Review: 2013 Wines of Les Dauphins, Cotes du Rhones Reserve

dauphinsLes Dauphins is a new label being produced by the Union des Vignerons des Cotes du Rhone, a 1920s bistro-inspired brand that’s priced to move. The Cotes du Rhones wines — all heavily grenache-based — all share the same name, so you’ll have to rely on your eyes to figure out which one’s which. (You can do it!)

While the “Reserve” moniker might be pushing things, these are all drinkable wines with price tags that are tough not to like. Thoughts follow.

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (White) – A simple, entry-level table white wine composed of 65% grenache, 15% marsanne, 10% clairette, and 10% viognier. Somewhat green, with notes of old wood. Fair enough with food but otherwise undistinguished. B-

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (Rose) – 80% grenache, 10% syrah, 10% cinsault. The best of the Les Dauphins line, this is a fresh, mildly fruity rose with notes of strawberry and rose petals. Lightly sweet, but balanced with gentle herbs and some perfume. Pretty and well-balanced. B+

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (Red) – 70% grenache, 25% syrah, 5% mourvedre. This is ultra-ripe, super-fruity juice that’s loaded with notes of strawberry jam, plump raisins, and some black pepper — particularly on the finish. Overbearing at first, but it settles down with time, particularly when accompanying food. B-

each about $10 / lesdauphins-rhone.us

Review: Tigre Blanc Vodka

TIGREBLANCgold4CYou’re not wrong to be suspicious of a $90 vodka. It’s vodka, amirite?

Tigre Blanc is a new spirit that hails from the Cognac region of France. It is distilled six times in alembic copper pot stills and is made from 100% French wheat grown in Cognac. The bottle is ostentatious, an oversized gold-encrusted number with a suspicious, egg-like protrusion on the top. (The white frosted bottle on the Tigre Blanc website is a different product not on sale in the U.S.) A portion of proceeds go to the Panthera Organization, dedicated to aiding and preserving wild cats. (Tigre Blanc, get it?)

So how about a tasting…

The nose is quite clean. Lightly medicinal, with just touches of pepper on the nose. On the tongue, the vodka offers some sweetness, which grows as the palate evolves. This isn’t sickly sweet at all, just a gentle cane sugar character that carries with it a hint of vanilla and a touch of chocolate. Surprisingly, this melds well with that spicier nose. A little punchy up front, then a sweet little massage on the back end. All of this is done in a very gentle fashion, nothing heavy-handed about it, simple and seductive from start to finish. It’s a vodka that’s both clean and balanced, offering mild flavor notes that enhance the experience instead of detract from it.

80 proof.

A / $90 / tigreblancvodka.com

Review: J.R. Revelry Bourbon Whiskey

jr revelryBased in Georgia, distilled in Indiana, bottled in Tennessee, and launched in New York, J.R. Revelry is a funky new whiskey with quite a tale behind it. It’s the brainchild of Rick Tapia, a Peruvian native laying claim to the title of the only Hispanic American making whiskey in the States — instead of tequila or pisco.

J.R. Revelry is distilled by Indiana’s MGP (nee LDI) — though J.R. calls this “the old Seagram Distillery” as a bit of light subterfuge and an attempt to sound a bit more austere. Fact is, they’re getting some pretty young stock — less than four years old according to the bottle — and pricing it awfully high. (No mashbill information is provided.)

I’m not overly concerned with provenance, though. Let’s see how it tastes.

J.R. Revelry is young and it shows. The nose is dense with lumberyard notes, burnt popcorn, and heavily charred malt, with just a hint of fruit underneath it all. Has this seen some extra-charred barrels, I wonder? The body follows the nose in lockstep, offering a surfeit of wood plus notes of leather saddle, cloves, and some mushroom. Fruitier notes make a welcome appearance late in the game, with a touch of apple pie spice, raisins, and cherry (more pits than fruit, though). The finish is very drying, leaving behind just a bit of that lingering fruit, but it remains quite tannic and a bit too rough-and-tumble for a bottle priced at 35 bucks.

