Review: El Consuelo Tequila Reposado

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El Consuelo is a new brand just launched this year. It is one of only a few USDA-certified organic tequilas, made with Highland agave and, curiously, is aged in Cognac barrels instead of the usual bourbon barrels. We received the reposado for review, which spends six months in wood before bottling.

Heavy agave kicks off the nose; for a reposado I’d expect a more sedate herbal character, but here it’s really quite pungent, the agave showing overtones of petrol and mushroom. On the palate, again the powerful agave is front and center — it initially drinks like a blanco rather than a typical reposado — but give it some time and sweeter elements make their way to the fore. It’s nearer to the finish that notes of maple syrup, raisin, and vanilla candies finally bubble up. But the biggest surprise is saved for last, as the finish evokes a very atypical note of fresh thyme, which becomes particularly evident primarily on the nose.

All told it’s a very unusual tequila, and worth sampling at least once.

B / $46 / elconsuelotequila.com

Review: Don Julio Tequila Blanco and Reposado (2016)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years since we looked at Don Julio’s tequilas, aside from a (disastrous) appearance in our blind tequila roundup. Reportedly these have undergone recipe changes at least once since 2008 — the brand was sold to Diageo in 2014 — and Don Julio has continued to grow.

Today we take fresh looks at the blanco and reposado expressions of Don Julio, 2016 editions, which are grown from highland agave. Both are 80 proof.

Don Julio Tequila Blanco – I’ve been on and off with Don Julio’s blanco, but as of now it is revealing itself as a quite gentle but also engaging little spirit. The nose showcases crisp agave, a touch of lime, and white pepper. Spicy but not overpowering, the aroma sets you up for a bold body — but that never materializes. Instead we find it drinking with a surprising restraint, sometimes even bordering on coming across as watery. A stronger citrus profile makes its presence known, along with lingering floral notes. The finish is clean, lightly peppery, with a bit of lime zest hanging on. A great choice for mixing. A- / $30

Don Julio Tequila Reposado – Aged for eight months in oak (same as 8 years ago). Stylistically it’s quite light, which makes sense considering the blanco’s similar state. Notes are similar, though the pepper here is dialed way back. In its place, some orange peel, light caramel, and some light barrel char notes arrive on the nose. On the palate, again the pepper notes are restrained, with some modest brown sugar in their place. The floral elements are harder to catch here, their gentleness done in by the power of the barrel. The finish sees some red pepper, tempered by brown sugar, and a fleeting hint of licorice. All told, it’s a slightly sweetened-up version of the blanco. Nothing wrong with that. A- / $35

donjulio.com

Review: Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2016

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Herradura’s fifth Coleccion de la Casa special edition tequila makes a return to its original expression from the series’ launch: Port cask finishing. Last seen in 2012, Herradura returns to the same formula for 2016.

As with the 2012 version, this tequila spends 11 months in ex-bourbon casks, then finishes for two months in formerly used Port casks.

This expression finds a relatively traditional reposado nose of vanilla-scented caramel and toasted marshmallow, plus modest agave and just a hint of red fruit. Aromatically quite racy, it’s got a level of red pepper I haven’t really seen in this line before. On the palate, again, traditional reposado notes tend to dominate. Black pepper, green onion, and mixed savory herbs give this a dominant, heavy base — and after five or ten seconds more fruity elements, driven by the Port finish, finally begin to surface. The finish lingers with very light notes currants and some strawberry, but it’s red and black pepper notes that hang in there after all else has faded away.

You’ll find more complexity, and a much stronger Port influence, in the original bottling, but this expression is quite compelling in its own right.

80 proof.

A- / $90 / herradura.com

Drinkhacker’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Our ninth year is under our belt, and that means our ninth annual installment of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards” — is here. As always, the list gives you the lowdown on some of the best-rated products we reviewed over the last 12 months, with at least some eye toward availability and affordability. (Though, as you’ll see, some selections can cost a pretty penny…)

As always, the offerings below comprise a small selection of our favorite wines and spirits from the last year, and there are many other worthwhile products on the market worth considering. Feel free to sound off in the comments with suggestions for alternatives or questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting.

Again, happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! We look forward to providing our guidance on the world of wine, beer, and spirits as we begin our 10th year on the web and approach our 5,000th post! Stay tuned for the appropriate festivities come the big anniversary in September 2017.

