Category Archives: Rated B+

Review: Corsair Ryemageddon and Quinoa Whiskey

corsair quinoa whiskey 525x525 Review: Corsair Ryemageddon and Quinoa Whiskey

Corsair is probably the country’s most curious and experimental craft distillery (it makes one whiskey that has elderflowers in it), and the two whiskeys reviewed below should be proof enough of its oddball inspirations. Both of these whiskeys are part of Corsair’s standard releases, though that doesn’t mean they’re easy to find.

Corsair Ryemageddon –  An aged version (no statement) of Corsair’s Wry Moon white whiskey, made from malted rye and chocolate rye. This is a fun and — suffice it to say — wholly unique product on the market. The nose is heavy with grain, savory yet spicy and clearly on the hot side. The body starts things off with a traditional, relatively young grain profile, and then the jams get kicked out. A racy sweetness comes on strong — nougat and marshmallows, with a little punch of candied grapefruit — and then it starts to mellow. Here the rye starts to really show its face, with a finish that is long and spicy, full of red and black pepper, with a touch of nutmeg and cloves. This is youthful and brash stuff, yet full of life and punchy with flavor. Worth exploring. 92 proof. B+ / $52

Corsair Quinoa Whiskey – Made with red and white quinoa — the It Grain of the healthy eating craze today. I sampled this before almost in passing and found it somewhat off-putting. Today I’m digging the Quinoa Whiskey quite a bit more. I get immediate chocolate on the nose, with modest spice and indistinct grainary notes. The body is amped up with a mild sweetness, more of that milk chocolate character, and a finish that takes things not so much into young grain notes but rather into an earthy, mushroomy quality that is unique in the whiskey world. This is intense and exotic stuff, definitely worth checking out… but seriously, Corsair, where’s the clever name? Quiskey, anyone? 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5, bottle #109/160. A- / $56

corsairartisan.com / [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Beluga Gold Line Noble Vodka

Beluga Gold Line Leather Case 525x1050 Review: Beluga Gold Line Noble Vodka

For those of you who write and ask, “What’s a really really expensive bottle of vodka I can get for my best friend for Christmas?”, your search has ended. No further search required. This is the vodka.

Beluga Gold Line Noble Vodka — commonly referred to as “Beluga Gold” — is ostentatious and shrieks expensive from start to finish. After you open the leather case, you find a bottle of vodka encrusted with a metal shield of sorts. This isn’t just a strip of aluminum stamped on top of the bottle. It’s a very fancy 3D design, complete with a sturgeon practically leaping off the label and multiple metallic finishes. (Even the alcohol warning is engraved into the label, not printed.) Go to open the bottle but… you can’t! Why not? Because the stopper is encased in wire mesh embedded in clay. To get the clay off you have to break it apart with a hammer. Lucky for you, one is included, a cute little number with a mallet on one end and a brush on the other. It’s like a little archaeological dig, only there are no bones at the end, just booze. Hammer away. (This is super fun, but do your hammering outside… you’ve been warned.) Finally you’re into the spirit… and fortunately for you an elaborate metal-clad shot glass is also included so you can get to drinking right away.

OK, now you’re drinking vodka that costs about $125 a bottle. $100 to $200, actually, depending on where you find it. It’s grain-based spirit from Russia, lightly flavored with “rice extract and rhodiola rosea extract,” among other additives. I don’t have a clue what those add to the spirit (rice extract?), but once they’re in, the vodka is “matured” for 90 days, which I presume means it is rested in a neutral vessel before bottling.

Sorry, now you’re drinking $125 vodka.

The nose is unique, lightly medicinal with a marshmallow back end. The balance between savory and sweet is actually quite effective, and enticing. On the palate, Beluga Gold is fairly sweet, a bit floral (perhaps that’s the rhodiola rosea extract?), and offers a moderate and easy finish with a pleasant sweetness that complements the moderately thick body. It’s easy to sip straight, but it stops short of being a sugar bomb like so many modern vodkas. Altogether it’s a milder version of Beluga’s standard-grade (and $30) spirit, which is a little strange, because I’d expect it to be the other way around.

80 proof.

B+ / $125 (shop around) / vodka-beluga.com

Review: 901 Reposado and Anejo Tequila

901 anejo 91x300 Review: 901 Reposado and Anejo TequilaThe Justin Timberlake-backed 901 makes an impressive silver tequila, and now the company is (understandably) back with the other two traditional expressions, a reposado and an anejo.

Both are triple-distilled from 100% agave and bottled at 80 proof.

