Category Archives: Rated B+

Review: Bittermilk Mixers No. 1, 2, and 3

bittermilk no 3 525x525 Review: Bittermilk Mixers No. 1, 2, and 3

OK, yes, there are dozens of pre-packaged cocktail mixers on the market. And yes, most of them claim to be ultra-premium-better-than-you-can-make-yourself products. And — yes — most of them are passable at best, swill at worst.

Well, finally, here’s one that isn’t. Bittermilk is a Charleston, South Carolina operation that is making truly high-end mixers that even I would not hesitate to serve to my guests.

The secret is right there on the label and in the bottle: Very high-quality, mostly organic ingredients that take original spins on some classic recipes — the Old Fashioned, the Tom Collins, and the Whiskey Sour.

Bittermilk mixers have no alcohol, so bring your high-end hooch when you’re mixing something up. They may look small, but remember that each pint-sized bottle is good for about a dozen cocktails, depending on how tall you make ‘em. At a little over a dollar per cocktail, that’s not a bad deal. Hell, you’ll spend more on a couple of limes these days!

Thoughts on each of the three current Bittermilk offerings follow.

Bittermilk No. 1 Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned – Made with burnt cane sugar, orange peel, gentian root, and cinchona bark, then aged in Willett Bourbon barrels. I made versions with Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye and with Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon. This one comes in a significantly smaller vial than the others, since you mix it 1:4 with your spirit, vs. 1:1 with the others. Sweet up front, with ample sugar in the mix (I’d err toward 1:5 or 1:6 proportions on this one), the burnt-ness of the sugar becomes apparent only as the finish starts to build. It’s here that you start to pick up the bitter edge of the mixer, too — grated roots and bark and a quinine character — though the citrus character, essential to an Old Fashioned, never quite arrives in full. Ultimately, it’s the bitterness that sticks with you the longest, lasting long after the sweetness has faded. A completely capable Old Fashioned — though the barrel aging isn’t immediately evident, and it’s more fun to drink an Old Fashioned with actual fruit muddled into it. Much better with rye (as specified on the label). A- / $15 (8.5 oz.)

Bittermilk No. 2 Tom Collins with Elderflowers & Hops – Made with lemon juice, sugar, elderflower & elderberry, and Centennial hops. I made versions with Ketel One Vodka and Greenhook Ginsmiths Gin (the bottle specifies either spirit). The weirdest of the bunch. With vodka, the hops add a level of funkiness here, and lots of it. Up front there’s a solid sweet-and-sour character, but that initially light bitter hops element brings a bit of discord to the finish, growing as it develops on the palate. It finishes almost like a shandy. With gin, this is a much better combination, those aromatics firing just about perfectly with the citrus and the elderflower, which comes through more clearly alongside the brightness of the gin. Here the hops play a very muted role, adding just a hint of bitterness on the back end rather than the lingering power you get with vodka. On the whole it’s a success, but it’s my least favorite of the bunch. Use gin, and a bit more than is called for. B+ / $15 (17 oz.)

Bittermilk No. 3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour – Made with lemon juice, Bourbon barrel-smoked honey, sugar, and orange peel. I made this one with Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon. Shockingly delicious. It doesn’t reveal much on the nose, but the body is stuffed full of a melange of sweet and savory notes — bracing lemon, silky honey, and just a touch of smokiness on the back end. If you’re not a smoke fan, be not afraid. The effect here is subtle and well integrated into what reveals itself to be a lovely concoction. The lemon hangs along til the finish, where everything comes together into a fully realized whole. Sure, the whiskey sour is hardly the world’s most elevated cocktail, but in Bittermilk’s hands it’s one you’d have no problem gulping right down… maybe two. A / $15 (17 oz.)

bittermilk.com

Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2014 Releases

Crossbarn By Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2011 Bottle 900x900 300x300 Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2014 ReleasesOnce called “the Steve Jobs of wine,” Paul Hobbs is a NorCal bigshot that makes wines under his own label as well as importing stuff he really likes. CrossBarn is his new, lower-cost label.

We sampled three wines (two Pinots, one Chardonnay) under the CrossBarn label. Thoughts follow.

