Review: Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye

RR_Single Barrel Rye_Bottle Shot

Wild Turkey is expanding the Russell’s Reserve line this year with a Single Barrel Rye expression. There’s already a Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye (much more expensive these days than the $25 it cost in 2007), but as with the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, this is a higher-end expression that plays some of its details close to the vest. There’s no age statement and no mashbill information, but it’s drawn from a single barrel and bottled at a higher proof.

This rye features a quite fruity nose, offering notes of banana, almonds, mint, and vanilla. Racy and heady from the hefty alcohol level, it doesn’t let up at all. On the palate the flavor profile is also quite fruity, mixing some apple and rhubarb in with notes of banana cream and vanilla custard. The spirit comes across as surprisingly young, with some grain notes making it through to the finish, but I also get touches of coconut and chocolate late in the game as well, keeping things fairly sweet. It isn’t a particularly peppery rye, but it does have some astringency to it — pronounced on the nose but just as detectable on the finish — that might be mistaken for some kind of “spice” character.

All told this is a credible rye, but as with Crown Royal’s latest, the fruit is pushed too far. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye has a better balance to it, but frankly I think the standard Russell’s Reserve Rye is more representative of what a solid rye should taste like.

104 proof. Available September 2015.

B+ / $60 / wildturkeybourbon.com

Head to Head with 4 Bloody Mary Mixes: Scales, Tabanero, Bloody Good, and Bloody Amazing

tabaneroSummer is hear, and that means brunch with bloodies is upon us.

Sure, it’d be great if you could always crush your own tomatoes and grate your own fresh horseradish, but really, who’s got the time. Recently we’ve been inundated with bottled bloody mary mixers, which we put head to head to head to head.

Thoughts follow.

Scales Bloody Mary Mix – For a so-called low-carb bloody mary mix (5 grams of carbs per 3 oz.), this sure tastes sweet. The very dark color is a bit misleading; the mixer is more tart than spicy or meaty, a densely acidic mixer with a heavy tomato paste character and a metallic aftertaste. Not at all spicy, despite the claims of being made with Texas Pete’s hot sauce. B- / $6 per 1 liter bottle

Tabanero Spicy Bloody Mary Mix – Definitely “Mexican style,” with a salsa-like character to it. Intensely spicy, with lasting, burning habanero notes, plus notes of green pepper, cilantro, and lots of onion. It’s a bit on the watery side, so don’t expect to try watering it down to temper its heat. That said — I really like it (and the Tabanero hot sauce.) Mixing half and half with a less racy mix might work, though. Oddly has less carbs than the Scales. A- / $10 per 1 liter bottle

Bloody Good Bloody Mary Mix – A local brand you won’t likely find outside of northern California. Very fresh, with ripe tomatoes, some green veggies, black pepper, and lots and lots of horseradish. Quite gentle in spice level, but it’s pungent thanks to the horseradish component. Nicely balanced; definitely a strong contender. Very difficult to pour (as it’s bottled in what is basically a spaghetti sauce jar). / $9 per 32 oz jar

Bloody Amazing Premium Mary Mix – While Tabanero approaches bloodies from a salsa standpoint, Bloody Amazing comes at it from the shrimp cocktail sauce arena. Very dense, with stewed tomato notes, black pepper, and horseradish — plus lots of Worcestershire to add a brooding character that Bloody Good doesn’t have. This one’s more a matter of taste, as the overall character is very much a “coastal” one. Only slightly spicy; easily manageable. B+ / $13 per 750ml bottle

Review: Jim Beam Black XA Extra Aged Kentucky Straight Bourbon

jim beam black extra agedWhile I wasn’t paying attention, Jim Beam quietly updated its venerable Black Label bottling. What was once bottled with an 8 Year Old (“Double Aged”) age statement now carries none. Beam assures me the product in the new bottle is the same as the old Jim Beam Black Label even if the exterior isn’t quite the same. Either way, we got a fresh bottle of XA to offer some 2015 perspective. Thoughts follow.

