Category Archives: Rated B+

Review: Privateer Silver Reserve Rum

privateer rumAs I’ve noted before here, rum has a long history of being distilled in America, and now it’s on the upswing again thanks to craft distillers and the easy availability of high-quality sugar products. Privateer is made by Andrew Cabot, a distant descendant of the Revolutionary-era Andrew Cabot, who was a rum-maker in his own time.

Based in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Privateer is made from Grade A molasses, crystallized sugar, and boiled brown sugar. Double column distilled, it is then rested in stainless steel before bottling. (An amber rum, not reviewed here, spends time in a variety of casks before bottling.)

Most white rums are aged in barrels for a time to mellow them out, then filtered back to white. Privateer Silver doesn’t have that luxury, and it’s surprising to see how the distillery has produced such a well-rounded and flavorful rum without taking this step.

The nose of Privateer rum offers classic notes of coconut husk, Brazil nuts, and a maltiness that mellows out some of the rougher alcohol character of the spirit. Nothing fancy, but on the palate, the rum starts to shine, offering notes of rich caramel, brown sugar, hazelnuts, and a dusting of cocoa powder. The finish is short but fresh, providing a pleasant rush of sweetness to finish things off. Fans of hogo will find just a touch of it here, but on the whole the body is gentle enough for easy sipping for most anyone, and it’s got plenty of utility in cocktailing applications, too.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #23.

B+ / $27 / privateerrum.com

Review: Jim Beam Kentucky Fire

Kentucky Fire Bottle ShotJim Beam’s spin on the cinnamon-flavored whiskey fad — the Fireball phenomenon — crept up so quietly earlier this August that no one seems to have taken much notice. I guess being, like, eighth to market doesn’t get you much press. No matter, though. Let’s have a look at Beam’s Kentucky Fire — cinnamon whiskey’s gotta have “fire” in the name, that’s the law! — and see how it stacks up.

Jim Beam Kentucky Fire is “Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey infused with cinnamon liqueur,” so at least no one’s claiming there are imported cinnamon sticks delicately flavoring Kentucky’s finest. Beam says its focus here is on the bourbon first, with the cinnamon a secondary concern.

I’d say Beam’s description is pretty spot on. While the nose offers clear cinnamon spice, but the vanilla sweetness of bourbon does manage to muscle through even that powerful baking cabinet standby. The body offers the flipside of this. It actually starts sweet, not spicy, a slippery vanilla-caramel that takes a few seconds before the cinnamon kicks in. It’s warming on the finish without being at all racy, and the cinnamon heat fades after just a few seconds.

Perhaps more than any other cinnamon whiskey on the market, Kentucky Fire is understated on the cinnamon side. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of Red Hots character here, it’s just not designed to scorch your palate. That’s fine by me, actually. There are cinnamon whiskey blazers out there, but a spirit that lets the whiskey shine as brightly as the cinnamon at least gives you something to savor rather than merely grimace at. Kentucky Fire may not exactly be nuanced, but it’s easy-drinking and more than serviceable as a shot or a cocktailing ingredient.

70 proof.

B+ / $16 / jimbeam.com

Rioja Review: 2008 Rioja Bordon and 1998 Vina Albina

Franco-Espanolas Reserva Bordon 2008When it comes to upscale wines, Rioja is a category that is often overlooked. But these Spanish wines, primarily Tempranillo with a smattering of other Spanish regional grapes, like Mazuelo and Graciano, thrown in, can often be aged for a decade or more, particularly at the Reserva level or higher.

Today we look at a 2008 Reserva and a 1998 Gran Reserva (the only major production difference is time spent in barrel and bottle before release). Both are now available on the market.

2008 Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Rioja Reserva – There’s good age on this bottling of a classically-structured Rioja Reserva, offering a nose of dusky, dried fruits, charred wood, and roasted meat. The body is lightly balsamic with tart cherry character and more of those meaty/slightly smoky notes on the finish. A- / $15

1998 Bodegas Riojanas Vina Albina Rioja Gran Reserva – At 16 years old, this one’s starting to feel its age, with some oxidation starting to creep in on an austere and brambly experience. Notes of balsamic, dried figs, and cherry jam emerge, along with a heavily tannic, licorice-flecked finish. Still showing well, but it is beginning its downswing. B+ / $50

Review: NV Menage a Trois Prosecco

Menage a Trois Prosecco LO Res Bottle ShotOne is wise not to expect a whole lot from a $12 Prosecco, but this DOC-classified bottling is perfectly acceptable for a quick punch of sparkly stuff. The nose offers modest yeast and bready/toasty notes, with modest hints of apple beneath. The body is more pear-like, with notes of lemon jellybeans and just a hint of white floral character. Crisp, tart, and refreshing on the finish — what it lacks in complexity it makes up for in approachability and value.