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 2015201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

of-1920-rendering-jpegBourbon – Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon ($60)  As inventory pressures continue to pound bourbon country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find solid “giftable” bourbon bottlings on the market. Rarities like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection sell out before they ever hit shelves. This year I’m naming to my top pick something that you ought to have more luck finding, but which is just as good as anything else out there: Old Forester’s most recent Whiskey Row expression, meant to mimic bourbon made during its “medicinal” Prohibition days. Other top tipples: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood ($70 on release, $500+ now), Blood Oath Pact No. 2 ($100), Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish ($100, often available for less), and, for the budget-minded, 1792 High Rye Bourbon ($36).

Scotch – Compass Box The Circus ($300) – You want to wow your loved one this year? Give them The Circus, a blend that comes complete with its own infographic outlining all the whiskies inside. It’s a complex but truly outstanding whisky worth every penny. Other top picks for 2016 aren’t going to come cheap, including Chivas Regal Ultis ($200), The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route ($350), Chieftain’s Linkwood 1997 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish ($90), and your best bet for an easier-to-find bottling, Glenmorangie Milsean ($130 on release but easy to find for $100 or less).

Other Whiskey – Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” ($300 on release) – You know who nailed it this year? Jim Murray! The crazed whiskey critic is known for his outlandishly goofy “best of the year’ picks, but he hit it perfectly with his pick of the first ever release of Booker’s Rye. The bad news: It was already a cult hit, and whatever’s left on the market is going to cost you at least $600 a bottle. More sensible options include Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old ($90), High West’s latest release of Bourye ($80), and Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof ($70), which is lightly flavored with apples in the “Alabama style.”

oregonbarrelagedginbottleworkGin – Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels ($38) – We’ve been drowning in gin this year, which means there’s plenty of solid and unique bottlings to choose from on the market. My top pick is this one from our pals at Big Bottom, which is aged solera-style and is perfect for wintertime sipping thanks to a fun holiday spice character. For unaged expressions, check out Graton Distilling D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin ($40) or Spain’s Gin Mare ($38).

Vodka  Stolichnaya Elit Vodka ($47)  It’s more than just a fancy bottle; Stoli Elit is very good vodka, too. Beyond that, check out Vikre Lake Superior Vodka ($35) or Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka ($35), one of the best citrus vodkas around.

Rum – Angostura Caribbean Rum 1824 12 Years Old ($60)  Great rum needn’t break the bank. Angostura 1824 is a top-notch 12 year old with all kinds of versatility. Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary ($43) and Ron Zacapa 23 ($48) both make for awesome alternatives.

martell-blue-swift-largeBrandy – Martell Blue Swift ($50) – Martell wasn’t the first to put brandy into whiskey barrels to develop a more sophisticated, deeper flavor, but it is doing the best at it at the moment. This expression is gorgeous and cheap when it comes to Cognac. Another great, budget option is Gilles Brisson’s VSOP, a steal at $35. For the other direction, consider Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” ($2250), one of the most exquisite sips I had this year.

Tequila – Tequila Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Anejo ($340) – Tons of great tequila hit this year, but I have to give the nod to Herradura and its extra anejo bottling of Seleccion Suprema, a luscious experience that every tequila lover needs to try. A smattering of top agave alternatives across the price board includes Pasote Reposado ($59), Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel Mezcal ($96), Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Anejo ($100), and Asombroso Ultrafino The Collaboration Barrel 1 ($2500).

cynar 70Liqueur – Cynar 70 ($37/1 liter) – Cynar gets a proof upgrade and a flavor boost in this new edition, which I think is an even better rendition of this classic amaro. I also can’t stop raving about Grand Poppy ($30), another amaro. Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur ($11/375ml) is also highly worth picking up, as is Few Spirits Anguish & Regret Liqueur ($30), a unique spiced liqueur.

Wine  A smattering of giftable picks for the wine-lover in your life, with California showing incredibly strongly in 2016.

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

Review: Del Maguey Wild Papalome and San Pablo Ameyaltepec Mezcal

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Del Maguey hits this month with not one but two of its Single Village Mezcals – Wild Papalome and San Pablo Ameyaltepec. Let’s try both.

Del Maguey Wild Papalome Mezcal – A 100% agave papalome bottling from the Mixteca Alta region. A definitively sweeter style of mezcal, its barbecue-smoke nose layers in notes of citrus and pineapple — almost Hawaiian in style at times. On the palate the mezcal offers few surprises. kicking off with a rather sharp but gently sweet note, then segueing into gentle smoke that influences notes of orange peel, lemon, green banana, and some white wine character. It’s definitely on the quiet side for mezcal, but pleasant and pretty from start to finish. (For what it’s worth, my tasting notes have nothing in common with Del Maguey’s back label; your mileage may vary.) 90 proof. B+ / $100