901 Reposado Tequila – Lots of agave still shining through on the nose, balanced by pepper and wood. The body is sweeter than you might expect, offering pineapple and lime candy notes. Heavy wood character comes on strong in the finish, along with some smoky notes, ample vegetal agave flavors, and a brooding, raked-coals denouement. Worthwhile as a sipper. B+ / $45

901 Anejo Tequila – A substantial improvement over the reposado. Pretty floral notes on the nose and plenty of nougat, but balanced with chile pepper heat. Great overall mouthfeel — silky without being syrupy — and a solid balance of all the flavors you want in anejo, with vanilla running throughout the touches here and there of banana, wood oil, and cayenne pepper. Agave shows its face on the very back end of the finish. Fun stuff. A / $50

901.com

Review: Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Complete Lineup

Calvados XO Apreval 135x300 Review: Manoir dApreval Calvados Complete LineupDon’t call it apple brandy: It’s Calvados, the most exclusive of apple-based spirits and the only fruit brandy with a serious pedigree. Created by a family-owned estate of 25 hectares of apple trees (17 varieties are grown here) in France’s Pays d’Auge, on the banks of the Seine River, this French classic is making its way to the U.S. for the first time, with a staggering selection of expressions available… suitable for any price point. Apreval’s Calvados brandies are double-distilled, then aged in French oak barrels.

We got to to try them all… nine expressions of Calvados in total, ranging from a two-year old youngster to varieties aged nearly half a century (and priced as you’d expect). So, how do they acquit themselves? Thoughts follow, ordered from youngest to oldest.

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Blanche – Aged 2-3 years. Crisp apple aroma, but there’s plenty of heat here as well. The body offers tart apple (think Granny Smith), lemon peel, some floral elements, and a touch of wood on the back end. Rustic, almost pastoral. This is clearly young stuff, particularly on the slightly rubbery and lightly vegetal finish, but it still drinks well. I’d consider it primarily for cocktailing, sipping neat in a pinch. 80 proof. B / $55

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Reserve – Aged 4-6 years. Slightly nutty, almost Amaretto-like, on the nose, with clear apple cider coming through behind. A clearly stronger wood influence lends this Calvados a bigger and bolder body, with a rounded mouthfeel and stronger vanilla notes on the palate. The finish is still a little tough, though the more vegetal notes have started to balance out with the sweet ones. 84 proof. B+ / $67

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Grande Reserve – Aged 10-12 years. The nose is mellowing out here, with more of an applesauce and gentle honey character to it. The body offers strong apple flavors, balanced by hazelnuts, chocolate, and a light herbal quality. Good balance, with a bit heat on the back end. It’s definitely a Calvados I’d have no trouble sipping on, offering the best of both the orchard and the world of brandy. 84 proof. A- / $92

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados XO – Aged 15-20 years, noticeably darker in color (from here on out). Becoming increasingly Cognac-like on the nose, with sweet caramel, gingerbread, and incense notes… but still those unmistakable apples shining through beautifully. Robust on the body, with thick cinnamon-apple notes and a big Christmas cake character that lasts for a long while. The finish builds dramatically to something that is both sweet with notes of cake frosting, and savory, with a woody, almost earthy conclusion. Lots going on here, and probably my favorite expression in this lineup. 84 proof. A- / $134

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados 1980 – Single-vintage (harvest?) brandy from 1980, 33 years old. Just imagine, when these apples were picked, Jimmy Carter was President. Sultry nose, with a slight licorice note to it, along with ample wood. The body is vast, with the wood notes taking center stage.There’s even a touch of astringency here, as the deep oak character muscles aside the fruity apple cider core from time to time. Intriguing but a much different animal than the XO. Try the two side by side for a real mindbender. 84 proof. A- / $230

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Cuvee Victor – A blend of brandies, each at least 30 years old. Coffee and licorice notes on the nose lend this a Spanish brandy feel. There’s lots of dried fruit — not just apples but raisins, too — on the palate, but the finish takes things toward a winey character, almost like a Marsala, with some balsamic touches. Quite the curiosity — rich and austere. 82 proof. A- / $283

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Cuvee Gustave - A blend of brandies, each at least 40 years old. Dense coffee, mixed nuts, and dark chocolate notes. You won’t catch much more than a bare whiff of apple character on the nose, but it comes across on the body — dried, baked, then chocolate-covered and baked into an almond torte. Another intriguing, hoary, and unexpected spirit. 82 proof. A- / $356

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Brut de Fut 1974 – Single-vintage Calvados from 1974, 39 years old.  Stronger apple character here than in some of the other old expressions, with a distinct vegetal note on the nose. Spicy on the palate, with some cinnamon notes, but also a tougher, more rubbery finish. Not as successful as the blends. This is no longer in production. 84 proof. B / $NA

