Review: Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye

RR_Single Barrel Rye_Bottle Shot

Wild Turkey is expanding the Russell’s Reserve line this year with a Single Barrel Rye expression. There’s already a Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye (much more expensive these days than the $25 it cost in 2007), but as with the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, this is a higher-end expression that plays some of its details close to the vest. There’s no age statement and no mashbill information, but it’s drawn from a single barrel and bottled at a higher proof.

This rye features a quite fruity nose, offering notes of banana, almonds, mint, and vanilla. Racy and heady from the hefty alcohol level, it doesn’t let up at all. On the palate the flavor profile is also quite fruity, mixing some apple and rhubarb in with notes of banana cream and vanilla custard. The spirit comes across as surprisingly young, with some grain notes making it through to the finish, but I also get touches of coconut and chocolate late in the game as well, keeping things fairly sweet. It isn’t a particularly peppery rye, but it does have some astringency to it — pronounced on the nose but just as detectable on the finish — that might be mistaken for some kind of “spice” character.

All told this is a credible rye, but as with Crown Royal’s latest, the fruit is pushed too far. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye has a better balance to it, but frankly I think the standard Russell’s Reserve Rye is more representative of what a solid rye should taste like.

104 proof. Available September 2015.

B+ / $60 / wildturkeybourbon.com

Review: Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

crown royal rye

A Crown Royal Rye? Wait, isn’t all Canadian whisky “rye”? Hang on a sec.

There’s a lot of confusion about rye and Canadian whisky, and rightly so: By law in Canada, a whisky only has to have some rye in it to be called a rye, part of an outgrowth of hundreds of years of shorthand and tradition there. Today, most Canadian whiskies have quite a small amount of rye in the mash — like Bourbon, they tend to mostly be made from corn — yet the myth that Canadian whisky is largely rye remains.

Well, Crown Royal is going to confuse things even further with the release of Northern Harvest Rye, its first-ever legitimate rye in 75 years of operation. The mash for this whisky is a whopping 90% rye. By Canadian law, the other 10% is poutine. (Just kidding! Crown doesn’t specify.)

On first nosing, I thought perhaps Crown mistakenly filled this with its Regal Apple flavored whisky. Very strong apple notes on the nose are backed by a little caramel, giving it a distinct apple pie character. The body is again distinctly apple-fueled, but here more of the spice shows itself. Cloves and allspice are strongest, with some molasses-like sweetness sugaring things up a bit. The finish is slightly drying, and a bit of roasted grain character comes to the fore before fading out.

This is a truly strange whisky, unlike any other rye I’ve encountered in recent memory. The intense fruit character isn’t unpleasant, but it’s not what I’m looking for a quality rye. This whisky will likely resonate with many fans — but may well turn off just as many drinkers.

90 proof.

B / $30 / crownroyal.com

Review: El Mayor Tequila Complete Lineup (2015)

El-Mayor-Tequila-2

It’s been seven long years since we encountered one of the oddly shaped bottles of El Mayor Tequila, and even then it was just the blanco expression. Today we’re taking a fresh look at El Mayor — and covering the complete lineup of three expressions of this highlands-born, 100% agave spirit. (There’s an extra anejo too, not reviewed here.)

All are 80 proof. Read on for more.

El Mayor Tequila Blanco – Very gentle, it’s one of the lightest-bodied tequilas I’ve encountered in recent years. The nose is moderately sweet, with some honeysuckle notes and a bit of spicy black pepper leading to a punchy but balanced agave backbone. The body has some citrus notes, cloves, and a modest agave, which together with the citrus character gives it a bit of the flavor of pickled jalapeno on the finish — though not much of the heat. The tequila wraps up clean and fairly soft, just about perfect for a blanco sipper or as a premium mixer. Reviewed: Batch 1478. A- / $27