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Virtually unoaked (80% fermented in tank, 20% in neutral French oak), this wine presents a citrusy but quite herbal nose, with a body offering spiced apples and Meyer lemon, plus some apricot on the finish. Easy to love. A- / $18

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma County – A slightly thin, somewhat meaty example of the varietal. The body’s light blueberry fruit is indistinct, muddied by the savoriness that makes it feel a bit like old fruit juice. B- / $35

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – A much more refined Pinot. It starts with some Port-like notes on the nose, and plenty of macerated cherries. The body isn’t exactly dense with fruit, but it has lots of life and only a hint of vanilla and some woody bramble character by way of terroir. A solid, easy-to-love wine. B+ / $35

crossbarnwinery.com

Review: 2013 Charles & Charles Rose Columbia Valley

charles and charles rose 89x300 Review: 2013 Charles & Charles Rose Columbia ValleyThis Washington state rose, part of the Trinchero empire, is made from a blend of 86% syrah, 6% cinsault, 4% grenache, 2% counoise, and 2% mourvedre. Restrained, this wine has some herbal notes on the nose — rosemary, perhaps — with the fruit creeping out a bit slowly on the palate. Strawberries, for sure, and fresh cherries are readily available on this simple sipper. A smattering of earthier notes — more tree bark than mushroom — back things up.

B+ / $12 / bielerandsmith.com

 

Review: Wigle Rye Whiskey Deep Cut and Barrel-Rested Ginever

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Wigle (aka Pittsburgh Distilling Company) is an up-and-coming craft distiller that makes loads of products including, in a page taken from the Tuthilltown/Hudson Distillery playbook, a wide range of different whiskeys — seven of them at current count.

Today we look at two of the company’s products, a rye and an aged “ginever,” both curiosities that you’ll only find from a true craft operation.

Thoughts follow.

Organic Rye Deep Cut 375 5 300x300 Review: Wigle Rye Whiskey Deep Cut and Barrel Rested GineverWigle Organic Rye Whiskey Deep Cut – Called “Deep Cut,” per the company, because of the “bold cuts taken on this Whiskey to create our most assertively Rye-forward, spiciest Whiskey.” I presume that means they leave more heads and tails in the still with this than the do with other products. Whatever the case, the description is apt. A small-batch product, it’s made from local, organic grains. Aging time varies from bottle to bottle, but is set at about a year in 10- to 15-gallon casks.

Deep orange in color, it looks like an intense Bourbon. At full cask strength — nearly 60% abv — it’s a fireball in the glass. The nose is intense with roasted grains, wood smoke, and tar. Sipping it at full proof doesn’t reveal a lot — I don’t often balk at cask strength whiskey, but this one’s just too much to parse without water. Adding a healthy slug of H2O is a huge help, revealing a gentler smokiness that’s balanced by deep cereal notes, lush allspice and cinnamon. There’s a brutish core to this whiskey that is somehow balanced by its celebration of the underlying grain. It is fire and earth, both at once. Though when push comes to shove, fire is winning. 117.5 proof. Reviewed: Batch DCK#3, aged 14 months. B+ / $61

Aged Ginever 750 300x300 Review: Wigle Rye Whiskey Deep Cut and Barrel Rested GineverWigle Organic Barrel-Rested Ginever – This aged gin (nothing really to do with genever) is made from a pot-distilled mash of local and organic wheat, rye, and malted barley (don’t call it ginwhiskey!), the white spirit is infused with a collection of botanicals, including juniper berries, cardamom, cubeb, and lavender (among other undisclosed agents). The resulting spirit is aged for an unstated length of time. Racy nose, offering a complex collection of aromas in the world of dried herbs, licorice, modest juniper, dried apricots, and raw wood notes. It’s muddy, but vaguely enticing, too.

The body is equally weird. It starts out almost bitter, with a quinine and licorice/root beer character to it. Sweetness emerges quickly to wash this away, and here the vanilla notes driven by the barrel aging start to take hold. The finish is both fruity and floral, offering a fresh apricot note flicked with honeysuckle, brown sugar crystals, and cardamom spice. Some cinnamon and nutmeg come across on the finish.

Weirdly lovable, it’s like a gin and whiskey mix, maybe with a dash of amaro in it. Endless cocktail possibilities. 94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. A- / $50

wiglewhiskey.com

Review: 2012 Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon California

Avalon.CAB .2012 128x300 Review: 2012 Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon CaliforniaHow good can an “everyday” Cabernet Sauvignon that costs 12 bucks possibly be? Not bad at all, actually.

