Book Review: The Year of Drinking Adventurously

year of drinknigWriter Jeff Cioletti wants you to put down the Budweiser and the shot of JD. “Drinking adventurously” means exploring the vast array of beverages the world has to offer, and Cioletti guides you through 52 of them in a guidebook that is meant to be consumed one chapter (and type of drink) each week.

Cioletti starts us off with Scotch, exploring the islands in addition to safer Speyside. From there it’s on to bourbon and rye, then quickly into such exotic categoris as baijiu, soju, pulque, and blueberry wine. It’s an adventure indeed: Some of these categories (namely the blueberry wine) I’ve never even encountered myself.

As a primer on the entire world of drinking, some areas (gueuze) are naturally far more adventurous than others (Canadian whisky), but Cioletti ultimately shows himself more interested in taking you on a global trek of alcoholic drink exploration, not just forcing Korean snake wine down your throat. There’s even a chapter on vodka included.

And that’s not a slight. Not every book needs to be a nerd-level deep dive into the rabbit hole of wine, beer, and spirits. So long as you understand going in that you’re not going to learn everything there is to know about Scotch in nine pages of text, this book is definitely worthwhile and often lots of fun, to boot.

A- / $14 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Lillet Rose

lilletThere’s a third (and while it’s not new, it’s the newest) member of the Lillet aromatic wine family: Lillet Rose, which rides the line between the crisp Lillet Blanc and the dark red Lillet Rouge.

Lillet Rose is a moderate pink in hue, and it fits right in between these two classic apertif wines.

Made primarily from semillon grapes (the same base as Lillet Blanc) with the addition of liqueurs made from berries and sweet and bitter oranges, the wine could pass as a hearty rose if you didn’t know better. The deep-down herbal notes give it away as Lillet, but here the addition of the liqueurs add both sweetness and nuance. Lots of orange notes give this a bittersweet bite, with a finish that recalls pink lemonade, fresh rosemary, and even a little bitter cocoa powder.

Is it heresy to say this might be my favorite expression of the three for straight sipping? Bring on the summer.

34 proof.

A- / $16 / lillet.com

Review: McMenamins Edgefield Hogshead and Monkey Puzzle Whiskey

McMenamins Whiskey_MonkeyPuzzle - McMenamins and Kathleen NybergTwo new whiskeys from McMenamins’ Edgefield Distillery in Troutdale, Oregon. Let’s take a spin through this pair of limited edition spirits available directly from the distillery and its various gift shops.

McMenamins Edgefield Hogshead Whiskey – “Pure pot distilled from 100% malted barley,” per the label. Since “pure pot still” — in the Irish sense — is made from a blend of malted and unmalted barley, this is probably more accurately termed a single malt. Aged for an indeterminate time in used barrels of unstated origin. The whiskey is young but fruity, with a backing of gentle granary notes. Notes of cloves and almond emerge on the nose as it takes on air, along with a touch of chocolate — even a bit of horchata. The palate’s a bit racier than it should be, but a splash of water really helps even things out, coaxing out gentle caramel notes, some citrus, and more nuts. The body is basic and the finish is on the short side, the grain notes lingering more than anything else. Not a bad single malt, but I’d love to see what would happen if this went back into barrel for another 3 or 4 years. 92 proof. B / $40 (750ml)

McMenamins Edgefield Monkey Puzzle – Take Hogshead Whiskey and infuse it with Teamaker hops (which are not bitter) and honey and you’ve got Monkey Puzzle. (Great name, by the way.) The nose immediately showcases heavy hops notes along with black tea, tobacco, and dusky Asian spices. As promised, it’s not bitter but rather offers a significant herbal character along with a bit of a rolled cigar note. The hops linger on the finish, leaving behind a slightly smoky, slightly menthol character that hangs around for quite awhile. Curious stuff. 92 proof. B / $20 (375ml)

mcmenamins.com

Review: Praga Vodka

praga vodka

This new vodka brand comes to us from — wait for it — Prague, where it is distilled from winter wheat.

It’s a sweeter style of vodka, though it isn’t blown out as some other new world vodkas tend to be. You get the sugar on the nose, along with a gentle graininess and a slightly musty, mushroom note. On the palate, white sugar again dominates, backed up by a slight lemon character, some caramel, and a touch of candle wax. The body is pretty clean, and the finish is short — not all that brisk, but not cloyingly sweet either.

All told, this is a fair enough choice for mixing, but that’s about as far as it goes.

80 proof.

B- / $20 / pragavodka.com

Review: Bloomery SweetShine Liqueurs

bloomery sweetshineWest Virginia-based Bloomery takes a unique, yet wholly appropriate, approach to creating its 10 liqueurs: Rather than using a grain neutral spirit for its base, Bloomery uses moonshine — at least that’s how the story goes.

