Review: Lagavulin 8 Years Old 200th Anniversary Edition

Lagavulin 8 Year Old (with box)

To celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2016, one of Islay’s most beloved distillery’s has released a special bottling. No, it’s not a gorgeous 50 year old in a Baccarat decanter. It’s an 8 year old, just half the age of its signature release, Lagavulin 16.

Why 8 years old? Lagavulin tells us there’s a reason:

Lagavulin is kicking off the bi-centennial celebrations with the release of a special limited edition bottling of Lagavulin 8 Year Old, inspired by Britain’s most famous Victorian whisky writer, Alfred Barnard. During the late 1880s, Alfred Barnard sampled an 8 year old Lagavulin during a visit to Islay, describing it as “exceptionally fine” and “held in high repute.” This anniversary release is an honorary nod to the whisky that helped lead to the emergence of Lagavulin as one of the most highly sought after Scotch whiskies today.

Other than the age statement, there’s no particular production information available.

The whisky is a surprise at the start. First there’s the color — a pale, light gold that seems like eight years might be a stretch. On the nose: Pure Islay, intense and pungent smoke, filtered through iodine and layered with citrus, a bit of cereal, and a touch of mint. The palate finds a surprising level of sweetness, offering sweet hickory barbecue smoke, brown sugar, and some elusive floral elements that keep the experience on the light and lively side.

By the time the finish rolls around, things sadly start to fall apart a bit. The initially rounded and somewhat oily body starts to degenerate into a gummy character that’s overloaded with asphalt notes and a flavor that comes across with the essence of a long-disused vial of dried spices. It’s a bit of a letdown from what is initially a fun and quite lively whisky — though it is one that I can still cautiously recommend that Lagavulin fans at least sample once or twice.

96 proof.

B+ / $60 / malts.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Cocktail & Sons Switchel and Haymaker’s Punch

cocktail and sons

Two new seasonal mixers made by our friends at New Orleans’ Cocktail & Sons — both based on 18th century cocktail ingredients and built around ginger. Let’s dive in.

Cocktail & Sons Switchel – A citrus syrup made with ginger, Louisiana honey, and apple cider vinegar. Intensely spicy ginger dominates this syrup, with a smattering of lemon trying to push through the best it can. That lingering heat is a showcase of real, natural ginger root, which can be hard to come by in cocktail mixers. The Switchel syrup shines when mixed with aged rum (I tried it with Cruzan Single Barrel), which makes for a refreshing and dazzling two-item cocktail, the ginger serving as a lovely companion with the sweetness of the rum, coaxing out chocolate notes, coconut, and baking spice. It’s almost like a quickie tiki drink, sans the umbrella. A / $15 per 8 oz. bottle

Cocktail & Sons Haymaker’s Punch – Take the Switchel and mix it with lots of red Rooibos tea and you’ve got a long and less intense version of the above that comes in a soda-style 12 oz. bottle, complete with a crown cap. This dulls the ginger quite a bit, though the tea influence isn’t as strong as you might expect. Just a touch fizzy, it can be consumed on its own as a nonalcoholic highball, or you can mix it with booze: 4 oz. of Haymaker’s Punch with 1 1/2 oz. of your favorite spirit and you’ve got a summer sipper that mixes tea and ginger with whatever gets things going. Again it seems tailor-made for rum, though I wasn’t quite as enchanted by it as I was with the stronger Switchel. B+ / $12 per four-pack of 12 oz. bottles

cocktailandsons.com

Review: Headframe Spirits Anselmo Gin and Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur

OrphanGirl1to1Corrections copy

Butte, Montana is the home of Headframe Spirits, a craft distiller that at present makes a total of five products. Today we look at two: a gin and, intriguingly, a craft bourbon cream liqueur.

