Review: Oban Little Bay and Oban 14 Years Old

Oban Little Bay

Next up in the NASverse is Oban, which is releasing its mew Little Bay expression just in time for Burns Day (January 25).

This isn’t just another random collection of mysterious whiskies. Much like Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Little Bay is aged in part in smaller casks, giving it a distinct character.

Says the company: “Crafted by selecting small batches of our finest single malt whiskies, and marrying the whiskies in our smallest casks to allow more contact with the wood, Oban Little Bay delivers the signature rich, smooth Oban expression with its rich, fruity style but with a more pronounced maritime and citrus character.”

Based in the Western Highlands, Oban (pronounced OH-bun, with the stress on the “OH,” not OH-BANN), creates a distinct style of malt whisky that is one of the standbys of the whisky world. How does Little Bay compare to the ubiquitous Oban 14? We put them head to head…

Oban Little Bay – Immediately, it seems on the thin side. The nose is restrained, offering more citrus and sweetness, but less smoke. The body is quite malty, but the chewiness comes at the expense of a lot of that fruity character. What remains is a sense of oatmeal character, some light cinnamon notes, and a touch of lemon peel that grows on the finish. None of this seems particularly enlightening, almost like the standby Oban 14 has been muzzled a bit, then bottled as a special edition. It isn’t bad. It’s just… curious. 86 proof. B+ / $75  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Oban 14-Year-Old… and for comparison’s sake…

Oban 14 Years Old – A classic. Lightly smoky, it offers tons of big, roasted grains up front, layered atop notes of toasted marshmallow and a hint of citrus. Oban is so easygoing it’s easy to guzzle by the glassful thanks to its big, rounded body, but if you did so you’d miss those wisps of incense, tropical guava, and just a touch of seaweed on the back end. Deserving of its reputation as one of the standbys of the whisky world. 86 proof. A- / $60

malts.com

Review: Guinness The 1759 Limited Edition Amber Ale

guinness 1759This limited edition Signature Series bottling from Guinness is an American Strong Ale brewed with both standard beer malts and peated whisky malts, making for a decidedly curious and intriguing beer.

Thick and malty from the start, The 1759 (named in honor of Guinness’s founding) kicks off with a woody, slightly maple-syrupy nose. I catch hints of rhubarb, licorice root, and amari. On the tongue, it’s a dense and richly syrupy beer, but surprisingly lively and flavorful. Big molasses notes tend to overpower things, but the Port-like notes bring with them hints of whisky, chimney smoke, and coffee beans. The long, semi-sweet finish recalls the licorice on the nose and adds in some chocolate.

On the whole: It’s quite a complicated monster, fitting of a “special occasion” beer, with an uncanny similarity to the barrel-aged craft brews that are becoming so common these days.

9% abv. 90,000 bottles made (and “never to be brewed again!”).

B+ / $43 (25.4 oz bottle) / guinness.com

Review: 2012 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Faust-bottle-shotnovintageWhen I first tasted Faust’s 2012 Cabernet I thought it might be off — densely tannic with vegetal flavors that were massively overwhelming at first attack. I corked the wine up and put it away for a day, hoping things would settle down. Fortunately, they did, revealing a wine that’s a burly as all get-out, but which has a charm of its own deep down. Even with air and time, you’ll need to push past a significant amount of dense leather and tar to reach some fruit — juicy currants and some blueberries — plus hints of fresh rosemary, spearmint, and cocoa powder. This is a challenging but ultimately rewarding wine — provided you have a couple of days to crack its code.

B+ / $40 / faustwine.com

Review: Glencadam 10 Years Old, 15 Years Old, and 21 Years Old

glencadam

Glencadam can be found in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland. It is the only working distillery in County Angus here, but thanks to CIL US Wine & Spirits (the company behind Camus Cognac), it’s now available in the U.S.

The distillery last changed hands in 2003, when it was acquired by a Scottish indie producer. If you’re looking to try some old guard Scotch that isn’t produced by a multinational conglomerate, well, this is a good place to start.

All of these are single malts bottled at 92 proof. Thoughts follow.