Avalon, courtesy of Purple Wine Co., is a very straightforward wine, but it avoids the problems of being overly sweetened and overly alcoholic (at 13.8% abv). Instead what we get is a slightly peppery, slightly chocolatey wine with blueberry notes coming across strong on the forefront. The finish brings out more of a blueberry cobbler character, with just a hint of baking spices. For 12 bucks, it’s a solid double.

B+ / $12 / avalonwinery.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Twilight Summer Ale (2014)

twilight bottle 88x300 Review: Deschutes Brewery Twilight Summer Ale (2014)We last encountered Deschutes’ summer seasonal way back in 2010. Time for an update!

This warm-weather sipper toes the line between malty and hoppy, using Amarillo hops to bolster what might otherwise become a bit muddy on the palate. Up front the American Blonde-style ale offers some light notes of roasted apples and hazelnut, eventually fading as the hoppier elements come through. Some citrus peel on the finish adds balance and nuance to the somewhat chewy mid-palate, but the overall impact is on the milder side, just as you’d expect from a summer brew.

5% abv. Available through September.

B+ / $9 per six-pack / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Tomatin Single Malts: 12, 14, 15, and 18 Years Old — Plus 1988 Vintage

tomatin 525x225 Review: Tomatin Single Malts: 12, 14, 15, and 18 Years Old    Plus 1988 Vintage

Highlands-based Tomatin offers a classic experience of Scotland in a glass — even though it is actually owned by Japan’s Takara Shuzo company.

Tomatin is shaking up the brand of late, introducing a new 14 Year Old expression and a 1988 Vintage expression to the core line (while the latter lasts, I presume), while discontinuing both the 15 and 30 Year Old expressions. (That said, we have a review of the 15 below.) The 12 Year is also getting a proof upgrade.

The only member of the new five-expression Tomatin lineup we don’t have reviewed here is Legacy, Tomatin’s entry-level, no-age-statement bottling.

Thoughts on everything else, though, follow.

Tomatin 12 Years Old Sherry Cask Finish – Finished in Oloroso sherry casks, this 12 year old whisky noses like a more mature spirit, balancing its cereal notes with some light smokiness and iodine character. On the palate, the chewy malt is balanced with notes of heather and more of those smoky wisps, with a burnt orange peel character coming along on the finish in the back of the throat. I’d love more fruit here, but Tomatin 12 is so well-balanced — despite its simplicity — that it’d almost be a shame to change anything. 86 proof (recently upgraded from 80 proof). A- / $30

Tomatin 14 Years Old Port Wood Finish – The higher alcohol level dulls the nose on this whisky, finished in Tawny Port pipes for about a year. After a time, the nose takes on an intensely woody, cedar box, tobacco leaf character. The body also has lots of wood bark, plus dark chocolate, coffee, and some cinnamon. Again, the fruit is held in check, and the expected raisiny sweetness from Port finishing never materializes. Not bad, though. 92 proof. B+ / $55

Tomatin 15 Years Old – This whisky is on the verge of being discontinued, so grab it while you can. The only whisky in this lineup that has a full maturation in ex-Bourbon casks, with no finishing. It’s markedly lighter in color than the other whiskys in this roundup, by a good margin. Hospital notes are strong on the nose here, with tons of cereal coming forth on the body, plus undercurrents of marshmallow, banana, and a bit of smokiness on the back end. More of a journeyman whisky than even the 12 Year Old. Perfectly serviceable, but I can understand the phase-out. 86 proof. B / $45

Tomatin 18 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish – Finished in sherry casks. A little sweaty on the nose, with more of that iodine character than the other Tomatin expressions. The body is pure sherry, though. This is a well-matured whisky with a big body and a chewy fruitiness to it. Lots of fresh plums, macerated apricots, and juicy oranges to go around, with a bit of sandalwood on the finish. Big whisky, with lots to like once the odd nose blows away, revealing more of a honey character. Amazing value for an 18 year old whisky. 92 proof. A- / $60

Tomatin 1988 Vintage Batch #1 – Matured in both Bourbon and Port barrels, this first batch of Tomatin 1988 (roughly 25-26 years old, by my count) is available in a selection of 2500 bottles. Surprisingly austere and malty on the nose, with a floral element to it. The body’s got an air of oatmeal cookies, buttery toffee, and indistinct flowers, with a bit of a vegetal note on the finish. I got no Port character here at all, rather mainly a rich maltiness that tends to overpower everything. I’d like to see more complexity at this price level. 92 proof. B+ / $250

tomatin.com

Review: New England Distilling Gunpowder Rye

 Review: New England Distilling Gunpowder Rye

Based in Portland, Maine, craft distillery New England Distilling is likely the easternmost distilling operation in the United States (correct me if I’m wrong). It’s a producer of several spirits, including this increasingly popular and available rye.