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Brut de Fut 1967 – Single-vintage Calvados from 1967, 44 years old (bottled 2011). This is a bit of an anomaly. This is a 44-year old 1967, bottled two years ago. It’s no longer on the market, but a 46-year-old version of the same spirit, bottled 2013, is available. Since this version spent 2 years less in cask, it’s not going to be identical to the new bottling, but it should be in the vicinity (the proof level may differ, also). A much hotter spirit, it’s got a more alcoholic nose that mutes some of the fruit from the start. The palate offers heavily woody notes with touches of mint, with a big lush apple in the core (ahem) of the brandy. But that that tough and tannic finish creeps in as the body begins to fade, dulling the fruit. 102 proof. B+ / $650 (current version)

apreval.com

Review: 2bar Spirits Vodka and Moonshine

2bar moonshine 525x525 Review: 2bar Spirits Vodka and Moonshine

Seattle-based 2bar Spirits is a craft distillery named after a ranch that was part of the owners’ family for generations… before they decided to trade South Texas for Washington and hooves for hooch. The company makes two spirits, both unaged. We got ‘em both. Thoughts follow.

Both spirits are 80 proof.

2bar Spirits Vodka – Distilled from local Washington wheat, this vodka has a strong white dog character to it, full of grainy cereal notes on the nose. But the body is balanced by a silky body and some sweetness — think of a very lightly sweetened breakfast cereal — giving it a touch of marshmallow character. The finish brings on some of the lighter medicinal notes that vodka fans will find familiar… while fading out with a return to light notes of grain. The overall impression is closer to a white whiskey than a vodka, and maybe that’s OK. White lightning is often too harsh and overpowering for easy consumption. Here things are dialed back enough to make it easier to sip on, while still residing in the vodkaverse. 80 proof. B+ / $33

2bar Spirits Moonshine – Distilled from local corn instead of wheat. Very easygoing nose, slightly sweet. The body is downright shocking: It’s milder and sweeter than the Vodka, a little flabby in its construction, the palate offering an easy mix of Corn Pops cereal and the lightest dusting of honey. This is a much more easy-to-sip spirit, and while it isn’t the most complex of things, its light notes of licorice and milk chocolate add nuance to what is often a straightforward and unsatisfying category. With its moonshine, 2bar proves that white whiskey can be engaging and fun, leaving the drinker with nary a grimace to be made. A- / $30

2barspirits.com

Review: The Bay Seasoned Vodka

the bay vodka 525x732 Review: The Bay Seasoned Vodka

I like a shrimp boil. I grill fish all the time. Crabs? You bet. What do I rely on? Old Bay seasoning.

When do I not rely on Old Bay? When I’m drinking vodka. And thus, when faced with Philadelphia Distilling’s “The Bay” Seasoned Vodka — no relation to Old Bay — I found my brain not quite ready to process.

Well, let’s step back a bit. This isn’t that wild an idea. It’s clearly designed with Bloody Mary cocktails in mind, something that any number of competitors, from Absolut Peppar to Bakon Vodka were also specifically built for. In that context, The Bay sounds like a pretty good idea.

Trying it straight, The Bay offers an immediate sweet-and-spicy-and-salty character that is unmistakable. The list of “traditional Chesapeake Bay seasoning” ingredients includes celery seed, black and red pepper, nutmeg, and cardamom (among other secret ingredients), but what comes through the most clearly is salt. Black pepper also hits you as you sip, along with a kind of gingerbread sweetness that is unexpected. But it’s really that salt the shines, through and through, so thick you can taste the iodine… though perhaps that is really just the sea.

As for the Bloody Mary, as expected it works quite well, bringing ample salt and some pepper to a drink that can always use more of both. For sipping straight while the crabs come in, I’d probably pass. As a go-to vodka for a memorable Bloody, sign me up.

80 proof.

B+ / $26 (1 liter) / thebayvodka.com

Exploring the World of Madeira with Blandy’s

Blandys5YRSercial 89x300 Exploring the World of Madeira with BlandysLike you, I don’t often think much about Madeira. If I want a dessert wine, I drink Port almost exclusively. When I see Madeira on a menu I invariably ignore it. But maybe I shouldn’t be. And maybe you shouldn’t be either.

Madeira is one of the most venerable wine styles from history which is still being produced. Its origins like in the 1400-1500s, when explorers began visiting the Atlantic island of Madeira as a port of call during trade runs. The fortified wines made here traveled well and lasted basically forever, even once they were opened. (Blandy’s says an open bottle of Madeira will last indefinitely.) Madeira was the It Wine of the 1700s in America, and was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The wines came in all sorts of styles, driven by the grape used to make them. There are dry(ish) Madeiras, and their are sweet Madeiras. Despite being made on one tiny island, these wines comprise a wide range of styles.

