Category Archives: Rated C

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

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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

Review: Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey and Single Malt 10 Year Old

Irish whiskey brand Michael Collins has been on a tear this year — taking advantage of the recent upsurge in popularity of Irish whiskey, no doubt — rebranding, repackaging its spirits (the old bottles were monstrosities), and replacing its old Single Malt whiskey with a new, age-statemented, Single Malt 10 Year Old whiskey.

We re-sampled the original Blend and tasted the new 10 Year Old, too. Both are 80 proof.

Michael Collins “Double Distilled” Blended Irish Whiskey – In theory this is the same whiskey as the prior Blend, but putting the two side by side, there really do appear to be some minor differences — and improvements — here. The color is more amber, less green, and the body seems somewhat more present and full, absent the somewhat vegetal notes (or hay, perhaps) of the version we reviewed in 2008. There’s more sweetness, and more malt, better balance on the whole. The most welcome change is that although the proof levels are the same, there’s less pungent alcohol overall, a problem that really marred the older version. I don’t know if the recipe has changed significantly, but all spirits do change and evolve over time due to the vagaries of production and the mysteries that come along with the aging process (and it’s something to keep in mind when you read older reviews of just about anything). In this case, evolution is a good thing. B+ / $30

Michael Collins Single Malt 10 Years Old Irish Whiskey – Darker in color, a bright orange almost, lots of alcohol on the nose. I sampled this at a recent whisky event and was immediately unimpressed. A formal tasting didn’t change that opinion much: This malt is just unfascinating, with an initial rush of booziness, and a big punch of wood soon after. (Perhaps the quest for an impressive age statement resulted in too much time in oak?) This moves into a kind of cloudy smokiness, with a whopper of a finish that reminds one of deeply charred wood, moss, and intense vegetation. Most of all, this is not in balance. The finish hot, bothersome, and not very inviting. The good news is that returning to the Blend for a sip afterward helps to even this whiskey out. C / $38

michaelcollinswhiskey.com

michael collins whiskey Review: Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey and Single Malt 10 Year Old

Review: Wines of Bodegas Farina

Bodegas Farina is one of the oldest family wineries in Toro, a poorly-known wine region in Spain that’s northwest of Madrid, near Salamanca and the northeast corner of Portugal. (Ribera del Duero is the best-known nearby region, off to the east.)

The bodega makes seven wines, most coming in at relatively low (13-14 percent) alcohol levels due to the early harvesting of grapes. How well does this work out? Notes on three of the wines, all under the Dama de Toro label, follow.

2010 Bodegas Farina Dama de Toro Malvasia – Funky, with lots of off herbal notes. Opens up with continued sipping, but not a lot. Some lemon on the finish, but not enough to add a lot of charm. Made from 100-year-old Malvasia vines. C / $11

2005 Bodegas Farina Dama de Toro Crianza - A simple and unchallenging red, fairly thin body, with mild, muted fruit character: Strawberry, a touch of plum. Really easy-drinking, but can’t stand up to food. Aged eight months; Tinta de Toro with 6% Garnacha. B / $17

2006 Bodegas Farina Gran Dama de Toro – Easily the most complicated of this trinity, with distinct tobacco, cedar, and evergreen notes. Long finish, though it turns a bit toward bitter. Could use more fruit in the body, but overall quite interesting and nice with a complementary meal. Spends 15 months in oak. From 80+ year old vines. 94% Tempranillo with 6% Garnacha. B+ / $45

damadetoro.com

Review: Don Julio 70 Tequila Anejo Claro

Take an anejo tequila and filter out the color, and what do you have? Don Julio 70, a new — clear — tequila with the character of an anejo.

Don Julio claims that 70 is the world’s first anejo claro, and depending on how you look at it, that’s true: Maestro Dobel does the exact same thing, but it is a blend of reposado, anejo, and extra anejo tequilas, filtered back to white. Technically it would only be considered a reposado if bottled unfiltered. But really this is an old trick that the rum industry mastered long ago. That it is now coming to the tequila world is only a mild surprise.