We’ve got more NED reviews in the works, but meanwhile take a gander at Gunpowder, reportedly “inspired by” a 150 year old “Maryland style” family recipe. Made only from local grains — just rye and 2-row barley (70% rye, 30% barley), no corn — and spending less than two years in American oak barrels, it’s a young craft rye like few others we’ve encountered.

Aptly named, Gunpowder Rye is very pungent on the nose. Loaded with notes of menthol, fresh cut grains, black and red pepper, and — dare I say — the racy essence of gunpowder, this isn’t a shy spirit. The body is brash and loaded with power. “Smooth” is a word that no one will use to describe this rye, its raw and biting character worn right on its sleeve. Gut-punching pepper, roasted grains, and flamed orange peel come across before a fiery finish grips your throat and doesn’t let go. Mercifully, at the very end, a wash of brown sugar sweetness comes across, letting you off the hook a little.

Rye often gets stereotyped as a “spicy” whiskey when in reality many ryes can be quite fruity and easygoing. This is one whiskey that lives up to the stereotype completely.

87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #4.

B+ / $39 / newenglanddistilling.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: 2013 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris Russian River Valley

MacMurray Ranch R. River Valley Sonoma County Pinot Gris 750ml 85x300 Review: 2013 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris Russian River ValleyThis latest pinot gris from venerable affordable wine producer MacMurray Ranch comes loaded with peachy/tropical notes, but an undercurrant of vegetable character brings some clouds to an otherwise sunny day. The body features more of the same — perhaps apricot jam, plus fresh herbs, vanilla extract, and some baking spice — with just of a touch of chalkiness and astringency on the finish.

B+ / $20 / macmurrayranch.com

Review: Cruzan Peach Rum

cruzan peach 116x300 Review: Cruzan Peach RumFruit-flavored rum day continues with this latest release from Cruzan, which clocks in at a mere 42 proof (about the same as a fortified wine).

The St. Croix-based rum operation infuses natural peach flavor into white rum (and lots of water, it seems) to create this light-as-a-feather, gently flavored spirit. Unlike the fruit bomb of Bacardi Mango Fusion, reviewed earlier today, Cruzan Peach is built with restraint in mind.

The nose is more of an apricot-cherry mix than peach, but either way it’s mild and indistinct. The body has clearer peach notes, more canned than fresh, but completely harmless through and through. The body is so light and airy it almost feels like you’re drinking a wine cooler that’s gone flat. The finish is minimal — lightly sweet and unfocused — fading away before you can figure out what you just drank.

B / $15 / cruzanrum.com

Review: Firemans Brew Blonde Beer, Brunette Beer, and Redhead Ale

FB 3bottles.dry  525x645 Review: Firemans Brew Blonde Beer, Brunette Beer, and Redhead Ale

We last encountered Firemans Brew five long years ago — we mistakenly gave them an unattributed apostrophe back then — so with summer upon us, a fresh look is in order. The company still makes three hair-color-themed beers, though the “Brewnette” has been reformulated with a newish name (a straightforward “Brunette”) and less alcohol.

Fresh thoughts on the So-Cal based “The Original Firemans Brew” follow.

Firemans Brew Blonde Beer – A classic pilsner lager. A big body elevates this over your typical “baseball game” brew, with a chewy, sourdough bread core studded with a touch of pine and a hint of brown sugar. Some caramel notes emerge on the finish, but mostly it’s a crisp and clean slugger from start to finish. 5% abv. A-

Firemans Brew Brunette Beer – A burly double bock, with considerably more alcohol than the other brews in this lineup. Lots of malt on this one builds up layered notes of coffee, chocolate, and chicory, atop a sultry, creamy base. Built for fans of bigger bodied brews. 8% abv. B+

Firemans Brew Redhead Ale – A red amber ale that will offend no one, this malty, woodsy beer is built with a moderate body and a chewy, almost nutty character on the palate. The finish comes along with strong notes of fresh-baked bread and a touch of fresh coffee notes. Harmless. 5.5% abv. B

firemansbrew.com

Review: Ty Ku Silver, Black, and Coconut Sake

TY KU Premium Sake Collection Pack 525x367 Review: Ty Ku Silver, Black, and Coconut Sake

One of the bigger names in imported sakes (in addition to a panoply of other spirits like soju and other Asian-inspired liquors), Ty Ku hails from Nara, Japan, where it’s produced in iconic, triangular-base bottles.

