Review: Bolla Prosecco and Sparkling Rose

BL_Prosecco_DOCBolla makes wines in a wide range of qualities, but these sparklers decidedly tip the lowest end of the price scale. Thoughts follow.

NV Bolla Prosecco Treviso DOC –  100% Glera grapes. Harmless, with a moderate level of carbonation and fruit right from the start. The body offers big apple and pear notes, touches of grapefruit, and a finish reminiscent of creamy vanilla wafers. Like many budget Proseccos, it is simultaneously unmemorable and wholly drinkable on a hot day. B / $10

NV Bolla Sparkling Rose Wine – Don’t call it Prosecco: This sparkler is merely from “Italy” (actually the Veneto region, the very home of Prosecco) and is made from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Raboso grapes. Very light fizz. Very fruity, with strong peach overtones and notes of cotton candy. The sugary sweetness goes on for days. It’s not sparkling white zinfandel, but it’s edging dangerously close to that territory. C / $12

bolla.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon Warehouse Floor Experiments

Buffalo Trace Warehouse Floor Experiment

More tinkering in the form of experimental whiskeys from the mad scientists at Buffalo Trace. This is one of the company’s most interesting and telling ones to date: Three 12-year-old, rye-heavy bourbons each aged on a different floor of Buffalo Trace’s massive Warehouse K (floors 1, 5, and 9). Warehouse K is built of brick, with wooden floors (because that seems to matter, too).

The same Bourbon, in the same building, just aged on a different floor. Why on earth would the aging floor matter? Simple, as any middle school science student can tell you: Heat rises. The lower floors are relatively cool. The top floors are scorching hot. This impacts aging in a direct and profound way — in part, because water and alcohol evaporate at different temperatures. (That said, all three of these whiskeys are bottled at 90 proof to make comparisons considerably easier.)

And so, how do these compare side by side by side? Let’s take a look…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Rye Bourbon – Floor #1 – Aged on the bottom floor. Some funky notes of olives and green pepper hit the nose at first, with plenty of sweet stuff riding on its coattails. The palate is sharp and fiery, with elements of burnt butter, cayenne, and ample sawdust in contrast to its toffee notes. Balance is a mess, flavors hitting you from every which way. C

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Rye Bourbon – Floor #5 – Aged right in the middle, but is it the Goldilocks of the group? It’s not as different as you might expect, those olive notes still hanging on, but to a much less powerful degree. Floor #5 settles down much more fully and quickly, revealing more of a rounded butter toffee note that’s fused with a melange of cloves, candied pineapple, and lumberyard notes. It’s still a bit rough around the edges, but overall more palatable and approachable than Floor #1. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Rye Bourbon – Floor #9 – From the hot top floor, where some of BT’s blue chip Bourbons, like George T. Stagg, are sourced. This is clearly the best of the bunch, featuring toasted marshmallows and more gentle wood notes on the nose, followed by a body that is lush with brown sugar sweetness, cinnamon and cloves, vanilla caramels, and cake frosting. Gorgeous in structure, and radically different than the other two installments in this series. Grab it if you find it! A

each $46 (375ml) / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Town Branch Bourbon

Town_Branch_Bourbon__65405_zoomFull confession: the first batch of this stuff was so bereft of quality, it was not uncommon to passive-aggressively serve generous pours to irritating house guests in hopes of expediting its stay on the shelf to the recycling bin. A few years since its initial release, reconsideration is warranted; with the hopes of quality control finally living up to its purpose.

As usual, a bit of context: Town Branch is made by AllTech, not a small family operation as you might expect by that folksy company name but rather a large conglomerate specializing in animal feed and nutrition. The company also makes a reasonably tasty bourbon-barreled stout and ale. Town Branch takes it namesake from the body of water on which the city of Lexington was founded, and boasts to be the first (legally) produced bourbon within the city limits in quite some time. It also has a rather limited distribution chain, so availability no doubt plays into its cachet. The mashbill is also somewhat peculiar in that it meets the 51% corn standard, but it uses only malted barley as the secondary ingredient, eschewing the traditional wheat or rye.

