Review: C.W. Irwin Straight Bourbon Whiskey

cw irwin whiskeyThis isn’t another sourced whiskey, sorry to disappoint you! Oregon Spirit Distillers makes this little number in Bend, Oregon. The whiskey is made from is 51% corn, plus equal parts of rye, wheat, and malted barley. Aged 3 years in a new American oak barrel. Thoughts follow.

What a surprising and fun little craft bourbon. The nose offers restrained notes of wood and leather, with just hints of vanilla and maple syrup. The aroma doesn’t have you expecting much, it’s so pulled back. But on the tongue, there’s a lovely combination of flavors that bubble up. There’s butterscotch, ripe banana, more of that maple syrup, and a healthy slug of lumberyard that hits you (hard) on the back end. The wood works well with the fruit and dessert-like notes that come before, fading out with a hint of Bananas Foster — including that whiff of propane wafting out from the little cart where the man in the tuxedo is whipping them up tableside.

Happy New Year, everyone!

80 proof.

B+ / $30 / oregonspiritdistillers.com

Review: Jeremiah Weed Spiced, Cinnamon, and Sarsapirilla Whiskey

jeremiah weed

 

Has flavored whiskey jumped the shark? Jeremiah Weed, which got its start with a sweet tea flavored vodka and then a credible sweet tea flavored whiskey, has now extended itself further into the whiskey world — with spiced, cinnamon, and sarsaparilla expressions.

As with any flavored whiskey, whiskey purists need not apply. These are garden variety blended whiskeys with no real pedigree. The flavoring, on the plus side, does seem to be reasonably effective and, for the most part, harmless.

Some thoughts on the latest volley of old-timey inspired flavors follow.

Jeremiah Weed Spiced Whiskey – Extremely gentle, with mild cinnamon notes atop an innocuous, vanilla-heavy whiskey. There’s nothing specifically woody here; rather it’s replaced with an apple cider character that feels designed for holiday tippling, mixing with Coke, or both. 70.6 proof. B-

Jeremiah Weed Cinnamon Whiskey – A fair enough Fireball competitor, this cinnamon spirit offers big red hots notes on the nose, and a modestly spicy bite on the palate. A lengthy, authentically cinnamon-flavored finish and at least a nod toward the whiskey that serves as a base spirit makes this a winner — at least as far as cinnamon whiskeys go. 70.2 proof. B+

Jeremiah Weed Sarsaparilla Whiskey – Root beer whiskey, eh? Tastes like a can of A&W, again without much concern for whiskey. Some curious touches of licorice and just a hint of vanilla on the back end make you remember this isn’t rum of vodka, but it just doesn’t really venture far enough into the whiskey world. 70.4 proof. B-

jeremiahweed.com

Review: Wild Card Pacific Northwest Absinthe

WILDCARD PNGBend, Oregon-based Oregon Spirit Distillers makes Wild Card Absinthe with locally-grown wormwood, fennel, and anise, the re-distills the resulting concoction and steeps it with petite wormwood, cardamom, hyssop, and melissa. The finished product is a light-bodied absinthe that is nonetheless a punchy and highly alcoholic nod to the past. Thoughts follow.

Wild Card is pale yellow-green in color, with an immediate aroma of lemon. This dissipates to reveal straightforward licorice candy notes on the nose. Without water, the body is pure anise and quite hot, almost lip-burningly so. Prepared with sugar and water, you get a pretty, light-yellow louche, and the body takes on a more traditional absinthian character, with shades of anise and fennel atop a granular, sugary body. No need to overdo the water here. About 2:1 will do nicely and help to bring out some tertiary notes of citrus, cinnamon, and apple cider. Overall it’s a very pleasant expression of absinthe — simple, delicate, and enjoyable… but a bit of a “starter absinthe” for those looking to dip a toe in the water.

125 proof.

B+ / $50 / wildcardabsinthe.com

Review: Ballast Point Old Grove Gin and Barrel Rested Gin

Ballast_Point_Old_Grove_BR_HR (2)

Ballast Point is a beer and spirits producer in San Diego, where the company churns out a dazzling array of products. Old Grove Gin is made with juniper, rose petals, coriander, and a total of nine other (unspecified) botanicals. Available in a straight and barrel-aged version, we tasted both. Thoughts follow.