Ty Ku produces four sakes (one flavored). Only the white bottling (Ty Ku’s highest-level sake) is not reviewed here. The three bottlings below are also available in a gift pack (pictured) of three 330ml bottles ($39).

Thoughts follow. (Prices are for individual 720ml bottles.)

Ty Ku Sake Junmai (Silver) – Slightly brooding on the nose, with more of a winter squash character to it. Modest honeydew notes emerge on the body, with a very gentle sweetness to it. Initially a touch jarring, it grows on you over time. Drink very cold. B- / $16

Ty Ku Sake Junmai Ginjo (Black) – Gentler, with notes of melon and coconut on the nose. More fruit, with cantaloupe and some pear character, emerges on the palate.  Quite fresh, it’s a classic, if simple, junmai ginjo. B+ / $22

Ty Ku Coconut Sake – A nigori (cloudy) sake produced at junmai quality and flavored with, of course, coconut. Pina colada on the nose, but tempered with melon notes on the body. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as you might expect, with the coconut notes coming off as rich and filling. The finish, however, gets a little mouth-coating after awhile, leaving one running for the water. C+ / $13

trytyku.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Pine Mountain, Armory, & Cinder Cone Beers

deschutes armory 525x375 Review: Deschutes Brewery Pine Mountain, Armory, & Cinder Cone Beers

Three new brews from Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes are hitting the market — all three on a year-round basis.

Deschutes Brewery Pine Mountain Pilsner – A surprisingly malty pilsner, Pine Mountain has a big, bready body, with notes of peanuts, peaches, banana, and honey. The finish takes on an earthy, somewhat mushroomy character. There’s fruit here — those peaches are stronger than you might expect — but the heavy maltiness dulls this beer’s crisp finish a bit. 5.2% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Armory XPA – “Experimental Pale Ale,” made with five kinds of hops. Initially woodsy and piney, as it warms up it reveals a surprisingly sweet and orangey character, almost like citrus jellies on the finish. There’s good balance between the two, but the sweetness becomes a little wearisome after a pint or so. 5.9% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Cinder Cone Red Ale – A traditional red ale, this dark brew offers tons of richness, including notes from the forest, brown/burnt sugar notes, and plenty of bitter root character, particularly on the finish. A bit muddy, even chalky, this drinks like a burlier winter brew. Named after rocky lava formations… makes sense. 5.3% abv. B

each $4 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Cune Rioja 2010 Crianza and 2013 Monopole

cune rioja 164x300 Review: Cune Rioja 2010 Crianza and 2013 MonopoleCune, pronounced coo-nay, is a major producer of a range of Rioja wines. Alternately known as Compañia Vinicola del Norte de España (CVNE), Spain’s Cune dates back to 1879. Thoughts on two of its new releases follow.

2010 Cune Rioja Crianza – 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha Tinta and 10% Mazuelo. What a delightful little wine. Simple but full of fruit — not jam or jellies — this Crianza is brilliant with gentle blackberry notes, laced with cocoa powder, cinnamon, and licorice. Touches of floral character on the nose add nuance. Everything’s in balance here, with the body mercifully dialed back to the lighter side of “moderate” while still far from dipping into “watery.” Summer-friendly reds that aren’t Pinot Noir are hard to come by, but this Crianza does the trick beautifully, and on the cheap. A / $15

2013 Cune Rioja Monopole – 100% Viura. A very acidic white, metallic and flinty with notes of melon, pineapple, and — especially — lemon. Comes on strong and never really lets up, with a brisk, almost enamel-dissolving finish. B+ / $15

cvne.com

Tasting the Wines of Hourglass Vineyard, 2014 Releases

I recently had the opportunity to attend a live event with Napa-based Hourglass Vineyard’s owner Jeff Smith and its new winemaker Tony Biagi. Before tasting through four of the winery’s current releases, the duo discussed the changes involved with switching winemakers, including their new approach to winemaking and their return to higher-acidity, more elegant winemaking as they retreat from the traditional opulence of Napa. As well, the winery has a new focus on blending (and seemingly a love affair with Petit Verdot). Thoughts on all four wines follow.

