Review: NV Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco Valdobbiadene

rusticoGood, cheap Prosecco isn’t hard to find, but Nino Franco’s Rustico bottling stands near the top of that list. For 13 bucks, you get an awful lot of nuance: bubbly apples up front, light sweetness on the tongue, and a surprising herbal kick on the back end. It’s not too heavy, just a dusting of thyme and sage as the bubbles wash everything away. A solid effort.

A- / $13 / ninofranco.it

Review: Cachaca 51

Cachaca-51Cachaca 51 is the best-selling brand of cachaca in Brazil, the home of this unique sugarcane-based spirit. That may not sound like a big deal, but according to the producer, they sell 240 million liters of the stuff annually, which makes it the second-biggest-selling spirits brand in the world. (Independent research does not seem to bear this out, but that’s largely irrelevant to our cause here — which is how it actually tastes.)

Cachaca 51 has the traditional fuel-like pungency of cachaca up front, but it’s folded in with some interesting notes of lime zest and lemongrass, tempering the petrol overtones considerably. The body is a bit sweeter than most cachacas, offering notes of light brown sugar, spearmint, and more citrus fruits — lime, especially — on the back end.

The palate is on the thin side and the finish is a bit saccharine, but mixed into a caipirinha or, well, anything else, that might actually work to its advantage.

80 proof.

B+ / $17 (1 liter) / geminispiritswine.com

Review: Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye Whiskey (2015)

JB750_82Good old “yellow label” Jim Beam Rye was, for many drinkers, their first exposure to rye whiskey. What was it? Aside from something mentioned in a Don McLean song? Beam’s Rye was good enough — cheap, too — like a racier bourbon, but maybe not as sweet. Or you could go for Old Overholt if you wanted something fancier in your Sazerac.

Fast forward a decade and the world of rye has been completely upended. Tons of great ryes are available now, many costing up to 70 bucks a bottle or more. Who buys Yellow Label in the face of all kinds of rye goodness out there?

Beam got the hint, and Yellow Label (more recently repackaged with a sort of Beige Label) is going off the market. Reformulated and upgraded, Jim Beam Rye has been reimagined for the premium rye era, crafted from a “pre-Prohibition recipe” and bottled at 90 proof instead of 80. Mashbill composition is not available. The new, official name: Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. Just don’t let the green label confuse you, as Jim Beam Choice is still hanging around out there. (To clarify, this is now Beam’s only mainstream rye.)

And we tried it:

Deep butterscotch notes hit the nose first, ringed with hints of dark chocolate. It’s common to describe the body rye as “spicy,” but that’s often misconstrued to mean spicy with hot red pepper. What spicy often means, as it does here on Beam, is more akin to baking spice: Cloves, cinnamon, ginger, all wrapped up with some smoky bacon and just a touch of licorice. It’s lightly sweet with a vanilla custard note to it, but not as powerful as the punch of bourbon. Initially quite light on the body, it grows on you with its gentle notes of apple pie, caramel, and that slightly savory, almost smoky lacing. The finish is modest, almost short, but engaging and more than pleasant as it fades away.

I was ready to dismiss this as a gimmicky attempt to grab some share in a rapidly growing market, but whaddaya know? The stuff’s legit.

90 proof.

A- / $23 / jimbeam.com

Review: 2013 Erath “Willakia” Chardonnay Eola-Amity Hills

This is Oregon-based Erath’s first wine from its newly-purchased Willakia Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. Just 238 cases were made. Says Erath:

The 2013 Willakia Chardonnay was harvested on October 12, two weeks after a series of rain showers – remnants of Typhoon Pabuk that eventually crossed the Pacific Ocean from Japan – passed through the Willamette Valley. The prolonged warm, dry period that followed the rain allowed the vineyard to dry out and provided for extended ripening and maturation of the remaining fruit. The wine was then fermented in a combination of French oak and stainless steel, before being aged on its lees for eight months in 100% French oak with 40% new barrels.

A breath of fresh air in the overoaked world of Chardonnay, the acidity up front drinks like a Sauvignon Blanc, and the midpalate pumps up the citrus — grapefruit and lemon zest. At the same time, the nose offers hints of vanilla and oak, and there’s a touch of marshmallow on the back end. All of this works together surprisingly well, making for a lively wine that balances the buttery notes of a classic Chardonnay with some bright fruit. Very food friendly, as well.

A- / $34 / erath.com

Review: Rolling River Vodka

rolling river vodkaRolling River Spirits is a Portland, Oregon distillery producing vodka, gin, and — soon — a whiskey. Today we look at the company’s vodka, which is distilled from winter wheat in a small reflux column still.

Rolling River Vodka is both fruity and floral on the nose, but the body takes things in a different direction: burnt sugar, dark chocolate, and a vegetal, charcoal-laden undertone. This is a strange and incongruous vodka, where the sweeter aromas don’t ever really mesh with the more brooding, powerful body. It’s ultimately difficult to put the whole package together, but the bittersweet, almost tree-bark-laden finish pushes this more toward a curious gin alternative than anything else, at least in my book. Discuss amongst yourselves.

80 proof.

B / $25 / rollingriverspirits.com

The Drinkhacker Shopping List – 02.13.2015

Hello and welcome to the 81st edition of the Drinkhacker Shopping List, our semi-regular look back compiling the best and worst ratings on products we’ve reviewed over the last few weeks. We’ve got lots to choose from for every palate, and more than one with high marks guaranteed to warm the coldest of bodies in the depths of this cold winter.

TheList021315

Pairing the Sixth Taste: Fat

Bitter. Salty. Sour. Sweet. More recently, umami. The tastes science has blessed. This week researchers branched out, publishing findings in Flavour: Fat is the sixth taste. (Not to be confused with the Sixth Sense, which flattens substantially once the surprise is over.)