Madeira isn’t Sherry, and it isn’t Port, although it has a lot in common with both of them. The best way I can explain it is that Madeira is somewhere between the two of them — not as sweet as Port, but not as funky and off-putting as Sherry (usually) is.

Madeira is unique in the wine world in that the wine, while aging, is kept hot. Very hot — up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit — for a long, long time. This has to do with the traditional way in which Madeira was made, vinified and put into barrels, then shipped on long sea voyages to the tropics and back. They got lots of heat on these trips, and that gave Madeira its signature nose and taste.

Most Madeira you’ll find on sale now is nonvintage, like the 4 bottles from Blandy’s tasted below. This is the easy-to-find, very affordable stuff. But vintage Madeira also exists, and if you’re looking for a really old bottle of something as a gift, Madeira is invariably your best bet (both on price and the odds that it will still be drinkable). The stuff really does last forever and it gets better and better. In fact, the best Madeira I’ve ever had was a Bual-varietal expression made in 1922.

Blandy’s recently sent a sampling of its simplest Madeiras, all five years old, each made from a different grape: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey. These are all basic, simple Madeiras, but they do showcase how variable this wine can be, from its dryest version to its sweetest. I gravitated to the sweetest (aka “richest”) versions personally, but see the charms in all of the varieties.

Thoughts follow.

NV Blandy’s Madeira Sercial Dry 5 Years Old – A pale, light amber/orange color. Fresh, Madeirized-sherry nose, with notes of orange, apricot, and wood oil. The body is mostly dry, offering an initial slug of woody fruit (or fruited wood), with a moderate finish that trails off, leaving behind a somewhat rubbery, oily conclusion tinged with blood oranges. Not at all unpleasant and dry enough to drink with dinner (oysters, maybe?). B

NV Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho Medium Dry 5 Years Old - Considerably darker, a ruddy honey/bronze color. Milder nose. More orange and toffee, and hints of chocolate. On the tongue, clear raisin notes offer a slight sweetness that may have some thinking this is a young tawny Port, but there’s less oxidation in this, along with a sharper finish and that classicly rubberized character in play. B+

NV Blandy’s Bual Verdelho Medium Rich 5 Years Old - Darker still, the color of brewed tea, tinged with a touch of red. Inviting, Port-like nose rich with raisins and spice. This follows through on the tongue, revealing Christmasy cinnamon, vanilla, and slight gingerbread notes, with just a hint of classic Madeirized character at the very end. Easily mistaken for a mild tawny Port, in a good way. B+

NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey Rich 5 Years Old - A shade darker again, almost (but not quite) a cola brown. Quite a different animal. Ample wood and cocoa powder notes on the nose, with hints of cola. The body offers all sorts of good stuff — walnuts and hazelnuts, more cola, chocolate, and a big, raisin-infused finish. A lot like a port, but backwards. Here the sweetness comes along in the end, not up front. Very drinkable and complex, and a natural fit with dessert or the cheese plate. A-

each $24 / blandys.com

2013 Pumpkin Ale Roundup

in bottle with pumpkins 200x300 2013 Pumpkin Ale RoundupAh, Halloween approaches, and that means pumpkin-based beers are hitting the shelves en masse. We’ve had a fridge-load show up at Drinkhacker HQ in recent weeks, which can mean only one thing: Roundup Time!

Here are some thoughts on three new, and wildly different, pumpkin brews.

Hermitage Brewing Company Fruit Crate Pumpkin Ale – A standard pumpkin ale brewed with no additional spices, just organic pumpkins. Strong malt on the nose, big body, moderately bitter on the palate. There’s a very minor baking spice component driven by the gourd itself, and present mostly on the back end. But as for pumpkins? I don’t really get them at all in this weighty, wintry brew. 9% abv. B / $4 (16.9 oz)

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale – Brown ale brewed with pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Those looking for a more festive brew — where the spicy components are more at the forefront — will enjoy this one. The cinnamon sugar notes are pronounced, particularly on first pour. The sweet stuff works well with the modestly malty body, and the hops on the finish offer a respite from the sugar. 7% abv. A- / $3 (12 oz.)