Ballast Point Old Grove California Small Batch Gin – Pretty and elegant on the nose, this gin features a heavily floral but balanced nose that offers instant intrigue. The body is very light, gentle, and a touch sweet. Flowery at first, it segues into notes of butterscotch, honeycomb, and vanilla, before eventually — finally — just hinting at juniper. The finish is warming and a little astringent, like a good vodka. I’d say this is more of a vodka drinker’s gin, and it mixes quite well in tall drinks. A bit simplistic, but hard not to enjoy. 88 proof. B / $26

Ballast Point Old Grove Barrel Rested California Small Batch Gin – With this expression, Old Grove spends 50 days in charred oak barrels before bottling. The interesting nose recalls aquavit, a sweet mix of vanilla and caraway seeds. The body takes the aforementioned notes in the unaged gin and punches them up with touches of salted caramel, a little licorice, and some dusty wood character. The finish brings out more of a dark chocolate character, with evergreen notes in the distant background. As with the straight gin, this really doesn’t drink much like a gin at all, instead coming across more like a lightly aged whiskey. Is that a good thing or a bad? You decide — just don’t try making a martini out of it. 88 proof. B+ / $35

ballastpoint.com

Review: Hillrock Solera Bourbon, Single Malt, Double Cask Rye, and White Rye

HED Family Slate

When famous distiller Dave Pickerell (ex of Maker’s Mark) opened Hillrock Estate Distillery in upstate New York, he had but one product, a high-rye Bourbon aged in the solera style and finished in oloroso sherry casks. Since then, Hillrock has added three more craft distilled products, all super-local and carefully handmade, to its stable: a single malt, a rye, and a white rye (made in limited quantities). We tasted all three new products and took a fresh look at the originl Bourbon to see if things were holding up.

Thoughts follow.

Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon – This is an update on Hillrock’s crazy solera-aged, oloroso sherry-finished Bourbon. Today I’m finding the sweetness almost overpowering up front: Bit-o-Honey, ripe banana, mandarin oranges, and chewy nougat comprise a complex nose. The body pumps that up further, with notes of pungent coconut, cherry juice, and orange oil. There’s so much going on in this whiskey — and so many flavors outside the norm of Bourbon, sometimes bordering on rum-like — that it can sometimes come across as overwhelming. It’s a mighty curious experience, though, and one that still bears repeating. 92.6 proof. A- / $80

Hillrock Single Malt Whiskey – A New York single malt whiskey, no age statement. Very malty/cereal-focused on the nose, with hints of smoke. There seems to be some fruit in there, but it’s buried under an avalanche of toasted Cheerios. The body offers racy and savory spices, pepper and some cloves, with a growing wood influence racing up behind it. The grain character remains the strongest, however, with lots of well-fired barley rounding out a very youthful but expressive spirit. 86 proof. B / $100

Hillrock Double Cask Rye – Made from estate-grown organic rye, which is aged in traditional oak casks and then finished in secondary casks composed of American oak with a #4 char and 24 months of seasoning. (No actual age statement, though.) The huge level of wood on the nose makes me wonder about the point of that secondary cask finishing. It’s all sawdust and furniture store, dulling the fruit and spice considerably. The palate opens things up a bit, with some butterscotch, caramel apple, and banana bread. It’s actually quite charming in the end, and after the wood wears away a bit (time in glass is good for this, as is water) a more typical essence of rye is revealed. You’ll need to fight for it, though. 90 proof. A- / $90

Hillrock George Washington Rye Whiskey (not pictured) – This is  a white rye, and it’s something pretty unique: “Pot distilled at Hillrock Estate following the General’s original recipe by Mount Vernon Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, each bottle contains an aliquot of whiskey made at the Washingtons’ reconstructed distillery at historic Mount Vernon. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this whiskey supports the educational programs at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.” So, in other words, pot-distilled Hillrock rye mixed with a little bit of Mount Vernon rye, bottled unaged. It’s a classic white whiskey, with the focus squarely on the grain, lightly musty, with overtones of new leather, birch bark, tobacco leaf, and freshly turned earth. Sweetness is elusive on this one, but the punchy, roasted grain character — and the touch of history here — make it worth a brief encounter. 86 proof. B / $50 (375ml)

hillrockdistillery.com

Review: The 86 Co. Cana Brava Rum and Tequila Cabeza

Previously we brought you reviews of The 86 Co.’s Ford’s Gin and Aylesbury Duck Vodka, two winning spirits from a New York-based importer that’s partial to one-liter bottles instead of 750ml ones. (Standard size bottles are seemingly available if you’re interested in hunting them down.) Now we’re back with 86’s next offerings, a Panamanian rum and a blanco tequila. Thoughts follow.

