Category Archives: Rated D/F

Review: Black Velvet Toasted Caramel Canadian Whisky

Black Velvet Toasted Caramel 200x300 Review: Black Velvet Toasted Caramel Canadian WhiskyA funny thing happens when I try to type “Canadian.” I always mistype “Candian” instead. Never has that been a more apropos typo than with Black Velvet’s Toasted Caramel Whisky.

Flavored with a hefty dose of “natural toasted caramel flavor,” this sugar bomb is so dense with sugar it’s actually difficult to swallow it. The nose cues you in for what you’re about to get hit with, but the mouthfeel is something else. It’s so sugary I swear you can feel the grains of sugar grinding around in your mouth. The “toasted caramel” (which means what, exactly?) is something akin to burned Bananas Foster, and there’s a touch of a woody finish on the end that reminds you that this is indeed whisky and not caramel-flavored vodka.

Sweet tooths only need apply.

70 proof.

D+ / $11 /

Experiment: Ice vs. Whiskey Stones vs. Tilt Chilling Sphere

ice stones and spheres oh my 300x224 Experiment: Ice vs. Whiskey Stones vs. Tilt Chilling SphereThe drinking industry’s war on ice is in full force. Fearful that ice will water down their precious booze, entrepreneurs are suggesting alternative chilling systems to bring the temperature of their hooch down.

But do they work? Ice is effective at chilling a drink because it melts, releasing near-frozen water into your dram. Can alternative technologies do the job, too? There are whiskey stones (soapstone cubes), or the new Tilt Chilling Sphere, a metal spheroid that you fish out of your drink with an included hook, which doubles as a cocktail pick. How effective can these non-melting chilling systems be?

We did the science, folks!

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Italian Value Wines — Deep Value Wines — for Thanksgiving from Bolla

Thanksgiving on a budget? Six wines from Bolla arrived for our consideration for a spot on your Thanksgiving table, including one infamous classic. Thoughts (and a special video) follow. Continue reading

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


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

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 /


Review: Courvoisier Gold Cognac Liqueur

Courvoisier is at the forefront of the taking Cognac into new markets, with brandy-and-wine blends like Courvoisier Rose. Now the company is back at it with Courvoisier Gold, a blend of Cognac and Moscato wine.

This actually sounds like a great idea — the brisk orange of the Moscato enhancing the citrus notes in the Cognac. In theory, anyway.

Alas, the theory didn’t really pan out this time. The nose of Gold is mild and innocuous, and the body brings out the constituent components of the concoction. Unfortunately, those components just don’t work together. The Moscato wine is understated and doesn’t offer much flavor, just a vague sense of something fruity that approaches apple juice, straight out of the juice box. This is spiked with a touch of Cognac — at just 18% alcohol, there’s really not much brandy in the mix — but it’s not enough to do much to the wine. A hint of vanilla is really all you get — and it turns out to be not very complementary to the Moscato in the end.

If you do try this product, be sure to have it chilled (as the company recommends). Served at room temperature, it’s tepid and raw. Chilled or with ice, at least you can have your apple juice the way God intended.

36 proof.

D+ / $25 /

courvoisier gold Review: Courvoisier Gold Cognac Liqueur

Review: The Wines of AC/DC

For those about to drink, we salute you.

AC/DC may be best known for its crowd-pleasing heavy metal riffs, but the aging rockers now have another claim to fame: Their own wine brand. Big in their Australian homeland, these wines are now coming to the U.S. Bottles are branded with an on-stage photo of the band and an appropriately rockin’ name: Back in Black Shiraz, Highway to Hell Cabernet Sauvignon, Thunderstruck Chardonnay, and Hells Bells Sauvignon Blanc.

We tasted two of the latest releases. Thoughts follow.

2011 AC/DC Hell’s Bells Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand – Strong grapefruit character up front, which fades as the wine warms up, revealing a rather simple, not overly-tropical New Zealand (not Australian) Sauvignon Blanc. Ultimately turns toward a mildly acidic, easy-sipping white. Hellish? Not hardly. B+

2011 AC/DC Back in Black Shiraz Australia - The fruit bomb you’re expecting, an overwhelmingly sweet base with sour cherry overtones. Pure, cheap, brash, Aussie Shiraz. I’d have called it “Big Balls” instead. D

each $18 /

Review: Campo Azul Tequila

Campo Azul is a 100% blue agave from the Jalisco Highlands, most notable for the hologram that wraps around the neck of the bottle. We sampled both the blanco and extra anejo expressions of the spirit (sorry, reposado!) — two tequilas as wildly different in quality as they get. Both varieties are 80 proof.