And so back to Don Julio 70. Composed of 18-month-old anejo tequila, filtered back to silver, I tried it side by side with both Don Julio Blanco (tasting tough and a bit green) and Don Julio Anejo (rich, caramel, cocoa-finished, quite lovely). Don Julio 70 is, surprisingly, a whole different beast. I was expecting something close to the Anejo, but that’s not the case. The nose is distinctly redolent of bananas and light wood, a weird combination of flavors that are not harmonious in the nostrils. The palate is another thing altogether. Here a butterscotch sweetness takes hold, attempted to wrestle with the wood. It fails, and the wood overwhelms everything. It’s quite jarring compared to the smooth richness of the (unaltered) Anejo, yet none of the brash agave notes that the Blanco provides.

I tried it against Dobel just for kicks, and the spirits could not be more different. Dobel adhere’s closely to its agave roots, while punching things up with a bit of sweetness yet keeping it all in balance. DJ70 is like walking into a Pier One store, full of potpourri and more wicker baskets than you can count.

80 proof.

C / $70 / donjulio.com

Don Julio 70 Review: Don Julio 70 Tequila Anejo Claro

Review: Haras Wines

Haras de Pirque, or just “Haras,” hails from Chile’s Maipo Valley, where it produces a series of very affordable wines, inspired by the winery’s love of horses.

Tasted twice. The first round of wines were clearly damaged by heat in shipping.

2010 Haras Sauvignon Blanc Maipo Valley – Tropical nose, with a touch of lemon character. Slight vegetal finish, but otherwise quite drinkable, particularly at this price. B / $10

2010 Haras Chardonnay Maipo Valley – Simple and inoffensive, with a mild body compared to most Chilean Chardonnays. A bit buttery, and a bit of lemon, but not a lot of nuance or, surprisingly, fruit character beyond that. B / $12

2009 Haras Carmenere Maipo Valley – A big licorice thing, funky on the nose with raisin and prune notes. Incredibly over-jammy, with some black pepper, but not really in balance. C- / $12

2008 Haras Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley -  Similar character, but with a slightly better balance than the Carmenere. Just too much fruit.C / $12

2007 Haras Character Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenere Maipo Valley (pictured) – A blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Carmenere, 10% Syrah, and 13% Cabernet Franc. Easily the best red in this crowd, but still intense with prune and cooked fruit character. Mildly better balance than either of the prior two wines, but still has room for improvement. C+ / $20

harasdepirque.com

haras character Review: Haras Wines

Review: Bols Sweet Tea Liqueur

Don’t have any sweet tea vodka on hand (that’s odd, because there are nearly a dozen brands of the stuff on the market now)? Now you can easily fake your own, thanks to Bols Sweet Tea Liqueur.

Bols Sweet Tea Liqueur, as the name would imply, is the essence of tea boiled down into a viscous, 48-proof syrup. It’s authentic in color (caramel is added to brown it out), and the nose is pungent: Strong, like tea that’s been seeping for a full day, and sweetened to within an inch of its life. On the palate, overwhelming sweet, and oddly chalky, more like instant Lipton’s than freshly brewed tea. The tea flavor is there, but it comes across as artificial (Bols doesn’t say whether it’s natural or not), and the overwhelmingly sweet finish is cloying.

In a world of gorgeous sweet tea vodkas, this isn’t just depressing — it’s lazy.

C / $11 / bolscocktails.com

Bols Sweet Tea liqueur Review: Bols Sweet Tea Liqueur

Book Review: Exploring Wine

exploring wine 237x300 Book Review: Exploring WineEvery wine drinker needs one (and only one) book like this: A magnificent, encyclopedia-sized tome that tells you everything you can possibly want to know about wine in a single book. Or tries to, anyway.

As such a subject is basically unmasterable, the goal with a mega-book like this is to be as comprehensive as possible while leaving out the obtuse junk that no one cares about.

My current bookshelf pick, Andre Domine’s Wine, does a good job of this, highlighting every region you could care to investigate, mapping them intricately, and highlighting the best producers in each.

