Review: Spirits of Santa Fe Spirits

santa fe apple brandy

Santa Fe Spirits is based, you guessed it, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Founded by Colin Keegan in 2010, the company now offers a range of five spirits, all with a southwestern bent and primarily column-distilled. We tasted four of them (all but the aged, single malt whiskey). Thoughts follow.

Santa Fe Spirits Apple Brandy – This was Santa Fe’s first product, made from New Mexico-grown Mountain West apples, including some from Keegan’s own orchard. Barrel aged “for years.” Big, punchy nose. It’s got mashed apples, sure, but lots of wood, and some coal fire character to it. The body is on the oily side, burly with overpowering wood notes and a big, tannic finish. Overall: A curiosity that never quite pulls it all together. C+ / $45

Santa Fe Spirits Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin – A newfangled infusion and the most avant garde of the bunch. This gun includes only botanicals that are sourced from within 30 miles of the distillery: white desert sage, Cholla cactus blossoms, osha root, Cascade hops, and local juniper. My first cactus-infused gin! The nose is a delight. Quite citrusy, like Meyer lemon, with distinct sage notes. On the body, those hops come through right away, while the sage and citrus character lingers. All of these things balance quite well, though the hops tend to dominate a bit too heavily. 80 proof (it could have stood to be 86, in my opinion). B+ / $32

Santa Fe Spirits Silver Coyote Pure Malt Whiskey – Made from 100% malted barley and bottled as unaged white dog. A lighter style of white dog, relatively restrained (comparatively) with a curious mix of grain and slate notes on the nose. The body isn’t overly complex, wearing its maltiness and youthful barley notes on its sleeve, with a lightly vegetal finish. Think green beans and sweet potatoes. Or competently made white lightning, anyway. 92 proof. B+ / $30

Santa Fe Spirits Expedition American West Vodka – 6 times distilled from a corn base. Interesting nose here, supple and sweet but not overdone. It’s not at all “corny,” but the aroma is almost like a nice bit of cotton candy or marshmallow. On the body, similar notes prevail, with a subtle fruitiness that recalls apples and banana. The finish has a touch of medicinal burn, but by and large it’s a smooth operator that offers a modern profile balanced by a restrained and refined backbone. 80 proof. A / $25

Note: This quartet is available in a four-pack of 200ml bottles. Total price: $55.

santafespirits.com

Review: George Dickel White Whisky Foundation No. 1

Dickel No. 1 (2)

Just when it seems that everyone who’s anyone in American distilling has launched a white whiskey, well, you realize there’s room for one more.

The latest coming out the gate is Dickel, which is bringing its Tennessee Whiskey — bourbon-style mash of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley, but charcoal-filtered before bottling — to the unaged universe. Appropriately known as George Dickel Foundation No. 1, it’s the base spirit that’s used for all of Dickel’s aged bottlings.

No. 1 doesn’t launch until January 2014, but we got a sneak peek. Thoughts follow.

Pure popcorn, straight from the movie theater holding bin. Some peanut notes add intrigue to the nose, but otherwise this is the essence of corn whiskey. The body is surprisingly easygoing — that charcoal filtering is surprisingly effective at washing away those often overbearing raw alcohol notes — though No. 1 makes few bones about its grainy makeup. Whether you’re thinking about fresh popping corn or chawing on Corn Nuts, the analogy is about the same. Wait, did I mention the corn?

You can really taste the family resemblance between Dickel No. 1 with Dickel No. 8, which makes sense because it’s the youngest and simplest of the aged whiskeys Dickel offers. As the Dickel family gets older in No. 12 and Barrel Select, the vanilla notes driven by the barrel begin to crowd the corniness out.

As for No. 1, it’s a totally worthwhile white dog, and the charcoal filtering is a distinct advantage here. Better yet, it’s  not wildly overpriced like Jack Daniel’s clear offering is. (That said, Dickel rarely costs more than 20 bucks a bottle.) All in all: It isn’t as tasty as the aged stuff — white dog rarely is — but it’s a solid white lightning.

91 proof.