Campo Azul Blanco Tequila – This unaged expression is clean, with a moderate agave backbone and a bit of an earthy character to, somewhat uncommon in blanco tequila. Very smooth, with no burn at all, light lemon notes, and light notes of fresh evergreen needles. Refreshing, and very affordable for 100% agave. A- / $23

Campo Azul Extra Anejo Tequila – Aged 18 months in oak, you’d think a sugar bomb was in store for you, but you’d be wrong. Instead, here the piney character goes overboard, with a finish that exudes Pine-Sol so heavily I was instantly transported to a Las Vegas bathroom. There are touches of vanilla on the finish, but nothing can stand up to that gin-like evergreen character. D+ / $27

Review: White Mule Farms Spodee — “Wine with a Kick”

spodee 158x300 Review: White Mule Farms Spodee    Wine with a KickAccording to White Mule Farms, the company behind the oddball Spodee, this, er, drinkable was a Depression-era concoction of wine mixed with herbs, spices, and moonshine. Sort of a ghetto version of Port, perhaps, from the sound of it.

Spodee today seems to be perhaps a simpler product: Wine fortified with white whiskey, with chocolate flavoring in lieu of the herbs and spices. Don’t worry about getting too trashed on Spodee. At 18% alcohol — barely 1 or 2% more boozy than most Zinfandels these days — it can’t have much moonshine in it. The bottle itself says the liquid inside is “Grape wine with natural chocolate flavor,” no mention of a moonshine kicker. The packaging is indeed an old-fashioned milk bottle.

How’s it taste? Straight up, exactly like you’d expect: Strong (cheap) wine, significantly sweetened with chocolate syrup. You can probably recreate this at home without too much trouble with some plonk and a bottle of Hershey’s. Any nuance in the wine is lost in the candy character, and the resulting concoction isn’t drinkable for much more than novelty’s sake.

Spodee’s signature cocktail is “Spodee & Sody” — Spodee and Coke, half and half — which is a bit like drinking a Chocolate Coke. Here, though, the wine component gets in the way of the fun, putting a raisiny character into the drink and leaving it equally tough to get down. As my brother put it when served a glass, “Nope, that just doesn’t get any better.”

D / $9 per 500ml bottle /

Review: Jellybean Wines

This new brand is attempting to muscle its way into the mass-market wine space (Yellow Tail, Cupcake, Barefoot, you know the ones), choosing to head to the ever-popular “desserts” branding strategy for its identity. Jellybean wines come from just about everywhere. We reviewed two of the company’s offerings, with predictable results.

2011 Jellybean Berry Smooth Red Wine Blend – A Spanish red blend. Deep blueberry notes, as candied as they get. Impossibly sweet and, I guess, smooth in a way, but more in the way that Kool-Aid is smooth. Incredibly simple. D+

2010 Jellybean Candy-Apple Red Cabernet Sauvignon California – Another wine that lives up to its name, with flavors reminiscent of a cinnamon red hot (and no apple to speak of). Marginally better, but cloyingly sweet. C-

each $13 /

Book Review: Never Cook Sober Cookbook

never cook sober cookbook Book Review: Never Cook Sober CookbookI’m the first one to agree with the concept of using alcohol — beer, wine, spirits — in your cooking, but a standalone cookbook devoted to boozing up otherwise average recipes is just a mistake from the start.

This slim volume goes for kitsch, with dishes like “Sassy Salmon in Champagne Sauce,” “Vini Vidi Vici Vodka Caesar Salad,” and — ahem — “Mix Drinks Like a Pro Whiskey Steak and Cheese Sandwich.” The bar in your cookbook isn’t exactly high when it includes a PB&J sandwich with flavored vodka mixed into it and, seriously, jello shots. The latter are included in the “breakfast” section. The book’s recipe for a pulled pork sandwich calls for prepackaged pulled pork and barbecue sauce. (And bourbon.)