cana brava rumCana Brava Rum – Made in Las Cabras, Panama in a copper and brass column still, aged three years in new oak and ex-bourbon barrels, blended with older rums, and finally filtered back to white before being brought down to proof and bottled in Ukiah, California. Results: Totally solid white rum. Just the right amount of punchiness keeps things high and tight, letting the clear vanilla notes shine while keeping things on a rustic and almost simplistic level, particularly on the lightly medicinal finish. The slightly higher alcohol level pushes the rum’s firewater agenda but doesn’t do much to imbue it with secondary characteristics. Give it time in glass or water to bring out cocoa powder and graham cracker notes — or simply use it as is was likely intended: as a mixer. 86 proof. B+ / $28

Tequila Cabeza – A highland blanco from Arandas in Jalisco. Powerful, fresh agave notes hit the nose right at the start… and tequila cabezathen… more agave. Nothing if not straightforward, Tequila Cabeza fires up the agave and never lets up, offering only vague secondary notes of cardamom and some tropical fruit notes. The finish is drying and a bit on the plain side, offering simple red pepper spice to balance just a hint of sweetness — and plenty of that classic, herbal, agave character. Fans of big, green blancos will be instant fans. 86 proof. B+ / $38

the86co.com

Review: Hanson of Sonoma Organic Vodka

Hanson

Hanson of Sonoma — based in, of course, Sonoma, California — distills its vodkas from the most abundant product around these parts: grapes. Using a massive 50-plate column still, it runs its spirits through seven filtering systems before bottling them in snazzy, artisan-looking bottles (all of which are signed and numbered).

Hanson of Sonoma is sold in six expressions (one straight, five flavored with organic infusions — no syrups or concentrates). We tried five of the six vodkas available — all but the boysenberry version.

All expressions are 80 proof, and all are from batch #0123.

Hanson of Sonoma Vodka – Shockingly fruity. I would have thought this was a flavored vodka, it’s so full of mixed berries — strawberry, blueberry, and hints of citrus. Super light bodied and refreshing, it’s like a distilled pink lemonade. An easy mixing vodka with fruit-centric cocktails. Not a martini vodka. A-

Hanson of Sonoma Mandarin Flavored Vodka – Sweet orange on the nose — the essence of orange Chuckles. The body’s got more grip to it, a medicinal character that overtakes the citrus notes quickly. As the orange fades into the background, a drying, neutral finish takes hold. Fine for your cosmos, I’m sure, but the original, unflavored expression would do the job just as well. B+

Hanson of Sonoma Ginger Flavored Vodka – Very mild ginger on the nose — it could easily be mistaken for lemon or maybe grapefruit. That said, it’s the berry notes of the straight expression of the vodka that come through the clearest, particularly on the palate, though this expression is much drier than the Original. B

Hanson of Sonoma Cucumber Vodka – Another sweeter vodka style, which is a little jarring next to the light cucumber notes here. In fact, the nose has more of a lime zest character to it, while the body is clearer on the vegetal cucumber notes. It eventually comes together on the finish with some crisp spa-water essence, but it’s never distinct enough to merit crafting a cocktail around it. B

Hanson of Sonoma Espresso Flavored Vodka – The big finish always goes to coffee. This is the only non-clear expression of Hanson of Sonoma. Notes of a very dark espresso roast on the nose. The body is pungent, almost bitter with heavily-charred espresso beans. Imagine the darkest, blackest cup of coffee you’ve ever had, then filter that through the lens of a fruity vodka. This one was by far my least favorite expression of the bunch, particularly thanks to its tannic, chalky finish. C-

hansonofsonoma.com

Review: Wines of Sojourn, 2012 Vintage

Sojourner_PN_2011These three new releases hail from Santa Rosa-based Sojourn. The wines themselves are made from grapes sourced all the Northern California wine country. Thoughts follow.