B+ / $12 / menageatroiswines.com

Review: Thistle Finch Small Batch White Rye Whiskey

Thistlefinch_039B

This white rye is made in Lancaster, Pennsylvania — the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. What about that name? “Pennsylvania Dutch folk art frequently features a bird in it, that, in German, is called a “Distelfink” or Thistle Finch. The bird is a symbol of happiness and good fortune.”

Thistle Finch is made from a mash of 60% rye, 30% wheat, and 10% malted barley — 90% of which is locally sourced. The company notes specifically that it mills its grains to a flour-like consistency (unusual if you’ve ever seen or tasted a typical, chunky whiskey mash), which it claims offers better conversion from starch to sugar and, thus, a more flavorful product. Distilled in a hybrid copper pot still and bottled unaged, all bottles are individually labeled and numbered.

This is an interesting and unusual white whiskey, and there might be something to the distillery’s claims that it extracts more flavor out of a flour-based mash. The nose offers classic white whiskey flavors — brisk cereal, fresh-cut hay, and slight vegetal, bean sprout notes. The body offers all of these, but it’s layered with more complexity than expected. As the grain fades out, in come waves of citrus peel, nougat, lemongrass, and butterscotch — the latter building particularly on the finish. Yes, it’s still young whiskey, but there are complex flavors here that go well beyond the harsh and funky bruising that you tend to get with the typical new make spirit. I’d try it first in a white whiskey sour.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #06.

B+ / $32 / thistlefinch.com

Review: Leaf Vodka – Alaska and Rocky Mountain Expressions

LEAF_Vodka_MediaKitAssets_2SKUs

Does water matter? Sure, in marketing material there’s talk of hidden springs, deep ocean water, melted icebergs, rushing rivers, secluded family wells, and just about every other form of exotic water on earth… but how can you discern its impact on your vodka if you don’t have anything to compare it to?

Enter Leaf Vodka, which offers two expressions of vodka that are presumably made the same way, distilled five times from organic wheat in Temperance, Michigan, but which are brought down to proof with two very different types of water. In the green corner we have Leaf Vodka, made with Alaskan glacial water. In the blue corner: Leaf’s vodka made with water from the Rocky Mountains. How do they compare? Let’s find out!

Both expressions are 80 proof.

Leaf Alaskan Glacial Water Vodka – Clean nose, sweet on the body, but surprisingly refreshing. Some light, lemony notes emerge with time, which help to give the spirit a brisk, summery, mouth-cleansing character. While the residual, caramel-like sweetness may be a bit on the heavy side, it’s a versatile vodka that has ample cocktailing applicability and can do double duty in a pinch as a straight sipper, too. B+

Leaf Rocky Mountain Mineral Water Vodka - Racier from the get go, with a crisp medicinality on the nose and a bit of a charcoal-like edge. While it’s a step back from some of the more classic Old World vodkas, it nonetheless pays its respects to Mother Russia, with a minimalistic residual flavor profile that just nods at black pepper and a touch of brown sugar. B+

Does water make a difference? In Leaf’s case, there’s a clear distinction between these two spirits, and presuming there’s no doctoring aside from the water that’s added, it’s proof plenty that you should definitely be paying attention not just to the mash and the type of still they use to make your vodka, but the water source as well.

each $17 / leafvodka.com

Review: Frescobaldi 2010 Nipozzano and 2011 Nipozzano Vecchie Viti

NipozzanoVecchiViti2011Two new releases from  Marchesi de’Frescobaldi, the royal family of Tuscany — the standard bottling of Nipozzano (named after the 1000-year-old family estate) and a new release of Vecchie Viti, a bottling rarely seen on U.S. shores. Thoughts follow.

2010 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva Chianti Rufina – A textbook example of what Chianti should be, bright with that signature cherry of sangiovese, but complicated by notes of tea leaf, cocoa powder, and a mushroomy earthiness on the finish. The denouement is dour and brooding, not big and fruity — or highly acidic — like so much Chianti can be. A big winner at mealtime, less of a solo sipper. A- / $16

2011 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva Vecchie Viti Chianti Rufina – This “old vines” release of Nipozzano is a more fruit-forward, slightly jammier expression of Chianti. Aged 24 months in barrel, it exhibits notes of fresh cherries, strawberry, and fresh mixed berry jelly. A bit on the sweet side for my tastes — compared to the more herbal, earthy notes I like to see in a Chianti, but still a fun wine that’s worth exploring. B+ / $30

frescobaldi.it

Review: The Macallan Rare Cask

macallan rare cask

A $300 no-age-statement Scotch whisky? The time is here, folks, and Macallan is leading the charge.

The Macallan Rare Cask is matured fully in first-fill Spanish oak casks that formerly held dry oloroso sherry for 18 months. How long the whisky was in there remains a secret.