90 proof.

B- / $35 / jrrevelry.com

Review: Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

blade and bow

Diageo’s latest Bourbon project arrives with, as usual, plenty of confusion surrounding its provenance. The basic story is that Blade and Bow is launching in two versions, but both are a “tribute” to the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery.

I won’t try to digest how these two expressions are made myself, so here’s the relevant PR on the matter, first the NAS expression, then the 22 year old:

Born from some of the oldest remaining whiskey stocks distilled at Stitzel-Weller before it ceased production in 1992, Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey … is made using a unique solera aging system to preserve the original stocks. This solera liquid is then mingled with other fine whiskeys, aged and bottled at Stitzel-Weller. The 91-proof bourbon is priced at $49.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Blade and Bow 22-Year-Old Limited Release Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is comprised of whiskeys distilled at both the distillery historically located at 17th and Breckinridge in Louisville, Ky. and the distillery historically located in at 1001 Wilkinson Blvd. in Frankfort, Ky. The limited release offering was most recently aged and bottled at Stitzel-Weller. At 92-proof, you can purchase a 750ml bottle for $149.99.

Only the “base,” NAS version was made available for review at press time, but it sounds like a markedly different product than the 22 year old — and thanks to its solera process, is a departure for bourbon in general. How’s this new whiskey come across? Bend an ear and draw near.

The nose is restrained for bourbon, with hints of citrus, some mint, and mild wood notes. Initially quite alcoholic, these harsher aromas blow off with time — so let it air out before diving in in force. On the palate, it’s racy with heat, then punchy with fruity notes — orange, apricot, cut apples, and a touch of lemon. There’s more mint here too, plus a nice lacing of wood-driven vanilla and chocolate notes as expected. The finish keeps the fruit rolling right along, fading out with a touch of caramel apple that makes for a pleasant way to wrap things up. It starts off as a bit of an odd duck, with its strangely heavy fruitiness setting it apart from the typical bourbon profile — but I found this ultimately grew on me as an evening of tasting wore on.

Give it a whirl.

91 proof.

A- / $50 / diageo.com

Review: Bully Boy Distillers Hub Punch

Bully Boy Hub Punch Bottle

Bully Boy is a Boston-based craft distiller that makes vodka, rum, and white whiskey… and which also makes this oddity: The Hub Punch. What’s Hub Punch? Bully Boy explains:

Inspired by the original Hub Punch recipe popular in the late 1800’s, Bully Boy Hub Punch, our barrel aged rum infused with fruits and botanicals, revives a historic Boston tradition that was a casualty of Prohibition. Originally concocted at the now defunct Hub Hotel, Bostonians typically enjoyed Hub Punch mixed with soda water, ginger ale, or lemonade. Bully Boy consulted a variety of historical accounts of Hub Punch to craft a spirit that pays homage to the traditional recipe and spirit of the pre-prohibition era Boston. Bully Boy Hub Punch is fruit forward with the botanicals providing tea-like undertones ideal for mixing with both dry and sweet mixing agents.

So, it’s essentially a high-proof cocktail in a bottle, rum flavored with citrus, fruit, and botanicals. Think of it as a rum-based sangria and you’re pretty close.

The Hub Punch is a deep garnet spirit, and taken neat it’s pretty overwhelming. Intense fruit overtones push it into the realm of cough syrup, extremely cloying and medicinal, with intense licorice overtones. Ice alone helps temper the spirit, as does some plain water (other mixer ideas are outlined above). Cooling things down helps to bring out The Hub Punch’s more interesting nuances, including chocolate notes, cinnamon, raisin, and plenty of that licorice note. There’s still a whole lot of sweetness here, with the fruit and root beer notes ultimately growing on you the way a bottomless pitcher of sangria does.

Funky.

70 proof.

