Review: Blue Nectar Tequila Complete Lineup (2016)

We first encountered Blue Nectar in 2014. The Lowlands tequila producer had an avant garde approach to production, which included a reposado-anejo blend and a flavored reposado in the mix. Since then, the company has done some rebranding (while keeping the perfume bottle profile), shuffled some labels and product names, and added a full anejo to the mix, while sticking with its “agave forward” flavor profile.

Here’s a fresh look at the full (and now complete) lineup of tequilas. All are 80 proof.

Blue Nectar Tequila Silver – A triple-distilled blanco, this tequila noses with notes of green pepper, some cinnamon, and ample, herbal agave. On the palate, the flavor of roasted agave dominates, with black pepper notes clinging to the back of the throat. Sweetness is present, but elusive, as hot vegetal notes tend to dominate. B / $43

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado Extra Blend – Double-distilled. Aged six to eight months in charred North American oak barrels and blended with three-year extra añejo. This effectively corresponds to the 2014 Reposado bottling. Though the nose is restrained and agave-heavy, it drinks with more oomph, offering notes of vanilla, nutmeg, and ample orange peel. The finish is lingering with notes of cola and barrel char — almost whiskey-like at times with a dusty, coal-fired finish. B+ / $48

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado Special Craft – Double-distilled. Aged six to eight months in charred North American oak barrels and infused with essential oils and a hint of agave nectar. This is the equivalent of the 2014 Special Reserve. This surprisingly noses more like a traditional reposado, with clear cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla aromas. The body is all kinds of crazy, though, very sweet, with notes of marzipan, banana, whipping cream, and saltwater taffy. The finish is gummy and lingering, impossibly sugar-rich. C+ / $53

Blue Nectar Tequila Anejo Founder’s Blend – A new addition. Double-distilled, and aged for one to two years in charred American oak barrels and blended with extra añejo, including a limited production five year old extra añejo. It offers a relatively traditional, old tequila nose, with deep vanilla, dusky barrel char, and sweet caramel notes at the fore. The palate is equally well-formed, offering more dark caramel, some chocolate, a touch of maple, and cinnamon. The agave hangs in there, showing its face on the finish as an afterimage of what’s come before. Nicely made. A- / $67

bluenectartequila.com

Review: 2014 Garzon Tannat Uruguay

Uruguay’s Bodega Garzon makes more than white wines. It also produces reds, including this tannat.

It’s a fresh and lively wine, full of raspberry and plum fruit without being stereotypically jammy, layering in notes of spice cake, cloves, and a finish that echoes brambly currants and a bit of tea leaf. A clean wine with a simple but balanced structure, it’s an easygoing wine, but one which is extremely food friendly and versatile.

B+ / $15 / bodegagarzon.com

Review: Ballotin Chocolate Whiskeys

If ever there was a time of year for chocolate-flavored whiskeys, well, you’re soaking in it.

Former Brown-Forman exec Paul Tuell is the man behind Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey, a set of four flavored whiskeys with chocolate as the connecting thread among them. Each expression starts with aged American whiskey (origin and variety unstated, but these are bottled in Louisville, for what it’s worth) and is flavored with “all-natural essences of classic and contemporary chocolate favorites.” The goal: To create a product that “tastes like a “bourbon expression” of your favorite chocolate indulgences.”

Well, let’s see how they did with that goal. 

Each expression is bottled at 60 proof.

Ballotin Original Chocolate Whiskey – Bittersweet chocolate with a bit of vanilla and just a hint of cinnamon hits the nose first. On the palate, the chocolate is front and center, lingering for a few seconds before the more traditional whiskey notes push their way through, bringing both ample heat and an oaky, vanilla-heavy rush of flavor. The ultimate experience is closer to two different drinks experienced one after another, a silky Mexican chocolate up front, followed by a hit of whiskey — admittedly somewhat anonymous whiskey, but enjoyable nonetheless. A-

Ballotin Bourbon Ball Whiskey – A stronger vanilla profile touched with a lightly toasted almond note kick things off here, giving this a strong amaretto character. Chocolate is restrained and relegated to the back end, after the almond-whiskey mix fades out. B

Ballotin Chocolate Mint Whiskey – Fairly self-explanatory, smells like an Andes mint. This is a nostalgic whiskey, mint-forward up front, with the soothing chocolate notes rolling over you from there. The combination works very well — what’s missing, however, is any real sense of whiskey in this one. Though, to be honest, I think if it was more present, that might ruin some of the fun. B+