El Mayor Tequila Reposado – Aged up to nine months. Again, very gentle on the nose, though this time it’s got notes of cola, some vanilla, and emerging agave spice. The body features some cinnamon and gingerbread, more vanilla custard, and even butterscotch notes. Herbal agave notes are present, but fleeting, as the sweeter components do more of the heavy lifting. Some pepper on the finish keeps things grounded in the world of reposado. Reviewed: Batch 883. A / $30

El Mayor Tequila Anejo – Aged 18 months. The nose isn’t dramatically different from the reposado except for the addition of some lumberyard aromas — a few tannic notes that give the anejo more of a brooding character. The body starts off somewhat sharp, which is a surprise, before venturing into sweet, dessert notes — chocolate, toffee, caramel — that build and build on the lush finish. The agave takes a back seat here, but that’s typical in many anejos, as the barrel makes its influence known. El Mayor’s gentle blanco is a good match for that, leaving behind just enough herbal agave to make things worth exploring again and again. Reviewed: Batch 878. A- / $48

elmayor.com

Review: Six Saints Rum

six saintsThis “righteous spirit of the West Indies” hails from Grenada, but little other information is provided about this rum. Only the notice of “natural colour” informs much of anything about its production.

The nose on this moderately golden rum offers a bit of petrol, backed with some cloves and a bit of spiced or mulled wine character. The body is youthful, slightly corny, with more notes of petrol and some intense clove character. Hints of butterscotch and baking cocoa eventually come along, with some sooty notes lingering on the back end.

Six Saints is a unique rum — almost whiskeylike at times (which is fitting, as the brand is owned by a Scottish company) — but ultimately it’s a bit brash and too youthful, particularly at this (import-only) price.

83.4 proof. Not readily available in the U.S.

B- / $55 / sixsaintsrum.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Review: Black Dirt Bourbon 3 Years Old

BD Bourbon w fire

Black Dirt is made in New York State’s first microdistillery, where an applejack and this bourbon are produced. Made from a mash of 80% local “black dirt” corn (hence the name), 12% malted barley, and 8% rye, it’s aged for three years in #3 char new American oak barrels. Let’s take a look under the hood.

The nose is appealing, showing light popcorn and breakfast cereal, then lumberyard notes, plus gentle vanilla and caramel notes. It’s youthful, but not too young, just a peeling back of the layers of the spirit to reveal its grainy underpinnings. The body largely follows suit, offering a touch of chocolate up front, then a modest dip back into the grain pool for another helping. Some baking spice and a bit of citrus come along before you reach a finish that returns to chocolate for a reprise.

Cereal-heavy whiskeys are often a bummer, but Black Dirt (the name notwithstanding) is surprisingly easygoing and balanced between its granary notes and its sweeter components. The finished product may still drink like it’s in short pants, but it’s nonetheless quite enjoyable on its merits. It’s rare to find a microdistilled bourbon that has balance and a unique character all its own, but Black Dirt is one of them.

90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6.

A- / $38 / blackdirtdistillery.com

Review: Sauvignon Blancs of Brancott, 2015 Releases

brancottBrancott is a bit like the Mondavi of New Zealand. It was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, a region that has become one of the world leaders in this style of grape. Today, Brancott makes dozens of wines, including eight different sauvignon blancs. We reviewed five of them, from entry-level juice to some surprising rarities that I wasn’t even aware of before cracking into them.

2014 Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Entry level, and it shows. The tropical notes are strong, but come across more like canned mango and pineapple, with a slightly vegetal note. Best when served very cold, which helps accentuate the acidity. C+ / $14

2013 Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Note that it doesn’t actually indicate “Brancott” on the label. The nose is tropical but also strongly bent toward melon notes. On the body, it’s slightly frizzante, which I’m not sure is intentional, but it brings out the cantaloupe/honeydew notes more distinctly. A little odd, but it grows on you. B / $18

2013 Brancott Estate Flight Song Sauvignon Blanc – A low-cal wine with 88 calories per 5 oz glass and 9% alcohol. Strongly orange on the nose, with floral notes and tropical underpinnings. Slightly buzzy on the tongue with a touch of fizz, but clean on the finish with and echo of more fresh citrus. Easy and breezy, so they say. Surprisingly good for “diet wine.” B / $15

