Category Archives: Rated C

Review: Long Island Spirits Vodka and Liqueurs Complete Lineup

LiV espresso vodka 77x300 Review: Long Island Spirits Vodka and Liqueurs Complete LineupWe’ve covered Long Island Spirits’ straight vodka before. But recently we received a fresh bottle… along with everything else Long Island makes. Yowza.

That primarily includes a long line of liqueurs bottled under the Sorbetta brand. These are simple, natural liqueurs available only in 375ml bottles. They’re all crafted from LiV Vodka (of course), fresh fruit, and sugar.

We’re also taking a look at Long Island’s coffee-flavored vodka.

To complicate things further, Long Island also makes three whiskies, which are in our queue to be reviewed separately. Stay tuned.

Thoughts follow.

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Review: Wines for Dummies

wines for dummies 282x300 Review: Wines for DummiesSurely you’ve known there was Wine for Dummies. Now there are Wines for Dummies. Actual wines, made for dummies to drink.

Don’t act so shocked. You knew this was coming. In fact it’s a pretty good idea: Package up cheap wine in a familiar package so utter novices can get their feet wet with the stuff. At $10 a bottle, it’s a harmless — if inelegant (and, well, far from “discriminating”) — way to explore the world of vino.

To even consider drinking these wines you really do need to be an utter, rank novice. None of them are particularly good, and the iconic black+yellow+red/green labels (complete with pronunciation guides — “kee-yahn-tee“) are not something you’re going to bring to Easter brunch. Instead, they are purely for investigative purposes. Try the wines, then hide the bottles at the bottom of the recycling bin so the garbage guys don’t judge you.

That said, from a business standpoint, how great an idea is this! It’s genius, really… but why stop at wines? Where’s my Microwave for Dummies? My TV for Dummies? My Car for Dummies? If nothing else, the Dummies people should be dominating the entire grocery store. Who needs to think about what to put on their salad when they could be using Dressing for Dummies!?

Ah, progress. Thoughts on the wines follow.

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Blind Review: SkinnyGirl Margarita vs. SmarteRita

skinnygirl magarita 123x300 Blind Review: SkinnyGirl Margarita vs. SmarteRita If you’re unfamiliar with the SkinnyGirl phenomenon, either you don’t go down the booze aisle at your grocery store or you’re a dude. SkinnyGirl is one of the fastest-growing brands in the spirits (and wine) world, and its vast array of “low-cal” alcoholic beverages have ladies’ night positively abuzz.

It was only a matter of time before SkinnyGirl hit the margarita world, and this pre-mixed margie is already drawing competition. One of those competitors is called SmarteRita. It may not roll off the tongue, but really we’re more concerned about how it fares going the other way.

We put the two cocktails head to head to see how they shaped up. Both were tasted blind. Notes follow.

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Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser Line Reviewed

Discriminating drinkers aren’t immune from the mainstream, and ultra-micro-craft brews aren’t always available when you’re looking for a six pack at your local convenience store. What then about the biggest beer of them all? Today we look at the complete lineup of Budweiser beers, which now includes six different bottlings. Thoughts follow.

As the oldest beer within Anheuser-Busch’s portfolio, Budweiser defines the very meaning of a “brand.” Not only has the Budweiser name produced off-shoots of varying flavors and target demographics, but the beer’s popularity extends beyond what is contained within the bottle. With the iconic Clydesdale mascots and extensive marketing program, even consumers who don’t necessarily like beer are drawn into the fold.

Budweiser 150x132 Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser Buschs Budweiser Line ReviewedJust like its commercials, Budweiser lager is a classic. Anheuser-Busch brews Budweiser and its various siblings with rice, and the impact is readily apparent. The aroma and taste take on a neutral characteristic because of it, but it leans towards sweet as a result of the rest of the malt bill. In contrast to some of the lighter Bud offerings, this original Budweiser exhibits a noticeable graininess in the form of buttery cereal grains that add flavor. While not the focus by any stretch, hop influences creep in the nose and flavor by contributing a light fruitiness and earthy spice. C- / $6.99 per six-pack

Bud Light Platinum 41x150 Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser Buschs Budweiser Line Reviewed Continue reading

Review: Shock Top Honeycrisp Apple Wheat

Do you like apples, like Will’s blonde friend? If so, you’ll love Shock Top’s latest brew, a Belgian wheat ale brewed with honeycrisp apple cider and spices.

