Review: Elation Hemp Flavored Vodka

elation vodka

Switzerland is the unlikely source for this vodka, triple distilled from wheat and rye and then flavored with hemp before being bottled. The company says it’s the “first established hemp flavored vodka (0% THC) to be sold throughout the United States,” but I’m not going to even begin to try to fact-check that. Elation admits that other hemp vodkas exist, but says its is different: “While other hemp vodkas use hemp seeds, Elation uses blossoms from the finest Swiss hemp to flavor the vodka.”

The nose certainly screams hemp, carefully riding that line between hops and skunk spray, between tobacco and salty licorice. The palate offers a touch of instant sweetness, but this is quickly chased away by the hemp notes that the nose provides. Slightly vegetal, slightly smoky, the finish reminds me of smoked kippers, iodine, and burning leaves.

It’s interesting enough to offer enough to at least merit a peek. Ultimately, I could take it or leave it — though it does offer some curious cocktailing possibilities.

80 proof.

B / $30 / elationvodka.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s 150th Anniversary Limited Edition Whiskey

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Tennessee’s iconic Jack Daniel’s is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and to celebrate the occasion it’s releasing a special edition of Old No. 7. Production on this release is the same, but JD offers some variations on how (or rather where) it was aged, and it’s bottled at 50% abv instead of 40%. No age statement is provided.

Some additional minutiae from the distillery:

True to the process established by its founder, the grain bill for the anniversary whiskey is the same as the iconic Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, consisting of 80 percent corn, 12 percent barley and 8 percent rye. Each drop was then mellowed through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal, before going into specially-crafted new American oak barrels, adhering to the guidelines required of a Tennessee whiskey.

Once filled, the barrels were placed in the “angel’s roost” of one of the oldest barrelhouses at the Distillery where whiskey has matured for generations at an elevation and with the exposure to sunlight that creates the perfect climate for the greatest interaction between the whiskey and barrel.

The nose is an iconic example of (high proof) Tennessee whiskey, offering ample alcoholic heat, plus aromas of maple syrup, toasted marshmallow, and some barrel char notes. There might be a bit too much heat on the nose, so give it a a drop of water or, at least, some time in glass to help it showcase its wares.

The palate isn’t nearly as racy as the nose would indicate, showing off a fruitier side of Jack, with notes of cinnamon-spiced apples, orange peel, and peaches. There’s ample vanilla, some chocolate-caramel notes, and a moderately dry finish that echoes the charred wood found on the nose. It doesn’t all come together quite perfectly, its tannic notes lingering a bit, but it’s an altogether impressive bottling from one of the biggest names in American whiskey.

100 proof.

A- / $100 (one liter) / jackdaniels.com

Review: NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava

There’s no question that venerable Segura Viudas spends more money on this elaborate, pewter-based bottle than it does on the wine inside it, but that doesn’t mean that this Spanish cava isn’t good stuff (in fact, it’s aged on the lees in bottle for a full 30 months before releasing). In fact, at just $21 a bottle, it’s a rare value play that makes quite a striking impression on the table or when presented as a gift.

How’s Segura Viudas Reserva coming across in 2016? Let’s have a taste of a fresh (but still nonvintage) bottling.

The nose is brisk — very lightly yeasty with a modest amount of apple and lemon behind it. On the palate, it’s lightly effervescent — one of the selling points of less-bubbly cava — with ample fruit to offer, predominantly notes of buttered apples (even applesauce) and figs. The finish is on the tart side, greener than the sweeter start has to offer, which helps to tie the wine together and ends things on a cleansing note.

A- / $21 / seguraviudasusa.com

Tasting Chenin Blanc – Vouvray vs. South Africa, 2016 Releases

vourvray

Chenin blanc is not a grape that people ooh and ahh over. Typically it’s the cheap wine on the by-the-glass list that you select only because you don’t drink chardonnay and you just don’t trust that New Zealand sauvignon blanc to be dry enough before dinner.

Chenin blanc is best known in its home in the Loire Valley, but it is also the most widely planted grape in South Africa. Once used exclusively to make semi-sweet wines, chenin blanc today is primarily a dry wine style, though the finished product can be quite variable… as we’ll find out in just a moment, as we explore both the Loire’s Vouvray region and South Africa, to see how chenin blanc styles have evolved in both of these areas. (Spoiler: It’s incredibly random.)

2015 Clos du Gaimont Vouvray AOP – A fresh and lively wine, offering notes of pineapple, mango, and coconut, all atop a brisk, moderate-to-highly acidic and vaguely floral base. The finish evokes clementine oranges, with hints of fresh peaches. A / $20

2013 Domaine Vincent Carême Vouvray Le Peu Morier – A very pungent wine, perhaps the opposite of the Paul Buisse above. This one showcases a sour face, with notes of white wine vinegar, green grass, and wilting flowers. The finish is tart and reminiscent of sherry. While there are elements of this wine that are enjoyable due to their uniqueness, on the whole it’s too overpowering for my palate. An extreme example of “old world” winemaking. C+ / $38

2015 Terre Brulee Le Blanc Swartland South Africa – Immediately flabby on the palate, with dominant notes of melon, green pepper, and some baking spice elements. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of flavors, which might not be so bad, but the lack of any noteworthy acidity takes things out on a muddy note. C- / $16

2015 Indaba Chenin Blanc – A Western Cape wine, and an improvement over the Terre Brulee — better acid, with more interesting notes of grapefruit, mango, and white flowers. Altogether it’s a more classic chenin in structure that feels like it could be a lower-tier Vouvray. B+ / $11

Review: Peligroso Tequila Silver (2016)

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It’s a common thing in the world of tequila to release a blanco first, then wait a bit before releasing a reposado, then finally come out with an anejo to complete the lineup. Somehow, when it comes to Peligroso, we did everything all wrong. Six years we reviewed the distillery’s reposado, then followed that with an anejo in 2012. There was a liqueur released in 2013 even. Somehow we never reviewed the very start: Peligroso Silver.

