Review: Guinness Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter

guinness West Indies and Dublin Porter

Guinness was experimenting with these two porter releases, based on old 1800s recipes, when I visited in the summer of 2015. Now they’ve made their way to the States, so everyone can see a bit about what Guinness might have tasted like — decades before it ever released its first stout.

English Porter isn’t an entirely well-defined beer style, but in many ways it presents as a slightly lighter version of stout. Porter gets its name from… well, let’s let Guinness explain:

With origins in a 1796 entry in the Guinness brewers’ diaries, the Dublin Porter was inspired by the golden age of porter in the 1800s. This was a time when porter was the working man’s beer and after a long day’s work in Dublin or London, Guinness would have been a respected choice. The West Indies porter is based on an 1801 diary entry for the first Guinness purposely brewed to maintain its freshness, on long sea voyages to the Caribbean and beyond. To guarantee the best quality upon arrival, Guinness brewers made a porter with more hops and a higher gravity.

Here’s a look at how both of these expressions (both tasted from bottles) fare:

Guinness Dublin Porter – This drinks like a very heavily carbonated version of Guinness Stout. At under 4% alcohol, it’s a surprising session beer that gives moderate coffee and licorice notes a sizable amount of hoppy fizz. Caramel notes emerge on the finish, along with a fairly intense maltiness, but ultimately it lacks real depth. 3.8% abv. B

Guinness West Indies Porter – Guinness Foreign Extra was designed for hotter climes and remains huge in the Caribbean, where it’s high-proof, racier profile is nearly ubiquitous. This is the porterized version of that beer, which offers a bigger hops profile, again with a ton of fizziness, and a heavy, somewhat oppressive nutty/malty character on the back end. Here the coffee notes creep in just as the finish is fading. Foreign Extra is a hefty experience, and West Indies Porter has the same approach, a heavily carbonated monster that is never as refreshing as the real thing. 6% abv. B

each $3 (500ml bottles) / guinness.com

Review: Wicked Dolphin Coconut Rum and Spiced Rum

Wicked Dolphin

Never mind the cringeworthy name: Wicked Dolphin is a quality rum made not in the Caribbean but in Florida (Cape Coral, specifically), where it has been distilled from local sugar cane since 2012.

Wicked Dolphin makes a white rum (not reviewed here), but it’s best known for its spiced version. Below we’ve got a review of both it and Wicked Dolphin’s coconut-flavored rum below. Thoughts follow.

Wicked Dolphin Coconut Rum – Made with real coconut water. The rum offers a fairly standard nose for this style, sweet and authentically coconut, without harsh overtones. The body offers a mild departure from the expected — with the distinctly milky, creamy notes of coconut water vs. the harsher, biting notes of more widely used coconut extracts. This makes for a fairly gentle rum in a world where not a lot of nuance is the norm, fresh on the fiish, with lightly nutty notes lingering as it fades. 60 proof. A- / $23

Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced Rum – Tastes like Florida? (Gators and tourists?) Actually, the white rum is flavored with honey, oranges, and various spices — plus a bit of aged rum to round things out. Unlike most spiced rums, it is bottled at full proof. The honey notes are clear and striking both on the nose and palate, with a heavy cinnamon and clove character underneath. Initially somewhat bitter with heavy orange peel notes, it opens up over time as the citrus becomes juicier and more floral, lending the rum a somewhat soothing character. The finish offers a touch of sweetness, but it’s held in check by the more savory herbal notes. Definitely worth experimenting with in cocktails. 80 proof. B / $25

wickeddolphinrum.com

Review: 2015 Dark Horse Rose California Limited Release

OK folks, get ready for a flood of rose reviews. They are arriving in force for what appears to be a very pink summer ahead. First up: Dark Horse, a Central Valley cheapie that sees only a seasonal release. Harmless (it’s a blend of 40% grenache, 20% barbera, 20% pinot gris, and 20% tempranillo), this affordable bottling presents a palate of strawberries, brown sugar, with a lightly earthy but largely sweet-leaning wine. Light herbal notes on the finish give it a rosemary dusting but otherwise the wine sticks to what’s tried and true.