B / $22 / dickel.com

Review: Anchor Distilling White Christmas White Whiskey 2013

Anchor White Christmas

Here’s a first: A limited edition white whiskey, created by San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling exclusively for the 2013 holiday season.

It’s a neat idea. Every year Anchor’s brewing arm cooks up a special — and always unique — Christmas Ale. 2013’s White Christmas whiskey is distilled from the 2012 Christmas Ale, hence the whiskey’s subtitle, “The Spirit of Christmas Past.”

Twice distilled and unaged, the beer’s spicier elements come through clearly — so much so that you might do a double take and think you’re drinking gin. Orange peel, juniper berries, cloves, and cardamom notes are all present, but they’re atop an earthy, mushroomy core. The nose is light, the body rich but not overwhelming — and without the overwhelmingly hoary funkiness that’s so common with white dog. Sure, white whiskeys don’t often dazzle with nuance or depth, but as the category goes, this is one of the more unique, worthwhile, and drinkable white whiskeys I’ve encountered in recent months.

90 proof. Available in California only.

B+ / $50 / anchordistilling.com

Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and Moonshine

BATCH 206 VODKASeattle-based Batch 206 is a craft distillery focused on hyperlocal raw materials — just about all of its source materials are from the Pacific Northwest. The company cooks up its goodies in a variety of stills, including a unique hybrid pot/column still, and most are filtered heavily through coconut husk charcoal before bottling. Thoughts on four of the company’s primary spirits follow.

Batch 206 Vodka – Hand-crafted and micro-batched it may be, this vodka, crafted from red winter wheat and malted barley, is one of the sweetest I’ve seen. Lush with honey notes up front, it isn’t until you’re well into tasting that the more traditional medicinality comes forth. You’ll have to push past lots of marshmallow notes to get to this vodka’s core… but it’s there, if you go a-huntin’. 80 proof. B / $25

Batch 206 Counter Gin – A modern American gin. The core is seemingly based on 206’s vodka as a base. It’s then flavored, per the company, with “juniper berries from Albania, whole cucumbers from Seattle’s Pike Place Market, tarragon and verbena leaves from Provence, lavender flowers from Sequim, Washington, and orange peel from Seville, Spain, along with Floridian Meyer lemon peel and English orris root as minor constituents.” The fresh nose is driven by the orange peel and juniper, but neither is overdone. These are also big on the body, and some floral characteristics come along next, slightly earthy (the verbena?) notes overwhelming the lavender, which can be a real downer in a gin. The finish is long, slightly sweet (just like the vodka), with some spiciness evident as well. I’d love to see this gin with a little black pepper in it to pump that component up a bit. Meanwhile, try it in a sweeter cocktail. 80 proof. B+ / $25

Batch 206 See 7 Stars Moonshine – Old-school white whiskey, crafted from a mash of Columbia Basin corn and Washington malted barley. Sweet, distinct caramel notes on the nose. The body’s got ample popcorn and plenty of peppery heat, thanks to its higher, heftier proof level and finishes with hints of sugar. Not terribly overwhelming, but not overly complex, either. This is a credible white dog driven by its constituent grain components. Treat appropriately. 100 proof. B / $28

Batch 206 Mad Mint Vodka – Peppermint-infused, overproof vodka, sweetened with local beet sugar. (The mint is Washington-grown, too.) The nose is a perfect recreation of an Andes mint — chocolate and mint, sandwiched together. It’s almost enough fun just to smell it. Of course, the body can’t compare… it’s half alcohol, after all. It’s got the essence of mint and a touch of cocoa here, injected with plenty of raw power. It grows on you wickedly… I presume driving the name of the spirit. Not exactly refined, but it is fun stuff. 100 proof. A- / $27

batch206.com

Review: Firefly White Lightning Moonshine and Apple Pie Moonshine

Firefly Moonshine Rocks!

I’m a big fan of Firefly’s tea-flavored vodka, probably the best on the market. Recently the distillery, based in Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, branched out into moonshine — unaged “raw corn whiskey,” available unflavored or in one of five different flavored versions. We got both the pure stuff and one of the flavors. Thoughts — surprising thoughts — follow. 