Now comes Exploring Wine‘s third edition, from Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith, and Michael A. Weiss, in conjunction with the Culinary Institute of America. It’s a 791-page monster, and yet it feels slight. Various regions and wine styles get a mere paragraph or two in Exploring Wine. Even big areas, like the French Languedoc region, get less than two pages total, not much more than California’s Livermore Valley is granted. It’s strange and inconsistent, to say the least.

Exploring Wine doesn’t dwell much on specific wines or producers, aiming instead for more of a global look at the wine trade (even China and India get some ink), how the wine business works, and, for about a third of the book, discussing how wine pairs with food (not surprising considering the CIA’s involvement in the book). Interesting stuff if you’re trying to open a restaurant and train your teenage staff on how to sell wine, I guess, but it’s not right for a consumer. The front of the book is just too vague, and the back end is too industry-specific. Sorry, guys, I’m sticking with Wine for now.

C / $39 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Buffalo Trace 2011 Experimental Collection – 1989, 1991, and 1993 Rediscovered Vintages

Buffalo Trace is a monster distillery, with 150,000 barrels of whiskey in inventory at any given time. 1,500 of those are “experimental” — wild stabs at genius from whomever’s manning the still that day — and every now and again Buffalo Trace sifts through the ricks to see what’s out there. Sometimes they even sell it.

With this round, Buffalo found a few dozen barrels of ancient whiskey — 17 to 21 years old — with unknown provenance, hailing from its acquisition of the Old Charter brand. As Bourbon brand manager Kris Comstock notes, of the barrels, “one was empty, one tasted horrible, and the others tasted very nice.” They bottled the others as three (very) old Bourbons and, considering their age, are selling them for a song. We tried all three.

Buffalo Trace 2011 Experimental Collection 1989 Barrels, Rediscovered - 21 years old. Harsh and rough. Quite bitter on the palate, with notes of sawdust, pinecones, and shelled nuts. Mostly it’s proof that yes, there is such a thing as a whiskey that’s too old. Even water doesn’t help the 1989 much. This is a Bourbon that is tired and well past its prime. C

Buffalo Trace 2011 Experimental Collection 1991 Barrels, Rediscovered - 19 years old. Quite an improvement over the 1989, with bracing sweetness and huge notes of toffee, caramel, and lots of spice — orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, and more — in the finish. Shockingly balanced and a real revelation in comparison to the dead ’89. Gorgeous. I’d drink this any day. A

Buffalo Trace 2011 Experimental Collection 1993 Barrels, Rediscovered - 17 years and 7 months old. A hot burner, with a rye kick to it, but ultimately it reveals itself as a great, old Bourbon — full of caramel and finishing with oranges, cinnamon, and lots of warmth. A worthy little brother to the ’91, as well it should be. A-

$47 each per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

buffalo trace Experimental Rediscovered Barrels Review: Buffalo Trace 2011 Experimental Collection   1989, 1991, and 1993 Rediscovered Vintages

Review: Firefly Skinny Tea Flavored Vodka

How do you cut the calorie level from a flavored vodka? Throttle down the alcohol level and cut out the sugar.

The first idea is probably not a bad thing. The second one is what kills the deal. Firefly Skinny Tea opts for artificial sweetener instead of sugar, and to say that mars the “sweet tea” effect is an understatement. It starts out all right, with a big brewed tea nose and character, but then the artifice comes on, coating the mouth and leaving a cloying finish. I couldn’t shake the aftertaste — literally for several minutes I was tasting this gummy, rubbery gunk that I just couldn’t get out of my mouth. The only solution: Another sip. That’s a vicious cycle you got right there.

With a mixer like lemonade this might be more palatable, but as it stands, it, like so many things in life, it’s a tradeoff that just isn’t worth it. What are you saving for your trouble: In a 1.5-ounce shot, a whopping 27 calories. Kick out a crouton instead and stick with the Firefly classic.

60 proof.

C / $18 / fireflyvodka.com

Fitrefly Skinny Tea vodka Review: Firefly Skinny Tea Flavored Vodka