Ballotin Caramel Turtle Whiskey – Strong pecan notes give this a straightforward praline nose, and the palate follows suit with nuts first and foremost. The finish sees some whiskey-driven vanilla and caramel, but this time it’s the chocolate that doesn’t ever quite show its face. Quite a departure from most of the above, but not at all unpleasant, with light notes of nutmeg and gingerbread lingering on the back end. B+

each $30 / ballotinwhiskey.com

Review: Highland Park Einar

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If you’ve spent much time in travel retail shops, you’ve encountered Highland Park’s “Warrior” series, which comprises eight whiskies, each with the name of a Viking warrior. (Some of these are very small releases, so you may legitimately only encounter two or three of them.)

The theme of the Warrior series is wood, with Svein barreled exclusively in bourbon casks and Thorfinn aged completely in sherry. Various whiskies live in between, varying the percentages of bourbon vs. sherry casking. Einar is just one step up from Svein, comprising primarily bourbon casks but adding in a small portion of European oak sherry casked spirit, too.

Einar doesn’t get a ton of love in the market (which is probably why I got it on deep discount), but I have considerable affection for the finished product. The nose offers an interesting mix of citrusy sherry notes, plus unusual notes of smoldering hay, molasses, and cooked vegetables (admittedly weird at first, but it’s so unique it grows on you). On the palate, a bold and rounded body ventures toward butterscotch, salted caramel, and a very light touch of peat. As the finish develops, that vegetable note develops into a sort of mushroom character, lightly earthy and smoky all at once, before a gently sweet, sherry-flecked finish comes to the fore once again.

Ultimately I like how Einar takes you on a little journey. It’s admittedly brief but it’s nonetheless wholly worthwhile — a whisky day trip, if you will.

80 proof.

B+ / $60 (1 liter) / highlandpark.co.uk

Review: Twang Beer Salt

It’s common to jam a wedge of lime into your beer when sipping on a Mexican lager. Others prefer a lick of salt instead of the sweet-and-sour kick of citrus, and that’s why Twang — “The Original Premium Beersalt” — exists.

Twang, which also makes a line of margarita salts, sells five different flavors of beer salt (none of which are just “salt”), in little bottles that you apply directly to the glass or the rim of your bottle as you drink. New to the game is its Clamato Chili-Lime Salt, which is sold in a small can and which is designed for Micheladas, Bloody Maries, and other tomato-centric beverages. The little bottles are resealable and portable… and should last for quite a while in normal use.

Ideally no beer you drink should need manipulating in order to be palatable, but I know you don’t always have a choice of what to sip on — or maybe you just want to try something new for a change. Either way, keep reading for reviews of all five beer salts, plus the Clamato version.

Twang Michelada Especial Beer Salt – There’s a nice and well-balanced mix of tomato, lime, chili pepper, and salt in this, and it pairs quite well with lager. You really can taste all the disparate elements, which is quite a surprise. It’s clearly a way to make a poor man’s michelada, you bet, but there’s nothing wrong with slumming it once in a while. A-

Twang Lemon-Lime Beer Salt – Leans heavily on the lime, but lemon gives it a stronger kick on the back end. I was less thrilled with it as a pairing companion for any beer, but perhaps experimenting with different beer styles would find a more natural mate. B-

Twang Lime Beer Salt – As the above, without the lemon kick on the back end. I really enjoy a lime in my Pacifico, but this just didn’t replicate the experience for me. Too salty perhaps? B-

Twang Orange Beer Salt – Extremely orange heavy — only a salty kick late in the game distracts from the idea of Pixy Stix — presumably designed for use with wheat beers. It’s not really to my taste, but again, this could be a question of finding the right beer to pair it with. Either way, it’s less versatile than I’d like. C+

Twang Hot Lime Beer Salt – Less fiery than I was expecting (and hoping for), but the addition of spice gives the lime flavor more versatility and intrigue. A reasonable pairing with lagers, but still quite tart and lingering beyond its welcome. B

Twang Clamato Chili-Lime Salt – Again, this is a slightly different product intended for more than just beer, but as with the Michelada salt above, it fights above the expected weight. The two products are actually quite similar, though this one has less salt, larger granules, and just a hint of that briny shellfish character. Definitely a keeper for bloodies, (real) micheladas, and other exotic drinks. B+

$2 per 1.4 oz bottle (Clamato version is 1 oz) / beersalt.com

Tasting Affordable Bordeaux, Late 2016 Releases

Hey folks, don’t want to spend big bucks for wine for the holiday table? Check out this quintet of affordable Bordeaux wines — which generally fared much better than the last round of affordabordeaux that we reviewed.