Firefly White Lightning Moonshine – Popcorn nose, almost buttery. From the sharp nose you might think you’re in for a rough and rustic body, but that’s not the case. This White Lightning is surprisingly silky, presumably sweetened but not overdone, this is spicy (over 100 proof) but flavorful, driven by its corn origins but mellowed out with a glazing of sugar. That’s not a slight. This may be moonshine, but it tempers its frontier heritage with a sweetness that’s wholly appropriate. 100.7 proof. B+

Firefly Apple Pie Moonshine – I’ve had apple pie-flavored spirits before, but this is the first time I’ve had one that gets all the components of the dessert in one little shot. It’s all here: apples, cinnamon, caramel, and pie crust. As with Firefly’s masterful tea-flavored vodka, this proves how flavored spirits can be crafted with intelligence, and without being crammed full of as much sugar as possible. This is sweet, but an apple pie is also sweet. Like a well-made pie, Firefly has figured out the balance of the equation (low alcohol doesn’t hurt here), and I have to give them props on that count. 60.3 proof. A

each $20 / fireflymoonshine.com

Review: 2bar Spirits Vodka and Moonshine

2bar moonshine

Seattle-based 2bar Spirits is a craft distillery named after a ranch that was part of the owners’ family for generations… before they decided to trade South Texas for Washington and hooves for hooch. The company makes two spirits, both unaged. We got ‘em both. Thoughts follow.

Both spirits are 80 proof.

2bar Spirits Vodka – Distilled from local Washington wheat, this vodka has a strong white dog character to it, full of grainy cereal notes on the nose. But the body is balanced by a silky body and some sweetness — think of a very lightly sweetened breakfast cereal — giving it a touch of marshmallow character. The finish brings on some of the lighter medicinal notes that vodka fans will find familiar… while fading out with a return to light notes of grain. The overall impression is closer to a white whiskey than a vodka, and maybe that’s OK. White lightning is often too harsh and overpowering for easy consumption. Here things are dialed back enough to make it easier to sip on, while still residing in the vodkaverse. 80 proof. B+ / $33

2bar Spirits Moonshine – Distilled from local corn instead of wheat. Very easygoing nose, slightly sweet. The body is downright shocking: It’s milder and sweeter than the Vodka, a little flabby in its construction, the palate offering an easy mix of Corn Pops cereal and the lightest dusting of honey. This is a much more easy-to-sip spirit, and while it isn’t the most complex of things, its light notes of licorice and milk chocolate add nuance to what is often a straightforward and unsatisfying category. With its moonshine, 2bar proves that white whiskey can be engaging and fun, leaving the drinker with nary a grimace to be made. A- / $30

2barspirits.com

Review: Colorado Gold Bourbon and Corn Whiskey

colorado's own corn whiskey

Colorado continues to rise as a key craft distilling region. One of the vanguards is Colorado Gold, a company out of Cedaredge, which was established in 2007. The company makes a full range of spirits, and today we’re looking at two of its most popular ones, both whiskeys, and very different ones at that. Thoughts follow.

Colorado Gold Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Young stuff, but quite engaging. Made from a mash of 65% corn, 15% rye, 10% wheat, and 10% malted barley, and aged for three years in a new char #3 American oak barrel. There’s ample wood on the nose, balanced with a touch of citrus, a bit of menthol. The body takes things to a similar place — a good slug of wood, mild caramel, with some dusty, coal-fire notes on the finish. Pleasant but not overly nuanced, this is a surprisingly simple bourbon, but with the often abrasive corn/grain notes you find in so many craft bourbons mercifully stripped out. There’s ample wood, but it’s balanced with clever touches of marshmallow, vanilla, and orange oil, turning slightly bitter as the finish fades. I’m both impressed and intrigued. 80 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #8, bottle #79, distilled 1/19/13. B+ / $43