Jim Beam XA is, as the name implies, a seemingly well aged spirit. A bit of sawdust on the nose leads into notes of fruity apple, cloves, and vanilla ice cream. The palate offers a rich and creamy body, loaded with caramel, vanilla, and some charcoal notes. That lumberyard character sustains here, and some popcorn notes come along as a reprise. The finish is lasting and warming and a bit dusty, for the most part offering a tour of some of bourbondom’s most classic flavors without piling on a whole lot of distracting nuance. In other words: There’s nothing you won’t enjoy here, but it’s short of a standout, too.

86 proof.

B+ / $20 / jimbeam.com

Review: Afrohead Original Rum

Afrohead Original - Front

You wouldn’t put out a rum called Afrohead and not put a line art drawing of a woman with a huge, stylized afro on the bottle, would you? Of course not. After years of hand bottling rum in an unnamed bottle featuring only the Afrohead logo, Joe Farrell and Toby Tyler are bringing this Bahamanian rum to the U.S. market officially.

Two expressions are being released, the “Original” reviewed here, which is 7 years old, plus an XO expression, bottled in an opaque decanter, which is 15 years old. Both expressions are crafted from only sugarcane molasses sourced from various farms in the West Indies, using a proprietary Trinidad yeast, and made with neither added coloring nor raw sugar added to the distillate. The rum is aged in used bourbon barrels in the Bahamas and is bottled in Barbados.

Afrohead Original is a well-crafted rum with a somewhat rustic style. The nose is heavily molasses-focused, with ample but not overblown sweetness. Hints of sweet sherry add some nuance, along with notes of marzipan. On the palate, the rum offers a bit of chalkiness on the body, with a rush of sugar right up front. As it fades, the rum gets a bit tougher and shows off more of its skin. As the finish builds, watch for burnt caramel and sooty notes, Cracker Jack, brown butter, and scorched peanuts. These more brooding flavors add layers of complexity, but they also dial back the sweetness a bit. There’s also a bit of a winey aftertaste that lingers on the back of the palate for quite a while.

All told, this is a fine rum with an interesting and compelling character that’s worth sampling.

Available in the Bahamas, Tennessee, and South Florida for now.

80 proof.

B+ / $35 / afroheadrums.com

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection – Brown Rice

brown rice

Four our fourth review in Jim Beam’s 6-whiskey Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection we’re finally checking out the Brown Rice release. This was actually released last year, so we’re late to the game, but our completionist streak compels a review regardless.

As a reminder, these are all bourbons, each made with one unusual grain in the mashbill. As with the others, Brown Rice is at least 51% corn and includes some amount of malted barley in the mix. All Harvest Collection bourbons are aged 11 years before bottling at 90 proof.

With the Brown Rice bottling, interesting tropical notes hit the nose immediately upon pouring, mingling nicely with well-rounded grain, burnt sugar, aged wine, and oak notes on the nose. The overall impression is one of significant age, with a lumberyard character eventually taking over duties on the nose. The body starts with sweetness — brown sugar, molasses, and crushed red berries — before handing some of the work off to the wood again. The finish takes things to a place of slight astringency, with the bourbon seeing a bit of sawdust and a lightly medicinal edge on the back end. I also get notes of brewed, sweet tea and some roasted meats as the finish eventually fades. Overall though, it’s got a light touch, and in the final analysis it comes across as a very pleasant — though oftentimes plain — bourbon.

For what it’s worth, Beam suggests looking out for notes of sweet potato on the nose.

90 proof.

