Revew: Chateau du Tariquet Armagnacs – Blanche, VS Classique, VSOP, XO, and 1993 Vintage

Tariquet XONo longer using the “Domaine du Tariquet” name (see earlier coverage here under the old identifier), Tariquet now produces both wines and spirits under the “Chateau du Tariquet” moniker.

Recently we received a monster shipment of the Tariquet lineup, from the unaged blanche to a vintage offering distilled 22 years ago.

Away we go!

Chateau du Tariquet Blanche Armagnac – Made from 100% folle blanche grapes, and bottled unaged as an eau de vie. Floral and fruity on the nose, with medicinal overtones. On the palate, it offers notes of honeysuckle, lavender, and the essence of canned peaches and pears. A musty, green character emerges with time, tempering the up-front sweetness with a finish that veers into vegetal character. Think of a white whiskey that’s lighter on its feet and more balanced and you have an idea where this white brandy is headed. 92 proof. B- / $50

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac VS Classique – 60% ugni blanc and 40% baco, aged 3 years at least. Reviewed last year here, this entry level brandy offers a nose of raisin and spice, citrus fruit, and sweet vanilla. The body is simple but plenty enjoyable, with nutty notes compounding the above fruitier notes, all mixed with a rustic brush that evokes some ethanol and hospital notes from time to time. I like it somewhat less today than my prior rave would indicate, but for a daily brandy at a solid price, it’s still worth a look. 80 proof. B / $35

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac VSOP – Same grape breakdown as the above, but this bottling is at least 7 years old. Here we see the Tariquet house style pushing harder on its deeper, nuttier characteristics. Brown butter, sweet pastries, and stronger vanilla notes give this brandy a more rounded and fully-formed character, with touches of roasted marshmallows, marzipan, and banana bread coming to the fore. There’s lots to enjoy here, with the racy finish giving it an edge (and some fruit) that keeps the experience alive. 80 proof. A- / $46

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac XO – Same grapes, at least 15 years in barrel. Again, the level of depth gets pushed further, and deeper, with intense notes of nuts, plus chocolate and coffee. The fruit is darker, restrained, and more brooding, heavy with plum and cassis, and dusted with cloves and ground ginger. Dark chocolate rules on the finish. I usually prefer my older Cognac showing a bit more fruit, but this expression offers its own enjoyable, though different, drinking experience. 80 proof. A- / $70

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac 1993 Vintage – Again the same grapes, all harvested in 1993. Bottled in 2010, making this a 17 year old spirit. There’s more heat on the nose, which might make you fear for a heavy, alcoholic bomb. Push through to the body, where you’ll find a lush brandy awaits you. Dense caramel and huge raisin notes start things off, followed by chocolate, lighter coffee, vanilla, and a mix of baking spices. The finish is lengthy and sweet, with orange Dreamsicle notes and a touch of black pepper. In need of a touch more balance, but lovely nonetheless. 90.4 proof. A- / $100

tariquet.com

Review: Wildcide Hard Cider

WILDCIDE_12 oz bottleYou won’t find his name anywhere on the bottle, but Wildcide (and Aurum Cider Co., which makes it) comes to us from Dan Gordon, founder of Gordon Biersch. His first cider, it is pressed from Fuji, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious varieties.

As ciders go, Wildcide is decidedly not wild and is instead rather restrained. Very dry, it keeps the fruit in check courtesy of lots of carbonation, some quinine notes, and a very slightly salty edge. While I certainly don’t taste four kinds of apples in the mix, it does have fresh and authentic — not candylike — apple character, avoiding the heavy sugars and gingerbread-house’s-kitchen-sink approach that so many modern ciders attempt to take. If I had to pick a variety that comes across the strongest, I’ll go with the Golden Delicious.

6.2% abv.

B+ / $10 per six-pack / thewildcide.com

 

Review: Shock Top Twisted Pretzel Wheat

shock top Twisted Pretzel Wheat bottleI absolutely love pretzels, so how could I say no to Shock Top’s latest, a simulacrum of salted pretzel in beer form. Essentially a flavored Belgian-style wheat beer, Twisted Pretzel Wheat does an amazing job of recreating that favorite of baked treats in boozy form. Wheaty-bready with that familiar pretzelly bent, it offers a touch of salt to balance the not insignificant sweetness that carries through to the finish. Twisted Pretzel Wheat is an utter gimmick (and is out only as a limited edition), but it’s a gimmick that works surprisingly well as a one-off experience.