Colorado’s Own Corn Whiskey – Colorado Gold’s top selling product. Made from a mash of 85% corn, 10% wheat, and 5% malted barley and aged for 6 months in a fresh-dumped Colorado Gold (see above) bourbon barrel. This is lightly aged corn whiskey, emphasis on light — it’s got the barest shade of yellow tinting it. This is surprisingly easy to drink. It’s not at all harsh or overloaded with corn, rather a light and pleasant spirit that features simple vanilla caramel notes backed with touches of corn chips. A fruity character comes on in the finish — peaches, perhaps — before some dusty wood notes bring up the rear. Surprisingly fun stuff. 80 proof. B+ / $27

coloradogolddistillers.com

Review: Teeling Whiskey Company Irish Whiskey and Poitin

Teeling 21 Yr Old Single Malt Silver ReserveWe don’t see a lot of new Irish whiskey brands on the market, so when a curiosity like Teeling comes around, Drinkhacker takes note. The Teeling Whiskey Company (aka TWC) is a new brand with some surprisingly old stock. Founder Jack Teeling has roots in the Irish biz dating back to the late 1700s, and now he’s bringing the family business back with this independent distillery.

Mashbill information is a little complicated, so here it is from TWC’s Teeling: “Both [the whiskey and poitin] are a blend of grain and malt whiskey mashbills. The grain mashbill is 95% maize and 5% malted barley, and the malt mashbill is 100% malted barley. The blend of both consists of 35% malt whiskey (or spirit in the case of the Poitin) and 65% grain whiskey (or spirit in the case of the Poitin).” Got it?

Teeling Whiskey Company Poitin – Ah, Ireland’s white whiskey made from who-knows-what (but see above in TWC’s case), and it’s got a lot going on. The nose is fragrant and intriguing: rustic and young, but with notes of lemongrass, black pepper, and hot coals. Fiery at a blazing 123 proof, the body still shows some charms even without water: marshmallows, orange flowers, and a finish of burning embers. It’s complex yet curious, a white whiskey made the way it really ought to be. High-test white spirits like this always need some coaxing to bring out their charms, but Teeling’s does it quite a bit better than most. B+ / $42 (500ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Teeling Whiskey Company Small Batch Irish Whiskey – Small batch whiskey, bottled with no age statement (but blended from hand-selected casks aged between 4 and 7 years old), but finished in ex-Flor de Cana rum casks. The combo makes for some unusual and quite delicious flavors. The nose offers sweet vanilla, creme brulee and very light wood notes. Elusive, but engaging. On the tongue, it’s quite sweet, but kicked up a bit from the rum, with some fun citrus notes, more of a chocolate marshmallow back-end, and a silky smooth finish. The whiskey and rum are working well together here — that doesn’t always happen — offering a sizeable bite, but one which is tempered with ample (yet balanced) sweetness. Really good stuff, with ample depth. Reviewed: Edition bottled 2/2013. 92 proof. A / $53 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Teeling Whiskey Company 21 Year Old Silver Vintage Reserve 1991 Irish Whiskey (pictured) – Unlike the above, this is single malt Irish. 21 years old, at that. 21 year old Irish sounds like it’s going to be incredible, but this is a case where things have gone a bit too far. The lively amber color doesn’t let on to what’s in store, which starts to reveal itself with a malty, bread-like nose. The body offers more of that — a really intense grain character that comes off as fully unexpected in a whiskey this well-aged. Where is the sweetness? Where is the spice? These characteristics are hinted at on the finish, but here you also get more heavy barrel char notes that outweigh any fruity sweetness that remains in the spirit. Interesting enough as a sipper, but a huge letdown from my admittedly high expectations. 92 proof. B / $217

teelingwhiskey.com

Review: TOPO Vodka, Gin, and Carolina Whiskey

topo piedmont ginTop of the Hill Distillery, affectionately “TOPO,” promises its spirits are “100 miles from grain to glass.” That’d be more comforting if I was closer to North Carolina, where TOPO is based. Good luck finding these farther afield. Fortunately, I was able to sample the full lineup of three unaged spirits from way out here in California. Thoughts on these organic spirits follow.