2013 Brancott Estate Letter Series Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – A well-balanced sauvignon blanc, with strong pineapple and mango notes on the nose and a solid level of acidity in the body. Some sweet caramel and light almond notes continue on the palate — but the finish veers sharply into some earthier, mushroom tones, a bit discordant here. B / $26

2010 Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Very well-aged for a sauvignon blanc, this wine starts with tropical character and then showcases creme brulee, vanilla caramel, and light lychee notes. Much more complicated then the relatively straightforward big-fruit-then-acid wines above, Chosen Rows uses a little funk to add depth to what is normally an uncomplex style. Bottled in the most exotic screwcap I’ve ever seen. A- / $65

brancottestate.com

Head to Head with 4 Bloody Mary Mixes: Scales, Tabanero, Bloody Good, and Bloody Amazing

tabaneroSummer is hear, and that means brunch with bloodies is upon us.

Sure, it’d be great if you could always crush your own tomatoes and grate your own fresh horseradish, but really, who’s got the time. Recently we’ve been inundated with bottled bloody mary mixers, which we put head to head to head to head.

Thoughts follow.

Scales Bloody Mary Mix – For a so-called low-carb bloody mary mix (5 grams of carbs per 3 oz.), this sure tastes sweet. The very dark color is a bit misleading; the mixer is more tart than spicy or meaty, a densely acidic mixer with a heavy tomato paste character and a metallic aftertaste. Not at all spicy, despite the claims of being made with Texas Pete’s hot sauce. B- / $6 per 1 liter bottle

Tabanero Spicy Bloody Mary Mix – Definitely “Mexican style,” with a salsa-like character to it. Intensely spicy, with lasting, burning habanero notes, plus notes of green pepper, cilantro, and lots of onion. It’s a bit on the watery side, so don’t expect to try watering it down to temper its heat. That said — I really like it (and the Tabanero hot sauce.) Mixing half and half with a less racy mix might work, though. Oddly has less carbs than the Scales. A- / $10 per 1 liter bottle

Bloody Good Bloody Mary Mix – A local brand you won’t likely find outside of northern California. Very fresh, with ripe tomatoes, some green veggies, black pepper, and lots and lots of horseradish. Quite gentle in spice level, but it’s pungent thanks to the horseradish component. Nicely balanced; definitely a strong contender. Very difficult to pour (as it’s bottled in what is basically a spaghetti sauce jar). / $9 per 32 oz jar

Bloody Amazing Premium Mary Mix – While Tabanero approaches bloodies from a salsa standpoint, Bloody Amazing comes at it from the shrimp cocktail sauce arena. Very dense, with stewed tomato notes, black pepper, and horseradish — plus lots of Worcestershire to add a brooding character that Bloody Good doesn’t have. This one’s more a matter of taste, as the overall character is very much a “coastal” one. Only slightly spicy; easily manageable. B+ / $13 per 750ml bottle

Review: Beers of Mavericks (Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.)

mavericks rye pale ale

Mavericks is a famous surf spot off the coast of Half Moon Bay, California, where these three beers — available exclusively in cans — are made. We tried them all. Thoughts follow.

Mavericks Rye Pale Ale – Mavericks sent two cans of this beer, an American pale ale with west coast hops plus rye malt, and I managed to polish off the first can before I remembered I was supposed to be writing about it. A huge crowd pleaser, this combines the best of both worlds: a chewy, bready base that leads to a modestly hoppy conclusion. Notes of citrus and hints of dark chocolate add some mystique. Somehow, all of this is just 3.75% abv, making for an amazing session brew. Hard not to love. A / $NA (12 oz cans)