The color is a wonderful amber hue behind rather pleasant packaging: the bottle is gorgeous, the label not so much (typography and text is a bit tough to translate at points). But as the saying tells us not to judge books by their cover, let’s go deeper. The nose offers up much sweetness: traces of fruit and butterscotch immediately followed by mild oak and sawdust. The sweetness stays throughout and really doesn’t let up through the entire experience, and the finish is like a 4th of July firecracker: short and… sweet. A bit of a bang mixed with caramel, bananas, bread, and a mild burn. Those liking drinking matters smooth and easy may find the experience enjoyable, but for those who want to know they’re drinking bourbon and not a bourbon-inspired liqueur, this may not be the best bottle to bring to the table.

At 40% abv, it’s pretty tame when compared to other bourbons at the $30 price point. There’s also talk of a rye expression arriving on shelves in short order, which shall hopefully add the much-needed punch and unveil greater potential than what’s showcased here. I’ll most likely revisit this again in another two years, when this trial is far from fresh in my memory.

80 proof.

C / $27 / kentuckyale.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Six Ciders from Tieton Cider Works

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It’s time for a gaggle of apple ciders from Tieton Cider Works, based in Tieton, Washington. TCW makes at least 10 different products. Here we review a half dozen, all spins on the classic apple cider formula, and arranged from dryest to sweetest. Enjoy.

Tieton Cider Works Tieton Blend Cider Dry – English style cider, bone dry with barely a hint of sweetness. This is a tough one for those more accustomed to fruitier, sweeter ciders, and even after putting on my dryest of dry white wine hats, I couldn’t cut through it. Herbs and minerals abound here, but the overall effect is like a weak sauvignon blanc. 7% abv. C

Tieton Cider Works Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider Dry – Dry cider blended with local hops. Cider plus beer is known as a “snakebite,” but I’ve never seen anyone actually drink one. Here, the sweet, sour, and bitter are combine to create an initially off-putting concoction, but over time your palate adjusts and reveals a complex and unique brew. The sour apple notes remain the heaviest component, the hops largely blowing off to show themselves primarily as a hint on the finish. 6.9% abv. C+

Tieton Cider Works Wild Washington Apple Cider Semi-Dry – Aptly described, with tart and sweet elements. Lots of mineral notes here, along with an earthy (“wild,” perhaps) pungency on the nose. This is a cider for those who are OK with sweeter stuff, but who might want to experience a somewhat dryer beverage from time to time. 7% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Apricot Cider Semi-Dry – Blended with apricots, naturally. Quite fruity, with strong overtones of fresh and dried apricots. Seems sweeter than “semi-dry” would indicate, with a biting acidity on the finish. The simplest, but perhaps the best, of the bunch. 6.9% abv. B+

Tieton Cider Works Apple Cherry Cider Semi-Sweet – Plenty of cherry flavor up front here, so much so that it almost drinks like pomegranate/cherry juice. Heavy sour notes on the finish abate over time, leaving behind the essence of fruit, with an almost mineral edge to it. Not bad. 6.9% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Blossom Nectar Cider Sweet – Includes apple blossoms in the mix. Quite sweet, and indeed very floral, with a pleasant balance between tart apple and the perfumy, rose-scented blossoms. The perfume does take on a “grandma’s house” note over time, particularly as it warms up, but hey, you’re drinking cider, so stop moaning. 7% abv. B+

$42.60 as a mixed six-pack of 500ml bottles (one of each of the above) / tietonciderworks.com

Review: 2012 Natura Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Novas Sauvignon Blanc

Natura_CS_2012We may have missed the “Earth Day” timing of these affordable, biodynamic, sustainably produced wines from Chile’s Emiliana Winery, but it’s safe to say you’ll find them for sale pretty much year-round. Anyway, we love to hear stories about Earth-friendly wines being made… but if you’re serious about sustainability, perhaps you should be drinking local plonk instead of foreign stuff? Just sayin’.

