Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2007 Vintage

EWSB_2007

After a two year drought, we are finally back with another Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon review.

What happened to 2005 and 2006? Good question. At the time, rumors swirled that the Single Barrel line was being discontinued or was becoming a distillery-only product. The distillery went dark to questions about the line, but apparently neither of those scenarios happened, and you can still find a smattering of reviews of the 2005 and 2006 online, though both are mixed. Neither release is widely available today, but diligent hunters can track both of them down with a bit of effort. To this day, I still haven’t sampled either one.

Fast forward to this, the 2007 release, which is an 8 year old expression (bottled in November 2015), making it a bit younger than the last EWSB we reviewed, the 9 1/2 year old 2004.

Let’s taste it.

This is a bigger, bolder, more wood-forward whiskey than previous releases in this line. The nose offers ample honey, butterscotch, and caramel corn notes, with a big lumberyard character backing up the sweeter elements. Wood again dominates the palate, which offers an initial rush of brown sugar followed by some lightly winey notes, some cloves, and licorice. It’s tannic and brooding at times, the finish coating the mouth and lingering as it washes away the upfront sweetness.

It’s a bit at odds with some of the older Evan Williamses, which are better balanced, more citrusy, and more rounded, often showcasing pretty chocolate notes. The older vintages, which I spot-tasted in preparation for this review, are almost unilaterally both more mature and more interesting. That said, a bit of youth isn’t the end of the world, and the 2007 release isn’t without its share of charm.

Compare to: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004.

86.6 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #1.

B+ / $34 / evanwilliams.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Visiting and Tasting With Hourglass Wines

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“Michelin restaurants have more equipment than we do.”

So says Tony Biagi, winemaker at north Napa’s Hourglass and a celebrity in his own right, having made wines at Plumpjack, CADE, and other blue-chip operations. Now he’s got another feather in his cap in the form of Hourglass, a cult winery in the making, where a few years ago he replaced Bob Foley as winemaker.

Hourglass is the brainchild of Jeff and Carolyn Smith. Jeff is a wine veteran with grapes in his blood — his family’s been making wine in the Valley since 1975. After a stint selling Skyy and watching it become a national phenomenon (Jeff says he came up with the cobalt blue bottle), he bought his first vineyard, planted mainly cabernet, and hasn’t looked back.

Hourglass now has 18 vintages under its belt, and with Biagi now holding the reins, the winery seems poised for greatness, with a series of coveted releases now under its belt. Biagi will talk your ear off about his research into balancing tannin with “bound color” in a wine while aiming to minimally manipulate his finished product, but the main event today surrounds tasting a collection of young and unbottled 2015 vintage wines, including single-varietal malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc (one of Biagi’s beloved pet projects), plus some pre-release blends made from these grapes.

Some photos of this small but impressively well-designed winery follow, along with official tasting notes from three current/almost-released expressions of Hourglass’s cabernets from the 2014 vintage. Thanks to Tony and Jeff for a great day in Napa!

2014 Hourglass Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – I love this wine (which is 100% cabernet sauvignon). So nicely balanced, it offers an incredibly complex profile of gentle fruit, saddle leather, pipe tobacco, and violets. A slight balsamic edge endures well into the palate, which leads to a finish of black pepper, (very) dark chocolate, and tart blackberry. The denouement is lengthy, a classic yet complex representation of Napa cab. A / $165

2014 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A denser and bolder version of the the flagship wine, 90% cab blended with 6% malbec and 4% petit verdot, all drawn from Hourglass’s prized Blueline Estate Vineyard. This wine ups the ante on those tobacco and leather notes, tamping down the fruit a tad in the service of brambly tannins. Blackberry emerges as the wine opens up, along with restrained floral notes and some citrus. Again, give this one ample time or decant and chocolate notes emerge as well. A- / $125

2014 Hourglass Blueline Estate 36-24-36 – Moving up to the really rare stuff. Named for the iconic measurements of the “perfect” woman, this is a blend of 92% cabernet sauvignon and 8% petit verdot. This is a dense wine, more so than I would have expected based on this blend, loaded with hardy licorice, balsamic, and tart blackberry atop well-integrated oak notes and a light herbal character. There’s epic length here, culminating in some light menthol notes and a touch of cocoa. It’s enchanting today, but this wine needs ample time to open up — either by decanting or significant time in glass… or by letting it age in bottle for a few more years. A- / $225

hourglasswines.com

Review: Not Your Father’s Vanilla Cream Ale

not your fathers cream ale

Is the third try the charm for Small Town Brewery and its “Not Your Father’s” line of hard sodas. While its root beer is acceptable, its ginger ale fell flat. Now let’s look at its vanilla cream.

Results: This one’s roughly in the middle of the trio.

To start with, it’s aided by copious amounts of sugar. The initial rush is like a glazed donut with vanilla whipped cream liberally applied to the top of it. It’s got a bit of a root beer kick, but that sassafras essence is again compounded by sugary vanilla wafers. Bottom line: If sweet vanilla is your jam, you’ll be all over this soda.