Interspersed with banal facts about alcohol and tired quotes on the same topic, the book isn’t just unfunny, it’s also a little wrongheaded when it comes to how alcohol gets used in most recipes. The book includes icons to indicate the “alcohol content” of each dish. From one jug (one shot or less) to six (five shots or more), the ratings bizarrely don’t take into account whether the recipe is cooked or not — thus removing most of the alcohol from the dish. Come on, people.

D / $11 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Vino Innovations Vino Freeze Mix

Do you like wine? Do you like Kool-Aid? Do you like Slurpees? If you said yes to all three, you’re in for a real treat (ahem): Vino Freeze Mix, which gives you the triple threat of ultra-sugary powder plus the buzz of cheap wine in a slushy frozen package.

It sounds like a joke but I assume you this is a real thing. In fact, I tried it. With my mouth.

Let’s start with what it is. Vino Freeze Mix comes a company called Old World Gourmet, so you might imagine all the Ukranian babushkas carefully harvesting the sugar, citric acid, purple carrot powder (for color), and natural flavors from the fields, then packaging it 12 ounces at a time in metallic bags and festively colored boxes to be sold in gourmet stores across the land. (A full bag of Vino Freeze Mix (10 servings) has 260 grams of sugar.)

To make your Vino Freeze — I chose the Blueberry Pomegranate flavor, but a half dozen varieties are available — you dump the bag into a pitcher, add a full bottle of “your favorite* red wine,” and another 750ml bottle of water. Stir, then freeze for 3 to 4 hours, and your wine slushy is ready.

Some problems I encountered: First, a pitcher does not promote freezing well, so you are advised to follow the “or” advice on the package and use a plastic bag to contain the concoction. In fact, my pitcher popped open in the freezer and rained Blueberry Pomegranate sleet across my fridge, which was awesome. My fault, though. Also, after 4 hours, my Vino Freeze was still mostly water. It took at least 7 hours to get anywhere near slushy status.

And once it was done, my, what a heretical beverage this was. Ungodly sweet, with a cough syrup kicker, the only thing going for this “drink” was that it was cold and the weather outside was warm. Clearly this is marketed for the daytime-drinking cougar crowd, but lord knows those tireless ladies deserve better than this.

D- / $10 per package /

* I highly recommend not using your favorite wine.

vino freeze mix Review: Vino Innovations Vino Freeze Mix

Review: Mickey Finn Irish Apple Whiskey

I’ve never quite understood the idea behind the Mickey Finn name. Yeah, it sounds Irish, but it really means a drink served to someone to knock them out (typically to take advantage of them in some way). Why you’d name your Irish whiskey brand after such a thing, I have no idea.

Mickey Finn makes an Irish whiskey (really, it’s made in Dublin) flavored with green apples (“natural apple flavors,” as the label explains). What’s the big idea with this? It is “fanciful,” also as the label suggests, to believe that in the Prohibition era whiskey was smuggled into the U.S. in apple barrels. I’m not sure how that translates to putting apple flavor into the whiskey itself, but I get the homage at least.

Mickey Finn looks like apple juice and tastes like what would happen if you put Apple Pucker into Irish whiskey. It is as difficult to drink as it is to fathom, two flavors that have no business being in the same glass together. The apple is overwhelming here, sour and chemical in character. The whiskey, barely there at all, almost a sweetish afterthought and hardly anything you’d identify with any authority.

Is this something I just “don’t get” or is it just the latest bad idea to come out of whiskeydom? You be the judge.

70 proof.

D / $24 /

Mickey Finn Apple Whiskey Review: Mickey Finn Irish Apple Whiskey

Review: Hiram Walker Watermelon Sour Schnapps

Wow. No.

“All natural flavors” don’t get more horrifying than this. Or more Kool-Aid pink in color.

I could go into detail about the flavor that reminds me of Jolly Ranchers melted into Chinese sweet & sour sauce, but let me leave it at this: I would have trouble imagining even the most desperate bum in need of a buzz knocking back more than half a shot of this stuff, and even then I know he’d probably be really angry about it.

30 proof.

F / $10 /

Hiram Walker Watermelon Review: Hiram Walker Watermelon Sour Schnapps

Review: Malibu Red

On paper, Malibu Red is a terrible, terrible idea: Take standard Malibu (coconut-flavored rum), and add white tequila to it.