B / $30 / bullyboydistillers.com

Review: Hooker’s House Sour Mash Whiskey 7 Years Old

hookers houseIt’s been a couple of years since I first encountered Hooker’s House, and I’ve remained a fan since then. Now the company is back with its first new release in two years, Hooker’s House Sour Mash. This is a single barrel release made from 100% corn that spends 7 years in new, charred white American oak barrels before being finished in used premium French oak barrels at the Hooker’s House Sonoma distillery. The French oak barrels were formerly used for aging Carneros Pinot Noir.

Hooker’s House, like Angel’s Envy, sources its older whiskeys, then finishes them to give them their own unique spin. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a choice that takes HH’s whiskeys in a unique direction.

Case in point is this “Sour Mash,” a curious name for an aged and finished corn whiskey, but what’s in a name?

This is quite a spirit, lush but powerful from the get-go. The nose is sweet and offers lots of bakery notes — fresh doughnuts, Nutella, and raisins. On the palate, this silky-smooth spirit goes down easy, with gentle notes of vanilla and caramel starting things off. The corn underpinnings are notable, melding to give this spirit something of a caramel corn character, which is surprisingly enjoyable in liquid form. But you can’t fight off that Pinot Noir finishing for long. In time as the finish develops, there’s a burst of raisin, dark cherry fruit, dried figs, and chocolate notes. These are flavors that are rare in straight-outta-Kentucky bourbons, but which are minor wonders in Hooker’s House Sour Mash. Really great stuff that’s worth seeking out.

90 proof.

A / $40 / prohibition-spirits.com

Review: Domestik Adjustable Wine and Spirits Aerator

domestik wine aeratorWine aerators — little gizmos which suck in air and mix with wine or spirits that you pour through them — aren’t a new idea. But Domestik is trying to teach this aging dog some new tricks by letting you adjust the amount air the liquid gets.

Just twist the dial on the Domestik and you can set the amount of aeration to your specifications. It’s an analog system with seven basic settings. The idea is to use less aeration with white wines and lighter reds and more with heavier reds and spirits. The mechanics are all visible since the whole thing is largely transparent, but in numerous tests it was difficult to actually see any variation in the amount of air that came through at the lowest setting of 0 vs. the highest setting of 6.

Vinturi, the market leader, sells three different primary aeration systems, one for red wine, one for whites, and one for spirits. I didn’t notice a bit of difference in testing the Vinturi’s red vs. white systems (the spirit aerator has a built-in shot measuring system, so it’s a bit of an outlier), and I didn’t find any noticeable change in drinking wine or spirits aerated with the 0 setting vs. a 6.

That said, aeration does have noticeable effects, namely in hastening the dissipation of heavy alcohol vapors and the stimulation of fruitier elements on the nose. Basically, these gadgets shortcut the natural and often time-consuming process of getting air into your drink of choice, and as with the Vinturi line, the Domestik Aerator can be handy in a pinch.

Bonus! For the next two weeks, use the promo code HACKER25 on the domestikgoods.com website below to get 25% off the purchase price of an aerator.

B+ / $30 / domestikgoods.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial Rye

alaskan imperial ryeNot to be confused with Alaskan’s Imperial Red Ale, this IPA brewed with rye cuts a surprisingly nutty character, offering notes of bracing, traditional IPA hops plus a backbone that features chocolate, coffee, and lingering notes of baking spice. Consumed straight from the fridge, it sticks closely to the IPA side of things. As it warms, the more seductive, dessert-like notes come to the fore. It’s a lovely little hybrid that manages to keep its feet in both worlds and achieves a nice little tap dance between them.

8.5% abv.

A- / $9 per 22 oz. bottle / alaskanbeer.com

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2015

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This year marked my sixth consecutive in attendance at Whiskies of the World, a fantastic event that’s typically held on the San Francisco Belle paddleboat, docked in San Francisco Bay. I asked organizer Douglas Stone why it seemed so empty this year, and he told me it was an optical illusion: He pushed the distilleries’ tables closer to the wall, making much more room for attendees. Ultimately, Stone sold more tickets this year but created a show that felt much less overwhelmingly crowded. Good move!

