Review: Craigellachie 13 Years Old, 17 Years Old, 19 Years Old, and 23 Years Old

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These expressions from Speyside’s Craigellachie (pronounced creh-GAHL-uh-key) Distillery have the same provenance as the three Aultmore whiskies we recently reviewed. Now part of the Dewar’s portfolio — which makes heavy use of Craigellachie in its blends — single malts from these stills are finally coming, and in quite a range of ages. Today we look at a quartet of whiskies: 13, 17, 19, and 23 years old. All are bottled at 92 proof.

Craigellachie 13 Years Old – Youthful on the nose, with strong granary notes backed by a bit of spice. The body pushes past the cereal character and offers lively citrus and vanilla, cloves, pungent honeysuckle, and melon notes. It may be loaded with flavor, but the overall presentation is still quite rustic, particularly on the somewhat astringent finish. B / $45

Craigellachie 17 Years Old – Settling down nicely, and at 17 years old, Craigellachie takes on a huge nutty character, both on the grain-scented nose and particularly on the deep and rounded palate. There’s more of that honeysuckle, plus well-oiled leather, maple syrup, and wisps of salty sea spray. A definitive fireside dram. B+ / $NA

Craigellachie 19 Years Old – Here we see Craigellachie building some austerity, with a nose that recalls Madeira. The body still holds on to its malty cereal core before delving into butterscotch and honey, and just a touch of the seaweed/iodine you find in the 17. B+ / $NA

Craigellachie 23 Years Old – For its final performance, this 23 year old bottling sees those seaside notes, just hinted at in the 17 and 19, taking more of a starring role. Big iodine notes hit the palate right from the start, giving this whisky a bit of an Islay feel. Ultimately, the fruit elements — gentle citrus and pear — are hidden behind this seawall, making for some interesting, but somewhat frustrating, exploration. B+ / $300

lastgreatmalts.com

Review: Virgil Kaine Ginger Infused Bourbon

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Ginger and bourbon go together so well that bourbon and ginger ale is a classic, standard, two-ingredient cocktail. Why not put them together in one bottle, then? Named after a supposed bootlegger from South Carolina, where this spirit also hails form, Virgil Kaine is made from a (sourced) “young” bourbon composed from a mash of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. It is infused with Yellow Hawaiian ginger, then bottled without chill-filtering.

Both bourbon-driven vanilla/oak character and fresh ginger character are evident on the nose, right from the start. Don’t go expecting either a flood of spicy ginger or a big bourbon character. Mild all around, it’s almost inconsequentially simple from an aromatic standpoint. The body follows suit. Very clean and pleasant, it’s a refreshing and easygoing whiskey that’s touched with a light smacking of ginger root and some chocolate notes that develop later in the game. Nothing fancy — the bourbon is light bodied and mildly sweet. The ginger is restrained and pleasant, not pungent or sharp. The finish is more akin to a good ginger ale than anything else.

If the idea of ginger and bourbon (sans a watery mixer) sounds appealing to you, you can pull off this trick by putting a few drops of Barrow’s Ginger Liqueur into a glass of Jim Beam. But if that sounds like too much work for you, this handy shortcut is just fine.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 / virgilkaine.com

Review: Starr Hill Sabbath Black India Pale Ale

Starr Hill Sabbath Black IPACross a chocolaty stout with a fresh IPA and you might get something akin to this, an odd but quite drinkable ale that comes across like a hybrid of two classic styles. Malty up front, the beer’s chocolate and coffee notes go toe to toe with some piney, lightly citrus-dusted hops, but in the end it’s the burlier, dessert-like chocolate malt that wins the day. The beer starts to pull its disparate components together in time for the finish, which is creamy and chewy, but just bitter enough to keep everything in check. Hell’s bells!

7.2% abv.

B+ / $NA (22oz. bottle) / starrhill.com

Update: Clyde May’s Whiskey Makes Some Changes

clyde may

It hasn’t quite been two years since we reviewed Clyde May’s Conecuh Ridge Whiskey, but big things are afoot at this operation, which is rapidly picking up steam and notoriety.

A rebranding and radically updated design is the major news. “Conecuh Ridge” has been shrunken down on the label and in fact is no longer part of the official name (probably because the region could be anywhere in the minds of most drinkers). The label has also been completely redesigned, wisely jettisoning the black-and-gold silhouette landscape motif which was straight out of the 1970s for a more post-modern typographic design that etches tasting notes (legible, this time) right on the glass.

The recipe hasn’t changed — the company new notes that it is a blend of 5 and 6 year old bourbon mash finished in the Alabama Style, which is the natural infusion of apple and spice such as cinnamon (which is why it isn’t called a “Bourbon”) — and a side by side tasting of old and new bottles confirms that nothing is different. Lots of apples and butterscotch, with toasted coconut on the finish — but a much cleaner look.

Still 85 proof.

B+ / $30 / clydemays.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting Report: 6 Spanish Garnacha Wines

Some say Garnacha, the Spanish inflection of Grenache, is the next “It Wine.” (It doesn’t hurt that most Garnachas are extremely inexpensive.) Is it so? We tasted six Garnachas (one of which is a Garnacha/Syrah blend), from 2009, 2012, and 2013 vintages, to see where this varietal is headed.