5.1% abv.

B+ / $7 per six pack / shocktopbeer.com

Review: Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe Moonshine

popcorn suttonDon’t know Popcorn Sutton? Pshaw! The man wrote the book — literally, and he self-published it — on how to make moonshine. Sutton passed away in 2009, but you can still get a copy of Me and My Likker for, oh, $500.

If you’ve never seen a picture of Sutton, stop and click this link. The better to understand the kind of man we’re talking about, and the kind of product we’re dealing with. By all accounts, Sutton was a fanatic — about one thing: Making moonshine. Out in the hills of Tennessee, he’d work grain and sugar into sparkling sugar shine and, again by all accounts, that was it. The man had no use for the trappings of modern society (though he did manage to get married). He kept his future casket in his living room and the footstone of his own design, reading “Popcorn Said Fuck You,” be placed on his grave when he died. The family ignored the request — Sutton committed suicide to avoid going to prison for, of course, making moonshine.

And so we get to his namesake, Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe Moonshine. With Sutton dead and buried, enterprising types have taken to commercializing his work. In 2010, Hank Williams Jr. and Sutton’s widow Pam joined forces to produce a commercial moonshine called Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey. The product was a big hit, but after a suit with Jack Daniel’s (since settled), namely over the bottle design, the spirit was relaunched as Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe in late 2015. (The production and spirit inside have not changed, however, and it is still reportedly made according to his recipe, just a few miles from Sutton’s old home.)

Things are moving for the brand. Last year, George Dickel master distiller John Lunn took over as Popcorn Sutton’s head distiller. If you’ve ever met or seen Lunn, you know he’s about as far from Sutton as you can get, but one has to assume he’s keeping the fires lit the way Popcorn wanted them.

So, on to the tasting…

The heavy grain and milder petrol notes on the nose of Popcorn Sutton are indistinct and could be tasting notes for just about any white whiskey. While the aroma is nothing special, the body is about as good as white lightning gets. Initially quite sweet — Sutton likely uses a lot of sugar in the recipe — it ping-pongs from notes of popcorn and rolled oats to fresh simple syrup. A touch grassy, it finishes on a note of bitter tree bark, which I can only imagine Sutton chawing on while he stokes the fires of his stills. Otherwise it leaves things fairly fresh and clean, which may come as a surprise to drinkers expecting a firebomb on their tongue. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with this ‘shine. Guess the man knew what he was doing.

88 proof.

B+ / $25 / popcornsutton.com

Review: Macallan Amber and Gold

amberThe Macallan has never been a distillery to do things in a straightforward way. Case in point: the 1824 collection. There’s not just one. There are many.

There’s an 1824 Master Series (which Rare Cask is part of). And there’s an 1824 Collection Travel Retail (which these whiskies are part of).

Amber and Gold are part of neither of those. They are from the 1824 Series, which is a European-only line of NAS expressions delineated by color alone. (In the UK, all the Master Series whiskies are dumped into the 1824 Series as a big group.)

OK, so what’s the deal with the color names? The 1824 Series is, per Macallan, the only malt whisky line ever produced with barrels selected by the color of the spirit. Four versions are in release: Gold, Amber, Sienna, and Ruby, from least expensive to most. Again, there are no age statements in this line, but as color is generally tied to time spent in cask — all of these are drawn from sherry casks to keep the playing field at least somewhat level — you can at least get a sense of the age of the whisky just by looking at it. Or at least that’s the idea.

On my recent trip to Scotland I picked up samples of both Gold and Amber — and will have to leave the luxe other two for my next trip. Should you find yourself across the pond, well, here’s what you can expect from these drams.

Both are 80 proof.