Chefs and bartenders beat science to the bench — we’ve seen a resurgence of fat in high mixology and haute cuisine, luxuriating in bacon fat and coconut oil melted into cocktails; of pig’s tails and chicken skin pressure-cooked to crispy perfection. Remember: the right alcohol offers counterpoint to every fatty extravagance.

Charleston chef Sean Brock, featured on the PBS series The Mind of a Chef, captures this essence in an episode exulting the best of southern indulgence when he wraps up with the steps to make a Rattlesnake cocktail, a “boozy slushie” of bourbon, lemon, absinthe, egg white, and ice. It’s the edge to rejuvenate the palate.

The next time you pull a bottle off the shelf or pour a brew into a glass, consider the fat to accompany it. A few suggestions:

  • Cajun popcorn (popped on a stovetop, served heavy on the butter and Old Bay) – ideal to accompany an Imperial IPA. (Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin is my early forerunner for favorite IPA of the year.)
  • Dark chocolate with caramel and black sea salt – more than just the fat in the chocolate and caramel, the salt adds is an extra note against the bracing glory of an Islay or other heavily peated Scotch. (Not to knock Scotland, but India’s Amrut Cask Strength Peated Single Malt is the top choice on my shelf right now.)
  • Purple Haze or other herbal goat cheese topped with lemon curd – sweet, tart and leaves a luxurious film on the tongue, which exaggerates the jammy notes and tannins in a good port. (I’m fond of Bogle Petite Sirah Port as an accessible, affordable dram.)

What are your favorite sixth taste pairings?

Review: Kilchoman Original Cask Strength

Data Sheet Original Cask Strength copy

It’s increasingly difficult to keep up with the flood of whiskies that flow from Islay’s Kilchoman, but this one really is unique: It’s the first official distillery bottling to be released at cask strength. (An ImpEx exclusive was also cask strength, but that was a just a single barrel. This release comprises 9,200 bottles.)

Production is simple for this release. All ex-bourbon-barreled whisky here, no sherry finishing, and all five years old. Non-chill filtered and bottled at cask strength.

This is a big, briny, classically Islay whisky that sticks closely to the iodine-driven Kilchoman house style (at least its sans-sherry style). There’s a nice sweetness in the middle of this, some marshmallow, banana, and just a bit of pear on the back end. The finish offers up notes of smoked meats and peppery bacon — with ample fire driven by the high alcohol level. Good balance, and plenty of oomph thanks to the cask strength, but ultimately this doesn’t much change the overall picture that Kilchoman has painted to date.

118.4 proof.

B+ / $115 / kilchomandistillery.com

Recipe: Valentine’s Day Cocktails 2015

We’ve got two days until Valentine’s Day. Much like last year, it appears most of the nation will be in a deep freeze, so here’s the best of the best recipes we’ve received (and we received a record number this year) to warm hearts and souls before you soldier forth to see Fifty Shades of Grey.

AmourAmour de Amatitán
1 ½ oz. Blue Nectar Silver
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
¾ oz. crème de cacao
2 dashes orange bitters
Orange twist

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with an orange twist.

DarkSecret

Botran Dark Secret
1.5 oz. Botran Solera 1893
1 oz. simple syrup
1 egg white
1 oz. Port
3 ice cubes
1 strawberry (for garnish)

Shake and strain over ice into a cocktail glass. Garnish with chocolate covered strawberry.

XOXOXOXOXOXO
1.5 oz. Hennessy VS
.5 oz. Antica Formula sweet vermouth
.5 oz. Crème Yvette
Splash of simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters
3 muddled Black Cherries
1/8th of a lemon
Fresh grated cinnamon
Cherry (for garnish)

Muddle cherries and lemon wedge in a shaker tin. Add all liquid to shaker with ice, shake until well chilled. Strain into glass with large ice cube. Grate cinnamon over the top and garnish with a cherry.

RoseGardenKetel One Rose Garden
1.5 oz. Ketel One Vodka
.5 oz. Pom Juice
.25 oz. fresh lemon juice
.50 oz. simple syrup
Soda water
Mint leaf (for garnish)

Combine all ingredients. Shake and strain over fresh ice into a collins glass. Top with soda water. Garnish with a mint leaf. Continue reading

Review: DeLeon Tequila Platinum

Deleon 69469 1

P. Diddy‘s not happy to be a major player in the world of vodka. Now he wants to rule tequila, too.

DeLeon is a new ultra-premium Highland tequila, 100% agave of course, designed to go toe to toe with Patron and other top-shelf tequila brands. Available in no fewer than six expressions — including Diamante, a joven expression, and Leona, a reserve anejo bottling that costs $825 — the most simplistic (and affordable) of the bunch is a blanco: DeLeon Platinum, which runs $60 and up. All the better to pay for the fancy, thick-glass bottle, metallic stopper, and talk of traditional clay ovens and such.

And hey, celebrity branding aside, it’s a pretty good tequila.

The nose is rich with peppery notes, but also hints at lemon custard, along with some vanilla-dusted creme brulee notes. It’s got the character of a classic blanco, but it also hints at austerity — despite the fact that this is a completely unaged and unrested tequila. The body continues the theme: Spicy agave, bright lemon juice — almost candied with a sweet edge — honey, and touches of menthol. It’s very mild, and extremely easy-drinking — the same qualities that make Patron so very popular.

DeLeon Platinum is a tequila that doesn’t exactly pump up the agave, but it doesn’t try to mask it, either. Rather, it takes the natural herbal character of blanco tequila, then tosses in some natural complementary flavors that add subtlety and complexity. The end product may be on the lighter side — so approach DeLeon with the appropriate attitude — but that may suit many tequila drinkers just fine.

80 proof.

A- / $60 / deleontequila.com