2009 Bodegas y Vinedos del Jalon Alto Las Pizarras Garnacha Vinas Viejas – Engaging, exotic, almost perfumed on the nose. Notes of violets and raspberry mingle with hints of black tea and coffee to create a surprisingly rousing and rounded whole. The finish heads toward more of a candied violet character, but there’s plenty of tannin here to keep things out of jam territory. A / $9

2009 Castillo de Maluenda Punto y Seguido Garnacha Vinas Viejas – The embarrassingly simple label wouldn’t cue you in to how impressive the wine in this bottle is, a showy, fruit-forward wine that simultaneously offers depth and balance. Notes of tea leaf, cola, and leather are layered atop blackberry and cherry forming a core that drinks with lushness but which features muted, well-smothered tannins. The finish is complex, echoing everything that’s come before with a fresh denouement. A / $15

2009 Vinas del Vero Secastilla Somontano - A little pruny and overcooked, almost stewed. Very dense fruit competes with balsamic notes and runs up against a finish that offers coffee bean and dense, oily leather notes. C- / $25

2012 Castillo de Monseran Carinena Garnacha – Very fruity, almost like a Gamay-based wine. Thick strawberry jam leads to a finish that’s almost sickly sweet and unbalanced. C- / $8

2012 Pagos del Moncayo Garnacha – A very easy-drinking garnacha, offering a refreshing mix of strawberry and currant notes, backed with light chocolate, some tea leaf, and gentle tannins. Though not entirely complex, it’s lovely from start to finish, and ready to go immediately. A- / $12

2013 Bodegas Paniza Agoston Garnacha & Syrah – A blend, as the name suggests, with a surprising amount of fruit from the start — it almost comes across as candied berries with a dusting of chocolate sprinkles. More herbal notes take hold as the wine develops on the palate — think thyme and rosemary on a Sunday roast — but that youthful spirit and dense fruit maintains the focus through to the finish. B+ / $8

Review: Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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This latest expression from Islay’s Bowmore is simply called Small Batch, a No Age Statement expression matured in first fill and second fill bourbon casks. No finishing barrel. It now joins the Bowmore family as a full-time member of the lineup.

It’s at first a classically styled, if not entirely remarkable, Islay bottling, offering smoky peat on the nose, plus a sweeter-than-usual edge that takes it to the realm of barbecued meats. That sweetness carries over to the body, where a sugary rush of vanilla pudding hits the palate first. I get touches of sweetened coconut and some orange juice as the finish builds, at which point a quite modest smoky peat character starts to take hold again. That smoke-meets-salt air character is just barely evident as the finish fades, the Islay core bookending the experience as gently as possible.

Bowmore Small Batch is a nice beginner’s introduction to Islay and a capable budget dram, but it’s nothing that fans of the island’s particular style are likely to feel the need to seek out.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / bowmore.com

Tasting the 2012 Vintage Cabernets of Hourglass Vineyard

Deja vu? No. We just wrapped a tasting session with Hourglass a few months ago. Now proprietor Jeff Smith is back with the full lineup of his winery’s 2012 vintage Cabernets, including its two cult-status estate bottlings, Blueline Estate and Hourglass Estate. As we noted previously, 2012 is the winery’s first vintage with Tony Biagi (ex of CADE and Plumpjack) as full-time winemaker. (Bob Foley was the prior winemaker here.)

The winery’s trademark Cabernets weren’t ready for tasting in our prior meeting. But now they are — including a first look at HGIII, Hourglass’s new second label wine that’s composed of “odds and ends” from around the winery.

2012 Hourglass HGIII Red Wine – A non-estate blend of merlot, cab, and malbec. Initially quite dusty and restrained, some time in the glass helps elevate the subject matter. Lightly peppery on the nose, HGIII reveals notes of chocolate, cedar chest, and dense blackberry. The body is chewy, offering a blend of jam and chocolate sauce, finishing with some lightly astringent tobacco leaf character. Fine for a second label, but nothing shocking. (Aka HG III.) B+ / $50

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – 91% cabernet, 9% petit verdot from the Blueline Estate Vineyard. Dark as night. The nose is exotic and instantly different than your typical cab, offering intense violets and baking spice. There’s plenty of this to go around on the blueberry-focused palate, with a flinty character emerging late on the finish. Soothing and lush without becoming overly fruited, it also offers nice mineral notes as a companion. A / $125

2012 Hourglass Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – 100% cab from the Hourglass Estate Vineyard, this is a classic, opulent, and beautiful wine that somehow manages to avoid the huge, fruit bombiness of the typical Napa cabernet. Light mint chocolate notes on the nose lead you to a lush body that’s ripe with blackberry, juicy currants, and stone fruit. More mint, fresh tobacco leaf, and lightly sweet vanilla emerge on the adroitly balanced and almost elegant finish, giving this a great complexity but also an easy, gorgeous drinkability. Collectors looking for a massive tannin structure may balk, but those who want to drink beautiful cabs today need look no further. A+ / $165

hourglasswines.com

Review: Master of Mixes “Chef Inspired” Bloody Mary Mixers

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Brunch season is here (isn’t it?), which means it’s Bloody Mary time for millions. Few of us bother to make our own mix when there are plenty of solid, ready-to-go mixes on the shelf.