The Macallan Gold – The whisky is immediately youthful, with ample cereal notes, but also quite charming. The nose balances cereal with spice and gentle brown sugar notes. Lots of cinnamon here along with flamed orange peel. On the palate, ginger emerges along with more citrus — orange and lemon — though again it is backed by some sweetened breakfast cereal character folding in both sugar and grain. The finish is modest and very easygoing, a gentle conclusion to a relatively straightforward — but never unenjoyable — little whisky. B / $47 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

The Macallan Amber – Stepping up on the color wheel brings you to this whisky, which is just barely a shade darker than the Gold expression. Similar color or not, Amber really does kick things up in the flavor department. Much stronger sherry notes emerge right from the start, with a nose of spiced nuts and more citrus — plus lots of vanilla and some menthol. On the palate, it’s surprisingly bold — well sherried grains, candied ginger, more nuts (hazelnut?), and a fruity finish. All in all, there’s simply more going on here — and that’s generally a good thing. B+ / $56 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

themacallan.com

Review: Kilchoman 2008 Vintage and PX Finish 2010

kilcohman 2008 Vintage 2015 (2)

Kilchoman may be just a kid on the distilling scene, but that doesn’t mean it’s taking its time. Here’s a look at two new expressions from this up-and-coming Islay distiller.

Kilchoman 2008 Vintage – This is a vatting of exclusively bourbon-cask-aged barrels of Kilchoman distilled in July 2008 and bottled in August 2015, making this, at 7 years old, the longest-aged expression to date to come from this now 10-year-old distillery. The nose is quite a surprise, loaded with apple and pear notes, with smoke taking a secondary (though plenty strong) role. The body is smokier, though far from overwhelming, but here more of an orange character comes into focus alongside the apple notes. On the finish, it’s quite gentle, with stronger vanilla custard notes, some almond and walnut notes, and an echo of smoke on the back end. A very strong showing for this vintage, and something that even a peat novice might be able to enjoy. 92 proof. A- / $100

Kilchoman Single Cask Release PX Finish (2010) – This is an ImpEx exclusive, a single-cask of Kilchoman aged for four years in bourbon barrels, then finished for four months in Pedro Ximinez sherry casks and bottled at cask strength. (Last year Kilchoman released a 2009 vintage version of basically the same expression, so feel free to compare.) The very light smoke on the nose is almost surprising — this is perhaps the most gentle of any Kilchoman expression I’ve tried to date. Sea spray, some coal fire, and standard peat fill out the aroma profile. On the palate the whisky is lightly sweet and touched with burnt citrus, darker baking spices, and again a modest smoke profile. The finish is moderately drying and short. Good effort, but it’s surpassed by the 2009 release. 114.4 proof. Cask #680/2010. B+ / $140

kilchomandistillery.com

Review: 2012 Justin Isosceles Paso Robles

Justin_Isosceles_Red_Blend_Paso_Robles_2011_Bottle-900x900This latest release in Justin’s Bordeaux-style Isosceles line is a blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc that spends 21 months in new French oak. Surprisingly sweet at first, it loads up with gentle pepper, baking spice, molasses, and some coffee bean notes. Lots of cassis and a touch of violets give this a fruity depth that is coaxed out with time in glass, but a somewhat bitter finish tends to dampen the encounter.

B+ / $70 / justinwine.com

Review: Pendleton Midnight Canadian Whisky

Pendleton Midnight

Oregon-based Hood River Spirits has a bit of a cult following with Pendleton Canadian Whisky. In 2012 the company launched a second, older expression, Pendleton 1910, and now it’s following that up with Pendleton Midnight.

Pendleton Midnight is quite a different animal than those that have come before it. The big spin is that a portion of the whisky (percentage unstated) is aged for at least six years in ex-American brandy casks, and “pristine” water from Oregon’s Mt. Hood is used in the production process. The two don’t seem to have a lot to do with one another, but let’s not get caught up in the details. Oh, and it’s bottled at 90 proof vs. 80 proof for the prior two expressions.

Pendleton is well known for its extreme sweetness, and Midnight doesn’t stray far from that plotline. Butterscotch is initially evident on the nose, followed by a raisin punch, a clear echo of the time spent in brandy casks. With air, some woody notes emerge, as well. The palate is largely in line with the nose — again, it’s quite sweet, offering more butterscotch and chocolate, with a lashing of rum raisin notes on top of that, almost like toppings on an ice cream sundae.

The good news is that Midnight is not quite as aggressively cloying as standard Pendleton, as it tempers the sweetness with some more nuanced notes driven by the brandy barrel aging it undergoes. The various flavors ultimately meld together quite nicely, with a nice sense of cohesion and balance.

90 proof.

B+ / $30 / pendletonwhisky.com

Review: J Vineyards 2014 Pinot Gris and 2013 Pinot Noir

CA_Pinot_Gris_2014-220x680Two new release from J Vineyards in Sonoma, California — a pinot gris and a pinot noir. Let’s try them!

