Review: Jim Beam Maple

Jim Beam MapleOK, I like maple syrup as much as the next guy (well, probably not as much, to be honest), but at some point everybody’s got to hit a breaking point.

Maple has revealed itself to be one of the Next Big Things in spirits flavorings, and if you like the idea of literally pouring syrup down your gullet, they’re for you. Ultra-sweet and, well, syrupy, maple whiskeys are designed to rot the teeth right out of today’s increasingly sweet-toothed consumer while giving them a little buzz along the way.

Jim Beam Maple keeps things close to a tried-and-true formula. The aroma of syrup wafts out of the bottle as soon as it’s opened, and it doesn’t let up. The flavor is thick, lightly woody (perhaps the only touch of actual whiskey shining through), and unbelievably sweet. The finish lasts for days, matched only by the hysterical stickiness that coats the glass like glue. Is it whiskey? Is it vodka? Is it really just syrup? (There’s no heat to speak of.) Impossible to answer any of the above at this level of flavoring intensity.

Maple spirits are becoming commonplace to the point of market saturation. That’s fine if you’re into that kind of experience, but sadly, Jim Beam Maple just doesn’t do anything to elevate the game.

70 proof.

C+ / $16 / jimbeam.com

Review: Wines of Stickybeak, 2013 Releases

Stiky Beak SB bottle 003Stickybeak has an odd little boutique approach to winemaking, producing almost random wines (its first was a Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend) from both Sonoma and Italy, all under the same label — and for $20 and under. Thoughts on the two most recent releases from this odd duck with an even odder name follow.

2012 Stickybeak Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley – Huge pepe du chat notes overpower the fruit here, which is a light grapefruit and lemon affair with some weedy underpinnings. Pineapple develops after some time in glass. Overall, it’s a typical bottling for this region, but the ammonia-like quality indicative of the Sauv Blanc becomes a bit overpowering at times. Needs spicy food to back it up. C+ / $17

2011 Stickybeak Toscana IGT – A Tuscan red made of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, and 5% Syrah.  Lots of classic dried cherry notes, a hallmark of Sangiovese, with menthol on the nose. It’s layered into a very light body without a ton of depth. That lightness makes this wine come across a bit like it could be anything… which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s mild enough for everyday drinking, but a little too distant to take overly seriously. B+ / $20

stickybeakwines.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated Bourbon Entry Proof Experiments

Wheat Mash Enrty Proof Family 2Buffalo Trace, no stranger to experimentation, recently released this intriguing series of bourbons as part of its Experimental Collection. The idea: Vary entry proof from very low (90) to fairly high (125), and keep the barrels otherwise exactly the same.

Entry proof, for those not familiar with the lingo, is the term that describes the alcohol level of a whiskey when it goes into the barrel for the first time. Generally whiskey is not barreled at the alcohol level that came off the still. It is rather watered down, often to between 105 and 125 proof, before it’s sealed up to rest for years.

With this series of whiskeys, the white dog came off the still at 130 proof. The recipe is a wheated mashbill, which was then split into four parts, one barreled at 90 proof, one at 105, one at 115, and finally one at 125 proof. All four spent 11 years, 7 months in barrel. When bottled, they were all brought down to 90 proof.

How are they different, and which is best? Here’s what I had to say…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 90 Entry Proof – Pleasant and mellow, it has a brisk level of heat on the nose, but not overwhelming. The body is moderately woody, with ample vanilla character. Applesauce and cinnamon build to an easy, lasting, and sweet conclusion, with just a lightly woody/sawdusty kicker. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 105 Entry Proof – Much less on the nose here, just wisps of lumber and alcoholic heat. The body: Completely dead, just nothing going on in this at all. Hints of coconut and milk chocolate, but otherwise this could be almost any kind of whiskey. A snooze. C+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 115 Entry Proof – Nose of butterscotch, some wood. Comes across as hotter as you take in the nose, but reveals banana notes, brown sugar, caramel, and more. On the body, quite unique, with a sweetness that’s spiked with lots of cloves and deep wood character. Still, it’s not overcooked, offering lots of depth in both its fruit and more savory characters. If I was buying one of these, I’d pick this one. A