Shock Top Honeycrisp Apple Wheat 112x150 Review: Shock Top Honeycrisp Apple WheatIt smells and tastes exactly how you imagine it will: Tangy apple juice on the front of the palate, then a very lightly bitter, quite sweet finish. Long and lasting, it’s hard not to describe this beer in terms that don’t invoke the word “Mott’s.” I say that out of all the love in my heart, but this is the kind of beer that will require a drinker with a very specific point of view.

5.2% abv.

C / $8 per six-pack / shocktopbeer.com

Review: Ventura Limoncello and Orangecello

Based in Ventura County, California, Ventura makes limoncello year-round from SoCal lemons and produces orangecello from local blood oranges on a seasonal basis. (A limoncello crema is also made.) We sampled the two main products. Thoughts follow.

Both are 58 proof. No artificial colors or flavors added. Continue reading

Review: Soiree Bottle-top Wine Decanter & Aerator

soiree 86x300 Review: Soiree Bottle top Wine Decanter & AeratorWe’ve covered wine aerators in the past and are generally bullish on their utility. The problem, of course, is bulk. Where do you keep this thing? And what do you do about all the wine dripping off of it when it’s not hovering over a glass.

Enter Soiree: A wine aerator that attaches to the top of a wine bottle and aerates as you pour.

Great idea, but the execution doesn’t quite work. The main problem is that, to get your aeration going, you have to turn the bottle of wine virtually upside down. This takes a massive leap of faith that the Soiree is not going to fall out of the bottle’s neck… and even more confidence that you can successfully turn a full bottle of wine over 180 degrees and manage to get that wine to land on target in the glass. This is tough. Turning the bottle back over when you’re done, without spilling, is even tougher. Continue reading

Review: Smirnoff Iced Cake and Kissed Caramel Vodkas

The company that brought us Fluffed Marshmallow vodka is back with more flavors that would have Rasputin rolling in his grave. Here’s what will be haunting beach bars in 2013.

For what it’s worth, my wife enthused about the dessert-drink worthiness of both of these concoctions, and in modest proportions, she might be right, although Smirnoff is really pushing the sugar to the point where I expected to see crystals of the stuff to settle out at the bottom of the bottle. Both are 60 proof.

Smirnoff Iced Cake Vodka – Imagine a child’s ultra-sugary birthday cake. Now imagine a child ate that cake and then threw up. The sweetness here is so strong it’s overpowering even to smell. One sip will coat your mouth for 15 minutes or more with the flavor of a white cake that’s been put through a blender and spiked with extra frosting (this is Iced Cake after all). You can’t taste a lick of alcohol. C+

Smirnoff Kissed Caramel Vodka – Caramel is the It Flavor of 2012, and the vodkas are coming out in droves. Equally overpowering on the nose and body, the caramel flavors here are so strong and sweet they will suck the fillings right out of your teeth and leave you quivering in a diabetic coma. As with the Iced Cake version, it’s both uncannily authentic and entirely synthetic. C

$14 each / smirnoff.com

Review: Wemyss Single Cask Single Malts, 2012 Releases

Wemyss (“weems”) Malts, based in Edinburgh, has become well known for its blended malt whiskys in a small number of years (it was founded in 2005). But Wemyss also releases a periodic series of single malt whiskys, all bottled from single casks, following a number of prior, limited-edition releases along these lines and in keeping with the fancifully-named whiskys of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

For 2012 Wemyss is putting out four new single malt single cask whiskys. Each of these is essentially a privately bottled whisky from another distillery (see details below). One important distinction: Each is bottled not at cask strength but at 92 proof. All were bottled in August 2011.