2013 Hourglass Sauvignon Blanc Estate – Quite acidic, with pineapple and lemon balanced by touches of ammonia. Fresh, with lots of mineral notes, and touches of peach rising on the finish. There’s a bit of coconut in there, too. Solid. B+ / $40

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot Napa Valley – 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot. Mint, chocolate, and a layering of raspberry, blackberry, and dried raisin character. Not as racy or acidic as I’d hoped for, the mint character really overpowering things on the back end. The finish goes out with more of a whimper than a bang. B / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Malbec Napa Valley – 75% Malbec, 25% Petit Verdot. Again, heavy on the mint character, which plays well with the heavy chocolate and strawberry notes in this wine. Again the body isn’t as racy or as acidic as I’d expected, but here the flavors complement one another more completely. Give this one time to open up and some violet character emerges. Not exactly the Malbec you might be expecting, but worthwhile. B+ / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Franc Napa Valley – 83% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot. Easily the darkest of these wines, both in color and in body. Dark chocolate, licorice, floral notes, and strawberry jam all come together in one powerhouse of a whole. This is the most “old school” (meaning: late-’90s) wine from this collection, a more dense and chewy wine with a lengthy finish — that mint returning for an encore. Probably my favorite wine of the bunch, but you’ll pay for the privilege, to be sure! A- / $135

hourglasswines.com

Review: Phraya Deep Matured Gold Rum

Phraya Rum 300 277x300 Review: Phraya Deep Matured Gold Rum“Luxury” rum from Thailand. If the gold-clad bottle doesn’t tip you off, the emphasis is squarely on “luxury.” The name phraya means “high ranking” in Thai, and the rum is aged at least seven years before bottling.

As with Tanduay, another Asian rum, it’s an exotic spirit. The nose has a cachaca-like intensity, filled with dark brown sugar, papaya, coconut husk, and a rubbery undertone. The body is a bit more traditional, offering caramels and butterscotch, and a slightly winey, sherried character to it. Cedar box is evident, alongside some broader coconut character. There are hints of wood — touches of pine — on the finish, along with some not inconsiderable astringency.

On the whole, this is a fun and quite unique rum (if for nothing more than its provenance alone), but probably not something I’ll be dying to tipple on nightly. At $40 a bottle it’s also a really tough sell in a market when some very rare and masterful competitors are available for $10 less. Rum lovers, give it a sample before you dive in.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / phrayarum.com

Review: 2 Wines from the International Wine of the Month Club

2005 Casa Silva Carmenère Microterroir de Los Lingues 86x300 Review: 2 Wines from the International Wine of the Month ClubWine of the Month Clubs are legion, but if you want to get started with one that offers a pretty broad range of unusual (yet well curated) wines, perhaps you could do worse than one of the originals, the International Wine of the Month Club. The focus here is on imported wines, with selections coming in from across the globe. (Domestics also show up in the distribution, though.)

Three programs are available ranging in price from $33 to $70 a month, all providing two bottles a month (you choose red, white, or one of each). Prices quoted below are for additional bottle reorders from the club if you’re already a member or are indicative of market pricing.

We sampled two of the club’s recent offerings. While every wine it sends you is going to be different, of course, they are probably indicative of what you can expect in general. Thoughts on follow.

2012 Luma Inzolia-Chardonnay Terre Siciliane – 60% Inzolia, 40% Chardonnay from Sicily. Easily mistaken for a California Chardonnay at first, with butter and vanilla notes on the nose and up front on the palate. As the wine’s body evolves, acidity builds and some baking spices emerge. It’s well balanced between the two, a solid sipper that goes well with food, too. B+ / $19

2005 Casa Silva Carmenère Microterroir de Los Lingues  – Chilean Carmenere, from 2005, you say? Not a typo. Wow, this just has no business being on the market today. Well past its prime, the nose is all vegetal green pepper and old sofa cushions. The body fares just as badly, a sweaty, very green wine with a mushroomy finish. Some time opens things up a bit, but by then the wine diverges heavily into the barnyard. I’m chalking it up to a misfire. D- / $40

winemonthclub.com

Review: Husky Vodka

HUSKY 2 72x300 Review: Husky VodkaImported from Siberia, this new vodka’s bottle is imprinted with a dog paw pressed into the glass. It’s distilled from (unspecified) grain and distilled five times before bottling. But is this vodka ruff? Er, rough? Ahem. Hey, the company donates $1 from each bottle sold to local dog rescue shelters, so your martinis are helping the canines of the world.