Headframe Spirits Anselmo Gin – Flavored with 12 botanicals, mostly unnamed with the exception of “citrus and huckleberry.” The results are unique, with a distinct fruitiness on the nose — not citrus, but more of a fresh strawberry (though perhaps that’s huckleberry) character. Juniper is a distant echo beneath the up-front rush of fruit. The palate is equally unique for gin — sweet and fruity with more notes of strawberry jam, plus lemongrass, grapefruit peel, and an earthy element that lingers on the back of the throat. There’s juniper in that element, but even there it’s dialed way, way back. That said, the sweet and earthy components of this gin are a bit at odds with one another. The finish has a slight tinge of solvent to it, but it doesn’t linger. That fade-out is reserved for a reprise of that berry business. 80 proof. B+ / $30

Headframe Spirits Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur – This straightforward bourbon cream (presumably made with Headframe’s own bourbon), starts off with a sweet and milky nose, with overtones of vanilla and maple. The palate offers ample brown sugar, more vanilla, and the essence of chocolate milk. On the finish we find some of the bourbon’s heat creeping into the back of the palate, adding a spicy kick that mixes well with a somewhat cocoa-heavy conclusion. A solid, but simple, effort. 35 proof. B+ / $22

headframespirits.com

Review: Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old (2016), High-Rye 9 Years Old, and Bourbon 9 Years Old

redemption bourbon aged barrel proof 9 years old

In late 2015/early 2016, Redemption Rye took the unexpected move of releasing three well-aged straight rye whiskies, all “honey barrels” representing the brand at 7, 8, and 10 years of age.

Now Redemption is back again with three more entries into its Aged Barrel Proof line. The twist: Only one is a straight rye; the other two are bourbons, one from a high-rye mashbill and one from a lower-rye mash.

We got the entire trio to review, and without further ado, let’s hop right into it. Technical specs on each whiskey can be found in its respective writeup.

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old (2016) – Note: This is a newly batched rye with a slightly higher proof than the 2015 version of the 8 Year Old Straight Rye. It is still however made from a mash of 95% rye, 5% barley. Bigger butterscotch notes lead things off on the nose, with aromas of black and cayenne pepper. Considering the age, there’s a surprising level of granary character on the palate here, with an almost pungent level of savory, dried herbs bringing up the rear. The finish is spicy and heavy with notes of leather and fresh asphalt. A serious letdown over last year’s rendition. 122.2 proof. B-

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof High-Rye Bourbon 9 Years Old – This whiskey is made from a mash of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% barley. Nice color here, a pretty, heavy amber. On the nose, the rye is evident, with clear granary notes, red pepper, and licorice. The palate is a bit more subtle, still laden with brooding spices but less pushy with its heavy grain notes, offering a fruitiness that the straight rye doesn’t feature. The finish takes things back in the direction of tar and grain, though it’s tempered by some interesting notes of baking spice and gingerbread. 109.2 proof. B+

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Bourbon 9 Years Old – And now, to contrast, this is a bourbon made from a mash of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% barley. Though the proof level isn’t much different than the High-Rye, it initially comes across as a much hotter spirit, scorching the palate while pushing aromas of well-roasted grains, baking spice, and coffee bean. Ample wood leads the way on the palate, again showcasing crackling grain, caramel corn, and some savory herbal character. While it’s burly with lumberyard overtones, the wood isn’t overdone, and the various elements gel into a fairly cohesive whole. The finish is warming but not as hot as the initial attack, ultimately making for a fine, though fairly orthodox bourbon. 110.6 proof. B+  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

each $100 / redemptionrye.com

Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Madeira Edition 2016

laphroaig cairdeas madeira cask

Laphroaig’s latest annual Cairdeas release is finally here: Cairdeas Madeira. As the name suggests, this is Laphroaig finished in Madeira-seasoned hogsheads. Unlike some Cairdeas releases, there’s no information on how old the spirit is before it goes into the finishing cask. Traditionally it is an 8 year old whisky, but this year Laphroaig has been mute on the matter of age. This is Laphroaig’s first ever Madeira-finished release, so for novelty factor alone it’s worth a look.

