Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiments

buffalo trace infrared

Never one to shy away from wacky experiments, Buffalo Trace’s latest bourbon has gone straight off the reservation. The trick this time? Exposing barrels to infrared light waves before giving them a light char. Eight barrels total were made, four irradiated for 15 minutes, four for 30 minutes.

The full details are wonky and intricate. Here’s the gist direct from BT:

Working with barrel cooper Independent Stave Company in 2009, eight special barrels were constructed. All eight first underwent the same process as standard Buffalo Trace barrels, staves were open air seasoned for six months before being made into barrels.

Then, the barrels were divided into two groups and subjected to two different levels of infrared light waves.  The first group of four barrels underwent 15 minutes of both short wave and medium wave frequency at 70% power.  The second group of four barrels was subjected to 30 minutes of both short wave and medium wave frequency at 60% power. The barrels were then given a quick #1 (or 15 seconds) char, before finally being filled with Buffalo Trace’s Bourbon Mash #1.

All eight barrels were aged for 6 1/2 years (notably shorter than many of BT’s other experiments) before bottling at 90 proof.

Does “dry heat” improve barrel quality over traditional flame-charring? It’s time to taste these experiments and see if the Trace was on to anything.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiment 15 Minutes – A quiet whiskey, with a nose of brown sugar, butterscotch, and honeysuckle flowers. The palate is a bit bolder than the nose would indicate, slightly nutty with some nougat-flavored sweetness. The wood influence is mild but not absent, making for a gentle and pleasant, if unremarkable, finish. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiment 30 Minutes – Theoretically these barrels should have more of a wood influence, and that’s evident from the start. The nose has a stronger presence, with heavier spice notes — cloves, mainly — plus a distinct almond character. The body is bolder, the palate richer with more baking spice, solid nuttiness, and some brown butter notes. Hints of raisin and dried figs emerge with time, with the finish echoing those baking spices. The influence of wood is omnipresent here, but it never comes across with dusty lumberyard notes. Rather, there’s a gentle vanilla component that layers itself over the full experience. This is a better whiskey than the 15 minute version, with a better developed nose and body. B+

Did Buffalo Trace strike gold with this infrared treatment? The process doesn’t seem to hurt, but my rough analysis based on these limited samples is that it’s no replacement for good old flame-charred barrels and didn’t really seem to add anything to the finished product. As gimmicks though, it may not be a new killer treatment for whiskey barrels, but at least its impact seems to have been mostly harmless (which is better than can be said for some experimental processes).

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: Frank Family Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay and 2013 Zinfandel

Frank Family Napa Valley Zinfandel

Frank Family’s spring releases are upon us. Thoughts on two new wines follow.

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – A traditional chardonnay but a very well made one, loaded with fresh fruit up front, but tempered with brown butter, vanilla, and a touch of cloves. The body is bold, the finish lengthy, the overall wine fairly well balanced and quite approachable on its own. It shines alongside food, however. A- / $25

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – At first nearly overblown with fruit, eventually this Napa zin settles down into a groove of dark chocolate and pushy currants. It’s still a bit of a blazer, but it’s balanced enough if paired with a hearty meal — on its own the alcohol and powerful sugar level tend to dominate the palate to the point of fatigue. Still, the expressive fruit and punchy body remain reasonably worthwhile. B+ / $30

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: Spirit of India Feni

feni

There’s going to be a lot of education in this post, so hang in there.

First: Do you know what cashew nuts look like before they are harvested? Neither did I, but they look like this. That’s the cashew sticking out of the bottom of a bright orange fruit. That fruit is called a cashew apple, or just a cashew fruit.

Why aren’t we eating cashew apples? Apparently they are quite tasty, but they don’t travel well, so by the time they got to the U.S. from the places they grow cashews (mainly in the tropics), the fruit would have spoiled.

What you can do with it, though, is ferment and distill it into a brandy. In the region of Goa, India, this brandy (which can also be made from coconut palms) is known as feni. This particular spirit is triple distilled, all without the use of electricity.

The nose is tropical, heavy on the pineapple but also a bit astringent, with some medicinal overtones. In time, some chocolate character emerges. The body is a bit harsher than you expect, in the way that pisco, cachaca, or young brandy can often be. Here the fruit is closer to apple — think young applejack — though again its astringency tends to dominate any sweetness. The finish offers some vegetal character — carrot and bell pepper — and fades out fairly quickly, with a hospital callback.

This is a unique spirit that might not have mass appeal, but which isn’t without some charms. That said, it seems best utilized for mixing in place of one of the above white spirits.

85 proof.

B / $30 / fenidrink.com

Review: Rums of Rhum J.M. (2016)

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When we last left Rhum J.M., Martinique’s celebrated rhum agricole brand, it was 2012. Since that time, J.M. has done a little rebranding, relabeling, and in some cases renaming of its products. In honor of this, we’re giving Rhum J.M. a fresh look — or at least, four of its more widely available products.

Fresh thoughts on these four agricole-style rhums (reminder: made from free-run sugarcane juice, not molasses like regular “no H” rum) follow.

