicken Cock Root Beer Whiskey.  Each is a flavorful blend of all natural ingredients and 86 Proof American Whiskey. A salute to the legendary tin cans, the bottles are made of 100% aluminum to facilitate and retain the optimal temperature for sipping chilled shots or mixing signature cocktails. Whether in a Southern Spiked Tea (Southern Spiced & Sweet Tea), a Root Beer Julep, or a Chicken’s Inferno (Cinnamon & Ginger Beer), Chicken Cock is adding a new dimension of flavor and quality to Southern classics.

These three narrow aluminum cans o’ unspecified, flavored whiskey make quite a statement, with their boasting rooster and that unforgettable name emblazoned at the top. Here’s how they shake out. As noted above, each is bottled at 86 proof.

Chicken Cock Root Beer Flavored Whiskey – The nose is a perfect recreation of root beer, but the body mixes it in with some standard-grade, heavy-wood whiskey… and as you sip on it the whiskey takes over. What starts with a nicely biting, root beer character fades into little more than sawdusty lumberyard notes. It’s not unpleasant, and I expect root beer fans will get a little kick out of this, considering how easy it goes down in the end, although it ultimately has little of substance to say. B-

Chicken Cock Southern Spiced Flavored Whiskey – The spices in question appear to be vanilla and ginger, maybe a touch of cinnamon, giving this a bit of a pumpkin pie spice character to it. Not bad, and it’s more balanced with the whiskey than the root beer version, offering a sweet ‘n’ savoriness that’s pleasant on its own but blends well with mixers. B

Chicken Cock Cinnamon Flavored Whiskey – A quite credible cinnamon whiskey. The spice is present but not overwhelming and mouth-scorching like so many cinnamon-focused spirits. Again, the nose is strong and focused, with the body a looser conflagration of cinnamon spice and moderate wood notes. But here the cinnamon wins out, kicked with a touch of vanilla that complements the spicier notes well. B+

each $20 / chickencockwhiskey.com

Review: 2011 Vina Ventisquero “Grey” Carmenere

ventisquero grey carmenere 102x300 Review: 2011 Vina Ventisquero Grey CarmenereTying a Chilean Carmenere into the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon is a bit of a stretch, but damn the torpedoes, we’re charging ahead anyway. Grey is a newish label from mega-producer Ventisquero, with a number of varietals under its belt. One of the latest is this Maipo Valley-originated Carmenere — Chile’s unofficial official grape — a 100% varietal bottling.

The nose offers earth and some raisin notes, with deep currant underpinnings. The body offers more of the same, with some tart apple character, and ample raspberry character. Opens up over time, with the initially heavy earth tones fading a bit, revealing a more cohesive, balanced whole.

B+ / $24 / ventisquero.com

Review: Eastside Distilling Burnside Bourbon and Marionberry Whiskey

burnsidebottle small 525x701 Review: Eastside Distilling Burnside Bourbon and Marionberry Whiskey

We’ve covered Portland-based Eastside Distillings’s masterful Burnside Double Barrel Bourbon before. Today we’re looking at a couple of its other products, including the 4 year old straight bourbon which Double Barrel is based on. Thoughts follow.

Eastside Distilling Burnside Bourbon 4 Years Old – Youthful, but not brash or underdone, this is a fruity example of a craft bourbon. The nose offers cinnamon-dusted apples, vanilla, and a little citrus character — oranges, mainly. Along with all of the above, more of that citrus comes through on the body, perhaps with a little mango on top of it. It’s not until the finish mostly that the mashbill makes itself, offering a gentle grain character that offers spicy rye notes and a cereal-like finish. Frosted Flakes, though, not Grape Nuts. Solid mouthfeel thanks to its 96 proof bottling strength. B+ / $25

Eastside Distilling Marionberry Whiskey – Eastside’s whiskey (it doesn’t say which) flavored with local Oregon marionberries and bottled at a slim 60 proof. A pretty maroon in color, surprisingly woody on the nose. Ample fruitiness on the palate — think strawberries, with just a touch of blueberry in there too — but tempered with some of whiskey’s fresh vanilla. Still, the finish is quite sugary and overwhelmingly jammy. That’s not a slight, but this is a far different drinking experience than the typical bourbon fan might be accustomed to. B / $34

eastsidedistilling.com

Review: Mission Brewery El Conquistador and Shipwrecked Beers

mission shipwrecked 300x282 Review: Mission Brewery El Conquistador and Shipwrecked BeersForget your 25.4-ounce Foster’s “oil can.” San Diego-based Mission Brewery is putting its craft brew into 32 oz. “cannons,” enough for two full pints of suds. So grab a friend, because you’ll need ‘em to polish off a full quarter gallon of beer.

Of course, Mission also does beer in bottles and kegs, but these monsters are coming to two of its popular offerings. We tasted them — as poured from the can into our own glassware — and offer thoughts below.

Mission Brewery El Conquistador Extra Pale Ale - A mild gold pale ale. Initially quite hoppy and bitter, this settles down to reveal a more classic, piney pale ale profile. There’s more malt in the middle than most beers of this style exhibit, with a kind of chewy, coconut-husk bitterness on the back end. Ultimately a relatively easy, and surprisingly sessionable IPA. 4.8% abv. B+ / $7 (32 oz. can)

Mission Brewery Shipwrecked Double IPA – Shipwrecked is a bruiser, a monster of a beer with lots of malt, lots of hops, and some citrus thrown in. And alcohol, nearly 10% by volume, so thick you can taste it from the start. This is a big beer that demands quiet attention, offering power and balance while coming in a little short on nuance. Start a fire and pour a glass… and don’t think about trying to drink this whole thing alone. 9.25% abv. B+ / $8 (32 oz. can)

missionbrewery.com

Review: Shock Top Ghost Pepper Wheat Experimental Beer

Earlier this year, Shock Top didn’t release its experimental Campfire Wheat Beer, a balls-out brew meant to taste like s’mores. Like Campfire, Ghost Pepper Wheat is destined for service at beer festivals only, so you’ll have to keep tabs on Shock Top’s website or Facebook page to figure out where it can be found.

Fortunately, unlike Campfire, Ghost Pepper Wheat is a far more successful (if less ambitious) experiment. An unfiltered wheat beer brewed with ghost pepper chiles — the hottest chile pepper in the world — plus a touch of blue agave and citrus peel, it’s a bit of a spin on tradition, combining the cereal notes of a wheat beer with the crispness of a Mexican lager.

The inclusion of the ghost pepper is of course the unique part of the draw here, and unlike many pepper-infused beers, Ghost Pepper Wheat doesn’t overplay this aspect of the beer. In fact, the spiciness is just barely present — just a hint on the tongue and the cheeks, so little that there can’t be more than a few drops of ghost pepper extract in an entire batch of this beer. In fact, it’s so mild that it’s one of the few times I’ve encountered a spicy beer (generally a bad idea in my book) where I actually thought it could use more heat.

Aside from the spiciness (or lack thereof), the beer is worthwhile. The citrus peel element is noticeable, but not overdone, giving the wheat beer base a little balance. Could you get the same effect by dropping a squeeze of orange and a dash of Tabasco into your standard grade Shock Top? Probably, but where’s the fun in that?

5.2% abv.

B+ / not for sale / shocktopbeer.com