Glencadam 10 Years Old – Simple, rustic nose, with some notes of vegetation and a bit of hospital character. The light-as-gossamer body is more charming and more expressive than this simple beginning might indicate. While it leads off with some more base alcohol notes, it evolves to reveal notes of fresh-cut barley, heather, orange peel, nougat, a bit of baking spice, and sugary breakfast cereal. That’s meant as a compliment. Cinnamon toast, maybe? B+ / $55

Glencadam 15 Years Old – Evolving nicely at 15 years old, this expression of Glencadam offers a richer and more focused look at malt that takes things in the direction of chewy, dried apples and apricots, more intense baking spice, and stronger citrus notes on the finish. It’s very much a big brother to the lighter, more spry 10 year old — a bit more wise to the ways of the world but a bit cocky as well. B+ / $85

Glencadam 21 Years Old – All grown up, this expression features ample citrus to the point where it takes on a slightly bitter edge. Pure, well-roasted grain notes start the show before heading into notes of cocoa powder and some raisin character. Classic, racy, spicy malt finishes out the show, lending austerity to an otherwise sweet and sultry whisky. B+ / $199

glencadamwhisky.com

Review: Jenni Rivera La Gran Senora Tequila Reposado

jenni rivera

I had never heard of Jenni Rivera before her face showed up on my doorstep. Literally. That’s Rivera mugging from the label of her eponymous tequila — perhaps the most glorious and arguably inappropriate vanity spirit bottling I’ve ever seen. (The only way this could be topped is to imagine a Kardashian vodka, with Kim’s face on the front and her butt on the back label…)

Rivera was a Mexican-American performing artist who died tragically in a plane crash in 2012. While she is said to have approved of this product and personally tasted it, I presume her estate is what is actually lending her visage to a 100% agave line of tequilas. The three standard expressions are available. We received only the reposado, which is aged for 6 months in oak barrels. Thoughts follow.

This is a capable, but a fairly gentle reposado. On the lighter side, color-wise, it offers an immediate nose of roasted agave, burnt marshmallow, and caramel. The body follows in lockstep. Sweet up front, with those marshmallow notes the strongest, it builds to some notes of charcoal, some pencil shavings, and a bit of raisin. The finish is clean, sweet, and with a final salute to agave on the very back end. It isn’t a groundbreaking tequila, but it’s a fully credible and capable one that works well either alone or in mixed drinks.

80 proof.

B+ / $46 / 3crownsimports.com

Book Review: Sake Confidential

sake confidentialTo say that sake is a poorly understood beverage in the U.S. is an understatement. Never mind understanding the various grades and styles of sake, how to drink it (hot or cold?), and what kind of food to drink it with, there’s the not-so-little matter that most imported sakes don’t have anything written in English on the label.

John Gauntner’s Sake Confidential can’t teach you Japanese, but it can give you everything you really need to know about sake in one slim tome. Just 175 spare pages in length, the book breaks sake down by topic; each chapter is a myth about sake that Gantner is prepared to debunk. Is cheap sake supposed to be drank warm and good sake cold? (Not necessarily.) Is non-junmai sake garbage? (Not necessarily.) Should you only drink sake out of one of those little ceramic cups? (Not necessarily.)

Gauntner’s world of sake is a complex and decidedly confusing place, and even in the end the writer confesses that there are no clear answers to anything in this industry. At the same time, the book works well as a primer for both novices and intermediate sake drinkers who want to know more about this unique rice product. While the book’s design — slim and tall like a pocket travel guide — makes little sense for a topic like this (and, in fact, makes it unfortunately difficult to comfortably read), Gauntner nonetheless does us all a much-needed service by digesting all of this material into one place — and inexpensively, too.

B+ / $10 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: 2012 Avignonesi Rosso di Montipulciano DOC

avignonesi rosso di montepulciano_2011This fresh Rosso di Montipulciano offers a gentle approach, offering perfumy floral notes atop simple red berries on the nose. The body dips from there into more simple cherry and raspberry character, melding acid with tannin in a balanced body, with some subtle notes of tea leaf and dried herbs. The finish is short, but pleasant and savory, fading out with some lightly jammy notes and a modest slug of wood. Nicely done at this price.

See also our review of the 2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile.

B+ / $19 / avignonesi.it

Review: Redhook Winterhook #30

redhookSeattle-based Redhook Brewery has been around for 30 years now, and its 30th expression of its seasonal Winterhook brew is now on the market. Redhook tweaks the recipe for Winterhook every year, and this year it comes forward with a burly, slightly smoky winter ale. Decked with molasses from the get-go, this malt-heavy beer offers notes of coal fires, bitter greens, cloves, and forest floor. It tastes stronger than it is — just 6% abv — which makes it a better choice for sipping on in this post-holiday-meal aftermath. All in all, a burly, but not overpowering, little number that dark beer fans should enjoy quite a bit.

6% abv.

B+ / $NA / redhook.com

Review: Wildwood Spirits Stark Vatten Vodka and Kur Gin

Stark VattenWildwood Spirits is a new craft distillery located in Bothell, Washington. We tasted the company’s first two products, a solid vodka and a uniquely flavored gin. Thoughts follow.