B+ / $50 (375ml) / jimbeam.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Pickett’s Ginger Beer Concentrated Syrup

PICKETTS

Pickett’s approach to ginger beer was a new one for me: Rather than bottle or can a finished product, Pickett’s makes ginger syrup, which you mix with sparkling water to make on-the-spot ginger beer. It’s a more efficient way to make a mixer if you need a lot of it (or don’t want to stock the pantry with tons of bottles). One 16 oz. bottle of syrup is the equivalent of eight 12 oz. bottles of ginger beer. (That said, you still need to stock sparkling water — though a SodaStream or similar would be just about perfect for this format.)

Pickett’s comes in two formats, both of which we tried. Thoughts follow.

Pickett’s Medium Spicy+ Ginger Beer Syrup (green label) – Mixed with sparkling water, this cuts a profile similar to a slightly racier ginger ale a la Canada Dry or Schweppes. I’d call it Medium Spicy without the plus, as the only “beer”ness to it is found in a slight kick that comes along on the finish. (If you have chapped lips you’ll feel it.) Otherwise, the ginger is solid, backed by a quite sweet body with lots of apple-like fruit overtones to it. Good, everyday-drinking stuff. Reviewed: Batch #9. B+

Pickett’s Hot N’ Spicy #3 Ginger Beer Syrup (red label) – Don’t be afraid. It’s not that hot. It is, however, less sweet, so if you want more of a ginger kick without a lot of sweetness, this should be your go-to version. The overall impact is slightly vegetal but the more warming finish is quite lasting and, ultimately, racier on the palate. A kissing cousin to the green label version, but more attuned to cocktailing. Reviewed: Batch #3. B+

each $25 per 16 oz. bottle / pickettbrothersbeverage.com [BUY IT HERE]

Review: 2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc – Icon and Regional Collection

Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc Bottle Shot Hi ResTwo new releases from New Zealand’s Nobilo, including the budget Regional Collection bottling and the flagship Icon expression. Thoughts on these 2014 vintage releases follow.

2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Regional Collection Marlborough – Moderately tropical, with strong lemon overtones and just a touch of vanilla. Bright acidity lends the wine an easy, festive finish. Uncomplicated, but not hard to enjoy. Great value. B+ / $9

2014 Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Exceptionally tropical: Mango on the nose, pineapple on the palate. A creamier, chewier body — with a touch of caramel on the back end — gives this expression a bit more muscle than the prior wine, but the acid on the finish keeps things fresh and lively. Even harder not to enjoy. A- / $15

nobilowines.com

Review: anCnoc Cutter, 12 Years Old, 18 Years Old, 24 Years Old, and 1975 Vintage

Ancnoc1975-

Knockdhu’s anCnoc recently flooded our mailbox with a collection of single malts, including three members of the age-statemented line, one new one from the NAS “Peaty Range,” and a very special offering from anCnoc’s vintage-dated collection of whiskies. We gathered them all up and put them through the Drinkhacker gauntlet. Thoughts follow.

anCnoc Cutter Highland Single Malt – Part of the anCnoc Peaty Range, Cutter is peated to 20.8 ppm, which gives it a hefty smokiness that you don’t find much in the anCnoc lineup. The nose is well peated and gentle with cereal notes. The body wears its smoke up front, folding in iodine notes, some saltiness, and a biscuit character. The finish is more purely smoky — more wood fire than smoldering peat — which leaves things in relatively uncomplicated territory. 92 proof. B / $85

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 12 Years OldRevisiting this young malt reveals many similar notes — though it feels like an evolution of the expression I reviewed a few years ago. As before, there are plenty of cereal notes here, to be sure, but things soon evolve with notes of sweet breakfast cereal, citrus syrup, and some maple notes. It drinks young — and comes across a bit hot on the finish — but it’s charming in its own way. I’d give this slightly different spirit a bit better rating than I did back in 2011. 86 proof. B / $40

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 18 Years Old – This whisky is a bit medicinal on the nose, but the body is all malty grains. The cereal lingers for ages alongside modest honeycomb, nougat, and some gentle citrus character, driven by the sherry cask aging that some of anCnoc 18 undergoes. (The 18 year a blend of whiskies aged in either sherry or bourbon casks.) The finish takes things into slightly vegetal territory, folding almond nougat into some mushroom character. Yeah, that sounds weird and it is, a little. 6000 bottles made. 92 proof. B- / $105