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Blanc White Rum 50% – Note that an 80 proof version also exists, so check the fine print. Intense but unsurprising, this is raw agricole rhum at its purest. The nose has the funky intensity of a white agricole blanc, backed up by tropical banana, coconut, and papaya notes. The finish recalls notes of cherry pits and more ripe banana, with a petrol sheen to it. 100 proof. B+ / $30

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Elevé Sous Bois Gold Rum – Aged in oak for 12 months. Lots of exotic character here, with a nose that runs to lemon, ginger, and some floral elements. On the palate, that petrol funk gives way to moderate vanilla notes plus gingerbread, with some camphor and mothball notes adding a medicinal edge to the finish — which detracts a bit from the experience. (This character is far more pronounced in the Gold than in the White Rum, actually, which is quite a surprise.) 100 proof. B / $34

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole V.O – Not a typo: There is no period after the O here, at least not on the official label. Aged in a combination of new American oak and re-charred bourbon barrels for three years. Notes of cola and Madeira kick things off on the nose, with an undercurrent of vanilla and brown sugar. The palate is particularly winey, offering up red berries after a time, followed by smoldering, ashy molasses, which linger for a time on the raisin-sweet but drying finish. 86 proof. A- / $40

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole V.S.O.P. – A slight spin on the VO, the VSOP is aged for 3 years in re-charred bourbon barrels and finished for an additional year in lightly toasted new American oak. A shade darker and a bit richer, but otherwise many of the same notes from the VO remain, including a distinct wine character. Here that’s pumped up with clearer notes of cinnamon and gingerbread, particularly on the racier, spicier finish that offers echoes of Cognac. This makes for a different experience that’s more focused on the spice element, though not necessarily a “better” one than the more fruit-centric VO. 86 proof. (Was 90 proof.) A- / $50

rhumjmusa.com

Tasting Report: Hardy Cognac

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I recently had the good fortune to taste Cognac with one of its grande dames, Benedicte Hardy, one of the proprietor’s of the Cognac Hardy house in France.

Benedicte recently visited San Francisco and treated a number of media and trade professionals to a deep dive into Hardy’s “Anniversary Series” lineup at the city’s legendary seafood palace, Scoma’s. Five different spirits were tasted, along with savory bites, cheeses, and chocolates from Michael Recchiuti.

Thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Hardy XO Cognac – Hardy ages its XO for a minimum of 20 years, a long time in this business. This is a blend of grand champagne and petit champagne eaux de vie, which exhibits spicy notes up front, with butterscotch and loads of baking spices on the body. A touch of astringency leads to a nutty finish, with notes of chocolate backing it up. Clean but quite rich. A- / $100

Hardy Noces de Perle “Pearl” – This cognac carries no age statement but is blended solely from barrels that are 30 years old (“no more, no less”) — very unusual in Cognac. Pure grande champagne eau de vie, from here on out. Feminine and delicate at first, the Cognac presents increasing notes of vanilla and butterscotch as it develops. Floral elements emerge on the finish, making for a very pretty and engaging spirit. (Price may be high.) A / $900

Hardy Noces d’Or – “Gold” for the 50 year anniversary — though it’s the only bottling in this series that doesn’t have a formal English nickname. Much like the Rosebud, this is made entirely from 50 year old spirit. Richer and nuttier, with stronger notes of citrus peel, red berries, and some leather and tobacco notes. A more powerful expression that has a lot in common with the XO. A- / $225

Hardy Noces de Diamant “Diamond” – 60 years old. More fruit here, particularly up front, though the back end is a bit dulled by a significant wood influence, which overpowers some of the sweeter caramel and vanilla notes at the core. Still a lovely expression. A- / $700

Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” – This is a slight departure from the above, a blend of Cognacs aged between 75 and 100 years; an extreme rarity, only 500 bottles have been sold to date worldwide. The nose starts with sultry incense, grapefruit, and golden raisins. The body takes all the sunshine and elevates it with beautiful bursts of citrus, light sandalwood, and some strawberry. The finish holds the brightness, offering a touch of toffee and a hint of pie crust. Perfect spirits are hard to come by, but Rosebud is clearly one of them. I guess Charles Foster Kane knew what he was talking about. A+ / $2250

hardycognac.fr

Review: Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

nikka-coffey-malt-whisky

Nikka’s Coffey Grain Whisky — named because of the Coffey still (a column still, not a pot still) that is used to produce it — has gained almost cult status since its 2013 arrival in the U.S. Now its big brother — a single malt made using the same still — is arriving on our shores. Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky is 100% single malt; as with Coffey Grain, there is no age statement provided.

On the nose, sweetness pervades. Butterscotch and sugary Bit-O-Honey, chocolate and malted milk balls — all told it gives the aromatic impression of walking into a boozy sweet shop. The palate continues the theme. More butterscotch starts things off, infused with notes of coconut, candied flowers, and some orange marmalade. That may make Nikka Coffey Malt sound more complex than it really is. In truth, it’s a rather one-note experience, the overwhelming sweetness tending to dull these more exotic elements. A touch of petrol, perhaps indicative of youth, is the only real departure from a well-traveled course.

The finish is a touch more complex, layering in some chocolate raisin notes and a heavier coconut component. While it doesn’t break from the sweet stuff, it does take things out on a more interesting note than the relatively straightforward flavors of the palate.

90 proof.

B+ / $75 / nikka.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: 2014 Josh Cellars Chardonnay

josh chard

This widely available wine carries an unspecific California appellation, but it drinks at a surprisingly much higher level than that would normally indicate.

Pretty pear and apple notes are balanced by mild caramel and vanilla — but Josh Chardonnay stays well on this side of the “oaky-buttery” monstrosity that informs most California chardonnay. The finish is clean, slightly sweet with notes of pie crust and sugar cookies — uncomplicated, but refreshing and brisk.

An amazing value and a worthwhile wine.

A- / $14 / joshcellars.com