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 125 Entry Proof – Racy and spicy, with notes of cinnamon and raisins, both on the nose and in the body. Opens up as you sip it, but wood-driven characteristics take hold over the fruit, leaving behind a slightly bitter, hoary finish. Not unenjoyable, but more difficult than it needs to be. B

Fun stuff, but it might say more about barrel variability than it does about the merits of different entry proofs.

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: Cruzan Key Lime Rum and Passion Fruit Rum

cruzan key limeCruzan actually makes some credible flavored rums, but things are starting to change. Most notably: With its new flavors, the sugar level is clearly going up and the alcohol level is demonstrably going down. What was once a low 55 proof has now fallen even further to just 42 proof. These two new expressions don’t really come across like rum as all but rather as liquified candy. Is this what consumers are really looking for?

Cruzan Key Lime Rum – Quite a strong lime kick on the nose, but very restrained body, pumped up with sugar. It’s hard to tell this is rum at all, it tastes more akin to Rose’s Lime Juice. A long, sugary, sticky finish reminds you you’re in candyland. C

Cruzan Passion Fruit Rum – Better. Not nearly as sweet, but not as fruity, either. Passion fruit is one of the great, undersung flavoring agents in cocktails, spirits, and juices, and here it makes a less than powerful appearance. And as with the Key Lime, it’s over-sweetened but slightly more tolerable. C+

each $15 / cruzanrum.com

Review: Pine Barrens American Single Malt Whisky

pine barrens maltLong Island Spirits — whose vodkas and liqueur lineup we recently covered — is the company behind this single malt, Pine Barrens, another entry into the burgeoning American single-malt market.

Pine Barrens begins as beer, specifically Old Howling Bastard, made by Blue Point Brewing in nearby Patchogue. After distillation it is aged for about a year in small newly-charred barrels.

This moderately amber spirit is clearly young from the first whiff. On the nose there’s lots of grain influence, along with a distinct and sharp woodiness that almost comes across as astringent.

The body follows suit. Heavily yet freshly oaked in the way that only small-barrel whiskeys tend to be, the first impression is one of youth and simplicity. But Pine Barrens reveals additional charms as you sip it. While it starts with a tough and woody body, it fades to reveal some interesting notes beneath: Banana, vanilla, sweet cream, and some spicy pepper. While the overall impression is rather vegetal and tannic, there’s enough promise here to merit a look-see. Would love to see this whiskey aged in bigger barrels… for considerably longer.

95 proof. Reviewed: Batch #7.

C+ / $45 (375ml) / lispirits.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Long Island Spirits Vodka and Liqueurs Complete Lineup

LiV espresso vodkaWe’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: UV Candy Bar and Salty Watermelon Vodka

UV Salty WatermelonThe insanity of increasingly unlikely and unnatural vodka flavors continues courtesy of UV, which brings us these new offerings: Candy Bar and Salty Waltermelon. Thoughts follow. Both are 60 proof.

UV Candy Bar Vodka – OK, it’s a candy bar, we get it. But which one? A Caramello doesn’t taste anything like a Payday. “Candy Bar” is just too vague. In truth, UV Candy Bar doesn’t taste specifically like any candy bar I’ve ever tasted, coming across with more of a vague marshmallow/milk chocolate character that doesn’t really seem particularly candy bar-like at all, but rather is more along the lines of many an indistinct dessert-focused spirit we’ve tried in recent months. Is it Toasted CaramelIced Cake? Who knows? It’s relatively innocuous for the category. For my money, I’d say its closest candy cousin is the Reggie! bar. C+