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 24 Years Old – Sherry-forward, with some smoky elements, particularly on the nose. The body offers tons of orange and grapefruit, balanced out with fresh cut grains, hay, popcorn, and a bit of petrol. I get hints of fresh, fried fish — perhaps this expression’s nod to the sea — before it returns to notes of golden syrup, honey, and a bit of lumberyard. Lots going on here, but it all comes together in the end with a sunny, pastoral disposition. Very limited production. 92 proof. B+ / $170

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 1975 Vintage – 39 years old (and not to be confused with the former 1975 release, a 30 year old expression). A single-vintage vatting of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry-casked whiskies. Gentle cereal notes backed by classic sherry sweetness lead the way on the nose, along with a touch of coal smoke. The body is well developed and features nicely integrated layers of fresh citrus, orange marmalade, ginger cake, and dried fruits. Hints of graham cracker, almonds, and milk chocolate emerge on a somewhat racy (and winey) finish. Very hard to find. About 1500 bottles made. 92 proof. A- / $530

ancnoc.com

Review: Wines of Brazil’s Salton, 2015 Releases

Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc 2013Yes Virginia, it’s not all cachaca. They also make wine in Brazil. Vinicola Salton is my first exposure to Brazilian wine, via this trio of bottlings that span a range of styles from classic Old World expressions to oddball blends I’ve never seen before.

Thoughts on all three follow.

2012 Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc – 100% cabernet franc. Slightly lean, with a nose of red berries, leather, and some smoke. The body offers more structure, with more of a tobacco character, strawberry fruit, and a pleasantly floral, vaguely sweet finish. Not what I was expecting from a 100% cab franc wine, but interesting in its own right. B+ / $15

2013 Salton Classic Tannat – 100% tannat. Best known as a tannic blending grape in France, tannat has become quite international and has made its way to Brazil in this 100% varietal wine. Woody and slightly dusty with a somewhat leathery core. Some green vegetation on the nose. Some dried fruits peek through here and there, but overall this is a better match with food. B- / $15

NV Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut – A sparkling wine from 70% chardonnay, 30% riesling. Quite an enjoyable tipple, with gentle sweetness, clear honey/tropical riesling notes, and a floral bouquet. The finish is just a touch muddy, but this would make for a great wine — and quite a conversation starter — on a hot summer day. B+ / $17

salton.com.br

Review: 2013 Wines of Les Dauphins, Cotes du Rhones Reserve

dauphinsLes Dauphins is a new label being produced by the Union des Vignerons des Cotes du Rhone, a 1920s bistro-inspired brand that’s priced to move. The Cotes du Rhones wines — all heavily grenache-based — all share the same name, so you’ll have to rely on your eyes to figure out which one’s which. (You can do it!)

While the “Reserve” moniker might be pushing things, these are all drinkable wines with price tags that are tough not to like. Thoughts follow.

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (White) – A simple, entry-level table white wine composed of 65% grenache, 15% marsanne, 10% clairette, and 10% viognier. Somewhat green, with notes of old wood. Fair enough with food but otherwise undistinguished. B-

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (Rose) – 80% grenache, 10% syrah, 10% cinsault. The best of the Les Dauphins line, this is a fresh, mildly fruity rose with notes of strawberry and rose petals. Lightly sweet, but balanced with gentle herbs and some perfume. Pretty and well-balanced. B+

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (Red) – 70% grenache, 25% syrah, 5% mourvedre. This is ultra-ripe, super-fruity juice that’s loaded with notes of strawberry jam, plump raisins, and some black pepper — particularly on the finish. Overbearing at first, but it settles down with time, particularly when accompanying food. B-

each about $10 / lesdauphins-rhone.us