The brainchild of R&B artist Ne-Yo, I am here to tell you that, yes, Malibu Red is as bad as you think it will be.

Fundamentally these are two great tastes… that just don’t go together: Super-sweet coconut rum on the nose, muddled with sharp agave-heavy tequila. Like putting orange juice on your cereal, these flavors collide in an often angry, unsatisfying fashion, and it’s difficult to get a real handle on either one. The finish is cloying and muddy, leaving you desperate for one side to take hold. Neither does, and your mouth ends up coated in a syrupy, tangy, almost medicinal film.

70 proof.

D+ / $25 /

malibu red Review: Malibu Red

Roundup: Sparkling Moscato on the Rise

Moscato continues to prove how popular this grape has become when used as a low-alcohol, fruit-forward, and sweet alternative to other sparkling wines. These Moscatos show just how inexpensive and far-flung this wine is, hailing from eastern Europe and Australia, while not exactly proving how great it can be.

NV Esti Exclusiv Rose Moscato – Hailing from Moldova, this Moscato is from the same company that makes Exclusiv Vodka. The peach-colored wine lacks finesse. The fruit flavors are present — apples, mixed red berries — but come across like canned fruit, with a huge dose of perfumy flower petals atop  them. The finish is on the sour side. 10% abv. C- / $7

NV Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Moscato Australia – Not a bad representation of Moscato. Oranges and peaches, with a sweet but not overbearing presence. Finish is clean and refreshing, not cloying, while leaving behind some bracing sweetness. 9% abv. B+ / $6

NV Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Moscato Rose Australia – A rose similar to the Exclusiv, it’s cloying and smells of musty perfume, but with heavier and more saccharine sweetness on the finish. 9% abv. D+ / $7

esti exclusiv rose moscat Roundup: Sparkling Moscato on the Rise

Review: Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah

Touted as “the hottest beer this side of Hell,” Twisted Pine’s Ghost Face Killah takes a style of beer unknown to many (chile beers) and smashes any semblance of tame spice. Ghost Face Killah is brewed with six different types of peppers – including Anaheim, Fresno, Jalapeno, Serrano, and Habanero – but the calling card (and allusion to its name) is the inclusion of the Bhut Jolokia / Ghost Pepper. For those who don’t know, the Ghost pepper is about 170 times hotter than a jalapeño and 8.5 times hotter than a habanero and is more commonly used as a weapon within hand grenades and pepper spray than an actual culinary ingredient. Full disclosure: I am not much of a spice lover… When wanting to actually enjoy my food, the hottest I’ll go is probably Tabasco Habanero in terms of commonly available sauces, though I always enjoy trying spicier offerings.

Straight out of the bottle this couldn’t look less unassuming as it appears much like a mass-marketed light lager would with a pale yellow body and relatively meager head and retention. It is even surprisingly clear despite having a wheat base to it. It isn’t until you get your nose closer to the glass that you remember that this isn’t just any beer. A smorgasbord of chili and vegetal matter fills the aroma and obviously it is predominantly spicy, with the habanero and jalapeno surprisingly easy to pinpoint (although if I were more familiar with the other varieties here, it’d probably be possible to target them as well). I get maybe just the slightest notion of wheat and citrus, but I can’t say for sure if it’s my imagination or not.

This isn’t my first beer brewed with chili peppers, so I’m not exactly a stranger to heat in beers, but the first thing that comes to my mind when drinking this is “wow.” I don’t even have time to actually swallow my first sip before the heat kicks the door down. While other beers are a bit more subtle about it, the image on the label should tell you what this beer is all about. Any salvation the wheat could promise is swept away along with my tastebuds. The positive about this beer is that you can actually taste the peppers, although they sort of blend together rather than being easy to distinguish. But I hope you like heat because that and some pepper is all you’re getting here.

The impression left on the palate after this is both impressive and terrible. Impressive that such a small sip of this beer can leave such a lingering effect on the tongue and throat, and terrible because said effect is a vast amount of burning and numbing. The impression of this isn’t just a mouthfeel, but also a chestfeel and bodyfeel as even your extremities feel the power of the ghost pepper.

