Review: 2011 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder

nullMt. Brave isn’t called that because they think the name is cute. It’s because the fruit for this wine is grown at high altitudes on the dedicedly inhospitable Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley, California.

This 2011 Cabernet (94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc) is the picture of restraint. The nose is very mild, with notes of blackberry, tea leaf, mushroom, and cedar — but in the distance, not punching at your nostrils like so many bolder, Napa-born cabernets. The body doesn’t immediate run any specific direction. It’s light and lively, almost to the point of feeling watery, again a big surprise given the usual trajectory for this type of wine.

Instead, look for notes of simple red fruits, vanilla, and a touch of fresh herbal character. Again, this is all very simplistic and a tad underdeveloped, which means it drinks easily enough, but lacks the depth that a wine of this stature should have.

B+ / $75 / mtbravewines.com

Tasting 2015 Bruichladdich Releases with Distiller Jim McEwan

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Since Bruichladdich was reopened in 2001, just one man has been running the stills: Jim McEwan. A veteran from Bowmore (where he began working as a cooper at age 15), McEwan has overseen some 300 different bottlings of Bruichladdich during its wild first decade (and change) of production. When Remy Cointreau famously bought Bruichladdich in 2012, the distillery’s notoriously scattershot inventory was reined in, with the company focusing on a more targeted and more closely curated range of expressions.

I sat down with McEwan in San Francisco to taste through eight current and upcoming releases, and one thing was made clear. You might be able to tame the number of SKUs that Bruichladdich is churning out, but you’ll never get rid of the distiller’s sense of adventure and experimentation. Case in point: His next trick involves 100 tons of barley given to farms in eight regions within Scotland, which has now been turned into whiskey and is aging in identical barrels on Islay. The results, when these spirits are matured and released in 2018, will demonstrate exactly how terroir impacts malt whiskey.

Until then, here are some brief thoughts on a guided (but unfortunately short) tour through eight of Bruichladdich’s finest current-release spirits follow.

The Botanist Gin – McEwan’s baby. A traditional, classic dry gin with a twist. Distilled from neutral alcohol and studded with 22 botanicals. Still a gorgeous, supple spirit. Recently repackaged. A [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley The Classic Laddie – This is a 7 year old version of the beloved Laddie Ten (which you’ll see again in, well, 3 years). Made from barley grown all over Scotland. 25% aged in sherry casks. Rich and honeyed, with a significant sherry influence. Big mouthfeel, big bite on the finish. A-

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2007 – Made exclusively from Islay-grown barley, the first such barley grown on the island since World War I. Not peated, but it offers salt and maritime notes, a lot of malt character, and a touch of iodine. A great dram. A

Bruichladdich Black Art 1990 4.1 23 Years Old – McEwan is a bit smug about Black Art, which is a well-aged whisky made from mysterious sources — involving a huge variety of barrel types of which McEwan will say nothing. It’s intended to “intrigue the consumer” and is a bottling McEwan says was made as “a protest” to the bullshit stories that distilleries are so fond of peppering their back labels with. Black Art hasn’t always been a favorite of mine, but 4.1 is drinking with a better balance, with nice chewiness and plenty of wine barrel influence to it. B+

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley – The first of two PC releases tasted today, this peaty dram sees some wine cask aging, which gives it so much fruit it almost goes toe to toe with the peat. Same deal as above; this is made from Scotland-only barley, from all over the country. B+

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Barley – Made only from the Islay barley mentioned above. This is a brand new release that also sees some wine casks for aging. It’s a searing whisky with lots of peat and seaweed in the mix. Nice balance. B+

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1 – Classic Octomore, ultrapeated to 157ppm, which gives it a dense smokiness and a barbecue-like sweetness out back. I’ve grown used to Octomore, but compared to 6.3 (see below) it’s a bit of a bore… 14 proof. B+

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.3 – In the nomenclature of Bruichladdich, .1 bottlings are global releases, .2 are for travel retail, and .3 denotes whisky made from Islay barley. This is the first .3 Octomore, and it’s easily the best rendition of this spirit ever. Peated to an absurd 245ppm — the most heavily peated whisky ever released by a mile — this 5 year old spirit (bottled in a frosted bottle instead of the usual black) is remarkably gentle on its own despite bottling at 128 proof. Some floral elements emerge along with vanilla, and it isn’t until you add a substantial amount of water that the peat really starts to kick up. Even then, it’s well integrated, balanced, and just lovely to sip on. Available April 2015 for about $225 (good luck). A+

bruichladdich.com

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Review: Riedel Veritas Champagne Wine Glass