TOPO Vodka – Made from organic Carolina wheat. Whew, pungent on the nose, redolent of a typical white whiskey, with lots of grain aromas filling the nostrils. On the tongue, it belies that funky nose with a brisk sweetness, almost marshmallow-like in character, with a pungent medicinal character underneath. Kind of a strange combination. There’s a lot going on here, and those that like their vodka on the more rustic side will find plenty to enjoy. On the other hand, if you’re looking for balance and refinement, TOPO’s definitely got some growing up to do. 80 proof. B- / $29

TOPO Piedmont Gin – Also an organic wheat spirit. Piedmont, I’m guessing, refers not to Italy but to a big swath of area that runs along the eastern seaboard and crosses straight through central North Carolina. (Now you know!) But whatever the nomenclature, it’s an American style gin flavored with ample juniper, cardamom, coriander, star anise, and organic cucumber. On the nose there’s ample juniper, so much so that you might think TOPO Gin is going to be a one-trick pony. Take a sip and you’re in for a surprise: The juniper fades. Sweet licorice notes, floral snippets, and hints of orange peel arise in its wake. What’s most surprising is the kind of candied flower finish. Either that, or that my tasting notes bear no resemblance to those of TOPO’s. 92 proof. A- / $29

TOPO Carolina Whiskey – Like the above, this is young whiskey based on organic Carolina wheat. It has a lot in common with the vodka, too, as you might expect. It is, however, considerably more pungent (distilled fewer times and likely more pot-distilled spirit than in the vodka, I’d guess), full of deep grain and traditional fuel-driven notes on the nose. The body is of greater interest, loaded with chewy sweetness, plus plenty of cereal notes. The effect is not unlike a good granola bar, breakfast and dessert all in one package. It’s not overblown, but surprisingly well balanced among its various characteristics. As white whiskeys go — which is often a Bad News Bears situation — it’s one of the better ones around. 84 proof. B+ / $22

topodistillery.com

Review: Whiskeys of Fog’s End Distillery

Fogs End_White Dog_300 (2)Down in Gonzales, California — where, based on my travels, there’s plenty of fog — Fog’s End Distillery makes unique craft whiskeys, of a sort. These are all made, as the company’s owner Craig Pakish explains, with the “no cook, sour mash” method. But there’s a twist: While corn and rye are both used in various products, all of Fog’s End’s whiskeys include sugar in the mash. In fact, all of these spirits are half sugar, half grain.

What does that make these products? To its credit, Fog’s End does not call any of them “whiskey,” but I’m at a loss as to how to describe them as well. Only one of the products is aged. Most of them are straight off the still.

Anyway, arguments over semantics and monikers aside, here’s what you’ll find if you crack into one of Fog’s End’s inimitable spirits.

Fog’s End Distillery California MoonShine – “Made right on the left coast,” this 50% corn/50% sugar whiskey is moonshine through and through. And how. Intense popcorn notes on the nose lead to a pure, overpowering white lightning. Notes of coal, honeycomb, and fresh linens can be found on the back end, but getting there is a hell of a ride. 100 proof. B- / $30

Fog’s End White Dog – Made from a mash of 50% rye and 50% sugar, its much, much softer than the MoonShine, almost innocuous with a very mild body. The sugar is more than evident, with a sort of maple syrup character in the way it all comes together. Notes of apples and cherries add nuance. Altogether it interesting stuff for a white whiskey (of sorts). Use as an alternative to vodka. 80 proof. B / $34

Fog’s End Monterey Rye – Quite a misleading name, this is actually the white dog (50% rye, 50% sugar), aged for an unstated time and then bottled at a higher 90 proof. Definitely a step up from the white dog in complexity, the wood influence adds a significant caramel character and the extra alcohol gives it some heft. Still very sweet, but with more of a sense of balance. Some notes of cloves and cinnamon on the back end, but like the white dog, it leaves quite the sugary finish. B+ / $43

Fog’s End Primo Agua Ardiente – Literally “cousin’s fire water.” 50% corn and 50% sugar-based white whiskey, spiked with chili peppers, unaged but with a light yellow tint to it. Very spicy, but not overpowering the way some pepper-spiked spirits can be. The heat sticks in the back of throat, which has the secondary effect of drowning out pretty much everything else in the spirit. Fun for parties. 80 proof. B- / $34

fogsenddistillery.com

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