One word of warning. Make sure to drink it ice cold and fast, for when this Vanilla Cream Ale warms up the vegetal malt liquor base really starts to show itself, ultimately becoming quite dominating on the palate. As with other sodas of this ilk, that funky, raw alcohol note is tough to shake and lingers for far too long.

4.1% abv (considerably lower in alcohol than the other two products).

B / $11 per six pack of 12 oz. bottles / smalltownbrewery.com

Review: Compass Box The Circus and Enlightenment

Circus

Two new limited expressions from the ever-interesting blenders at Compass Box: The Circus and Enlightenment. Let’s take a look at both. Thoughts follow.

Compass Box The Circus – This is another complicated whisky that requires an infographic to explain how it is blended. The gist is that The Circus is composed of a mix of old malt whisky, grain whisky, and blended stock, in these proportions: 57.2% blended Scotch whisky from a refill sherry butt; 26% blended grain whisky from a refill sherry butt; 15.4% Benrinnes malt whisky from a first-fill sherry butt, and 1.4% of a second blended Scotch whisky from a refill sherry butt. Whew! Compass Box says it actually doesn’t know much about the whiskies inside those mystery casks, but that those refill casks are all “marrying casks,” and that the whiskies inside each of them have been lingering there for a long, long time. To say that this whisky is sherry forward would be a massive understatement. All that time in sherry butts has given the spirit a nutty, citrus-peel intensity that is the very essence of sherry cask aging. Secondary aromas include tea leaf and tree bark. Underneath all that, the palate offers notes of nougat, cinnamon, dried fruit, and gentle brown sugar. It drinks more like a sherried single malt than a blend, providing just a hint of the underlying malty grain that endures into the finish, where lightly herbal notes linger. A stellar blend. 98 proof. 2490 bottles produced. A / $300

EnlightenmentCompass Box Enlightenment – This is a much different but equally complicated whisky, a blended malt rather than a standard blend (meaning there’s no grain whisky in this one). It’s almost all aged in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, so there’s no sherry influence and the color is much, much lighter. The all-single-malt blend looks like this: 48.2% Clynelish, 36.7% Glentauchers, 10.8% Balblair, and 4.3% Mortlach (this one in a rejuvenated bourbon barrel). UK regulations prevent revealing the ages of these whiskies, but nonetheless these are not young bucks. The nose reveals toasty wood, coconut, almonds, and subtle gingerbread notes. On the palate, there’s more of this lightly sweet, nutty character, leading to almond-laden nougat and Christmas spice notes later on. The finish is a bit heavier, with bolder granary notes, new leather, and a sense of wet earth that tends to weigh down the delights that have come before. Enlightenment is still a great whiskey — though perhaps it is difficult to consider it entirely fairly next to the near-masterpiece of The Circus. That said, I could still drink it every day. 92 proof. 5922 bottles produced. A- / $90

compassboxwhisky.com

Review: Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company Juices and Lemonades

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Florida-based Natalie’s Orchid Island makes fresh juices and lemonades, packing them in those familiar, squared-off, plastic pint bottles. These products are “gourmet pasteurized” but contain no preservatives, and must be kept refrigerated at all times. Is upscale juice worth the splurge? We checked out six varieties of juice and lemonade. For your consideration:

Natalie’s Orange Juice – A touch sour, but otherwise this is a reasonably credible orange juice that leans a bit toward the grapefruit/lemon end of the flavor spectrum. B

Natalie’s Orange Mango Juice – Light on the mango, which gives this blend a bit of a banana character — complete with a creamier body, almost smoothie-like at times. A-

Natalie’s Orange Beet Juice – Appropriately “beety,” it tastes awfully healthy, although the intense vegetal character of the beets makes this hard to drink a full pint of. I love beets, but beet juice — even when cut with a bit of orange — remains an acquired taste. (It’s worth noting that orange juice is the first ingredient, however.) B-

Natalie’s Lemonade – Nothing to complain about here. This lemonade nails the sweet and sour balance perfectly, with a slight lean toward fresh lemon, just as it should be. A

Natalie’s Strawberry Lemonade – Well-sweetened, with a nice balance between lemon and strawberry notes. Refreshing and tart, with a slight creaminess on the finish. B+

Natalie’s Lemonade Tea – The Arnold Palmer is a simple drink, but the majority of the time it is made, it tastes like garbage. Why is this so often screwed up? Good news: Natalie’s nails it. This is just about the perfect mix of lemonade and tea, starting off with that tart lemon kick, then settling down to finish with that gentle, sweet tea that lingers on the palate. That said, there are 48 grams of sugar in a pint, so perhaps drink only occasionally. A

$NA per 16 oz. bottle / orchidislandjuice.com

Review: Blue Ice Creme Brulee Vodka

Blue Ice Creme Brulee

Outside of its “G” line, Blue Ice has just one flavored vodka, and that flavor is… no, not lemon. Not citrus. Creme brulee. Or, as it is listed on the Blue Ice website: Creme burlee. Or, elsewhere, Creme burele.