Riedel Veritas Champagne_White_With_WineRiedel’s latest high-end glass looks like a stretched-out white wine glass, but it’s designed for Champagne. Towering at nearly 9 1/2 inches tall, this monster doesn’t resemble any vessel I’ve consumed Champagne from, but let’s try anyway. A traditional flute is designed to minimize bubble production while you’re drinking, and most of the time it takes real effort to get your nose down into the glass. With the new Riedel Veritas, that’s not the case. The wider mouth easily envelops your entire nose, which can lead to a bit of the pummeling of the senses when you’re dealing with a particularly bubbly bubbly. I’m not a big fan of the noseful of yeast effect and prefer a flute from this standpoint, but your mileage may vary.

From a flavor perspective, the glass works very well. Flavor notes are rich and the palate carries through with brightness and intensity. Compared to my day-to-day flutes, I found it easier to get just the right amount of wine in my mouth for a proper experience — and the wine stayed surprisingly well-chilled throughout the experience.

That said, this glass is so delicate and the stem so wafer thin I can’t imagine a pair of these making it through a year of even casual use without being destroyed.

B+ / $60 per pair / riedelusa.net  [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Sixteen

This is it! The end! The last 12 bottles in the unfathomably ambitious Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project have arrived. I’ll be offering some in-depth coverage of the lessons learned from the project in the months to come — more on this later — but for now it’s time to consider this last dozen whiskeys on their own merits. Meanwhile, hats off and glasses raised to Buffalo Trace for putting on such an impressive and — likely — industry-shaping experiment.

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s the entire Single Oak Project:

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 Fourteen
Round Fifteen

This final round is a mixed bag of basically the leftovers in the project. The only constants are stave seasoning (6 months) and barrel char level (#4). Everything else — recipe, entry proof, wood grain, warehouse type, and tree cut varies. As always, all expressions are bottled at 90 proof.

There are no major standouts in this round, but there’s plenty of intrigue in the mix. As for the field as a whole, barrel #82 remains the fan favorite among all the bourbons released to date, with #109 and #111 close behind.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #7 – A melange of aromas here, but heavy on the mint. The body has more of a chocolate mint character to it, but some racy heat and a slightly odd oatmeal character underpins the finish. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 15 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #20 – Well-rounded, with touches of cinnamon atop some traditional, lumber-heavy notes. The body heads strongly into sawdust territory, with some citrus notes on the back end. Fine, but undistinguished. B (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #39 – Gentle nose, heavier on lumberyard notes than anything else. There’s some cola amidst the vanilla caramel notes and a touch of citrus oil on the very back end, but otherwise this bourbon comes off with a bit of a thud. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 18 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #52 – A racier expression on the nose, with peppery notes and some cereal character behind that, but it settles into a creamy caramel character as the body takes hold. Quite a pleasure, with two faces to consider. A- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 18 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #71 – A little raw on the nose, this whiskey seems like it will be a fire bomb on the palate, but that’s not the case for the most part. Caramel, cinnamon, and red hots candies are all in the mix, and working well together. The finish is a bit hot, with some rougher granary notes dominating. B- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 13 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #84 – Engaging from the start, a little minty, with a little butterscotch character to it. Lovely and dessert-like on the palate, with an echo of that mint on the finish. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #103 – A fireside whiskey, almost smoky at times. The palate’s a little thin, but it does offer some red fruit and curious berry notes to spice up the vanilla and lumberyard notes on the body. Particularly fruity on the finish. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 13 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #116 – Chewy with cereal, but layered with menthol notes. Rounded on the palate, it’s got fruitcake and nutty elements that fade with the arrival of a more grain alcohol character on the back end. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 12 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #135 – More citrus here than most of the other expressions in this round, with a bit of butterscotch to back it up. The finish is warming, and quite drying at times. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #148 – Oaky, and a bit racy. Plenty of red pepper here but the dusty, vanilla-tinged caramel that makes up the core makes it both balanced enough and worthwhile on its merits. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #168 – Plenty of lumber at first, but a unique element of hazelnuts emerges if you give this whiskey some time, a bit of Nutella character that lingers for quite awhile before some cayenne pepper notes kick back up on the back end. A little weird, but worth sampling for its uniqueness alone. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 8 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #180 – A simpler whiskey, without a lot of classic bourbon character to it. Here I get more simple lumberyard notes, some cereal, and mixed fruit, but it’s missing that vanilla slug, particularly on the rustic back end. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 10 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

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

Review: Adelbert’s Brewery The Traveler, Tripel B, and Philsophizer

adelbert's philosophizer

Austin, Texas-based Adelbert’s Brewery specializes in Belgian-style, bottle-conditioned ales in Big Boy, 25.4 oz. bottles. To a T, these are all big, burly beers that you should probably have a beard to drink properly, but I did my clean-shaven best nonetheless. Thoughts on three of the brewery’s current lineup follow.

