More new stuff from Stone, just in time for Christmas.
Stone Enjoy By 12.25.16 Unfiltered IPA – Like Stone’s other “Enjoy By” IPAs, this beer has a limited shelf life of a matter of weeks. For Christmas, Stone’s limited edition bottling is stuffed full of a whopping 12 different varieties of hops and is bottled unfiltered. The hazy double IPA takes on a distinct pineapple note up front, but the overall level of bitterness is surprisingly restrained. The finish offers some cereal character but is balanced by a ton of fruit, helping it to drink at a much more reasonable abv than its actual 9.4% would suggest. A / $8 per 22 oz. bottle
Stone Xocoveza – This oddity is a winter-spiced mocha stout, built around cocoa, Mostra coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and milk sugar. It’s a boozy, beery take on Mexican hot chocolate, which turns out both quite pleasing and holiday-appropriate. A powerhouse of a beer, Xocoveza is heavy with raw coffee ground notes, smoky cigar tobacco, and bitter chocolate shavings, making for an appropriately wintry, fireside experience. Something like may sound like it is probably best enjoyed in small quantities, though the overall experience, smoothed out by that lightly sweet milk sugar, is easier going than you would expect. 8.1% abv. B+ / $16 per six-pack
In recent years Diageo has been experimenting with unusual, unpeated expressions of Caol Ila — typically 14 to 17 years old — for its Special Release series. 2016 marks a another stab at the style, Caol Ila, breaking from tradition.
Unpeated or no, there’s still a hint of smoke here — giving the whisky a decidedly Highland feel. The nose is bready, lightly nutty, and astringent with hot but indistinct hospital notes. At over 61% abv, this is a blazer in comparison to prior versions of this whisky, and it benefits from a drop or two of water. At full strength it showcases fresh grains and baked bread. With water a hint of lemon, burnt marshmallow, coffee bean, and some toffee notes all emerge — though all quite lightly.
It’s always fun to see what the core of Caol Ila is like, unfiltered through peat, although every year it turns out to be relatively simple and straightforward. Nothing wrong with that, though.
B+ / $140 / malts.com
It’s not Christmas yet, but that most anticipated time of the year has arrived: The release of Diageo’s Special Releases, rarities from Scotland-based distilleries (some long-closed) being trickled to our shores.
This year’s batch includes 10 whiskies, all of which we have on hand for review and will cover one of each day for the next 10 days. We’ll start with the only NAS release in the lot, a special cask strength release of Cragganmore.
This malt is filled from both refill and rejuvenated American oak hogsheads and ex-sherry European oak butts. Again, no age statement.
Cragganmore is a standard-grade but often quite lovely whisky, and at barrel proof it showcases a power it doesn’t usually offer when watered down. The nose is heavy with malted cereal, moderate to heavy sherry/citrus notes, and a haunting pepper/spice note that arrives when you inhale deeply. The palate continues this thread, offering a bruisingly powerful body that features loads of sweetened cereal, billowy heather, modest vanilla, and a lick of iodine late in the game. The finish is sweet, sherried, and lasting.
Traditional to its core, this expression of Cragganmore doesn’t exactly reinvent what we’ve come to expect from Speyside — but it does showcase its core flavors with the utmost of credibility.
111.4 proof. 600 bottles released in the U.S.
B+ / $600 / malts.com
A blend of “Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, and small amounts of other red varietals,” this is a California bottling from parts otherwise unknown. The wine is initially dialed back, but some air and time in glass reveals a denser-than-expected fruit core that showcases blackberries, blueberries, and currants. There’s a lacing of vanilla and a touch of balsamic in the mix, with a finish that echoes cake frosting (but in a good way), plus a hint of chocolate-dusted, bittersweet amaro.
The wine is also being released in conjunction with a new corkscrew designed by Saved creator Scott Campbell, who is a tattoo artist. Some deets:
Available at Shinola stores and online in time for the holidays, the solid brass corkscrew marries form and function to bring a little ceremony to the everyday act of opening a bottle of wine. With its intricate design of sigils, reflective of Scott’s tattoo style, this piece makes a perfect gift for those who appreciate design and fine wine equally. Available exclusively for holiday 2016 in Shinola stores and online at shinola.com for $125.