2014 J Vineyard Pinot Gris California – A simple white, quite herbal and touched with notes of camphor and menthol. Light lemongrass notes up front give way to rosemary and sage. Best with food. B / $15

2013 J Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A soft and fruity wine, classically structured with cherry fruit, some raspberry, and some sweet tea. It’s a bit sweeter than I’d like, and the sugary backbone really starts to take over after a while. Ultimately that robs the wine of some of the grace that it exhibits up front, though it’s still a food-friendly sipper. B+ / $35

jwine.com

Review: Samuel Adams Utopias (2015 Release)

Utopias-Comp2-2The 2015 expression of Samuel Adams’ most extreme beer is the fifth time we’ve covered it — the first was the 2007 vintage — and it may just be the best Utopias we’ve seen to date.

Not familiar with the idea? Here’s some background:

Only the ninth batch brewed since the first release in 2002, this year’s Utopias, like previous vintages, was brewed in small batches using traditional methods, blended with previous vintages going as far back as 1992, then finished in the Barrel Room at the Samuel Adams Boston Brewery.

With each new batch of Utopias, the brewers at Sam Adams push for a complex flavor profile, and during this process have created brews with alcohol levels reaching over 30% ABV; this year’s beer is 28% ABV and is best enjoyed as a two ounce pour in a snifter glass at room temperature. While some of the barrels have reached over 30% alcohol, the brewers blend down because the goal is to craft complex flavors, not an extreme alcohol percentage.

For the 2015 Utopias, the Sam Adams brewers used a variety of malts for the brewing process and during fermentation used several strains of yeast, including one traditionally reserved for champagne. The beer was then blended with Utopias vintages from previous years including some that have been aging for more than 20 years in the Barrel Room. Aging the beer over a longer period of time accentuates the beer’s distinct vanilla notes and creates aromas of ginger and cinnamon. Some of this aged beer is over twenty years old, old enough to drink itself.

Utopias is brewed using traditional methods. The brewers begin with a blend of two-row Caramel and Munich malts that imparts a rich, deep amber color. Noble hops – Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Spalt Spalter and Tettnang Tettnanger – are also added to lend complexity and balance. During fermentation, several yeast strains are used, including one normally reserved for champagne which the brewers call a “ninja yeast.” This fresh beer is then blended with a variety of different barrel-aged beers and “finished” in a variety of barrels to impart additional complexity and flavor.

This release of Samuel Adams Utopias also uses a blend of beer finished in a variety of barrels. “Finishing” is a creative way for the brewers to impart additional flavor from a variety of barrels before the beer is bottled. This final step of finishing the beer lasts several months before the beer is bottled and imparts flavors ranging from fruit like cherry and raisin to chocolate, leather and oak. The multi-step and lengthy process results in flavors reminiscent of a rich vintage Port, fine Cognac, or aged Sherry, while feeling surprisingly light on the palate.

New this year, the brewers used White Carcavelos wine barrels to finish the beer, in addition to barrels that once housed cognac, Armagnac, ruby port, sweet Madeira, and Buffalo Trace Bourbon. White Carcavelos wine barrels help to amplify the dried fruit and oak flavors of this year’s Utopias. Carcavelos wines are blended and fortified like a port, are off dry and topaz colored with nutty aromas and flavors. Carcavelos comes from a small region of Portugal and the barrels are very rare, which made the Sam Adams brewers all the more excited to experiment with them as finishing barrels.

Whew!

With all that out of the way, let’s tuck into a glass of Utopias 2015. Notes of plum, Port-like raisin, and milk chocolate lead the way into as the beer starts to develop in the glass. This can quickly become overwhelming, so use caution as you sip your way through a small glass of the stuff, and watch for exotic mushroom notes, burnt coffee, and raspberry jam.

The finish is where things go a bit off the track, with Utopias 2015 showing slightly sour notes of cherry pits and rotten fruit, as if things have been pushed a bit too far and only dialed back via a last minute rescue. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but it does put a damper on what is initially a pretty glorious beverage.

Utopias isn’t something I drink every day, but it sure is a fun diversion from IPA and winter brews — and one hell of a conversation piece.

28% abv.

B+ / $199 / samueladams.com