Adelbert’s Brewery The Traveler Belgian-Style India Pale Ale – Bready and full of malt, this is not your father’s IPA. Bitter up front but subtly sweet with notes of canned peaches and applesauce. The finish returns to that chewy malt, adding in some mushroomy, forest floor notes for good measure. It’s a very different IPA than you’re probably used to. 7% abv. B+ / $10

Adelbert’s Brewery Tripel B Belgian-Style Tripel – As the name suggests, this is a Belgian tripel, hugely malty from the start and punched up with notes of applesauce, apple cider, and orange peel. Honeyed in both flavor and body, this almost-syrupy brew bubbles up some notes of baking spices as it evolves in the glass before finishing on a chewy note that recalls banana and bubble gum. 9.3% abv. Reviewed: Batch #25. B+ / $14

Adelbert’s Brewery Philosophizer Belgian-Style Saison – This beautiful, farmhouse-style ale really surprised me. The malty aroma is punchy and full of fresh-cut grain notes, backed with touches of citrus peel, white pepper, and cloves. As the beer warms, a gentle earthiness develops in the glass. There’s plenty of all of the above on the palate, with even more fruit and a chewy, body rich with malt. That spice lives a lingering impression on the finish, with just enough juicy orange and backing spice to beg for another sip. 7.8% abv. Reviewed: Batch #16. A / $11

adelbertsbeer.com

Review: Founders Brewing Dirty Bastard, Porter, and Imperial Stout

founders porterGrand Rapids, Michigan is home to Founders Brewing, the company behind these three chilly-weather brews, all excellent choices for knocking back while you’re sucking out the last of the heat from those fireplace embers.

Founders Brewing Dirty Bastard – A Scotch style ale, loaded with malt, dried figs, sawdust notes, and heavy chocolate overtones. Filling but wintry, soothing but with a bitter edge, almost like a very dark chocolate. Initially a bit overwhelming, Dirty Bastard manages to settle down eventually — particularly with food — to finish its tenure as a welcome, bittersweet companion. 8.5% abv. B+

Founders Brewing Porter – A silky, chocolate-heavy porter, this is a sexy little number with substantial length and depth. Roasted chocolate notes and just a hint of coffee help balance a chewy, malty body, but it’s the solid, well-curated hops selection that brings on the bitter finish, and turns this brew from a curious dessert concoction into a more thoughtful beer. 6.5% abv. A-

Founders Brewing Imperial Stout – Chewy, chocolatey and rich, this is a classic imperial stout, loaded with notes of dried fruit, prunes, and figs, lending some unctuous sweetness to a lightly bitter, heavily malty, unmistakably stouty brew. Very rich and filling, this heavy hitter is a bit like trudging through molasses in every sense of the word. In a good way. 10.5% abv. B+

each about $10 per six- or four-pack / foundersbrewing.com

Review: Wines of Frei Brothers, 2015 Releases

Frei Brothers Reserve 2013 R. River Valley-Sonoma County Pinot Noir 750mlThree new wines from Sonoma’s Frei Brothers, which seemingly only has a “Reserve” label. Thoughts follow…

2013 Frei Brothers Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County – A big, slap-your-mama California Chardonnay, but one that’s not without some charm. The big vanilla is kept in check by some lemon and orange notes, with a pervasive apple cider character. There’s enough acidity on the back end to give this wine a fair amount of life, but given the lingering sweetness, I’d still reserve it for the dessert course. B- / $20

2012 Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County – Initially very fruity, to the point of being jammy, this wine eventually settles down to reveal lots of black fruit, dark chocolate, and coffee bean notes. I get hints of cinnamon and allspice, but by and large it’s a chewy, Napa-style cabernet with gentle tannins, modest sweetness, and a lengthy, dense finish. B+ / $27

2012 Frei Brothers Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Sonoma County – A workmanlike Pinot, drinkable but too thin, simply lacking in enough body. The fruit is there, but it’s restrained — cherries and some raspberry notes — dialed back and held in check for a short, but innocuous, finish. B / $27

freibrothers.com

Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2014

Lagavulin 12 Bottle & Box

A 12-year-old expression of Lagavulin is a perennial part of the Diageo Special Editions, and sure enough, this is the 13th Lagavulin 12 to be released in the series, again vatted from refill American Oak casks.