Del Maguey San Pablo Ameyaltepec – Also 100% agave papalome, this mezcal is made from 12 to 18 year old plants grown in Ameyaltepec, in the Puebla region, where mezcal production was only recently given the OK. Here’s proof that terroir matters in mezcal — this is a much different spirit than the Wild Papalome, kicking off with a nose that is both leathery and smoky-spicy, with notes of dried flowers, almost evoking potpourri. The body is gentle to moderate in strength, and it offers numerous surprises, including notes of milk chocolate, orange flowers, smoked meats, and dried apple character. On the finish we find notes of bubble gum, gingerbread, and wispy smoke — which lingers on the back of the throat. Taken as a whole, it’s an exotic mezcal with an awful lot going on, but an awful lot that manages to come together in inspiring fashion. 94 proof. A- / $110

delmaguey.com

Review: Craneo Organic Mezcal

craneo-mezcalDavid Ravandi, the man behind 123 Tequila, has at long last stepped into the world of mezcal. Craneo is a 100% organic espadin mezcal that is harvested at 5600 feet in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca. Traditionally processed, it is bottled at slightly-above average proof, at 42% abv.

Classically structured on the nose, the mezcal offers aromas of sweet barbecue smoke character layered with hints of citrus. The palate is fairly traditional, though it dances on the tongue thanks to a light and silky body. Notes of orange and grapefruit peel, green banana, and spun sugar punctuate the modestly sweet smokiness, while the finish adds on hints of iodine and a touch of anise.

What is most striking about Craneo is how light on its feet it is. While many mezcals can be overpowering with their intense smokiness, Craneo is balanced and quite restrained. Some may see this lightness as a sign that this is intended as a “starter” mezcal, but ultimately I think its gentle body it adds a ton of versatility to an often difficult spirit — try it in a cocktail — while ensuring it can serve quite nicely as a less overbearing sipper, too. Definitely worth a look.

84 proof.

(Note: If the tasting notes on the Craneo Mezcal website seem familiar, that’s because they were adapted from an earlier version of this review, based on a preliminary sample tasted earlier this year. This review has been updated based on the final, shipping version.)

A- / $60 / mezcalcraneo.com

Review: 3 Mezcals from Craft Distillers – Alipus Ensamble, Mezcalero #16, and Mezcalero Special #2

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Craft Distillers has doubled down on mezcal, and it imports both the Alipus and Mezcalero lines of mezcal. Alipus is generally available, but the Mezcalero line is a series of limited production releases, numbered in sequence. 1 through 14 are now sold out; you can still get 15 and 16, the latter of which is reviewed below, along with a new “special bottling” of Mezcalero.

Let’s dig in to all three.

Mezcal Alipus San Andres Ensamble  – The first blended Alipus (all the others being single-village bottlings), Ensamble is a blend of 20% wild bicuishe agave harvested at 5300 feet plus 80% traditional espadin. It’s hard to miss the powerful sweetness here, coming across like honey for starters and almost maple syrupy at times. The smoke grows from there. What is palpable on the nose is well-integrated into the palate, where it takes on a fruitlike character not unlike sherried Islay Scotch. This, however, goes too far, pushing overripe fruit elements that culminate in a somewhat saccharine mishmosh of flavors that hit strong citrus notes before diving into a finish of salt spray and cigar smoke. A bit scattered on the whole. 94.4 proof. B / $65

Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel –  Angel takes semi-wild madrecuishe (agave karwinskii) from a 5200-foote high soil and turns it into this, an elegant and truly gorgeous mezcal. The nose is restrained and citrus-focused, with clear notes of lemon and grapefruit. The palate weaves gentle smoke into the picture, meandering from wood fires to clean citrus and back again. The body is modest but fulfilling, the finish clean and lightly sweet, with just a hint of that sour citrus juice squeezed on top. So easygoing, it’s hard to put down — and a perfect example of what quality mezcal should be. 94.2 proof. A / $96

Mezcalero Special Bottling Release #2 – A higher-end, even more limited production. This release comprises “552 liters distilled in October and November of 2012 by Don Valente Angel from semi-wild Dobadaan (agave rhodacantha). It was harvested from a south-facing slope of a hill known as Loma de la Mojonera comprised of sandy, ferriferous soil at 5350 feet of elevation. The agaves were wood-fire roasted in a stone horno, shredder-crushed, fermented with wild yeasts, double distilled using artisan methods on a 200-liter copper potstill, and bottled in March of 2016. 736 bottles produced.” To clarify, this is tank-rested (not barrel-aged) for over three years before bottling. The results are impressive. This is a soft, seductive mezcal that starts slow and builds to a crescendo, kicking off on the nose with gentle notes of black pepper, simple smoky notes, and a basic citrus character. The palate follows suit, dialed way back at first with just a short, simple sweetness, some orange peel, and pepper. From there, it builds up to quite a hefty, mouth-filling body, rolling in notes of mint, gunpowder, apple, and campfire smoke. The mezcal goes out not with a whimper but with a bang, finishing sharply and scorching the back of the throat. Exciting stuff, and fun to explore. 97.52 proof. A- / $135

craftdistillers.com

Review: Tequila Siete Leguas (2016)