Hangar 24 Local Fields Gourdgeous – Imperial porter brewed with pumpkins, molasses, and spices. Very dark color, quite exotic on the nose. The molasses makes itself known right away, heavy and dense on the nose. Beneath that, ample nutmeg and allspice notes… more clove-oriented than the Dogfish Head. A somewhat dense beer, it takes things to a curiously chocolaty place in the finish… but leaves the pumpkin behind along the way. 8.5% abv. B+ / $8.50 (22 oz.)

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2013) and Chasin’ Freshies (2013)

chasin freshies 300x221 Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2013) and Chasin Freshies (2013)Deschutes Brewery’s new limited releases are out, both part of its anticipated Bond Street Series of brews. They’re both made with fresh hops, freshly picked then turned into beer pretty much immediately. As such, it’s important to drink these brews right away. Having them sit around in a pantry for months will do them a great disservice. Thoughts follow.

Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2013) – This year’s Hop Trip offers, as one would expect and hope, plenty of hops, but the bitterness is shorted out (for better or worse) by tons of malty caramel character and a finish that offers bitter orange peel notes. Appealing, but by the end of the glass I was finding the body to run on the watery side, particularly as it warmed up. 5.4% abv. B+ / $9 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Chasin’ Freshies (2013) – Fresh amarillo hops give this IPA a slight lemony kick, with a bracingly bitter backbone to keep things on the right and narrow. Some evergreen character adds nuance, but the fresh hops and citrus notes do most of the talking. Slight touch of malt on the finish. 7.4% abv. A- / $6 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Re-Review: Citadelle Gin and Citadelle Reserve Gin 2012 Vintage

citadelle reserve gin 2012 153x300 Re Review: Citadelle Gin and Citadelle Reserve Gin 2012 VintageIt has been many years since we last checked in with Citadelle, a French gin that comes in two varieties, a standard rack bottling and a vintage “Reserve” version that’s aged in Cognac casks for six months, giving it a pretty yellow hue. I won’t delve too deeply into the botanicals and production process behind Citadelle (see the above link for all that info), but did want to update my reviews for 2013, particularly my dated coverage of the 2008 and 2009 Vintage reserve bottlings. The standard gin decanter has been updated lately, too. Both expressions are 88 proof. Fresh thoughts follow.

Citadelle Gin – With fresh eyes (and nose and tongue), my thoughts on the current bottling are that the spirit is much more lemon-forward now, with the juniper dialed back considerably. The nose does feature a pine element, but it’s strong lemon oil, with touches of orange, that are clearest to me. The body is forthright and not entirely complicated. I catch some floral notes alongside the citrus, but juniper is more prevalent in the finish, not the attack. It’s curious that my notes are so different from those in 2009. Whether it’s the spirit that’s changed or my palate that’s evolved is hard to say. My money’s on both. B+ / $23

Citadelle Reserve Gin 2012 Vintage – Here I can tell you things have been changing over the years. The proof has gone up and back down again. For 2012 the recipe has been altered, with yuzu, génépi, and bleuet (cornflower) added to the mix. (For 2013, bigger changes are afoot as the aging regimen is changing. Citadelle 2013 is solera aged, such that the spirit within spends from 2 to 5 months in ex Cognac and Pineau de Charente casks. In the long run this will even out the way the individual vintage bottlings taste.)

That’s next year, though. For the 2012 Vintage bottling, here’s how things are shaping up. There’s a much bigger nose on it than the standard variation, with considerably stronger juniper and evergreen notes up front, and a more viscous and lush body backing it up. Some sweetness builds as the spirit develops on the tongue, driven by its time spent in barrel. The juniper is really quite strong overall, though, and it might be dialed up a big high in the 2012 expression, lending the gin a bit of a bitter finish. Tragically, I get virtually no bleuet flavor at all, as notes of vanilla, apple cider, and lemon peel kick in after the juniper bows out. A- / $35

citadellegin.com

Review: Kahlua Pumpkin Spice Liqueur

Kahlua Pumpkin Spice 750 US Bottle 100x300 Review: Kahlua Pumpkin Spice Liqueur‘Tis the season for two things: A seasonal Kahlua mash-up and pumpkin everything. Here those two trends crash together with the inevitable: Kahlua Pumpkin Spice.

Kahlua’s twists on its classic coffee liqueur can be hit or miss, but this one manages to work fairly well. The secret is that the “pumpkin spice” element is dialed back, quite a bit. The coffee remains on the forefront both on the nose and the attack — perhaps with a bit of nutmeg to offer. The spice element is more evident on the back end, but it’s muted, a sort of zippy finish that recalls cinnamon and allspice, but not in a heavy-handed way. The denouement is a bit chocolaty.

