Review: Maker’s 46 Cask Strength

Maker’s Mark last year put out a widely acclaimed cask strength bottling of its standard Maker’s Mark bourbon. Naturally, a follow-up was in order: A cask strength rendition of Maker’s 46.

Same story as last time: This is a barrel proof version of Maker’s 46, which is takes standard Maker’s and puts extra charred-wood staves inside the barrel to give it a stronger wood influence. While Maker’s 46 is 94 proof, Maker’s 46 Cask Strength hits 108.9 proof. (It’s unclear whether this will change over time.)

The results offer some marked differences vs. standard 46. The nose starts off with charred wood notes, then leads into surprising sweetness: butterscotch, vanilla, and some cotton candy notes. Over time, some forest-like notes  The body also plays up the sweet stuff, integrating burnt caramel, more butterscotch, and loads of fruit that linger on the tongue for quite a while. It’s not as overtly woody as you’d expect — nor is it altogether racy despite the high alcohol content. I didn’t have trouble sipping it without water, though some agua does bring out an almost Christmassy element to the whiskey.

All told: It’s a solid offering from Maker’s that gives you one more way to enjoy this wheated classic.

Available only at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky.

Bottle photo to come.

B+ / $40 (375ml) /

Head to Head: Alcoholic Root Beer! Not Your Father’s vs. Rowdy

nyfTwo makes a trend for us today, with a duo of alcoholic root beers hitting the market at the same time, one from La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Small Town Brewery, the other from Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based Berghoff. Both are not root beer soda with alcohol added but rather flavored beers/malt liquors with the spices integrated into the production process. Here’s how they stack up!

Small Town Brewery Not Your Father’s Root Beer – Per the label, a flavored beer. My father doesn’t drink root beer, but he would probably find this concoction palatable. The palate offers a classic root beer structure, but with a muddier, earthier body that tends to linger on the finish. On the whole, tastes like a glass of root beer should, just with a kick! 5.9% abv.  B+ / $11 per six pack of 12 oz. bottles /

rowdy-root-beer-canBerghoff Rowdy Root Beer – Per the label, a malt beverage with artificial flavor added. Doesn’t immediately come across like a root beer, including some bitter, traditional beer-like elements on the nose, with some herbal notes dusted on top, particularly cloves and burnt sugar. These flavors integrate relatively poorly on the palate, which is a bit too sweet and a bit too thin, again letting some of those raw beer notes seep through. The finish loads up indistinct caramel and a sharp, saccharine conclusion. A major letdown next to Small Town’s rendition. 6.6% abv. C- / $10 per six pack of 12 oz. cans /

Review: Santera Tequila, Complete Lineup


Santera is a new Highlands-based tequila, 100% blue agave, and bottled in an understated, classy decanter. We tried all three standard expressions. Thoughts on each follow.

All are 80 proof. Available in New York (for now).

Santera Tequila Blanco – Unaged. Modest, but present, agave character is backed by earthy, stony, and flint-like notes. Some sweetness comes to the fore as the body develops, a slight creme brulee note that is laced with touches of red pepper. This is isn’t an incredibly complicated silver tequila, but it finds some grace in its simplicity. B / $42

Santera Tequila Reposado – Aged in oak for up to seven months. Wood is not particularly evident on the nose, but rather the aroma reveals some surprising fruity character — apples and a smattering of tropical fruit, too. The fruit follows through to the palate, tempering the vegetal notes but playing up the inherent sweetness. Again, it’s a simple tequila that doesn’t really try to reinvent the wheel, but the heavy fruit character offers some distinction over other reposados. B+ / $47

Santera Tequila Anejo – Aged in oak for up to 16 months. Here baking spices build up considerably, both on the fruit-pie-meets-Mexican-chocolate nose and on the body. The anejo, surprisingly, offers more heat than the other expressions. That fiery character is compounded by the spicy notes, not just cinnamon and cloves, but cayenne too, the lattermost of which lingers on the palate for quite some time. Chocolate and vanilla make appearances late in the game, alongside some bitter notes — licorice, perhaps — that complement the spices. This is the least cohesive member of the trio, but it’s also the one with the most to say. B+ / $55

Review: Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye

mister katzNew York Distilling produces a number of craft spirits, including this Rock & Rye, which takes the company’s own young rye whiskey and blends it with rock candy sugar, sour cherries, cinnamon, and citrus.