The nose is simple, and more modern than I’d expected. Vanilla marshmallow hits first, followed by the more expected hospital character. The body is a bit more traditional, with a brisk and clean character that offers notes of black pepper, orange peel, and ample medicinal character. Nothing overwhelmingly out of the ordinary here, aside from a little touch of salted caramel on the finish.

80 proof.

B+ / $24 / husky-vodka.com

Review: Six Ciders from Tieton Cider Works

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It’s time for a gaggle of apple ciders from Tieton Cider Works, based in Tieton, Washington. TCW makes at least 10 different products. Here we review a half dozen, all spins on the classic apple cider formula, and arranged from dryest to sweetest. Enjoy.

Tieton Cider Works Tieton Blend Cider Dry – English style cider, bone dry with barely a hint of sweetness. This is a tough one for those more accustomed to fruitier, sweeter ciders, and even after putting on my dryest of dry white wine hats, I couldn’t cut through it. Herbs and minerals abound here, but the overall effect is like a weak sauvignon blanc. 7% abv. C

Tieton Cider Works Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider Dry – Dry cider blended with local hops. Cider plus beer is known as a “snakebite,” but I’ve never seen anyone actually drink one. Here, the sweet, sour, and bitter are combine to create an initially off-putting concoction, but over time your palate adjusts and reveals a complex and unique brew. The sour apple notes remain the heaviest component, the hops largely blowing off to show themselves primarily as a hint on the finish. 6.9% abv. C+

Tieton Cider Works Wild Washington Apple Cider Semi-Dry – Aptly described, with tart and sweet elements. Lots of mineral notes here, along with an earthy (“wild,” perhaps) pungency on the nose. This is a cider for those who are OK with sweeter stuff, but who might want to experience a somewhat dryer beverage from time to time. 7% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Apricot Cider Semi-Dry – Blended with apricots, naturally. Quite fruity, with strong overtones of fresh and dried apricots. Seems sweeter than “semi-dry” would indicate, with a biting acidity on the finish. The simplest, but perhaps the best, of the bunch. 6.9% abv. B+

Tieton Cider Works Apple Cherry Cider Semi-Sweet – Plenty of cherry flavor up front here, so much so that it almost drinks like pomegranate/cherry juice. Heavy sour notes on the finish abate over time, leaving behind the essence of fruit, with an almost mineral edge to it. Not bad. 6.9% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Blossom Nectar Cider Sweet – Includes apple blossoms in the mix. Quite sweet, and indeed very floral, with a pleasant balance between tart apple and the perfumy, rose-scented blossoms. The perfume does take on a “grandma’s house” note over time, particularly as it warms up, but hey, you’re drinking cider, so stop moaning. 7% abv. B+

$42.60 as a mixed six-pack of 500ml bottles (one of each of the above) / tietonciderworks.com

Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 Releases

belle ambiance 200x300 Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 ReleasesA new brand from DFV/Delicato, Belle Ambiance has a rock bottom price combined with appealing, upscale packaging that’s certain to drive some sales. Launching out of the gate with a collection of six wines, we tried three for review. Not entirely sure I’m buying the “family vineyards” claim on the label, given that all of these wines carry generic “California” designations, but, hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, no?

2013 Belle Ambiance Pinot Grigio California – On the sweet side, with lots of mango notes, plus some lemon and a touch of melon. The lasting finish offers some light herbal notes, before recalling that tropical punch up front. Fine, but best with food. B / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Chardonnay California – Straightforward, big butter/vanilla notes, with a lemon chaser. Long finish, with quite sweet marshmallow notes picking up on the back end. Not bad, but needs some refinements. B- / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Pinot Noir California – Gentle, simple stuff. Light cherry and strawberry notes lead to a quietly sweet body, with light tea leaf notes on the finish. Oh so pleasant, almost harmless. B+ / $8

belleambiancevineyards.com