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Tequila Siete Leguas — then billed as 7 Leguas, before a label change — was an early review on Drinkhacker way back in 2008. I’ve felt odd about it for a long while, because Siete Leguas seems to be so beloved in bars, and it regularly appears on top shelf pour lists among the tequilarati. My original comments on the anejo were quite positive, but I rated the blanco and reposado expressions as lackluster. Was I naive? It’s been eight years and much in tequiladom has changed. Let’s take a fresh look at Siete Leguas — established in 1952, harvested in the Highlands, and named for Pancho Villa’s horse — and see how it fares today.

All three are 80 proof.

Tequila Siete Leguas Blanco – Surprisingly thin. I could never really embrace this blanco, which starts off slow, with a simplistic, agave-forward but decidedly flat nose, and doesn’t go very far from there. On the palate, the tequila lacks any real bite or peppery notes, offering the essence of green beans and bell peppers instead. The pure vegetal notes feel like they’re trying to burst forward, the way an unripe fruit holds promise, but they’re kept in check and dialed much too far back. My original comments now seem overly optimistic. B- / $40

Tequila Siete Leguas Reposado – (Still) aged 8 month in white oak barrels. There’s a surprising amount of red pepper on this one, giving some much-needed spice and punch to a tequila that is, in its silver version, quite dull around the edges. Black pepper creeps in on the nose, along with a healthy punch of vanilla. That vanilla also adds sweetness to the body, but the vegetal core still manages to push through those added flavors. There’s more of a sense of balance (and intrigue) in this expression, but it’s still got a ways to go. B+ / $45

Tequila Siete Leguas Anejo – 24 months of age on this one. For my money, this is the essential expression of Siete Leguas, which takes those youthful agave notes, spicy pepper, and supple vanilla, and whips them all into a cohesive and engaging whole. There are hints of toasted marshmallow, flamed orange peel, some golden raisins, and fresh cigars. These flavors congeal impressively into a bold but approachable body with a lengthy and lightly peppery (and slightly minty) finish. It’s also a solid value for an anejo of this caliber. A- / $50

tequilasieteleguas.com

Review: Peligroso Tequila Silver (2016)

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It’s a common thing in the world of tequila to release a blanco first, then wait a bit before releasing a reposado, then finally come out with an anejo to complete the lineup. Somehow, when it comes to Peligroso, we did everything all wrong. Six years we reviewed the distillery’s reposado, then followed that with an anejo in 2012. There was a liqueur released in 2013 even. Somehow we never reviewed the very start: Peligroso Silver.

Well, that’s only part of the story. The original Peligroso was bottled at 84 proof, hence the peligrosoness (danger) of the spirit. Somewhere along the way — probably when Diageo bought the brand in 2014 — the tequila was reformulated completely (including a new NOM), and it is now bottled at 80 proof. It is still a 100% agave spirit, however.

So, let’s take a fresh look at a silver tequila we never looked at to begin with and give Peligroso Silver a proper review.

Well, after all the buildup, I have to say there’s not a whole lot to get worked up about. The nose is racy, spicier than many silver tequilas I’ve experienced of late, but also quite green and vegetal, with a raw agave character to it. It’s not a bad lead-in, and at least it promises a bold flavor profile ahead.

Unfortunately, the palate just doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Up front are a whole bunch of weird notes — think green beans, creamed corn, and bubble gum. Eventually this meanders into a more traditional profile, featuring stronger, peppery agave notes and a not-insignificant amount of sugar. The finish however is quite bittersweet, with notes of pencil lead and smoldering tobacco. All of this might add up to a fair enough tequila if the body itself wasn’t so thin and watery, which makes for a rather uninteresting experience. In contrast to the bold body and bite of the original Peligroso, the new expression, at least its blanco version, is a bit of a letdown.

80 proof.

B / $32 / peligrosotequila.com

Review: Pasote Tequila

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Sonoma-based August Sebastiani’s 3 Badge Beverage Corp. (the new name behind Kirk & Sweeney rums, Uncle Val’s gins, and others) has launched its first tequila: Pasote, which is made by Felipe Camerena in the Los Altos region of Jalisco.