It’s both a balanced and flavorful spirit, with those cherries and cinnamon notes both strong on the nose and the palate. The body is slightly sweetened but far from overpowering, and it offers gentle whiskey notes up front — simple grains, vanilla, and some barrel char. It’s a fun combination of flavors, as the baking spice notes in the rye are pumped up by the added sugar and the cinnamon in the blend. As the initial rush of whiskey-fueled notes fade, the cherries hit hard, then retreat into the background as the cinnamon makes a surprisingly strong return appearance. The spice lingers for quite awhile, pleasant and soothing as the finish fades away.

Rock & Rye is a classic flavored whiskey that’s on the rise — and Mister Katz’s is probably the best you’re going to find on the market today.

65 proof.

B+ / $28 /

Review: Mystic Bourbon Liqueur

mystic liqueurBottled by a company called Barrister & Brewer in Durham, North Carolina, Mystic Liqueur is a sweet concoction combining bourbon and “exotic spices.” Based on a “centuries-old Scottish recipe” (presumably not one involving Bourbon), it’s a New World spin on Drambuie that deserves a look.

The nose hints at both the honey and cinnamon of today’s popular, flavored whiskeys — such as Fireball and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey. Both elements are very mild — just a touch of extra sweetness and a slightly greater dusting of Red Hots. The body largely follows suit, with the cinnamon and honey backed up with some notes of ginger, lemon peel, and brewed tea elements (the latter is particularly . The finish is warming and soothing — a hot toddy served at room temperature.

All told it’s a mild experience that plays well as an after-dinner sipper. Those looking for more intensity of flavor — the whiskey character is the least present of the various components — may find Mystic a little underbaked, but as a gentler example of the flavored whiskey/liqueur trend, a few glasses of this don’t make for a bad way to spend an evening.

60 proof.

B+ / $26 /

Review: Wines of Tom Gore, 2015 Releases

Tom Gore Vineyards 2012 Field Blend_Bottle ShotTom Gore is a Sonoma County grape grower, nut farmer,chicken raiser, and olive oil maker — and now a winemaker with his first batch of wines hitting the market. Let’s tuck into this inaugural trio.

2013 Tom Gore Chardonnay California – Looks cheap, tastes great. Fresh and fruity, there’s buttery vanilla on the nose, but the body is all golden apples, fresh peaches, and nectarine notes. The finish is clean, with a rounded approach that lets the fruit shine through. Very easy to enjoy. A- / $15

2012 Tom Gore Cabernet Sauvignon California – A workmanlike cabernet, with simple jam structure, vanilla syrup, and a lacing of dried herbs. Relatively harmless, but nothing to write home about in the end. Plenty of fruit plus a modest tannic backbone — it helps that this wine is now three years old and has clearly matured a bit — give this an easy and uncomplicated drinkability. B- / $15

2012 Tom Gore Field Blend Alexander Valley – 35% petit verdot, 33% malbec, 21% merlot, 6% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% tempranillo. That’s a really odd blend — really odd — but as a wine this field blend works better than expected. The nose is moderately smoky with dense jam notes and some leather character. On the palate, plenty of tannin keeps things tight at first, but a strong current of fruit runs through it — plum and currants — to add balance. (Currant currents? OK.) Vegetal notes emerge on the finish, but this doesn’t really detract much, adding a curious nuance to the experience. Worth a try. B+ / $40

Review: Tippleman’s Not Quite Simple Syrups


Our friends at Bittermilk cocktail mixers have recently expanded to the world of syrups. Bottled under a new name, Tippleman’s, these are all sweet, non-alcoholic mixers designed to sub in for the “sweet” component in your drink. We tried them all on their own and in a cocktail. Each comes in 500ml bottles. Here’s what we thought.

Tippleman’s Syrup Burnt Sugar – An organic sugar/molasses-based syrup. Dense, molasses brown color. Port wine notes on the nose. Extremely sweet, with bitter coffee and berry overtones. It immediately dominates any cocktail it’s dropped into with both sweetness and a bitter edge. I like the bold direction it goes, but use it sparingly and with the appropriate spirits. A- / $12

Tippleman’s Syrup Lemon Oleo Saccharum – 2000 pounds of lemons go into each batch of this classic oily citrus concoction. Nice balance between lemon and sugar, with herbal overtones. There’s less lemon in cocktails made with it, as the sugar tends to wash the citrus out a bit. A solid, but understated syrup. B+ / $22

Tippleman’s Syrup Barrel Smoked Maple – Old Willett bourbon barrels are shaved, remoistened with bourbon, and smoldered under organic Grade B maple syrup. A dark brown oddity that smells like charred wood, but tastes like well-sweetened barbecue sauce. Clearly invented for whiskey cocktails, this is love-it or hate-it territory, a syrup that totally dominates its cocktails, but in a fun and unique way. A- / $29