Wemyss Single Malt “A Day at the Coast” 14 Years Old – A Highland 14 year old hogshead from Clynelish Distillery. Tastes younger than you’d think, with lots of grain character left behind. Brisk orange and sherry notes, with a bit of a burnt caramel, seaweed, and bittersweet chocolate finish. Dusty, chewy, and salty all at once. 354 bottles made. B+ / $110

Wemyss Single Malt “A Matter of Smoke” 15 Years Old – An Islay 15 year old hogshead from Caol Ila Distillery. At least this one is fairly straightforward. Lots of smoky peat, but not overwhelming, with plenty of sweetness to back it up. There’s more of a biting medicinal character than I might like, an antiseptic feeling that lingers on the finish. That’s common with Islay, of course, but there’s also a tanginess here that is at once enjoyable and a bit disarming. 337 bottles made. B / $135

Wemyss Single Malt “Winter Larder” 20 Years Old – A Speyside 20 year old butt from Glen Elgin Distillery. Deep mahogany — distinctly different than the others in this series. Noses of cocoa powder and barbecued meat, the latter of which grows stronger as you take a sip. Notes of licorice, and a distinct, tarry petrol character come along later. More tannin, like “The Dunes” (see below). Tough to love. 654 bottles made. C / $130

Wemyss Single Malt “The Dunes” 29 Years Old – A Highland 29 year old hogshead from Inchgower Distillery. Surprisingly light in color for a whisky this old. Very sawdusty and sandy (perhaps that’s where “the dunes” comes from), the whisky starts off light but quickly turns toward meatier tones, like bacon fat and salted pork. The finish is tough and tannic. Not a fan. 202 bottles made. D+ / $185

wemyssmalts.com

BUY THEM HERE!

wemyss 2012 single malts Review: Wemyss Single Cask Single Malts, 2012 Releases

Review: El Cartel Tequila

El Cartel tequila 199x300 Review: El Cartel TequilaThis new brand, the brainchild of Mike Hamod, was created to be “the Ciroc of tequila” as its goal — courtesy of celebrity sponsorship that includes Daddy Yankee, Jermaine Dupri, and Eddie Griffin. Made of 100% agave in the Highlands of Jalisco, it is initially available in two varieties, a silver expression and (wait for it) a silver tequila infused with gold flakes.

Thoughts follow. Both are 80 proof.

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Review: “Wines That Rock”

AC/DC isn’t the only band on the block that can put its name on a label. Up next, an entire line of rockin’ vino, inspired by some of the biggest acts of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Winemaker Mark Beaman brings us five new wines, largely from Mendocino, with labels from The Police, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, and Pink Floyd. All four are reds, and there’s a Woodstock Chardonnay to round out the crowd.

How do they taste? Well, to be honest, it feels a bit like more money has been spent on licensing names and artwork than on grapes and winemaking. But for the classic rock lover in the house, well, odds are these wines will never opened, right?

I (perhaps ridiculously) tasted two of the members of the lineup. Thoughts follow.

2008 The Police “Synchronicity” Red Wine Blend Mendocino – As the name indicates, this is a blend of red grapes from Mendocino. Otherwise the details of the bottling are a mystery. Inky and dense, it’s like drinking watery/melted boysenberry jam, spiked with alcohol. Nuance? Not here. This is a punchy wine that will make you the “King of Pain” after one sip. D

2009 Rolling Stones “Forty Licks” Merlot Mendocino County – A passable but not delicious Merlot. Surprisingly tart, with some raspberry and brewed tea flavors, but a lot of more raw, simple alcohol notes. This mellows out with time in the glass, but it ain’t “Brown Sugar.” C

$50 per three-pack / winesthatrock.com

 

Review: Old St. Andrews Clubhouse Blend Scotch Whisky

Golf and Scotch go together like hand in glove. Another thing they share in common: Novelties.

Old St. Andrews is unabashedly a novelty whisky, packaged in various fanciful bottles. This one, the “Clubhouse Blend,” comes in an oversized golf ball. One of the target markets for this whisky, per the company, is a “romantic idealist” looking for a “curiosity.”

So there’s that.