The nose offers classic Laphroaig notes of peaty smoke, iodine, and coal ash — an altogether easy Islay with modest maturity. On the palate, the Madeira at least starts to creep through, offering a slight, wine-laden sweetness that evokes red fruit, macerated dates, and spiced nuts. This of course all comes atop that smoky, briny base that every Laphroaig offers as a given, but that Madeira influence is ultimately very restrained. Unlike some other recent Cairdeas expressions — notably 2014’s comparably lackluster Amontillado — the Madeira seems to be elevating the base spirit, but that impact is subtle, almost to an extreme. The good news is that what’s underneath is solid enough and doesn’t need much doctoring. The Madeira-driven additions don’t add much in the end, but they do give it a little something special to remember… and at the very least they don’t detract at all.

103.2 proof.

B+ / $90 / laphroaig.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Stone Citrusy Wit, Go To IPA, Mocha IPA, and Scru Wit

stone scru wit

Four new beers have arrived from SoCal’s Stone Brewing — all ready to be sampled and sussed out. Let’s dig right in!

Stone Citrusy Wit – What’s the first thing most people do with a wheat beer? Squeeze an orange into it. Stone does that heavy lifting for you with this beer, which adds tangerine and kaffir lime leaf to the mix. That sounds better on paper than it is in the glass, where some big and funky mushroom notes blend with pungent herbs driven by the kaffir lime leaf. There’s a bare essence of a witbier somewhere in here, but it comes off as quite a bit too hoppy for a wit. 5.3% abv. C+ / $11 per six-pack

Stone Go To IPA – A sessionable, hop-heavy IPA, this is is a fruity rendition of IPA, loaded with lemons and oranges and liberally infused with a sizable amount of piney hops. You’d be hard-pressed to ID this blind as “session” anything, given its dense body, chewy palate, and the loads of authentic IPA flavor it packs. 4.8% abv. A- / $10 per six-pack of 16 oz. cans

Stone Mocha IPA – “Style-defying” is no lie: This is a double IPA with cacao and coffee added. What? Surprisingly, this isn’t a complete and utter failure. The beer offers both bracing bitterness and the classic flavors of a chocolate-spiked coffee, the former more up front, the latter more evident in the rear. How these two go together eventually starts to make sense, if you think about the bitterness of coffee, or its sometimes herbal notes (evident in a big IPA). Sure, the big piney character of a classic double gets a bit confusing in a beer meant to taste like coffee and chocolate, but as experiments go, it’s hard not to dig what Stone has come up with, at least for a pint. 9% abv. B+ / $16 per six-pack

Stone Scru Wit – This is one of Stone’s spotlight ales/pet projects, a melding of styles which probably aren’t too common in your corner store. Specifically, a Finnish sahti, a medieval European gruit, and a Belgian imperial wit, made with a recipe that includes mugwort, wormwood, and juniper berries. They call it “SahGruWit,” hence the name. The results are about what I thought they’d be: A crazy bunch of styles that probably went over better in medieval Germany than it does today. The beer finds notes of smoked grains (rauchbier-like at times), freshly turned earth, sweet malts, and a variety of canned green vegetables. It’s long on the finish, and a bit syrupy at times… but you can barely even taste the mugwort, God! 8.5% abv. B- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

stonebrewing.com

Review: Louis Jadot 2014 Macon-Villages and Beaujolais-Villages

 

louis jadot

I can’t remember the last time I had Louis Jadot’s iconic French wines — clearly I’m long overdue to take a quick trip through the Maconnais and Beaujolais regions with good old Louis. Here’s a look at two new low-cost releases, both easy summer sippers.