B+ / $16 / savedwines.com
Celebrating five years in business, Chicago’s Few Spirits recently launched a collaboration with The Flaming Lips and artist Justin Helton to release a new rye called Brainville. Why? Read on…
The collaboration actually holds quite a bit of resonance for FEW Spirits’ founder and master distiller Paul Hletko: Before founding the distillery, he played lead guitar in a band called BerBer (short for Bourbon Bourbon, ironically) that got some local radio airplay and a feature at the CMJ Music Marathon in the early ’90s; ran a short-lived record label called Hank’s Recording Empire (“we put out one record, and it was a dismal failure,” he says); and opened a guitar effects-pedal company called Custompbox. “Music has always been an important part of my life, and when Justin Helton’s manager called me about a collaboration with The Flaming Lips and Warner Bros. Records to create a custom spirit, it was a no-brainer; they knew exactly which distillery they wanted to work with,” Hletko says.
The whiskey is a rye made with corn and malted barley grown within 150 miles of the Few distillery. Aging is in new, charred American oak barrels custom-made in Minnesota. (No age statement is offered.) Like Few’s standard rye, the mash is, unusually, fermented using a French wine yeast.
This is a young craft whiskey, dominated by notes of fresh grain, lumberyard, and a bit of Band-Aid character on the nose. Nothing too special, but on the palate emerges something considerably more complex and intriguing. Notes of malted milk give the whiskey a chewy backbone, before moving into spicy red pepper, ginger, and baking spice notes. There’s a youthful wood influence here, but it’s outdone by quiet fruit laced with spices and a finish that echoing melon and a grind of pepper. All told, it’s quite a compelling experience, though you’ll pay a pretty penny for the privilege.
80 proof. 5000 bottles produced.
B+ / $125 / fewspirits.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Best known for dense Ports and crisp whites, Portugal is also home to a bustling red table wine production. Today we sample three reds from Portugal, including selections from both the Douro and the Dao regions.
2013 Quinto do Passadouro Passa Douro Red Wine – A traditional blend of touriga franca, tinta roriz, and touriga nacional. Notes of dark cherry and licorice find a curious companion in some sweet almond character, with the wine lightening up on the palate as it evolves to show off strawberry, some cloves, and a bit of vanilla. Short on the finish, but lively and pleasant. B+ / $15
2013 Esporao Assobio Douro – Another blend of touriga franca (40%), tinta roriz (40%), and touriga nacional (20%). Fresh blueberry notes fade into a licorice and clove character, adding body to an otherwise quite fruity attack. It’s a relatively straightforward wine, all told, but a versatile one that works in a variety of dining scenarios. B+ / $15
2013 Caminhos Cruzdos Titular: Dao Red – This blend from the Dao region comprises touriga nacional (45%), tinta roriz (15%), jaen (10%), and alfrocheiro (30%). Youthful, heavy on blackberries and brambly notes, with heavy tobacco, leather, and licorice notes bursting forth on the rustic finish. B- / $9
Old Laphroaig is one of life’s great pleasures, but I haven’t encountered any truly wonderful old stock from the Islay classic since 2009. Good news, folks: Laphroaig is reintroducing both the 25 year old expression and launching its 30 year old single malt stateside, to boot.
Best news: We got ’em both and we’re here to review the updates. Thoughts follow.
Laphroaig 25 Years Old (2016) – A blend of whiskies aged in second-fill European oak Oloroso sherry barrels and ex-bourbon American oak barrels, bottled at cask strength. A quarter of a century in barrel have ensured that the fruity notes temper the smoky aromas considerably, everything coming together to showcase notes of camel hair, wet asphalt, licorice, and ample iodine. On the palate, ripe citrus notes from the sherry barrels trickle down into a pool of molasses and salted licorice waiting below. Cloves, pepper, and other spices emerge on the racy and lasting finish. This expression isn’t as well-formed as its 2009 rendition, but it’s still highly worthwhile. 97.2 proof. B+ / $500
Laphroaig 30 Years Old – Double-matured in first- and second-fill ex-bourbon barrels. No sherry impact here. This is a glorious expression of old Laphroaig, sweet and smoky and mellow as can be. The nose is a racy, spicy beast, familiar to anyone who’s dabbled in older Islay. But the use of 100% bourbon casking lets a more pure expression of the whisky shine through. The nose’s fire and brimstone are tempered with vanilla and caramel, and unlike many an Islay, its sweetness is kept clearly and firmly in check. The palate builds on that base, taking the the dying embers of a spent fire and injecting them with fresh apple notes, plus notes of gingerbread and flamed banana. Again, its sweetness is kept firmly in check, the finished product showcasing a balance and delicacy you almost never find in Islay whiskies. The above may be simple flavors and tastes, but Laphroaig 30 is anything but a basic whisky. It’s a nuanced malt definitively worth exploring, savoring, and understanding. 107 proof. A / $1000