Made in part with rainwater instead of just spring water, it’s made using traditional methods and bottled in antique-style glass. The reposado and anejo are aged in former, American oak bourbon barrels. We got all three expressions for review. Thoughts on each of the bottlings follow.

Each expression is 80 proof.

Pasote Blanco Tequila – Unaged, silver tequila. The nose is heavily peppered, with notes of citrus and a serious, agave undertone. A blast of lemon and green agave invade the palate straight away, building across a moderately oily palate to what emerges as a bold and herb-heavy finish. That finish is lasting as it sticks to the palate, offering a lingering expression of crisp, clean agave, unadulterated by any significant secondary character. B / $49

Pasote Reposado Tequila – Aged six months in oak. This is quite a tequila, taking that intense agave core as discussed above and filtering it through a very gentle, almost subtle filter of brown sugar and creme brulee. This reposado doesn’t reinvent tequila, but the balance between these two components is phenomenal, deftly threading the needle between sweet and savory spice with amazing aplomb — offering light pepper notes, cinnamon, lemon, and butterscotch, all in impressive balance. Reposado tequila can often turn into a middling middle ground between blanco and anejo, but Pasote’s shows how well-crafted this style can be. A / $59

Pasote Anejo Tequila – This anejo spends 18 months in oak, but it’s still decidedly light in color. This expression drinks a lot like a reposado, just pushed further along to the sweeter end of the spectrum. It’s still a very well-crafted tequila, its herbal characters tamped down and its sweetness dialed up. Here the overall palate takes on notes of marshmallow, vanilla, light caramel, and some cinnamon-scented Mexican chocolate notes. The agave may be dialed back, but it’s still present, kicking around primarily on the nose as well as a spicy reminder that hits well into the finish. It’s deftly handled and still light as a feather, but a worthwhile counterpart to some of the industry’s more overbearing anejos. A- / $69

3badge.com

Review: Soltado Picante Tequila

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Why would you take a perfectly good tequila and dope it up with a bunch of cinnamon and hot peppers? I can’t speak to the logic, although it’s hardly the first time anyone has tried to impregnate tequila with added flavoring agents. That said, flavored tequilas rarely have any serious pedigree. Not so with Soltado, which starts with 100% agave anejo tequila, aged 28 long months in American oak. It’s then flavored with cinnamon and local, organic serrano peppers. (No sugar is added to this mix, by the way.)

The results are, somewhat surprisingly, exactly what you’d expect. The nose has all the hallmarks of a good anejo — dense vanilla, creme brulee, and a bit of agave… plus an undercurrent of spicy peppers. On the palate, the tequila kicks off with the same elements, in the same sequence: First, gentle sweetness, then a touch of herbal agave, then the heat. This builds slowly but powerfully — those with chapped lips will suffer greatly at the hands of Soltado — an authentic and all-encompassing spiciness that feels like you’ve downed a solid slug of Tabasco. (The cinnamon doesn’t come through at all, however.) As it fades, the caramel of the tequila comes back to the fore, though it remains tempered by racy serrano notes that linger for several minutes.

Soltado is clearly designed for mixing, but nonetheless it remains a bit of an oddity.

80 proof.

B / $33 / soltadotequila.com

Review: Creyente Mezcal Joven

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This new joven mezcal is a blend of two 100% Espadin agave mezcals from different regions of Oaxaca (Tlacolula and Yautepec). It’s fitting, because the product is a parternship of two longtime mezcaleros – Pedro Mateo and Mijail Zarate – who have tinkered with classical distillation processes to come up with Creyente (Spanish for “believer”). Per the press release: “In separate distilleries, they begin by removing the pencas (leaves) and roasting the piñas (hearts) using an artisanal method with mesquite wood in a horno cónico de pierdra (stone oven) for three days. The roasted piñas are ground by hand using a molino de piedra (stone mill) to extract their succulent syrups, fermented in wooden barrels, then distilled in small copper stills. Finally, following distillation, the two mezcals are cut with natural spring water, blended with each other, and together they become Creyente.”

The crystal clear Creyente offers a classically smoky nose, studded with notes of lemon zest, black pepper, and overripe fruit. On the palate, more smoke leads to a relatively fruit-heavy body, lightly oily with notes of black pepper, furniture polish, and sweetened cereal. The finish sticks to the palate (and the ribs), with overtones of petrol, licorice, and smoky forest fire. Altogether it’s a rather classic, and surprisingly straightforward, mezcal, despite it’s unorthodox production.

80 proof.

B+ / $50 / no website