2012 Emiliana Natura Cabernet Sauvignon Rapel Valley Curious nose: dark cocoa powder, toasty wood, and dense currant notes. The body doesn’t really deliver, alas, bringing some astringency to bear alongside an acidic, moderately tannic, and restrained fruit. The finish is drying and a bit bittersweet. C / $10

2012 Emiliana Novas Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva San Antonio Valley – Intensely vegetal nose. Asparagus, lettuce, some lemon peel, pepe du chat. The body brings on some merciful acidity and citrus juice notes, here predominantly grapefruit. Very tart finish, which washes away those somewhat uninspiring notes on the nose. B- / $15

emiliana.cl

Review: Skyy Infusions Vanilla Bean Vodka

Skyy Vanilla Bean Bottle Shot“Vodka infused with vanilla bean and other natural flavors,” so you really are getting real vanilla in this latest flavored vodka from Skyy.

The nose isn’t so much vanilla bean as it is vanilla cake frosting. One whiff gave me flashbacks of my son’s 8th birthday party. With vanilla, what are you gonna do, I guess? Blown right out of the bottle with amped-up sugar, this might as well be one of Smirnoff’s dessert-like vodkas, overflowing with liquefied sweetness and punctuated with kisses of what seems to be vanilla.

Simultaneously saccharine and inoffensive, Skyy Vanilla Bean will surely find a home as a cola mixer and in any number of dessert/frou-frou drinks — places where a little flavor and a huge burst of sweetness are called for. However, since I don’t mix up many of either of those things at the present, its utility in my own bar is decidedly limited.

70 proof.

C / $18 / skyy.com

Book Review: The Architecture of the Cocktail

architecture-of-the-cocktail-2The Architecture of the Cocktail is a neat idea and an even neater-looking book. Using architectural blueprint-style diagrams, author Amy Zavatto and illustrator Melissa Wood take you through 75 drinks, largely classics with a few modern cocktails thrown in. But rather than include a pretty picture, each cocktail is “designed” in black and white, showing the glass, ice, and the amount of each spirit graphically. The drawing on the cover of the book (right) gives you a better sense of what this looks like.

Nifty look, but completely impractical, it turns out. Trying to use this book to actually mix a drink is an exercise in frustration, as you try to figure out whether diamond crosshatches are supposed to be rum or the the diamond crosshatches with horizontal line overlays are. (This gets super fun with the Long Island Iced Tea recipe, the inclusion of which is grounds for a whole other discussion.)

Where does that leave us, then? Pretty book, short on utility. That might fit perfectly on your bookshelf, but it’s crowded out on mine.

C / $12 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Jack Daniel’s Rested Rye

Jack Daniel's Rested Rye - bottle shot

Hey, remember a couple of years ago when Jack Daniel’s decided it was going to make a rye whiskey? Give Jack credit: Rather than simply buy someone else’s rye and put their label on it, Jack decided to make its rye itself, legit.

The catch: Making whiskey takes time, so in 2012, when the rye trend was hitting its stride, all JD had was unaged whiskey on its hands, which it sold. For $50 a bottle.

Fast forward to today, roughly a year and a half later, and Jack… still doesn’t have a finished product. What it does have is a very young rye whiskey, which they’re calling “Rested Rye.” (This is the same mashbill of 70% rye, 18% corn, 12% malted barley.)

That’s probably a good enough descriptor of a noble whiskey that, like the Unaged Rye, no one is going to buy. Here’s why.

The nose offers wet, over-ripe, nearly rotten banana, plus some coconut husk notes. There’s an undercurrent of cereal notes, but little wood as of yet. The body is quite sweet — those bananas don’t pull any punches — with a lengthy finish that wanders into orange juice, clover honey, and cream of wheat territory. Unsatisfying and flabby, I get little spice, no pepper, nothing really approaching classic rye characteristics at all, or the promise of them to come. Believe it or not, I’d much rather drink the white dog than this whiskey as it stands today.