As always, there were lots of old favorites alongside new bottlings to try at this event — and I tried to seek out some as many lesser-known brands as I could this go-round. The hands-down favorite? Speyburn’s very limited edition Clan Cask, a 37 year old single malt that was just sitting there on the table unnoticed — not even part of the VIP hour. I’m tempted to buy a bottle, even though it’s $400 at retail. Whiskey festival-goers: Pay attention to what’s out there!

Thoughts on everything sampled follow.

Scotch

Arran 14 Years Old / A- / powerful, long finish; punchy spice lasts
Arran Port Cask Finish / B / a but musty today; not seeing the port character
Auchentoshan 18 Years Old / B+ / some smoky lumberyard notes; dried fruit on the finish
BenRiach Sauternes Finish 16 Years Old / A- / light as a feather; gentle apple and honey notes
BenRiach Solstice 17 Years Old / A- / modest peat notes, some citrus; a combo that works well
Benromach 10 Years Old / B+ / easy peat notes, crosote, lingers without being too pushy
Cutty Sark Prohibition / B- / too pushy in the wood department
Duncan Taylor Black Bull 21 Years Old / A- / surprisingly good, malty notes and cocoa; very gentle and lovely
Duncan Taylor Glen Grant 1995 18 Years Old Single Cask / A- / pretty, floral, with sweet caramel notes
Duncan Taylor Glentauchers 2008 6 Years Old Sherry Single Cask / B / very young and very hot; grain with a citrus explosion
Exclusive Malts Blended Whisky 1991 21 Years Old / A- / candy apple, lots of malt, chewy nougat
Exclusive Malts Bowmore 2002 12 Years Old / A- / gentle and modestly peated; lingering finish
Haig Club / B+ / citrus and grain in nice balance; I’m still a modest fan
Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 10 Years Old / B / very young, tough grain notes
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Years Old / A / a highlight of the night; classic structure both gentle and rich with well-rounded sweetness and spice
Gordon & MacPhail Spey Malt Macallan 19 Years Old / B / distilled in 1994; pushy and developing a bitter edge
Johnnie Walker Blue Label / A- / lush, drinking quite easily
Laphroaig 18 Years Old / A- / gentle smoke with a menthol kick
Macallan 12 Years Old / B / super woody and tannic; less enjoyable than I remembered
Macallan Fine Oak 15 Years Old / A- / silkier, with more pronounced sherry notes
Macallan Rare Cask / A- / rich, nougat notes, big sherry finish – I’m still a fan
Mortlach Rare Old / A- / chewy, some smoke, lush and rounded”
Muirheads 1992 Silver Seal 20 Years Old Bourbon Cask / B+ / classic structure, toasted, easy grains
Muirheads 1993 Silver Seal 20 Years Old Sherry Cask / A- / gentle, then a flood of citrus
Speyburn 25 Years Old / A- / racy, lots of wood and sherry, spice; a bit of barnyard
Speyburn Clan Cask 37 Years Old / A+ / rich, with notes of coffee, dark chocolate; lush, malty, and epic in its length; I couldn’t get enough of this one… alas, it’s extremely limited

American Whiskey

Bird Dog Blackberry Bourbon / C- / sugar and fruit syrup
Bird Dog Chocolate Bourbon / B / they ain’t lyin’
Black Saddle 12 Years Old Bourbon / A- / lumber and campfire notes; licorice and root beer
Buck Bourbon / A- / an 8 year old bottling; I wouldn’t have expected so much fruit (cherry), but the grainy edge brings it back to bourbon country
Defiant American Single Malt / C- / sweaty, wet mule notes; very young and weedy
George Dickel Barrel Select / B / almond notes, very nutty and chewy
Healthy Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel / A- / an SF retailer’s single-barrel OBSF from Four Roses, 11 years 5 months old; fruity with a spice kick and red pepper finish
Healthy Spirits Smooth Ambler 8 Years Old Single Barrel Rye / A- / wow! fruit tea, baking spice, and ginger all wrapped up in a whiskey
Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Bourbon / B- / “inspired by the quality of AH Hirsch,” hmmm… this bourbon has nothing to do with the classic Hirsch; it’s big and wheaty, with lengthy grain notes
I.W. Harper 15 Years Old Bourbon / A- / deep, lengthy vanilla notes
Koval Bourbon / C- / sweaty with raw grain notes
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014 / A- / punch, fresh, lush vanilla
Old Forester Signature / A- / chewy with a touch of granary notes; very big finish
Wathen’s Single Barrel / B+ / I’d only ever had this one in Kentucky; grainier than I remember, with some spice to it
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 2014 Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish / A / still loving this; big fruit, Cocoa Pebbles, and a touch of corn
Woodford Reserve Rye / A- / pretty and lovely barley notes with a long finish