2014 Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay – This is classic, unoaked French Chardonnay, lush with fruit and unfiltered through the lens of woody vanilla notes. Gently floral, the wine offers solid notes of fresh apple, lemon, and honeysuckle on the back end. Fine on its own, but it shines more brightly when those floral notes can find a companion with food. B+ / $13

2014 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages – Beaujolais Nouveau gives this region a bad name, but bottlings like this prove there’s plenty of nuance in the gamay grape. This wine offers lots of young fruit, but tempers that with notes of fresh rosemary and hints of black pepper. The finish has some earthiness to it, along with clear vanilla notes, but the conclusion ends on straight-up fresh red berries that any Beaujolais drinker will instantly find familiar. Drink slightly chilled. B / $14

kobrandwineandspirits.com

Review: Kin White Whiskey

kin white whiskey

The goal of Kin White Whiskey, “born in the South” but made in Los Angeles, is to offer a moonshine without the burn, without the traditional solvent character so common in unaged whiskey. As far as that job goes, it’s mission accomplished: Kin is indeed “smooth” and decidedly unfiery, as innocuous a white spirit can be this side of vodka.

On the nose, Kin offers, well, very little: a touch of lemon and some chamomile tea. There’s a touch of rubbing alcohol — it’s impossible to get rid of completely — but nothing that any drinker will have a problem with. On the palate, there’s ample sugar — Kin is clearly doctored and sugared up more than a bit — with little more than a few citrus undertones. The finish is clean and sweet and, if I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s a fair enough example of a new world vodka.

80 proof.

B+ / $42 / kinwhitewhiskey.com

Review: The Glenrothes Bourbon Cask Reserve, Sherry Cask Reserve, Vintage Reserve, and Peated Cask Reserve

glenrothes peated

It’s a quartet of Glenrothes single malts today… all part of the new Reserve Collection that Glenrothes formally launched in 2015. These all arrive as new Malt Master Gordon Motion takes over from the venerable John Ramsay.

The first three whiskies reviewed here — Bourbon Cask Reserve, Sherry Cask Reserve, and Vintage Reserve — are each available separately as regular 750ml bottles, or as part of a “tri-set” of three 100ml bottles ($40). The newcomer, Peated Cask Reserve, is available on its own for now. Details on what’s inside each of these bottlings follow, along with a review, of course.

All four are bottled at 80 proof.

The Glenrothes Bourbon Cask Reserve – As the name implies, this whisky is exclusively drawn from bourbon cask-matured spirits from a range of years, though no specific age information is offered. The whisky drinks a lot like you’d expect from a bourbon casked single malt, with fresh grain up front followed by notes of caramel, coconut, chocolate malt balls, and a heavy nut character, both on the nose and the palate. There’s quite a bit of charcoal, tobacco, and scorched hazelnut on the back end, followed by notes of menthol. Again, it’s a classic bourbon-matured spirit, a fine example of the “base” style of single malts — those made without a finishing cask — but nothing that will feel at all unfamiliar to Scotch regulars. B / $50

The Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve – The first all first-fill sherry cask expression from The Glenrothes, matured predominantly in European oak instead of American oak. Again, no age statement; this is a blend of sherry casks of different vintages. It’s not a completely iconic example of sherry cask malt, its orange peel aromas overpowered by notes of almonds and a small touch of mint. On the palate, the citrus finds a natural companion in notes of ginger and baking spice — particularly cloves. The finish is warming and considerably longer than the Bourbon Cask Reserve, quite satisfying as lingering caramel and gentle orange notes are the last to fade. A- / $50

The Glenrothes Vintage Reserve – This expression is a mutt of a whisky, representing a vatting of a variety of vintages and cask types that includes whisky from each of the following years: 1989, 1992, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. The greatest proportion of whisky comes from the 1998 vintage. (How refreshingly transparent, eh?) The malt shows off a range of styles, coming together in a nicely balanced fashion. The nose is classic Speyside, as is the attack. Chewy, malty cereals kick things off on the palate before a wave of flavors driven by gentle citrus notes and some cinnamon bun-heavy baking spice arrive on the back end. The body feels a little thin, the finish a bit rushed, but on the whole it presents a balanced, if unsurprising, vision of Speyside. B+ / $50