Of course all of that really means very little. This is a work in progress, and as any amateur taster of white dogs can tell you, the white spirit rarely has much resemblance to the finished product, and this “rested” version probably won’t have much in common with the final release either. We’ll see, I suppose, either way, come 2018 or so.

80 proof. Available in limited quantities.

C / $50 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Barenjager Honey & Tea and Honey & Pear Liqueurs

Barenjager pear and tea

Barenjager, Germany’s classic, beehive-stoppered honey liqueur, got its first line extension, Honey & Bourbon, two years ago. Now it’s launched two more extensions, as honey spirits continue their ascent in the marketplace. Here’s a dive into these new additions, all naturally-flavored, to the Barenjager hive. Both are 70 proof.

Barenjager Honey & Tea Liqueur – The nose is initially overwhelming, like walking into a Persian rug shop — all incense and wet wool. The honey character here is intense, deeply earthy, and moist, taking on clear influence from the tea component. But here, that tea comes across not as sweet, brewed tea but something completely different. It starts with overwhelming notes of dried, crushed black tea leaves (none more black), then digresses into notes of forest floor, licorice, menthol cigarettes, and camphor. Barenjager makes a highly enjoyable honey liqueur, but something has been lost in the tea mash-up. C

Barenjager Honey & Pear Liqueur – It never would have struck me to add pear flavor to a honey liqueur, but what do I know? This liqueur blends Barenjager with pear brandy, and the results are quite pleasant. The sweetness of the pear spirit is a natural companion to honey — like an apple pie baked with sliced pears — and the two work well together. The honey is the strongest element here (with pear almost indiscernible on the nose), but the finish brings the pears on strong. They’re crisp and clear and definitively not apple, offering that slightly more umami version of the fruit that’s unmistakably pear. The effect isn’t huge, but it’s noticeably different. All in all, it may not add a whole lot over the standard Barenjager bottling, but it works well enough in its own regard. B+

each $29 / barenjagerhoney.com

Review: Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley and 12 Year Old Straight Wheat Whiskeys

masterson's trio

The folks at Masterson’s — made by California-based parent company 35 Maple Street — make what has already become a cult rye whiskey, Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Rye. Now the company is back with an even stranger pair of siblings: two well-aged whiskeys, one 100% wheat, one 100% barley.

Both are straight whiskeys made from 100% of their respective grains, sourced from Canada and bottled in the U.S. How do they measure up against the masterful Masterson’s Rye? Thoughts follow.

Masterson’s 12 Year Old Straight Wheat Whiskey - Modest straw in color, the unique nose is immediately hard to place. What comes across are notes of butterscotch, mint, woodsy cedar closet, and a touch of mothballs (not in a bad way). The body is sweeter than expected, with more of a sense of balance than you might expect from the quirky nose. There’s more of a graham cracker character on the palate, with notes of pear, cinnamon, and vanilla. It’s got quite a bit of bite — this is 100 proof stuff — but that masks the relative thinness of the body. This is a whiskey that is initially a little confusing because its flavors are so unexpected… but it grows on you quite a bit after you spend some time with it, which I recommend you do. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #3538. A- / $62

Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley Whiskey – 100% unmalted barley, an extreme rarity in the whiskey world. Well, I disliked this at WhiskyFest and I still dislike it now that I’ve had more time to spend with it. The nose offers an immature, bready character, weighted down with hospital notes. On the body, more of the same — but intense. The stock is rough, the palate leaden with the essence of wood oils, mashed grains, chimney soot, and burnt toast. Something hints at intrigue on the finish — a bit of honey and vanilla, perhaps — but it’s not nearly enough to elevate this beyond a misfiring curiosity. 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #6045. C / $62

35maplestreet.com