This is a beer in which a little goes a long, long way. I’ve had this glass in front of me for almost 30 minutes and I probably drank maybe 3 oz. The heat is intense, but after letting it mellow on the mouth, it gradually fades into a dull heat throb which isn’t so bad, actually. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine drinking a whole bottle of this solo. I am probably going to put the rest back into the bottle and either cook with it or disinfect the bathroom.

5.0% abv.

D+ (A for originality) / $3.50 per 12oz bottle /

Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah Review: Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah

Review: Dr. McGillicuddy’s “Intense” Schnapps

I am starting to question this “Doctor’s” medical credentials. Apple Pie Schnapps? Hmmm, color me suspicious.

Designed as “party shots,” Dr. McGillicuddy’s offers a range of traditionally flavored Schnapps… plus these four new modern additions. We braved our way into the quartet (in this order) with as open a mind as possible.

All are 42 proof.

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Apple Pie Intense Schnapps – Color me impressed. It really smells and tastes of fresh apple pie. Light and sweet, plenty of apple and cinnamon notes, and no burn at all. “Intense” it isn’t; rather it’s quite mild. I’ve actually tried apple pie flavored liqueurs before, and this one is easily the best one I’ve had to date. A-

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Wild Grape Intense Schnapps – Looks just like grape Kool-Aid. But on the tongue, it’s incredibly muddy. This is wild, but hardly grape. Flavors of burnt sugar and chemicals dominate. D

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Root Beer Intense Schnapps – Authentic root beer nose. The body, very sweet, like a can of A&W, and almost refreshing. The finish is a bit on the cloying side, but otherwise root beer nuts will find this a winner. B

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Ice Mint Intense Schnapps – Smells awfully minty, with promise. Sadly, tastes like toothpaste. C-

each $10 /

Dr. McGillicuddys Schnapps Review: Dr. McGillicuddys Intense Schnapps

Review: Simply Naked Wines

Wine and wood go hand in hand, but Simply Naked’s experiment takes the oak out of the equation. All of these wines are fermented and aged in stainless steel. For some of these wines, like Pinot Grigio, that’s normal. Chardonnay: OK. But Merlot and Cabernet? Interesting experiments.

Here’s how the wines — all budget bottlings from a melange of California fruit — stack up.

2010 Simply Naked Unoaked Pinot Grigio California – Lively and fresh, as Pinot Grigio really has to be. Lemon (or lemongrass) notes, surprisingly fruit-forward, lightly honeyed body, and short finish. As good as any bottle of Santa Margherita. B+

2010 Simply Naked Unoaked Chardonnay California – Honey and lemon notes here, with a moderately big body. A little big funky on the finish, with almonds, nougat, and other odd characters not typical of your average Chardonnay. B

2010 Simply Naked Unoaked Merlot California – Wow, not at all what I wanted. This is a young, astringent, and ultra-sweet wine that, rather than letting the fruit shine, plays down its natural strengths. Sharp and unflattering. D

2010 Simply Naked Unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon California – About the same, quality-wise. Musty and biting, with funky plum/prune-jam, vegemite, and yeast notes. No. D-

about $8 each /

Simply Naked Family Review: Simply Naked Wines

Review: Alex Elman Wines

Sometimes the wines we get aren’t our favorites. But we review them anyway, especially when the story behind them is so lovely.

This line of inexpensive whites and reds from Argentina are created by a young, blind winemaker (Alex Elman, of course) and are produced sustainably (and affordably). The inaugural releases arrive this month on U.S. shelves.

2010 Alex Elman Torrontes Mendoza – Nice, lemony nose, but the body is green, weedy, and unripe. C

2010 Alex Elman Chardonnay Mendoza – Overly buttery, which saps the fruit (evident in the nose) from the palate. Some melon and more lemon charms here, but nothing that will bowl you over. C+

2009 Alex Elman Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza – Thin and a little weedy, lots of meat and smoke character. Not great. D+

2009 Alex Elman Malbec Mendoza – My favorite of the bunch, which is fitting considering Malbec is essentially Argentina’s national grape. This one has real fruit character, plummy and slightly jammy. Easygoing finish and, at last, balanced. B+

$13 each /

alex elman collection wine Review: Alex Elman Wines