Master of Mixes is a brand that’s been around forever, producing the usual Pina Colada, Margarita, and Bloody Mary mixes to make home cocktailing easier. But while MoM has traditionally focused on the lower end of the scale, it has recently partnered with the Food Network’s Anthony Lamas to produce three slightly more upscale Bloody Mary mixers. (If you’re looking for these, check to ensure you’re getting the “Chef Inspired” versions; MoM makes several other Bloody mixers, some with the same names even, but which are not inspired by anyone.)

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired Classic Bloody Mary Mixer – Quite “juicy,” not ketchup-chunky like so many products in this category. There’s plenty of Worcestershire flavor here, and a surprisingly pungent amount of celery in the mix, too. As the finish takes hold, it’s the celery salt notes that easily wins out, going down with plenty of that spice gripping the palate and lingering for minutes. B

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired Loaded Bloody Mary Mixer – For the Bloody fan that likes more “stuff” in his drink, this concoction is instantly much sweeter than the Classic expression, offering clear notes of cucumber and green bell pepper to get things going. Touches of carrot, garlic, sweet corn, and black pepper all emerge in the glass, creating something akin to a liquefied ratatouille. More soup than sipper, this one’s simply less effective in a cocktail. B-

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired 5 Pepper Bloody Mary Mixer – Naturally there’s a spicy one to contend with. The five peppers on the ingredient label include red pepper, habanero, jalapeno, ancho, and chipotle. Only one of those is especially hot, and for a mixer with a bunch of chili peppers on the label this one’s remarkably restrained. The attack is heavy on the tomato and black pepper notes, with heat building only as the drink settles on the palate for a while. The finish is both lip-searing and salty — just how a good Bloody should go out. While it’s the least complex of the bunch, the addition of a good slug of heat — but not quite overpowering heat — makes this my favorite. B+

each $5 (1 liter) / masterofmixes.com [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Anchor Distilling Christmas Spirit White Whiskey 2014

Christmas Spirit High Res

Last year San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling released a limited-edition, Christmas-focused white whiskey called White Christmas. This year it’s back, (cleverly) renamed Christmas Spirit.

As with White Christmas, this year Anchor has double distilled last year’s 2013 Christmas Ale and turned into into an unaged whiskey. The ale is different every year, so the whiskey should follow suit, no?

The 2014 Christmas Spirit is more clearly a white whiskey than the almost gin-like 2013 White Christmas. The nose offers popcorn notes, cream of wheat cereal, and cedar tree bark. On the palate, a few piney notes emerge — hints of gin, like last year — but these are overwhelmed by a more indistinct wood character, notes of raisins, cinnamon bark, and touches of leather and tobacco leaf. The finish is racy, hot and spicy, with more cinnamon and evergreen notes counterbalancing the malty roasted grain character.

All in all this is a different expression of white dog than 2013’s rendition, but a slightly more cohesive bottling, one which showcases more of the whiskey/beer underpinnings as well as the seasonal character of the spirit. Ho ho ho.

90 proof. Available in California only.

B+ / $50 / anchordistilling.com

Review: The London No. 1 Gin

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The world of gin is awash in numbers. There is Tanqueray No. Ten. Beefeater 24. Monkey 47. No. 3. No. 209. And London 40. Now the numismatics are coming full circle, with The London No. 1.

This gin is produced in England but under the ownership of the Spanish comany Gonzalez Byass, best known for its winery (where it is the producer of Tio Pepe sherry). That’s curious enough on its own, but London No. 1’s blue color is also of particular note. This is not a blue-tinted bottle like Bombay Sapphire. This is blue gin (courtesy of some certified colors).

The blueness is a nod toward one of the more unique botanicals in the mix here, namely the iris flowers used here as an addition to the more standard juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon peel, orange peel, and both cassia and cinnamon. Also in the blend are liquorice, almond, savory, and bergamot.

That sounds like a lot, but London No. 1 is surprisingly well-constructed. On the nose you’ll find a solid juniper base, plus hints of caramel sauce, orange and even grapefruit notes. The licorice character is mild but distinct — while this ingredient is becoming commonplace in modern gins, this is one of the few products I can recall where I could actually taste the licorice element.

The body of London No. 1 Gin starts off restrained, zero alcoholic burn, and almost tasting watery despite a hefty 47% abv. But things open up a bit with some air, revealing more of the gin’s nuances. Some earthy notes emerge at the start, with juniper and citrus peel close behind. The midpalate veers toward a bittersweet character, its citrus taking on balsamic notes, with some of that lily-driven floral character finally emerging as the finish rumbles along. There’s sweetness on the back end too, a bit earthy, almost caramel mixed with honey in character, perhaps thanks to the bergamot. It’s a nice way to end things — not too dessert like, and providing a nice balance to the racier front side.

I’m not sold on the blue color, but the gin itself is versatile, well-made, and unique in its own way.

94 proof.

B+ / $30 / thelondon1.com