Tippleman’s Syrup Falernum – A traditional tropical syrup, this is flavored with spices and lime peel, plus ginger juice (and lots of sugar). Quite intense with cardamom and some allspice, vanilla on the finish. An easy choice for any tropical drink you want to whip up, Very similar character when used as a mixer, creating that festively tropical yet brooding, Chinatown kinda vibe that really takes you someplace else. Well done. A / $17

Tippleman’s Syrup Ginger Honey – Ginger juice plus organic wildflower honey, diluted with water. This ought to be a no brainer, but it just doesn’t come together. A nose of fortified wine and citrus dominate, but the body is closer to sweet and sour sauce than anything the above would imply. The ginger is abruptly overwhelming in cocktails, with a kind of perfumy “grandma” character that is difficult to properly describe. Funky and old-fashioned. B- / $20

Tippleman’s Syrup Island Orxata – Cracked corn and toasted sesame are soaked to make a milk-like base, then bitter almond and jasmine is added. That doesn’t sound at all enticing, and the creamed-corn nose and marzipan-meets-cream-of-wheat texture aren’t exactly inspirational, either. Not offensive in cocktails, but it adds a layer of weirdness that is tough to shake. I’d rather not think this much about my mixed drinks. B / $16

Review: 2013 Santa Cristina Umbria Bianco IGT

santa cristinaCheap Italian white doesn’t get much better than this, a crisp blend of grechetto and procanico (plus unnamed others) from the Umbria region. Very light peaches, tropical fruits, and a dusting of coconut form the core of the wine. The finish showcases some banana notes and a touch of vanilla cookie. Nothing fancy here, but a great wine to pair with seafood pasta.

B+ / $10 /

Review: The Exceptional Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

exceptional blend

The Exceptional Blended Malt is a line extension of The Exceptional Grain Whisky, which came out earlier this year.

The Exceptional Malt is a blend of single malts, with no grain whisky added, including: a 16-year-old Ben Nevis, a first-fill sherry butt of Glenburgie, a vatted barrel of Balvenie, Kininvie, & Glenfiddich, a 13-year-old Speyside, a 25-year-old Speyburn, and a 30-year-old Macallan. The conflagration is then blended for further aging in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks.

There’s not much to dislike in that lineup, at least on paper, and The Exceptional is a mighty and quite engaging whisky. The nose starts things off with a ton of malt and big, roasted cereal grains. No sugary breakfast cereal here, this is a hearty bowl of toasted barley, straight off the stalk. Sherry makes a moderate appearance after that, along with some lighter astringent/hospital notes.

The palate runs straight to the sherry, with grainy notes folding in atop that. Initially it’s a bit simplistic — a friendly duo of citrus and cereal — but over time notes of green banana, pound cake, and a slight vegetal character emerge. This adds a bit of depth, but the finished product isn’t 100 percent cohesive. I wonder if the collection of barrels that went into this blend were ultimately a bit random? Stuff that wouldn’t cut it as a single malt so, what the hell, let’s blend them all together.

As the finish emerges, nice caramel notes soothe the palate and smooth out the whisky — which has the tendency of making you forget many of your complaints. What was I saying, then?

86 proof.


Review: Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition Irish Whiskey

caskmates_smallIreland pretty much has two national beverages — Irish whiskey and stout (and no, I’m not counting poitin). Why not combine the two, you say? Say hello to Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition. (Perhaps implying that other editions are in the works.)

It’s a simple idea at work here: Take Jameson Original whiskey and finish it in casks of Franciscan Well, an Irish microbrew stout. (No, it’s not Guinness, but that really isn’t barrel aged any more, anyway.) Actually, the barrels start at Jameson, then they go to the brewery, then they go back to Jameson for reuse as finishing barrels. There’s no word on how long the whiskey spends in the barrels in this final step.

The results are interesting if nothing else. Slightly darker in color, Caskmates immediately showcases a sharper nose with notes of oatmeal, nuts, and cocoa powder, a contrast to malty, fruity notes on the Original bottling. On the palate Caskmates is a more intense whiskey with flecks of coffee, chocolate malt balls, and apple cider. Standard Jameson: simple and sweet, with a mix of fruit and nuts and a backing of gentle grains. I don’t get a distinctly stout character in Caskmates — maybe a touch of hops on the finish — but on its own merits it’s a whiskey worth picking up, particularly if you’re an Irish fan.

80 proof.