B / $8 / darkhorsewine.com

Review: Midori Melon Liqueur

Midori

I have never asked for Midori. Midori has only sought me out, squirreled away in cocktails, usually the kind served blended into a slushie and handed out in a locale where the sunset is meant to be admired over anything else.

Midori is, surprisingly, owned by Japan’s Suntory and made exclusively in Japan from its 1978 launch until 1987; today it is made in Mexico. Midori is of course “the original melon liqueur,” though its color more closely resembles Homer Simpson’s nuclear material than any melon I’ve ever encountered. While designed to imbue a cocktail with a melon flavor, it’s main job really seems to be to carry the load of color. There are really just a handful of ways to make a cocktail green, and Midori is one of the cheapest and most accepted among them.

This is the first time I’ve ever tried Midori on its own (particularly at room temperature, as I do all my tastings), but let’s see what that experience is like nonetheless.

The nose… doesn’t smell like melons. The aroma is indistinct, with vague florals, evergreen, and a generally artificial, chemical character that wouldn’t be out of place in any cough syrup, green or no. The palate bears that out in spades — it has only the vaguest of connection to honeydew or any other melon, coming across as extremely sweet, but more vegetal than fruity, particularly on the lengthy and entirely artificial finish.

Of course, in cocktails, used in moderation, Midori can offer a somewhat different (and far better) experience, but I challenge you to detect any real “melon” flavor in a melon ball, a Japanese slipper, or a Midori sour… or this Guy Fieri nightmare.

All told, it is the nastiest stuff that I actually keep in my bar.

40 proof.

D- / $17 / midori-world.com

Review: Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend

crown royal cornerstone blend

Crown Royal is embarking on a new collection of whisky releases called the Noble Collection. This will be a series of annual, limited releases (no time horizon has been announced), each designed to “showcase Crown Royal’s team of talented distillers and blenders and named for the whisky brand’s noble roots.” (Crown Royal reminds us that the brand originated as a gift for King George VI when he visited Canada in 1939.)

The first installment of the Noble Collection, Cornerstone Blend, is a blend of three whiskies, and Crown Royal has taken the interesting step of actually telling us a little bit about all three of them: a traditional Canadian rye, a rye made using Crown’s Coffey still, and a “bourbon-style Canadian whisky” that is matured in American oak. There’s no additional data on the three whiskies or their proportion in the blend, but that’s a nice start.

I take that back: It’s even better than that, because Crown Royal sent individual samples of all three of the component whiskies for us to check out as well as a sample of the finished blend. Before we move on to the review of the finished product, let’s take a quick look at the trio on their own to see what ingredients we’re working with. (Note: All three samples are cask strength, while the finished blend was brought down to 40.3% abv.)

The Cornerstone rye (111.4 proof) is quite gorgeous, a spicy, toffee-heavy whisky with a long finish of cloves and toasted wood. The Cornerstone Coffey rye (122.8 proof) has some similar characteristics, but is less polished and has a duller profile on the whole, with a heavy grainy character and some flabbiness on its finish. A lot of the character of the finished product clearly comes from this component, which is the least engaging of the trio. Finally, the Cornerstone “bourbon-style” whisky (136.4 proof) is engaging but is almost overloaded with sweetness, featuring butterscotch, cocoa powder, and ample barrel char.

Putting everything together, it’s a bit less than the sum of its parts. Crown Royal Cornerstone Blend is a bit of an odd whisky, punctuating a heavy barrel char character on the nose with briny notes, camphor, and some green olive notes. Sweetness is elusive at first, but shows its face on the restrained palate, which shows off notes of blonde wood, furniture polish, some raisins, and some rye-driven baking spices, including cloves and ginger. The finish is mild and short, in keeping with the greater experience: On the whole Cornerstone is dialed back, way back, a very model of restraint so effective that it’s difficult to get a proper handle on its essence. It’s not a bad whisky, but it comes across as a bit plain, almost to the point of boredom.