NV La Fleur de Francois Cremant de Bordeaux Rose Brut – A sparkling rose made from 90% merlot and 10% cabernet franc. Rather malty and yeasty, but balanced by floral notes and notes of fresh berries, this wine drinks much like the better-known Cremant d’Alsace, melding cereal character with fresh fruit. Simple but versatile, with a round body that can stand up to heavier foods. B+ / $16

2013 Baron Philippe de Rothschild Mouton Cadet Bordeaux Blanc – Fresh and grassy, this blend of 69% sauvignon blanc, 28% semillon, and 3% muscadelle drinks with its sauvignon blanc foot forward, a grassy and lightly tropical experience, with light lemon juice notes clear and strong on the finish. Highly drinkable but definitely simple, it’s a versatile wine that works as a summer sipper or as a pairing with lighter fare. A- / $10

2011 Chateau le Calvaire Bordeaux Superieur – This wine (a 64% cabernet/36% merlot blend) may have no pedigree, but it’s an outstanding bottling that I recommend without reservation. Silky, fresh fruit, heavy on cherries, finds companionship with very light currant notes, some floral elements, tea leaf, and a bit of cinnamon. Well-balanced from start to finish, it showcases fruit without being at all jammy, its tannins deftly folding in on the wine as it fades out with a gentle, lingering floral touch. An amazing value wine. A- / $11

2012 Chateau Timberlay Bordeaux Superieur – 85% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% cabernet franc. This is a fairly workaday Bordeaux, with fruit dialed way back so that only some tart, unripe cherry notes remain. Notes of tobacco and balsamic fill in the gaps, but the dusty and mildly astringent finish isn’t much to look forward to. C / $16

2014 Barton & Guestier Bordeaux – 85% merlot, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Another simple wine, and young. That said, fruit is dialed down a bit, leaving this wine to showcase mild herbs, some wood, and a significant amount of tannin. Watch for raspberry on the back end, which helps the wine rise to the occasion with a bit more gusto. B / $10

Review: Whiskies of Lost Distillery – Jericho, Lossit, and Towiemore

lost-distillery-large

The Lost Distillery Company is an endeavour which aims to recreate the long-gone whiskies of the dozens of “silent stills” that dot the Scottish countryside. For better or for worse, the group aims to blend up various single malts in an effort to mimic what these lost spirits might have tasted like. How? By researching still types, barley strains, wood sources, and more.

The Lost Distillery hit the scene a few years back, and it’s been diligently making historical drams ever since. The latest trio, which bring the “Classic Selection” line up to six whiskies in total, are reviewed below. All are bottled at 86 proof. (Compare to the 92 proof expressions that dropped a few years ago.) No batch information is provided.

Lost Distillery Jericho – Also known as Benachie in the U.S. (and apparently on some labels of this recreation), this eastern Highlands distillery closed in 1913. The recreation is quite a gentle expression, loaded with cereal notes, a bit of bitter orange, and some mushroom on the nose. The body moves into sweeter territory, offering a more straightforward caramel note, a bit of coconut, and some milk chocolate. Short on the finish but nonetheless enjoyable, it drinks much like many a reasonably young but otherwise standard Highlands or Speyside whisky produced today. B

Lost Distillery Lossit – A long-dead distillery, Islay-based Lossit went south in 1867. Here we have a rather classic, young Islay — this may very well be Laphroaig — though it’s quite mild on the peat. Backing up the mild smokiness are notes of fresh orange, banana, and some cotton candy, leaving the whisky with a finish that is considerably sweeter than you’d expect. What lingers on the back end isn’t smoky peat but rather a chewy, lingering experience that integrates some cooling fireplace embers into a core of butterscotch and ginger candies. There’s no way they had it this good in 1867. B+

Lost Distillery Towiemore – Born in the heart of Speyside, near Dufftown, died in 1931. The deep amber color immediately connotes sherry cask aging, and a nose full of bitter orange, old wine, and lightly musty wood notes only drives the point home. Bold on the palate, the whisky starts with a slight medicinality and moves into notes of fresh cereal, nougat, tobacco leaf, and barrel char. Though the nose says fruit, this one turns out to be all about the grain and the wood, though the finish offers just enough of a hint of tantalizing lemon and orange peel — plus a touch of mint — to send on your way with a smile. B

each $50 to $60 / lost-distillery.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

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