Mavericks Belgian Style Wit – Quite spicy on the nose, with dried orange peel and coriander notes. The body punches first with the spice, then ventures into the malt, which is substantial — bready and toasty, and quite lasting. More spice on the finish, but it doesn’t ever shake hands completely with the malt. Fairly average and unremarkable. 3.75% abv. B- / $NA (12 oz cans)

Mavericks Tunnel Vision IPA – The big dog, a monster beer that “blurs the line between single and double IPA” (though it’s 100+ IBUs). It’s a beer that pushes things awfully far, with an intense resinous character and notes of tar, forest floor, and a heavy, lasting, bitter finish. Fruit and piney notes are sorely needed here. 6.8% abv. B- / $NA (16 oz cans)

mavericksbeer.com

Review: Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso and Vermouth Chinato

Alessio_Vermouth_TORINOTempus Fugit Spirits has turned to vermouth for its latest products, importing from Italy a pair of fortified, aromatic wines: Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso and Alessio Vermouth Chinato, both “inspired by a true ‘Renaissance man,’ Alessio Piemontese.”

These vermouths are both produced in a considerably more bitter style than the typical Italian or sweet vermouth on the market. Both feature added bittering agents in the form of wormwood and, in the case of Chinato, cinchona bark. As such, they straddle the line between vermouth and amaro, and can be easily consumed on their own much like the latter. (They’re best chilled.)

Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso – “Based on a classic di Torino recipe from the late 19th century, Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso is designed to be enjoyed as what was commonly called a ‘Vino di Lusso’ (luxury wine), a wine thoroughly consumed on its own. Created with a fine Piedmont wine as the base, this authentic Vermouth di Torino contains both Grande and Petite Wormwood, along with over 25 other pharmaceutical-grade herbs, roots and spices.” It’s quite dense and dark, with intensely bitter amaro notes on the nose — licorice root, stewed prunes, and cloves — and not much in the way of sweetness. The body offers a more bittersweet character, however, tempering the heavy bitter components with some raisin and baking spice notes. A fairly dark chocolate character comes along on the finish to add some mystique. I really like how it all comes together, and it works well as a cocktail ingredient and drinks beautifully on its own. 17% abv. A- / $22

Alessio_Vermouth_CHINATOAlessio Vermouth Chinato – “Alessio Vermouth Chinato is also based on a classic di Torino recipe from the late 19th century combined with the additional bittering of Cinchona bark and more than 25 other balancing herbs, including Grande and Petite Wormwood, and reflects an almost-lost style of bitter vermouth.” The nose is somewhat less appealing, lacking some of the intensity of di Torino, but otherwise cuts a similar aromatic profile. The body seems to miss out on some of the di Torino’s depth, trading the back-and-forth of sweet and bitter for a focus that veers more toward sour cherries with a strongly bitter undercurrent. The finish is lengthy and mouth-coating, rather than the bitter cleansing character you get with the di Torino. Better as a mixology ingredient. 16.5% abv. B / $25

anchordistilling.com

Review: Old Monk Very Old Vatted XXX Rum 7 Years Old

Old_Monk_XXX_rumOld Monk, a rum that’s made in Uttar Pradesh, India, is a major international seller which has a bit of a cult following on our shores. That’s probably owing more to the low price point, unique decanter, and novelty design than anything else. But let’s see how it tastes.

This expression (there are a handful of varieties) is a vatted (or blended) rum that is aged for a minimum of seven years. It appears to be traditionally produced, using molasses and used whiskey barrels for aging (though I have no official evidence of this).

The copper-hued spirit kicks off with plenty of hogo, a funky, almost winey nose with notes of dried spices, dense molasses, and some charcoal. Powerful and pungent, it leads the way into a body that is dense with baking spices — cloves, particularly — along with quite bitter (very dark) chocolate, coffee grounds, burnt nuts, and notes of old wood. The sweet molasses core is unmistakable, and when combined with the spicier elements it makes Old Monk a very good mixer. But on its own, Old Monk sips a bit too far on the tannic side. Save it for parties and punches.

B / $16 / no website