This is a classic, heavy-sherry (and intensely deep-amber) expression of Macallan from the start. It’s got plenty of age on it (maybe not $300 of age, but plenty nonetheless), opening with a nose that’s rich in citrus notes, but which also bears notes of cocoa powder, plus some classic, slightly meaty, nutty, and almost hoppy notes. The body is mouth-filling and chewy, sherry and apricot undercut with some vegetal components — bean sprouts and roasted grains that counterbalance the sherry character pretty effectively. The finish brings the citrus back for a reprise — classic orange zest with a bit of dark chocolate, plus a doughy character that recalls wood fires, though not exactly smoke, if that makes any sense. Its sweetness is smoothed out in the finish — a characteristic that may or may not appeal to fans of Macallan’s typically sweeter style.

Macallan Rare Cask is a capable, curious, and punchy whisky that merits exploration, although the price tag is awfully heady. While it’s hardly the most expensive NAS whisky to hit the market, this is one of the most audacious and noteworthy general malt whisky releases to arrive in this latest push away from age statements. Macallan would of course like the spirit itself to do the talking, and not a number on the label of the bottle. But to get there, first you’re going to have to get past another number… and that’s one that has three digits in it, not two.

86 proof.

B+ / $300 / themacallan.com

Review: Pisco Waqar

waqar pisco

Waqar! Waqoff!

Sorry.

Pisco, essentially an unaged brandy, has been fueled by the revival of the Pisco Sour and a few other piscoriffic cocktails. But Chilean pisco is something of a rarity in a day and age where Peruvian pisco rules the market. Waqar is produced from muscat grapes grown at the foot of the Andes in Tulahuen, in northern Chile; in Peru that would make this an aromaticas-style pisco.

Muscat makes for a distinctive brandy, and Pisco Waqar is no exception. The nose is heavily perfumed and infused with aromas of rose petals, honeysuckle, lemongrass, and some hospital notes. The body is typical of pisco — a pungent, exuberant spirit with notes of lemon oil, crushed flowers, a touch of pears, and more perfume (or rather, what I imagine it would be like to drink perfume). The finish is a bit spicy — not just racy the way white brandies can be, but fiery on the tongue.

Initially a bit daunting, Waqar grew on me over time, winning me over in the end.

80 proof.

B+ / $50 / piscowaqar.cl

Review: Genius Gin and Navy Strength Gin

genius gin

Texas loves its gin (why? it’s hot!), and they’re making some right there in the capital now. Genius Gin hails from Austin, Texas, where they (of course) do things a little differently. Per the company:

The many ingredients in Genius Gin are balanced and treated with individual care. Our incredibly detailed two-part “Hot and Cold” process caters to the delicate and unique characteristics of each botanical as exposed to different temperatures.

First, we ferment and create a low % alcohol (essentially a beer), to be redistilled for purification and strength reasons. This first run is prepared through our beautiful 6-plate copper still. The resulting product is then infused at room temperature with the first half (the Cold) of our proprietary botanical blend for over 72 hours. (this blend includes: Elderflower, Lavender, Lime Peel, Angelica Root, and more….) When ready, this fragrant and colorful mix is distilled again (the Hot) in a process that pushes vapors through our remaining ingredients enclosed in a basket within the still. These heat activated ingredients include: Juniper, Cardamom, Coriander, and a few others..) Each “Hot” preparation involves the toasting and muddling of all the fresh ingredients. (think “made to order” Gin).

That’s a complicated process, so let’s see if the proof is in the bottle.

Genius Gin (Standard Strength) – Fragrant right out of the bottle, it’s got plenty of juniper up front, but the more feminine elements like lavender and elderflower make a strong showing on the nose, too. The body offers a surprisingly complex collection of flavors. Floral at first, it quickly segues into evergreen notes alongside complex touches of mushroom, grapefruit peel, and some cloves. A final act comes along in the finish, where fresh fruit and citrus notes dominate. Think frozen table grapes dusted with fresh lime zest. There’s a ton going on here, but Genius presents itself in courses, offering something new with each passing second. It’s a really, er, genius product. 90 proof. A / $26

Genius Navy Strength Gin – Surprisingly, the nose is less powerful here than that of the standard strength edition. Evergreen notes still dominate, but the intensity isn’t quite as sharp, and the floral notes are gone. The body is naturally a powerhouse of alcohol first and foremost, and it takes some time to really warm up and show off its charms. It comes across as sweeter than the standard strength, offering more of a caramel note that washes over the rest of it. Lavender is the strongest secondary note. The finish offers less clarity. You could add water to coax out more of the gin’s nuance as evidenced above… but what would be the point of that? 114 proof. B+ / $33

geniusliquids.com