Unlike last year’s mess, Kahlua Gingerbread, this year’s spirit seems to have its proportions in check. I’m not sure anyone will be knocking over their fellow shoppers to grab the last bottle of Kahlua Pumpkin Spice off the shelves, but you could do worse when looking for something with which to spike your coffee.

40 proof.

B+ / $16 / kahlua.com

Review: Fratello Hazelnut Liqueur

Fratello Liqueur Photo 223x300 Review: Fratello Hazelnut LiqueurHazelnut doesn’t get a lot of love in the cocktailverse (Frangelico is pretty much your only choice), or in the world at large, outside of Nutella, anyway.

The Italian Fratello Liqueur is created at the Francoli Distillery in Piedmont. It’s made from toasted Piemonte hazelnuts that are infused with cocoa, vanilla berries, and elderflowers. Local acacia honey is added as a sweetener. The nose is huge — surprisingly authentic toasted hazelnut character, with a touch of chocolate cookie sweetness underneath. The honey comes across on the finish, something in the vein of a Nutella and honey sandwich. The body is big and powerful, despite the relatively low proof level, and the impact of the flavor is long and lasting.

On its own, it’s a bit much. As a shot to add in a coffee or cocoa drink, I’d say go for it. But my guess is its true calling is a different one, one that involves baked goods. Report back with your findings.

40 proof.

B+ / $24 / ahardyusa.com

Review: Stoney Honey Infused Grappa

stoney grappa 525x700 Review: Stoney Honey Infused Grappa

Is it a rarity or an oddity? Stoney Honey Infused Grappa is both. Distilled and bottled by St. George Spirits, this unique and very small batch project flavors grappa (no word on what grape varietals) with sage honey for Riverbench Winery.

The nose offers lavender, eucalyptus, and light citrus. I’m immediately reminded of spa oils, in a perverse yet delicious sort of way. The body is lightly oily, revealing well the honey which infuses the grappa. Again, plenty of eucalyptus on the palate, too, with big floral aromatics that stick with you for days. Then comes the sweeter aspects of the honey. Nice and sweet, but not overdone, it’s all orange blossoms with a silky, classic honey finish.

This is wild stuff. I wouldn’t have likely pegged it as grappa — that spirit’s classic funk is well obscured by the sweetness of honey and that light burn of menthol… here it actually soothes the throat, it’s so strong. The use of sage honey really opens up some unusual and unexpected flavors in this spirit. Color me intrigued, and good luck in your search for a bottle.

70 proof. 40 cases made.

B+ / $NA / stgeorgespirits.com

Review: Three 2012 Sauvignon Blancs from Chile

Cono Sur Organic Sauvignon Blanc Bottle 199x300 Review: Three 2012 Sauvignon Blancs from ChileJust because summer is over doesn’t mean you should stop drinking white wine. These three Sauvignon Blancs are all highly drinkable offerings from the world’s greatest remaining budget wine region: Chile. Here’s what 10 bucks will get you at your local purveyor of affordable hooch.

2012 Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc San Antonio Valley - Fresh and fun, with notes of pineapple, lemon cake, and creme brulee. Modest acidity gives balance, but the sweetness keeps things simple. Easy to enjoy. A- / $10

2012 Root:1 Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley – The brand takes its name because its rootstock is ungrafted. This Sauv Blanc is slightly creamier on the body, but features more of a tangy, lightly bitter edge on the finish. Otherwise, it’s tropical and lemony, with an easygoing structure. B+ / $9

2012 MontGras Reserva Sauvignon Blanc San Antonio Valley – There’s quite a bit of restraint here — with less fruit, and a more moest body — but the fresh pineapple and coconut flavors that come along in the finish give this wine plenty of tropical fun to it. Probably the most food-friendly wine in this bunch, and the least effective on its own. B / $11

Review: Colorado Gold Bourbon and Corn Whiskey

colorados own corn whiskey 525x445 Review: Colorado Gold Bourbon and Corn Whiskey

Colorado continues to rise as a key craft distilling region. One of the vanguards is Colorado Gold, a company out of Cedaredge, which was established in 2007. The company makes a full range of spirits, and today we’re looking at two of its most popular ones, both whiskeys, and very different ones at that. Thoughts follow.