Starting with 190 proof ‘shine, cane sugar, and local water, Bloomery’s SweetShine concoctions are flavored with local fruits, roots, and nuts.

We tried three of the company’s creations. Thoughts follow.

Note: All come in 375ml bottles. Be sure to shake well, as the translucent bottles make it hard to see the solids resting on the bottom.

Bloomery SweetShine Ginger – A bit sweaty on the nose, with overtones of overripe apple and some corny/vegetal notes that don’t exactly scream ginger. The body is sweet at first, then heavy with racy ginger oil notes, peppery and spicy but dragged down by its oily heaviness and a finish of buttered popcorn. 49 proof. B-

Bloomery SweetShine Pumpkin Spice – Again those buttered popcorn notes wash over the nose and palate, this time influenced by cinnamon and cloves. More brown sugar notes come to the fore, which are a better companion for popcorn than the ginger liqueur, offering a touch of brewed coffee character and caramel on the finish.38.4 proof. B

Bloomery SweetShine Black Walnut – This spin on a nocino starts off with big coffee and Madeira notes, with a smattering of nuts — finally something that can drown out the moonshine base. On the palate, it’s got authentic black walnut liqueur flavors — coffee-like but rounded out with earthy nuttiness. The finish is incredibly sweet and seemingly endless, enduring on the tongue for the better part of an hour. Reasonably approachable (though lacking any real bitterness), but best in moderation. 70.1 proof. B

each $25 (375ml) / bloomerysweetshine.com

Review: The Pogues Irish Whiskey

POGUES_BOTTLE_FRONTThey may have the second most famous name in Irish rock ‘n’ roll, but The Pogues are certainly the most notorious. Known for their hard-partying lifestyle in the ‘80s and ‘90s – many of their songs are specifically about drinking – it only makes sense that The Pogues would get their own Irish whiskey brand.

The only problem: The Pogues are now, in part at least, sober. The Daily Beast has an amusing interview with Pogues co-founder Peter “Spider” Stacy, who hasn’t had a drink in 17 years but who was tasked with selecting the ultimate whiskey that would become The Pogues trademark spirit. Made by West Cork Distillers, Stacy describes multiple rounds of tastings (or at least nosings) with his bandmates and says, “Eventually, the one we went for has, I am led to believe, a smooth peatiness.”

It is worth noting that The Pogues Whiskey is not peated.

So what do we have here? All told it’s a young but fairly traditional Irish, made of a blend of single malt and grain whiskeys, bottled in a completely black decanter.

The nose is classically Irish and nostalgic: fresh barley, light honey notes, and a little brown butter. The palate offers few surprises, with lots of toasty, roasted grains, a touch of cloves, and just a little vanilla. The body is very light — almost extremely so — which is of course what most Irish whiskeys are known for, but with The Pogues it’s almost thin to the level of cheesecloth. Pale gold in color, it certainly looks the part, too, a gossamer experience that might fly away if you blew on it hard enough. The finish is quick, almost absent; what’s there focuses on dusty granary notes.

All in all, it’s fair enough as a gimmick whiskey, but nothing anyone would write a song about.

Póg mo thóin!

80 proof.

B- / $33 / thepoguesirishwhiskey.com

Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Barrel Proof

1776_RYE_BARREL_PROOFIt’s been three years since we’ve heard of anything new from the James E. Pepper 1776 line of bourbons and ryes, but now the Georgetown Trading Company is back with a new addition to its rye, a cask strength expression.

The 15 year old expressions of 1776 are also bottled at cask strength, but this one, formally known as James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey Barrel Proof, is a barrel proof expression of the standard rye, which is currently made from a mash of 95% rye and 5% barley and bottled with no age statement. It is distilled for 1776 in collaboration with the Lawrenceburg Distillery in Indiana (via Pepper’s production agreement and own supplied cooperage, the company says).

This is a racy, spicy whiskey. The nose offers cayenne and cracked black pepper, burnt (burnt black) sugar, licorice, tobacco, and barrel char. The body is full of youth, which is both a good and a bad thing. Chewy and bready on the body, it’s full of that red pepper heat and pungent green herbs. Some rubberiness here and there, along with a bitter and drying character on the finish. That said, the rye benefits from water as expected, although this brings out more lumberyard overtones along with, at last, some sweetness.

If you like your rye bold and fresh, Pepper 1776 at barrel strength will likely serve you well. For me, its youth is a hindrance, unable to give it the austerity it needs to stand up to all that alcohol.

117.2 proof.

B- / $38  / jamesepepper.com