Stark Vatten Vodka – Swedish for “strong water,” made from heirloom, local red winter wheat in a self-proclaimed European style. I think that’s a reasonably fair description. This is a rounded and creamy vodka with mild, vanilla- and cocoa-tinged sweetness. The core however offers modest hospital notes, gentle astringency that isn’t exactly biting but which finishes clean and easy. While a true European vodka would have less sweetness and more of a medicinal kick, this is at least a good entry point to the style. 80 proof. B+ / $29

Kur BottleKur Gin – Essentially made the same way as Stark Vatten, then infused with “classic juniper aromas and flavors with subtle citrus (Seville orange) as well as Douglas Fir and Braeburn apples from Mr. Liedholm’s [the distiller] back yard.” Also in the mix are orris root, fennel seed, and coriander seed. There’s no soft hand with the juniper on this one; it’s a punchy pine bomb from the get go. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the apple notes are intense and vivid — the lively and saucy character like what you get in a young apple brandy, lightly spiced with what come across like pie spices of cinnamon and cloves. The finish is chewy and hangs on the fruit, building caramel notes and tempering the juniper considerably. A very unusual, but worthwhile, gin. 80 proof. B+ / $29

wildwoodspiritsco.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Fifteen

The penultimate release of Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project is here, which means only a dozen bottles of the series of 192 bourbons remain to be released. For those keeping score, this makes 180 bourbons sampled to date over nearly four years of staggered releases.

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s our past coverage to date:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven
Round Twelve
Round Thirteen
Round Fourteen

Round 15 is a mixed bag of bourbons focusing mainly on the barrel, the variables being tested including the wood grain of the barrel, tree cut, and, as always, rye vs. wheat in the recipe. All whiskeys in this batch went in at 105 proof, used barrels with 6 months of wood seasoning and a #3 char, and were aged in a concrete floor warehouse. All are 90 proof, as always.

By and large it’s a very good batch, including one of the best whiskies in the collection, barrel #149. Barrel #82 remains the fan favorite among all the bourbons released to date.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #21 – Sherried notes on the nose lead to a rather racy body. Lots of wood up front, but this works its way, eventually, into touches of licorice, brown butter, cloves, and more. Let this whiskey open up in the glass. I spent more time with this bourbon than anything else in this edition of the SOP, and though it wasn’t my absolute favorite, it does seem to have the most depth and intrigue in it. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #22 – Another butterscotch bomb with some evergreen hints to it, maybe touches of sage. This is a solid, but mostly straightforward bourbon that wears its vanilla on its sleeve. Balanced with hints of cinnamon creeping in on the back end. An all-around winner, with some slightly unusual elements to it. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #53 – Burly and woody, with a big slug of licorice and (very) dark chocolate on the back end. The finish speaks of coffee bean and burnt almonds. Almost feels scorched, even overcooked. C+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #54 – Big wood up front, big wood in the middle, big wood at the end. The sweeter core emerges with time, in contrast with the largely shut-down #53, but the overall experience is a bit astringent, with just touches of dried fruit and some spice on the finish. B- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #85 – A straightforward, woodsy expression of bourbon, offering notes of clove, spearmint, and flamed orange peel. The lumberyard notes are the main focus, however, lending a certain austerity to this bottling. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #86 – Nicely balanced, firing on all cylinders. Vanilla, baking spices, some orange notes, and delicate wood oil all come together in a cohesive, harmonious whole. This drinks how I’d like my “everyday bourbon” to taste — not exactly complex, but refreshing and full of flavor. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #117 – Cinnamon-sugar hits up front, leading to a buttery body that offers some toasty oak notes. The sweet-meets-wood combo is appealing, but a little undercooked. Could use another year in barrel. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #118 – Interesting, dark cocoa powder on the nose. The body adds in some vanilla and wood notes, but also a fair amount of heat. The lumberyard notes grow  and break out a bit of Middle Eastern spice on the back end. A little odd, but worthwhile. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #149 – Beautiful caramel sauce up front, just touched with the slightest hint of orange peel. The finish is strong but balanced between sweeter chocolate/vanilla/caramel notes and the density of toasty oak on the back end. Easily the best bourbon in this edition, and one of the best in the whole series. A (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #150 – Creme brulee notes up front, then modest orange fruit and some nuttiness — peanut butter, even — on the back end. There’s a nice combination of flavors going on here, but it could use a bit more body to prop up the sweetness. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #181 – Baking spices and pretty butterscotch up front leads to a silky sweet body with a lightly drying finish. Notes of red pepper emerge if you give it a little time in glass, giving this whiskey a surprising complexity. Nearly as enjoyable as #149, but with its own sense of style. A (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #182 – Butterscotch notes are clear here, much like #181, but in this expression the sweetness grabs hold and sticks with the whiskey to the end. The finish is almost candylike, without the spicy nuance. B+ (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com