What’s inside is almost incidental to the packaging. It’s blended Scotch. Young stuff, not much to it. Caramel colored, to be sure. Heavy grain on the nose. Malty, lightly hot body. Vaguely sweet with citrus notes, but nothing overly distinctive or memorable. Rustic on the finish, with some heat. If you like the golf ball decanter I guess you can always fill it with something else, right?

80 proof. On sale beginning September 2012.

C / $22 (500ml bottle) / osawhisky.com

old st andrews clubhouse blend scotch whisky Review: Old St. Andrews Clubhouse Blend Scotch Whisky

Review: Storm Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

From Glasgow’s Whisky Shack Company (a private bottler, retailer, and jack of all trades in the booze biz) comes this new whisky blend. No age statement, but the motto is “Malt Whisky with a PEATY finish.” The blend comprises mainly coastal distilleries, plus some Islay spirit.

Very young — the darkish color is not of much help here — it is raw grain, almost corn character, that dominates the nose. This gives Storm a bit of a rough edge from the start, which is actually in keeping with the name if you think about it.

Moving into the palate we find more of that grain character, lasting and malty. Really, pretty funky, and the secondary characteristics of nougat and honey are lost in the shuffle.

C / $30 / whiskyshack.com

Storm blended whisky Review: Storm Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Review: Scottish Spirits Single Grain “Scotch in a Can”

Your eyes do not deceive you. That is a 12-ounce aluminum can and yes it is filled with Scotch whisky.

This is a new frontier for hard spirits, the first time whisky (or any spirit) has been approved in the U.S. for sale in a can format. In addition to the presentation questions, the public safety concerns are probably obvious: Something served in a can is likely to be consumed in one sitting (or shotgunned). But with eight full shots of booze in each can, that could be downright deadly to a drinker.

Scottish Spirits is getting around this concern to some degree by including with each can a latex top that allows the spirit to be resealed. It’s opened like any standard pop-top, but when you’re finished for the day, you simply put the latex bit back on top to seal it.

As for what’s inside, it’s Scotch, just not single malt. The somewhat misleadingly named “single grain whisky” means it is made from a combination of base grains (including barley, corn, wheat, rye, and others) — but it is made at a single distillery, not blended from a variety of them like a standard blended Scotch. It is aged three years before being bottled… er, canned.

The taste: Better than I expected, but not undrinkable. Heavy raw grain character is indicative mostly of the youth of the spirit: It is heavy on the nose with rye bread and crackers, with similar traits — almost yeasty — on the tongue. The finish is dry and lightly orange at times.

This whisky is extremely simple and discriminating drinkers are unlikely to find much to grab onto here. Soccer hooligans looking for something to swig on all afternoon may have a different opinion, of course. After all, this is one canned beverage that doesn’t even need to be chilled.

Enjoy cautiously.

C / $5 per 12 oz. can / scottishspirits.com

scotch in a can Review: Scottish Spirits Single Grain Scotch in a Can

Review: Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Grogs and Vodka

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery (aka Ye Ole Grog Distillery) is a St. Helens, Oregon-based outfit specializing in, well, grog. Many enamored with the lives of pirates have probably invoked he word grog in some fashion or another… but don’t really know what it is. So, what is it?

In the old days, grog mainly meant rum watered down either with regular water or some form of beer. Served aboard ships, it was intended to make the rum last longer during those lengthy voyages… and keep the crew from getting completely sloshed. The term has of course evolved since then. There are grogs that are basically spiced rums, grogs that are mixes of juice and booze, and grogs that mean pretty much anything in the alcoholic spirits category. And now there is this “grog.”

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery’s product begins with grain neutral spirit feed stock that is “treated with a weathered, time-proven, natural process” that comes out of Russia. This is distilled in a pot still and used as a base for the three products below. What are they? For purposes of classification, one is a vodka (and is called such), and the two grogs fly closest to flavored vodka by virtue of their process of creation. I don’t know if names really matter, though. Feel free to just call ‘em “grog!”