The Glenrothes Peated Cask Reserve – Like any good Speyside operation, Glenrothes doesn’t peat its whisky, but with this semi-experimental release, the distillery took the Vintage 1992 single malt and gave it a temporary finishing in a used Islay cask. The idea: “to reflect a time in the distillery’s history when it formed an association with the Islay Distillery Co Ltd. in 1887.” The gentle peat on this whisky’s nose is about as innocuous as smoke can get in a peated malt. Here the lick of iodine and coal fire smoke meld quite well with an otherwise lightly sweet body, which offers notes of heather, nougat, and a light lacing of herbs. The finish brings both worlds together with aplomb — it’s got just the right mix of smoky to go with the sweet and smoky — although the whisky’s body is so light on the whole that it ultimately doesn’t leave that much of an impression. See also The Balvenie, which previously released a peated cask expression to high acclaim. B+ / $55

theglenrothes.com

Review: 2013 Resonance Pinot Noir Resonance Vineyard

resonance

Resonance Vineyard is a sleepy property in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where it’s been selling fruit to various local vintners for decades. That changed in 2013, when the property was sold to famed French wine operation Maison Louis Jadot with the intent of making an estate pinot out of it — the company’s first project outside of France. And now it’s here: the first Oregon pinot noir produced by French winemaker Jacques Lardière, appropriately named Resonance.

The results are quite good, if a bit short of what one would expect from a wine of this pedigree and price. The nose is initially a bit closed off, but time and air help the wine’s aromas evolve. There’s ample herbaceousness here, notes of fresh herbs mingling with fresh licorice and a significant amount of oak, particularly heavy for a pinot.

On the palate, notes of spearmint come immediately to the fore, backed up by gentle cherry and mixed red berry fruits, some orange peel, and more herbal notes, particularly thyme. The finish is tart, heavy with raspberry notes but also fresh, a little sweet, and, again, minty. The modest body and curious structure are both a departure from the typical profile of Oregon pinot noir, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. Good in the sense that it showcases what Oregon fruit can do; bad in the sense that it ultimately doesn’t fit in well with the regional style.

That said, this is clearly a wine that will evolve with time in bottle — I’d like to see where it goes in the next 3 to 4 years.

B+ / $65 / kobrandwineandspirits.com

Review: BridgePort Brewing Cream Ale

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This is Portland-based BridgePort’s first cream ale, a lighter style of beer that’s brewed with ale yeasts plus sees the addition of Nugget, Meridian, and Mosaic hops. Cut with malted wheat and flake oats, it is designed to have a creamy body (hence the name) and quite low, lager-like bitterness. Previously available only at the company’s Portland-located brewpub, the beer now enters year-round availability in bottles.

It’s a delightful summer quencher, creamy and mouth-filling as the name suggests, with lots of tropical fruit character to smooth out the trio of hops. The finish sees some bitterness muscling its way to the fore, a by-product of which is that it takes those fruit notes a bit closer to the overripe side of things.

4.8% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack / bridgeportbrew.com

Review: Stella Artois Cidre

Stella Artois Cidre Bottle

One of the more curious line extensions in recent years comes from Stella Artois, which after decades of making pilsner decided to launch a cider. Cidre was introduced in 2011, and came to the U.S. in 2013. Today it is one of the more widely available ciders — thanks, likely, to its ownership by Anheuser-Busch as well as the fact that it’s an easy crowd-pleaser. The U.S. Cidre is made in Baldwinsville, New York, “using apples picked from wine-growing regions in North and South America.”

As cider goes, this is made in a fresh, fizzy, and quite sweet style. The body is loaded with fresh apple juice, with overtones of lemon and orange. Again, it’s sweetness from the get-go, with just a touch of sour citrus to add a bit of balance, particularly present on the gently herbal finish. Positioned as an alternative to white wine (or, more likely, a wine cooler), Cidre fits well the profile of a poolside sipper, uncomplicated to be sure, but hard not to at least enjoy in the moment.

4.5% abv.

B+ / $9 per six-pack / stellaartois.com