That is an extremely weird choice for one’s sole flavor, but to be sure, “creme brulee” is shorthand for “vanilla.” (More “natural” flavors are relegated to the Blue Ice “G” line, which has a more organic reputation.) Anyway, if you think about an actual creme brulee while you’re sniffing a glass of Blue Ice Creme Brulee, you really do get a real custard sense in it. It’s not just straight vanilla, but sugary and eggy all at once, complete with that caramelized crust. So, on that note, well done, Blue Ice.

On the palate, sugar dominates, but the flavors continue the theme established by the nose. The more raw elements of the vodka battle with the heavier flavoring elements, but the finish positively pours on the sweetness, sticking to your mouth and, well, anything else that might come into contact with the vodka: This is some sticky, sticky stuff.

Sure, this is hardly a nuanced spirit, and outside of novelty cocktails Blue Ice Creme Brulee doesn’t have a whole lot of utility, but let’s be frank: Once in awhile, everyone’s mom comes to visit. And she’s gonna love it in her coffee.

Now let’s work on that spelling.

60 proof.

B- / $16 / blueicevodka.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2016 Edition

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Here’s a quintet of whiskeys you might have heard of once or twice. Yes, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection has arrived, which will probably be sold out before I finish typing this sentence. Well, if you’re a glutton for punishment and want to take a stab at finding one of these rarities — particularly because this year’s batch is so exceptional — read on for the reviews.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Last year’s Sazerac 18 was famously bottled from the last drops of its massive quantity of well-aged rye, which had been sitting in tanks since 1985. 2016 marks the first “new” batch of Sazerac Rye in more than a decade. Distilled in 1998, there’s no tanked spirit in this batch — and, Buffalo Trace says, there won’t be any more tanked whiskey going forward. As it should, the whiskey tastes a bit different now, quite spicy on the nose with a huge baking spice punch while hanging on to its classic notes of brandied cherries, juicy raisins, and a layer of sandalwood. Some grassiness emerges on the nose, given time . The palate is racier and drier than expected, peppery on the back of the palate while allowing its cherry core to shine and light, toasty wood notes to emerge. The finish is lasting and allows some brown sugar notes to shine through, adding some balance to the lingering lumber. It may not be the same Sazzy 18, but it’s still a beauty. 90 proof. A-

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – The 2016 edition of the classic Eagle Rare 17 has been aging on the first, second and third floors of Warehouses H and K. The nose feels racier than usual, eventually settling down to reveal some surprises: exotic and heavily tropical notes of coconut and pineapple, with a healthy dollop of vanilla on top. This highly unexpected but delightful nose spills over onto the palate, which is well-sweetened to the point where it approaches rum, although that is tempered by plenty of wood later in the game. Some more toasted coconut and almond notes emerge on the back end, alongside a modest level of barrel char. It’s at once strikingly unusual and, at the same time, a classically fruit-forward bourbon that is well worth exploring. 90 proof. A

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Always the centerpiece of the BTAC yet often overblown, this year’s Stagg is a cherry-picked compilation of 142 barrels sourced from warehouses M, N, H, L and K. Old stock, high proof, as always — this one’s over 72% abv, bruising even by Stagg standards. Notes of unlit cigars, rosemary, and cloves kick things off on rich and dense yet surprisingly balanced nose. Another surprise: At full proof the bourbon doesn’t completely overwhelm the palate with alcohol, but it is so dusty and drying on that it’s tough to cut through the massive amount of tannin to really appreciate what’s going on. Water is always Stagg’s best friend, and this year is no exception, eventually coaxing sweetness from that intense tobacco character, plus cherry fruit, loads of vanilla, torched marshmallow, and more cloves. As it opens up in the glass — again, particularly with water — it develops an intensely smoky aroma, which is a natural companion with the tobacco notes but which does tend to dull the fruit and leave your mouth a bit dry. That aside, this year’s expression is quite unique and worth some exploration, nearly earning the vaunted reputation it’s always had. 144.1 proof. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – A 13 year old expression of Weller — uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon distilled in the spring of 2003 and aged on the third and sixth floors of Warehouses D, K, and L. As is becoming the norm with these BTAC Wellers, the nose is quite sweet, with (again) a butterscotch influence, plus marzipan and peppermint. The palate backs these up, but the finish takes a turn toward a more spicy, wintry character. While approachable at full, uncut proof, water may not be a bad idea, though more than a drop or two tends to dull some of the sweetness that otherwise makes this year’s Weller so compelling. One of the best expressions of W.L. Weller I’ve had in many years. 135.4 proof. A-

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – As always, this is a good-old six year old rye, the baby of the group, this installment distilled in the spring of 2010 and aged on the fourth, fifth and seventh floors of Warehouses I, K, and M. This year’s expression is better than it usually is, though the relative youth comes across immediately on the nose — moderately woody, with some butterscotch underneath. The tannin hits hard on the palate — those pushy lumberyard notes really lingering at the back of the throat. Unlike with the Stagg, water doesn’t restore balance but just dilutes the whole affair, bringing forth notes of burnt toast, heavy cereal, and lots of smoky oak. The finish is dusty and slightly green. There’s nothing all that offensive here, but compared to this field (or any other top shelf whiskey) it is just very ordinary. 126.2 proof. B

$90 each / greatbourbon.com