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Dog Watch Vodka – This is essentially a re-distilled version of the above described base spirit, unfiltered, unflavored, and bottled at 80 proof. Put simply, this is unlike any vodka you’ve ever had. Everything about it screams unaged rum or even pisco: Hard-edged with a bitter body, gasoline notes, and a tough finish. A thinner version of a rhum agricole in flavor, this didn’t thrill me on its own, but I could see it working as a substitute for white rum in a handful of coctails. C / $25

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Good Morning Glory Grog – This spirit is sweetened with blue agave nectar, flavored with four (unlisted) natural flavors, and bottled at 70 proof. Wow, this is a different experience than the above. The nose: cinnamon and buttered popcorn. On the palate, overwhelming sweetness, which makes that cinnamon and popcorn taste more like Hot Tamales and popcorn Jelly Belly candies. Ultra-sweet, it’s difficult to handle much of this straight. C- / $25

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Dutch Harbor Breeze – This spirit is flavored with six flavors, sweetened with agave nectar, aged in charred oak barrels and with cinnamon (sticks in the barrel, I presume) for an unspecified length of time, then bottled at 100 proof. There’s so much going on with this that one barely knows where to start. Intense cinnamon and licorice notes on the nose are just the start. On the tongue those flavors are ramped up massively, turning into a burn-heavy root beer with a smoky, woody kick to it. This intense fruitcake-in-a-glass has more charm than its compadres, but the body is so powerful that it puts everything else to shame, even something as intense as Fernet Branca. As a dash of flavor in a cocktail this could offer a splash of something exotic. On its own, however, it’s just too wild to be overly dangerous. C+ / $30

Review: Wines of Batasiolo

Beni di Batasiolo is based in the heart of Italy’s Piedmont region, where it makes a variety of wines from the simple to the complex and massive. We tasted four, courtesy of our friends at U.S. import company Boisset.

NV Batasiolo Moscato Rose Dolce – Pretty typical of the modern Moscato resurgence: Very sweet, low alcohol (7.5%), a combination of ripe strawberry and moderate floral notes, the latter particularly present on the nose. A bit much in the sugar department for me. B / $14

2010 Batasiolo Gavi DOCG – Brisk and fresh, a great example of how great Gavi can really be. Notes of pineapple, lemon, fresh green apple, and an acidic finish with touches of chalk. Wonderful little white, perfect for drinking solo or with dinner. A- / $15

2009 Batasiolo Sovrana Barbera d’Alba DOC – The nose is enticing with a rich earthiness, but the body doesn’t back it up. Thin, tart, and redolent with canned fruit character and a sour, gummy bear-like finish. Unpleasant at first, it improves a bit with time in the glass. C / $20

2007 Batasiolo Barolo DOCG – What a surprise — and a wonderful wine. Those expecting mega-tannic Barolo will be quieted immediately by this rich and intensely aromatic Nebbiolo-based wine, but the balance is already showing. Lots of herbal notes — rosemary and bay leaf — balance out a rich plum core, plus a touch of smoke on the end. Easy sipping, especially with dinner, and a great value for Barolo. A / $40

boissetfamilyestates.com

Review: Dutch’s Spirits Sugar Wash Moonshine and Peach Brandy

Built atop the underground distilling and bootlegging operation of the gangster Dutch Schultz (and on family land now owned by co-founder Alex Adams), Dutch’s Spirits is a new New York-based distillery that’s attacking the spirits industry with some unexpected products — no gin or whiskey here, be warned!

We tasted Dutch’s two inaugural spirits. Thoughts on each follow.