2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Big and buttery on the nose, and the body largely follows suit. Subtle notes of melon, tropical fruits, and tart gooseberry percolate on the tongue — but it’s that almost overbearing wood-and-vanilla character that sticks with you on the finish, and for a long while after. B / $48

2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Wohler Vineyard Russian River Valley – A lush, rounded Pinot, typical of what you see from the Russian River. Lush cherry and raspberry get a lick of black pepper, some fruit-infused tea, and hints of lychee on the back end. Dangerously drinkable. A- / $48

2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Quite a strange expression of Pinot, dense to the point of being almost raisiny on the nose, with some overtones of lavender and wet earth. The body is equally punchy, taking an almost Port-like body and lacing it with vegetal character and more of that wet earth. Needs more acidity — or perhaps just some more bottle time — to bring out the fruit in the grapes. B+ / $59

2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacamo Vineyard Sonoma Coast – A fresh, classic Pinot, this one’s firing almost perfectly. Fresh cherry mingles with touches of black pepper, while the finish sweetens things up a tad with notes of strawberry. Perfect balance with just the right mix of acidity and oomph. Hard to put down. A / $54

sojourncellars.com

Review: NV Berlucchi ’61 Franciacorta Brut DOCG

brut_FC61It’s Italian sparkling wine, but it’s not Prosecco. Franciacorta is a DOCG area in the north of Italy, to the west of the Veneto, where most Prosecco is produced. While Prosecco is made from the Glera grape, Franciacorta is largely Chardonnay-based, with some Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco, depending on the producer.

Berlucchi ’61, despite the name, is a nonvintage sparkler made from 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir. The nose offers apple fruit, with touches of bread and yeast. The body starts off extremely — almost oppressively — so dry, it comes off as almost bitter. The wine opens up with time to reveal lots more fruit, a slightly buttery body, and notes of nutmeg and some citrus peel. Things still end up dry, but with more balance than its attack would indicate.

B+ / $30 / terlatowines.com

Review: Freedom Moonshine

freedom moonshine

This new unaged whiskey (a moonshine as they call it) — available in a straight version and four (heavily watered down) flavors — is distilled in Indiana from 95% rye and 5% malted barley and flavored and bottled in Tennessee. What, no corn? No neutral grain spirits? It’s true, believe it or not!

We tried all five expressions of this Skittles-colored spirit. Thoughts follow. (Some proceeds go to support military-focused charities.)

Freedom Moonshine White Rye – On the nose: mostly harmless. Slightly sweet-smelling, with some hints of grain and Band-Aid notes. The body is mild and punchy with fresh grain character and a very simple structure that pushes notes of twine and hay. Surprisingly, there’s almost no sweetness at all here — which is not at all in keeping with expectations, considering the candy-colored rainbow of flavors that lies ahead. 80 proof. C+

Freedom Moonshine Apple Pie Rye – OK, on to the flavors. Apple pie flavor tends to go hand in hand with moonshine, and while this expression is on the mild side, it’s still credible and quite drinkable. A bit more sugar (I hate to admit) would help the apple and cinnamon notes here taste a bit more authentic, but that might also rob it of some of its more savory, pie-crust-like character. 40 proof. B+

Freedom Moonshine Red Cherry Rye – Impossibly red, like maraschino cherry juice. Not quite cough syrup on the nose, but getting there. The body is sweeter and less focused, something akin to melted Jolly Ranchers. After a few sips, things take a turn toward a syrupy character, artificial and only vaguely tasting of cherry. 40 proof. C-

Freedom Moonshine Blueberry Rye – Certainly patriotic in color, but nothing like any blueberry I’ve ever seen. The overall impact is somewhere between blueberry schnapps and blueberry Pop-Tarts. 40 proof. C-

Freedom Moonshine Firecracker Rye – A cinnamon moonshine, naturally. Slightly less crimson than the cherry expression — more of a fuchsia. Quite watery on the whole — it must be tough to pull off a cinnamon spirit at 20% alcohol — with more sweetness than cinnamon to it. The color is off-putting, but the impact is mostly innocuous and far from anything describable as “firecracker.” 40 proof. C

each $20 / letfreedomshine.com