Colorado Gold Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Young stuff, but quite engaging. Made from a mash of 65% corn, 15% rye, 10% wheat, and 10% malted barley, and aged for three years in a new char #3 American oak barrel. There’s ample wood on the nose, balanced with a touch of citrus, a bit of menthol. The body takes things to a similar place — a good slug of wood, mild caramel, with some dusty, coal-fire notes on the finish. Pleasant but not overly nuanced, this is a surprisingly simple bourbon, but with the often abrasive corn/grain notes you find in so many craft bourbons mercifully stripped out. There’s ample wood, but it’s balanced with clever touches of marshmallow, vanilla, and orange oil, turning slightly bitter as the finish fades. I’m both impressed and intrigued. 80 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #8, bottle #79, distilled 1/19/13. B+ / $43

Colorado’s Own Corn Whiskey – Colorado Gold’s top selling product. Made from a mash of 85% corn, 10% wheat, and 5% malted barley and aged for 6 months in a fresh-dumped Colorado Gold (see above) bourbon barrel. This is lightly aged corn whiskey, emphasis on light — it’s got the barest shade of yellow tinting it. This is surprisingly easy to drink. It’s not at all harsh or overloaded with corn, rather a light and pleasant spirit that features simple vanilla caramel notes backed with touches of corn chips. A fruity character comes on in the finish — peaches, perhaps — before some dusty wood notes bring up the rear. Surprisingly fun stuff. 80 proof. B+ / $27

coloradogolddistillers.com

Review: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon

Knob Creek Smoked Maple 525x794 Review: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon

Finally, someone’s doing the maple-flavored whiskey thing right.

Let me step back. In general I’m ambivalent toward flavored whiskeys. I don’t much see the point, as if I wanted flavor with my whiskey I’d just mix up a cocktail. Still, shortcuts are shortcuts, and there’s something to be said for having your favorite mix pre-bottled and ready to go.

The reason for the success isn’t hard to see. This is overproof Knob Creek (normally 100 proof) with a fairly light touch of maple syrup flavor, instead of the all-too-common other way around: Syrup that’s had a dash of whiskey added to it. Even with the additions, Knob Creek Smoked Maple comes through at 90 proof, still well above the typical 70 to 80 proof you find in this category.

The results are impressive. While pancake syrup fills the room when you crack open the bottle (sealed with the traditional Knob Creek black wax), but that’s where the maple effect is its strongest. Nosing an aerated glass brings out Bourbon first, maple syrup considerably further down the list. On the palate, the mouthfeel is solid — a bit more gummy than straight whiskey, but plenty pleasant. The maple character is there, all right, making it tough to pick out specific notes in the Bourbon, but in the end, after the pancake party is over, I find myself left with citrus peel, marshmallow, ice cream cone, and toffee characters on the finish. The one thing I don’t get here: Smoked anything.

Now I’m the kind of guy who prefers pancakes with butter only, so for me to say Knob Creek’s Smoked Maple is a worthwhile product, even a rather good one, is like the Pope saying he isn’t going to judge gay priests. Er, wait a sec.

B+ / $31 / knobcreek.com

Review: 3 Amigos Tequila

3 amigos tequila 525x349 Review: 3 Amigos Tequila

3 Amigos, based in the Jalisco Highlands, produces a veritable plethora of tequilas, all of which we got a chance a experience.  These tequilas are double-distilled instead of the usual three. All expressions are 80 proof and 100% agave. (Note: Prices on this lower-cost brand tend to vary wildly.) And so, without further ado…

3 Amigos Blanco Tequila – Straightforward nose of agave touched with lemongrass. Mild pepper and spice. On the body, surprisingly mild, almost to the point of being watery. The agave takes on an earthy, almost mushroom-like character, with a rustic and hot finish. I’m not thrilled with the balance, which offers just a touch of citrus against a muddy backbone. C+ / $20

3 Amigos Blanco Tequila Organic – Certified USDA (and European Union) Organic, but still a straight silver tequila. Overall similar notes to the non-organic version, but I think there’s more life to this expression. It’s got a better body and a more rounded mouthfeel, with a more harmonious balance of flavors — though the overall notes of agave, citrus, mushroom, and mild spice — are all still there. Fortunately, here the focus is more on the citrus, and less on the ‘shrooms. B+ / $25

3 Amigos Reposado Tequila – Spends 11 months in charred oak barrels, quite a spell for reposados. The color isn’t particularly dark, and the somewhat sharp, peppery, agave-laden and slightly smoky nose hints at a more powerful experience ahead. It’s quite a surprise then with this tequila reveals a more layered journey on the palate. Agave is up front, again with a touch of smoke, and plenty of lime and orange citrus underneath. Sweetness takes hold from there, with the palate becoming increasingly creamy and sultry, with notes of vanilla creme brulee. The finish continues this journey, balancing the sugar with just a touch of pepper. A very inviting reposado with lots to offer the explorer. A- / $25

3 Amigos Anejo Tequila – Aged for two years in oak, though again the color is surprisingly light considering that. Very well aged, the nose has lost most of its pungency, leaving behind a nose of vanilla and butterscotch, flecked with red pepper flakes. The agave’s still there, though. Breathe deep. The body follows suit, plenty sweet but not overdone, with a huge vanilla-meets-gingerbread character, with a return of that mushroomy, vegetal character on the back end. Kind of like the reposado, but in reverse. I think it works better the other way around. B+ / $30

3amigostequila.com

And now, even more Three Amigos

Review: 2010 William Hill Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon

William Hill Estate Winery 2010 Napa Valley Merlot 750ml 96x300 Review: 2010 William Hill Merlot and Cabernet SauvignonTwo new wines from Napa’s William Hill, bringing the 2010 harvest to the market at last. Thoughts follow.