Dutch’s Spirits Sugar Wash Moonshine – This white spirit is a tribute to Schultz’s “own hooch,” a white spirit distilled from 100% Demerara sugar in copper pot stills. I wasn’t entirely sure how to classify this oddity, since it’s technically a rum (and a rhum agricole or cachaca at that) but isn’t branded as such. It is closest in style to a Puerto Rico-style white rum, with smoothed-over flavors of vanilla and a touch of chocolate to it. There’s none, however, of those gasoline flavors or raw alcohol notes you get with most cachaca and none of the burning heat of the typical corn-based moonshine. Moderate body with a lightly floral and herbal finish. The name may be a bit baffling, but the results are impressive if you’re a rum fan and are looking for something unique. A / $28

Dutch’s Spirits Peach Brandy – Americans are simply not drinking enough peach brandy. It’s a fact. I’m not sure that Dutch’s version of it is going to change that. While the nose offers lots of fresh fruit flavors — more apricot and apple than peach — the body is not nearly sweet enough to carry the day. Deeply bitter, the fruit notes are washed under the base alcohol’s astringency, though you can tell there are some deep and lush fruit flavors and brown sugar-sweetness just dying to get out. Much better as a cocktail flavoring agent (in small quantities) than on its own. C / $42

dutchsspirits.com

Review: Refine Zero Calorie Mixers

Refine says it aims to “refine” the skinny cocktail with these zero-calorie mixers. Flavored with stevia, they’re available in 32 oz. bottles in three flavors.

Refine Margarita Mix – Bright yellow, looks supernatural. Tastes very tart, with lots of intense lemon/lime soda character, but with a chalkiness that recalls Crystal Light granules (thanks, I’m sure, to all the citric acid in the mix). Could be worse. B-

Refine Mojito Mix – Unthrilling, this mostly clear mixer doesn’t really recall fresh lime or mint, just a vague sweetness that could be mistaken for a flat 7-Up. Could be better. C-

Refine Cosmopolitan Mix – The bright pink color is misleading, but this mixer has surprisingly more lime character than the mojito does. After that, a touch of strawberry or raspberry, more Jolly Rancher than fresh fruit. Not unpalatable, but the chemical aftertaste is rough on this one. C

each $9 per 32 oz. bottle / refinemixers.com

refine mixers Review: Refine Zero Calorie Mixers

Review: Mathilde Poire and Framboise Liqueurs

These 100 percent natural liqueurs from France are staples of many a cocktail bar. We recently tasted two of the company’s five available varieties.

Mathilde Poire Liqueur is a mild on the nose, and quite sweet on first sip. Pear isn’t particularly predominant except on the first rush of flavor. That sweetness grows and grows, leaving a thick, almost cloying finish on the palate — and very little pear character to speak of. This one’s tough to swallow (literally) in all but small quantities. 36 proof. C

Mathilde Framboise Liqueur is a raspberry spirit, deep crimson in color and mildly fragrant of vague berries. The taste: Pure raspberry jam, extremely sweet, loaded with Jolly Rancher-like raspberry flavor. Maybe some strawberry, too. It’s a much different (and less satisfying) beast than Chambord, the king of raspberry liqueur, which (compared side by side) is richer, earthier, and with a seriously pronounced nose. Chambord’s chocolate notes give it a lot more depth. In comparison, Mathilde is really a juicy, one-trick pony. 36 proof. B-

each $15 per 375ml bottle / mathildeliqueur.com

Tasting the Wines of DiamAndes de Uco

Argentina’s Bodega DiamAndes is a project born of the Pessac-Leognan based Chateau Malartic Lagraviere. The winery is now releasing three new affordable varietals, which we looked at alongside its even less expensive Perlita bottling.

2010 DiamAndes de Uco Viognier Mendoza – Smells legit with peach and apricot notes, but there’s an overwhelming, vegetal bitterness in the body. Better with food. C / $19

2010 DiamAndes de Uco Chardonnay Mendoza – More body, with a solid buttery character, and some exotic, tropical fruit character in the finish. Avoids woodiness and weediness, mercifully. B+ / $19

2010 DiamAndes de Uco Malbec Mendoza – Thin and a bit weedy, not at all hearty like great Malbecs should be. A little more balance — along with some interesting chocolate and cinnamon notes — comes along with time in the glass, but I am unconvinced it’s worth the wait. C+ / $19

2010 Perlita by DiamAndes Malbec-Syrah Mendoza - A considerable improvement over the Malbec, surprisingly, with bright, jammy flavors and plenty of strawberry fruit. Simple, but easygoing. A fun alternative to Zinfandel. B / $15

diamandes.com