UV Salty Waltermelon Vodka – Nuclear fuschia in color, this flavored vodka tries to jump on the “salted watermelon” bandwagon (try it if you haven’t already!), strangely choosing to go with “salty” as the descriptor instead. Taste this stuff and you’ll soon see why. It may smell watermelon-candylike, but after one sip you’ll be knocked over by the amount of salt that’s somehow been jammed into this bottle. In truth, “salty” is a far better way to describe this stuff than the nuance that “salted” implies. Gag-inducing and wholly undrinkable. F

uvvodka.com

Review: Yellow Rose Blended Whiskey and Outlaw Bourbon

Yellow Rose Blended WhiskeyHouston is my hometown, and the one thing it hasn’t had is a distillery. Distilling is surprisingly new to Texas — Tito’s was the sole operator in the state for years — but now folks are diving headlong into their stills here. And now, finally, Houston has its first distilling operation it can call its own: Yellow Rose, named after the, well, not the state flower (the bluebonnet) but the floral touchstone of Texas, at least.

Here we look at the company’s Bourbon and its new Blended Whiskey (just launched in May). A rye, not tasted, is also available. Thoughts follow.

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Review: Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka and Gin

caledonia spiritsCaledonia Spirits in Hardwick, Vermont primarily markets its products in the Northeast and uses honey in just about everything it makes, from honey mead to vodka and gin. We tasted both those spirits, plus an elderberry cordial from the company. Thoughts follow.

By the by: Mind the beeswax seal on the vodka and gin (they use this stuff in everything!). It’s extremely pungent and can be smelled from a mile away once the plastic wrap is taken off.

Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka – Made from raw Vermont honey, and it shows. Distinct — but richly earthy — honey notes pervade the nose, a common trait among vodkas distilled from honey. This one’s pungent enough to come across like a flavored vodka, intense with that almost nougaty, caramel flavor. Barr Hill has far too much residual character in it for the most common places where vodka finds itself, but for fans of honey, this may make for an interesting sipper. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #20 reviewed. B / $33 (375ml)  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin – This is overproof Barr Hill Vodka flavored with juniper, and nothing else. That may sound a little simplistic for gin, which typically comprises at least 8 ingredients, and Barr Hill Gin doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. It’s unapologetically juniper-forward, but the strong honey character from the vodka provides a lot of balance. The nose is heavy with forest notes, but the herbal body is balanced with moderate sweetness. The finish is big and piney, lacking the citrus and earth notes that the great gins typically offer — but some drinkers may find that advantageous. Not at all hot despite weighing in at 90 proof. Batch #32 reviewed. B / $58 (750ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Caledonia Spirits Elderberry Cordial – Pungent and exceptionally sweet, this cordial (flavored with elderberry, apples, and honey) is intense with notes of prune, lingonberry, and dark, dark fruit. Almost syrupy in consistency, it’s a monstrous cordial that’s clearly designed for the after-dinner drinker who finds Port too daunting. This isn’t at all bad, but the overwhelming fruitiness is just too much for my palate. 14.4% abv. C+ / $35 (375ml)

caledoniaspirits.com

Wine & Beer Gadget Roundup

Lately we’ve received a whole bunch of “stocking stuffer” sized gadgets suitable for wine and beer fanatics. Rather than review them individually, we’re rounding them up here in a mega-gizmo post. Thoughts follow.

bottleopener01Hermetus Bottle Opener & Resealer – Sometimes you don’t want to drink that entire half-liter of beer, but if you’ve pried off the crown cap, what do you do next? The Hermetus is several gadgets in one, but the most noteworthy is that it reseals beer bottles. Just slide the lip of the bottle through the aluminum groove as far as you can: The groove pushes it against a rubber pad and seals it tight. Turn it upside down, shake it up, no worries — the beer won’t come out. It works on both U.S. and Euro bottles, and it includes a standard opener as well as a claw-like opener designed to help with stubborn twist-offs, too. Instructions engraved on the reverse remind you of all of this in case you’ve had too much. A / $9 kaufmann-mercantile.com

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