As usual, it’s a classic expression of Lagavulin, light on its feet (and a gentle yellow in color), radiant with coal fire smoke on the nose, some vegetal undertones, and a squeeze of bright lemon. The body is pushy with peat, hot and fiery, but tempered with a sweetness akin to confectioner’s sugar and gingerbread notes. The finish is as salty as the sea, just classic Islay through and through.

It’s easy to enjoy Lagavulin 12 every year if you’re a peat fan, but at this point the experience is becoming a little old hat for the whiskies in this line. I’m just having a hard time sustaining the excitement about younger Lagavulin (with a very consistent experience) at a higher price year after year. And with that said, if something’s released annually like clockwork, shouldn’t it really get a permanent home on the release calendar instead of being a “Special Edition?” Just askin’.

108.8 proof.

B+ / $130 / malts.com

Review: American Juice Company Mixers

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With their goofy names, one wouldn’t expect the fruit juice mixes from the American Juice Company to be upscale products designed for the back bar. These are all-natural products but, they’re designed to last for the long haul. Shelf-stable, they’re good for six months (before opening) without refrigeration.

AJC produces offerings on a rotating, seasonal basis, and you can get a (pricy) sampler of four of them through the company’s website. The company sent us its current offerings to tinker with. Here’s what we thought about them all.

Winter Blend (Louis Applestrong) – Golden delicious apples, citrus zests, and winter spices – Chunky, almost like a watery applesauce. Zesty with baking spices, and quite exotic in a beverage. The citrus peel on the back end adds some nice acidity, but ultimately this is more breakfasty than wintry. In a good way. B+

Chuck Blueberry – Blueberry and apple puree. A little overwhelming. The combo of blueberry and apple makes this come across a bit like cough syrup — which is surprising, because blueberry is never a flavor that medicine manufacturers are going for. It grows on you, but ultimately comes across as a bit artificial-tasting (though I know it’s not!), with a bit of a cloying finish. B

Lady Lychee – Lychee, rose infusion, and strawberries. Moderately thick, but not to the level of the Louis Applestrong. Don’t let the “rose infusion” scare you. Here, a light floral note is a lovely foil to the lychee and strawberry character that dominates, giving this a sweet yet lightly aromatic character. Probably my favorite of the bunch and something I’d definitely mix with. A

Ginger Gershwin – Spicy ginger, orange, and lemon. Spicy ginger, to be sure. This is extremely racy stuff, highlighting ginger, ginger, and more ginger. The citrus shines through for just a brief moment somewhere in the middle of the spice. Throw a little rum in this and you’re golden. A-

$55 for the sample box (four 4 oz samplers) / americanjuicecompany.com

Review: Caol Ila Unpeated 15 Years Old Limited Edition 2014

Caol Ila 15YO Bottle & Box

Caol Ila is an active Islay distillery, and any Scotch nut knows that means peat and lots of it. But once each year Caol Ila makes unpeated whisky, just for kicks. This is one of those releases, a 15 year old “Highland style” spirit distilled in 1998. This expression, #3 of 11 in the 2014 Diageo Special Edition series, was aged fully in first fill ex-Bourbon casks.

This is the cheapest whisky in this year’s series, and likely the most readily available. It’s also one of the least dazzling, though it’s certainly palatable.

The nose is a curious mix of oregano and fresh bread — together these give the spirit a bit of the essence of a pizza parlor. This doesn’t really prepare you for the palate, which is blazing with heat up front and rough on the throat on the back. In between there hints of golden raisins, bright heather, and, yes, wisps of smoke, but they’re hard to parse before the sheer booziness of the alcohol knocks you down a peg.

Water helps considerably. With tempering, the Caol Ila Unpeated reveals notes of fresh sweet cereal, marshmallow, almond, and a bit of rose petals. With water, the whisky becomes almost enchanting, transformed from its hardscrabble punchiness into something approaching delicate.

120.78 proof.

B+ / $120 / malts.com