80.6 proof.

B- / $50 / crownroyal.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric Bourbon 22 Years Old

rhetoric 22 years old

Diageo’s Orphan Barrel project has an ambitious goal with the Rhetoric brand. First released as a 20 year old in 2014, it was further aged and reissued as a 21 year old last year, and as a 22 year old this month. 23, 24, and 25 year olds will be forthcoming through the remainder of the decade.

We have had the good fortune to taste the new release alongside both the 20 and 21… a practice we hope to keep running over the course of the six whiskey releases (supplies in our stock permitting).

Here’s how Rhetoric 22 (still 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye, distilled at Bernheim in the early 1990s) shapes up against its forebears.

At age 22, Rhetoric is showing ample wood — one might say it’s become the primary focus of the bourbon at this point in its life — though the nose backs that up with some aromas of Port wine and a touch of orange peel. On the palate, barrel char and lumberyard hit first, followed by soothing vanilla and toffee notes. Secondary notes run to red fruits, namely raspberries, plus heavy notes of cloves and mint chocolate. This is a quite complex whiskey, with a lengthy finish. There’s ample heat here, which is surprising given that the whiskey is barely 45% abv, but a couple of drops of water help it open up.

Looking back, I like the 21 a bit less now than I did upon last year. It is now showing a bit heavy on winey notes up front, though the lovely brown sugar character that cascades on the lightly woody finish are still working well. The 20 year old is still showing well, with stronger menthol notes and sizable wood character on the finish.

90.4 proof.

A- / $110 / diageo.com

Review: Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” 2016

Booker's Rye Bottle + Box Lifestyle Shot

It is easily the most notorious whiskey release of the year, but Booker Noe — otherwise known exclusively for bourbon — couldn’t have predicted such when he decided to lay down some rye barrels in 2003. (Noe died in 2004, but his name has lived on in his namesake bourbon.) Apparently he took the mashbill information on this whiskey — believed to be about 70% rye — with him.

Now, 13 years (and 1 month and 12 days) later — roughly double the time that Booker’s Bourbon spends in cask — Beam Suntory has turned out those barrels and bottled them at cask strength. It is the first and so far only rye whiskey released under the Booker’s name, a very well-aged, one-off release that is turning heads mainly because of one thing: A $300 price tag.

Rye is red hot right now, but this release now has observers wondering whether we’ve hit “Peak Rye.” Even cult-level rye bottlings like WhistlePig’s rare bottlings don’t command that kind of coin. You have to look at the tiny number of Sazerac 18 Year Old bottles out there if you want to find any competition in the price range.

Ah well, let’s see what’s inside these ritzy bottles, shall we?

The nose is intense, one of the richest and most powerful I’ve encountered in an American whiskey in a long time. Huge aromas of toffee, barrel char, and licorice are backed by notes of orange marmalade, ginger, and torched brown sugar. The nose just goes and goes — it’s one of those rare whiskeys that is intensely enjoyable without ever taking a sip.

And yet, sip we must, and said sip is glorious. At 68% alcohol, Booker’s Rye ought to be a blazer, but it’s surprisingly gentle and easily approachable even at full strength. The body is complex and soaked through with notes of molasses-dark caramel, flambeed banana, tons of cloves, and Port wine. While it isn’t required, water doesn’t hurt, coaxing out more up-front sweetness to endure on the finish. All told, it’s a dramatic, powerful, and beautiful whiskey, perfectly aged and well worth sampling should you manage to encounter one of the few bottles that were produced.

Have we arrived at Peak Rye? You better believe it. Does it matter? As long as the whiskey turns out this amazingly: No.

136.2 proof.

A / $300 / bookersbourbon.com