2010 William Hill Merlot Napa Valley – The nose is ripe and spicy, peppery with cedar, menthol, and herbs. The body, however, is curiously sedate and restrained. It drinks easy, with a somewhat sweet strawberry character at the forefront. An interesting combination of experiences here… worth exploring, but not quite challenging. B+ / $30

2010 William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - A prototypical Napa Cab, with deep plum and cassis on the nose, with ample and straightforward blackberries and currants on the palate. Quite sweet on the tongue, with a short finish. Uncomplicated. B+ / $40

williamhillestate.com

Review: Blue Crab Bay Co. Bloody Mary and Margarita Mixes

blue crab sting ray 108x300 Review: Blue Crab Bay Co. Bloody Mary and Margarita MixesBlue Crab Bay is an artisan food company on Virginia’s Chesapeake coast, and just a few of its products are non-alcoholic cocktail mixers. We tasted them all, both with and without spirits.

Blue Crab Bay Snug Harbor Bloody Mary Mix - Extremely thick. The nose is earthy, like a big beefsteak tomato, with mushroom notes. On the body, big and chewy tomato character, without vodka it’s almost pastelike. It starts without a whole lot of spice to note, just a hint of pepper and maybe some celery salt, with just the faintest touch of heat on the lips… but not on the tongue. This builds over time as you sip it to a decent level of burn — think a typical medium salsa. It’s a good choice for Bloody fans who find tomato to be the most important ingredient. B / $10

Blue Crab Bay Sting Ray Bloody Mary Mix – Adds clam juice to the Snug Harbor formula (this is often called a Clam Digger, Red Eye, or Caesar, depending on where you live), which strangely makes this mixer not more maritime in tone but rather sweeter and less savory. It’s not quite as thick, either. The mushroomy notes fade away as they leave behind a character that brings some lemony citrus notes and a bit more salt to bear. This is more evident when you add vodka to the mix. While overall you’ll find this to be similar to the Snug Harbor product, I think it does make for a slightly better finished product. B+ / $10

Blue Crab Bay Jalapeno Infused Margarita Mix – Coastal Virginia is not an area I typically associate with the margarita, but hey, who’s checking. This “jalapeno infused” mixer is quite easy on the spice, so heat-a-phobes needn’t be overly concerned. The mix itself is quite mild, with restrained but authentic lime notes, modest sweetness, and just a touch of heat. Fine if you’re making pitchers for a tailgate party, but not quite developed enough for your top shelf tequilas. B / $5

bluecrabbay.com

Review: Peligroso Cinnamon Tequila Liqueur

peligroso cinnamon tequila 525x858 Review: Peligroso Cinnamon Tequila Liqueur

Bottled at the same 84 proof as its standard tequila lineup, Peligroso curiously markets this cinnamon-flavored variety as a “liqueur.” But what’s in the bottle is 100% agave blanco tequila infused with “100% pure cinnamon and a blend of secret ingredients, creating a distinct juice with a kick that leaves some sweet heat on the palate.”

The effect is surprisingly mild.

The color bestowed on this silver tequila by the spice infusion brings it into the world of anejo, and those spices push it that direction on the nose and body, too. The nose is a curiosity — earthy agave takes the front seat, with sultry cinnamon notes underneath. There are hints of red berries and a distinct floral character there too, something you wouldn’t expect to find in either unflavored tequila or a cinnamon spirit.

The body is a bit more straightforward. The cinnamon and baking spice notes are easily evident, with a strong, vegetal agave underpinning. The overall effect is something like caramel corn meets jalapeno peppers meets Cinnabon (sans the cloying sweetness). The finish is surprisingly easygoing and palatable, not nearly the bite you’d expect.

I’m still unsure what the point of flavored tequila is — a shot of tequila with a little cinnamon liqueur would let you mix things up to your own tastes — but I think what Peligroso is trying to do here is at least an intriguing and worthy experiment.

B+ / $36 / peligrosotequila.com