World Whiskeys

Alberta Dark Batch Rye / C / exotic nose, but funky as hell on the body with big oak and grain galore; I’m always wary of spirits like this marketed as a “mixologist whiskey”; full review is in the works… we’ll see if this grade stands
Connemara Peated Single Malt 12 Years Old / A- / so gentle; light peat atop honey and heather
Crown Royal XR LaSalle / B+ / lots of apple notes; sweet, almost syrupy
Hakushu 18 Years Old / A- / malty, big finish
Kavalan Vinho Barrique Single Malt Whisky / B+ / fiery, some sour fruit
Kavalan King Car / B+ / nice sherry notes, a bit salty
Nikka Whisky Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 Years Old / A- / well rounded, nice caramel notes
Nikka Whiksy Taktesuru Pure Malt 17 Years Old / B+ / surprisingly heavy cereal character
Yamazaki 18 Years Old / A / spry nose; glorious on the body

Review: Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old Rye, 2 Year Old Blended, and 2 Year Old 100 Proof Whiskeys

LG_100ProofThe mad microdistillers at Craft Distillers keep rolling with the Low Gap line. These whiskeys began as white dog releases in 2011, and the company has been putting out progressively older and more interesting expressions in the years since. Today we got to sample a trio of two year old whiskeys, including a rye, a blend, and an overproof (wheat) rarity. As with all of the Low Gap line (six bottlings are currently on the market), all of these spirits are made in Craft’s 16 hectoliter cognac still, fermented on site from scratch, and brought to proof using filtered rainwater(!).

Thoughts follow.

Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old Rye Whiskey – Malted rye with some corn and barley, aged in new and used bourbon and cognac barrels. The nose is quite grainy, but mellowing out as it settles down, with some smoky notes along with some interesting almond and graham cracker characteristics. The body is initially sweet with just a touch of cognac-driven raisin character that adds a lot more nuance than you might expect. The finish gets a bit hoary though, a clear showcase of this whiskey’s youth, with dried herbs and some baking spice finishing things off. 88.2 proof. B / $65

Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old Blended Whiskey – Malted corn and barley, aged in used Van Winkle bourbon barrels and new Missouri oak bourbon barrels. The nose exudes some notes of classic — but very young — bourbon. Corny and woody, but also racy with spices and sharp vanilla extract. The body is somewhat brash and still showing itself as a young gun, but one with lots of charm. Think caramel corn, vanilla cream soda, and some maple syrup. Still plenty of lumberyard notes here, but there’s enough character to get me excited, not just for today, but to see where this goes in the next couple of years. 92 proof. A- / $65  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old 100 Proof Whiskey – This is Low Gap’s Bavarian wheat whiskey, aged two-plus years, bottled from a selection of just three barrels (comprising new and used oak) at 100 proof, of course. This whiskey starts off demure and restrained, but give it a little time and a wealth of fruit notes emerge on the nose: Apples and orange flowers, some banana, backed up with a bit of cereal. On the palate some coconut notes mingle with cinnamon, cloves, nougat, and milk chocolate. Wood makes a belated appearance on the back end, but in a gentle and approving way. The evolution on the palate is both fun and intriguing as an exploration. Arguably the best Low Gap expression Craft Distillers has put out to date. A / $75

craftdistillers.com