Well, that’s only part of the story. The original Peligroso was bottled at 84 proof, hence the peligrosoness (danger) of the spirit. Somewhere along the way — probably when Diageo bought the brand in 2014 — the tequila was reformulated completely (including a new NOM), and it is now bottled at 80 proof. It is still a 100% agave spirit, however.

So, let’s take a fresh look at a silver tequila we never looked at to begin with and give Peligroso Silver a proper review.

Well, after all the buildup, I have to say there’s not a whole lot to get worked up about. The nose is racy, spicier than many silver tequilas I’ve experienced of late, but also quite green and vegetal, with a raw agave character to it. It’s not a bad lead-in, and at least it promises a bold flavor profile ahead.

Unfortunately, the palate just doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Up front are a whole bunch of weird notes — think green beans, creamed corn, and bubble gum. Eventually this meanders into a more traditional profile, featuring stronger, peppery agave notes and a not-insignificant amount of sugar. The finish however is quite bittersweet, with notes of pencil lead and smoldering tobacco. All of this might add up to a fair enough tequila if the body itself wasn’t so thin and watery, which makes for a rather uninteresting experience. In contrast to the bold body and bite of the original Peligroso, the new expression, at least its blanco version, is a bit of a letdown.

80 proof.

B / $32 / peligrosotequila.com

Review: Blood Oath Bourbon Whiskey Pact No. 2 2016

blood oath pact 2

Luxco’s Blood Oath series is officially turning into an annual affair, and Pact No. 2 is here. As promised last year, Pact No. 2 is a different whiskey, but it’s less different than than you might think. This year’s expression is, like Pact No. 1, a blend of three Kentucky bourbons: First, a 7-year old rye-heavy bourbon finished in Port barrels, second, an 11-year old wheated bourbon, and third, an 11-year old rye bourbon. While the overall structure is similar to Pact No. 1, none of those appears to be a repeat of last year’s release, though it did include an (unfinished) 7-year old high rye bourbon.

I really enjoyed Pact No. 2 right from the start. It’s a powerhouse of a bourbon, leading on the nose with somewhat heavy wood overtones, plus notes of lightly scorched sugar and cocoa powder. There’s plenty of spice here to go around, offering notes of cloves, allspice, and ginger, all atop notes of toasty grains.

The palate builds on this with a number of fun elements, starting with a nicely fruity attack that offers notes of red berries, applesauce, and brown butter. As the palate evolves it finds even more of a voice, layering in gingerbread, Christmas-like spiced apple cider, golden raisins, and some notes of citrus peel. The baking spice is deep and penetrating, with that sultry wood reappearing on the back end to make for a somewhat austere and mature finish. All of this put together, this is serious whiskey, blended by someone who really knew what they were doing. Frankly, I find it a tough bourbon to put down.

Yes, Luxco is the company that makes Everclear, but it’s also proving itself to be an impressive force when it comes to sourcing high-end bourbon barrels and blending up an enticing whiskey. This is definitely one to buy.

98.6 proof. 22,500 bottles produced.

A / $100 / bloodoathbourbon.com

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2016 Edition

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It’s the 15th edition of Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon, and I’m happy to report this year’s installment is one of the best in recent memory.

But first, a little detail from OldFo on this, a 12 year old bourbon, which is fully in keeping with the distillery’s history:

Each barrel in the Birthday Bourbon selections annually are drawn from the same day of production, this year’s on June 4, 2004, leading to the ‘vintage-dated’ reference. The 2016 release of 93 barrels uniquely matured together on the 5th floor of Warehouse K at the Brown-Forman Distillery in Louisville, KY. The lot was positioned near a window facing west allowing them to be sun kissed, yielding a deeper oak mouthfeel. This warm location provides this year’s release with a deep, rich, oak forward personality.

That “official” description seems awfully backwards to me, and critically it misses what’s best about this whiskey. The 2016 Birthday Bourbon is fresh and fruity, definitively not woody, particularly on the nose, which exudes notes of cloves, spiced gingerbread, and muddled cherries. These engaging aromas come alongside a more gentle, encompassing lacing of barrel notes, which feels a bit winey at times. The palate is quite luscious, offering bright cherry fruit (I was immediately reminded of Baker’s Bourbon), dark chocolate, more cloves, and a hint of licorice. The finish is drying and bittersweet, but not especially influenced by traditional, classic barrel flavors.

All told this is a gem of a whiskey — getting more expensive every year, to be sure, but worth it at least for 2016. Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon releases are rarely my favorites, but Chris Morris and Co. have come up with a surprising delight that goes against the distillery’s often hoary style and manages to really engage with a fresh and enlightened style.

97 proof. 14,400 bottles produced.

A / $80 / oldforester.com