Review: Jose Cuervo Tradicional Tequila (2015)

jose-cuervo-tradicional-reposado-tequilaCuervo’s cheapest 100% agave tequila — Cuervo Tradicional — has been with us for a few years now, but we’re only just now getting around to reviewing the original — the reposado bottling. We first looked at Tradicional Silver four years ago, now we’re hitting it up for a second review, plus a first review of the Tradicional Reposado.

Let’s dig in. Both tequilas are 80 proof.

Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver Tequila – This is a clean and well-crafted tequila, with moderate herbal, agave notes on the nose. Hints of cinnamon and cloves emerge if you give it time. On the body, the tequila is quite simple, with some citrus and more clove emerging over time. The finish is agave-focused, lightly bitter, and moderate in length. Well made and perfectly fine as a mixer, but it’s a little plain on its own for serious sipping. B / $19

Jose Cuervo Tradicional Reposado Tequila – Aged two months in oak, the legal minimum to call a tequila a reposado. Very pale yellow in color. A blend of caramel and agave starts things off on the nose, with a decent balance between the two notes. On the tongue, it’s significantly sweeter than the Silver, which helps to balance out the spirit’s herbal character. We’re left with some citrus, and a bit of cotton candy on the back end — oddly that pairs pretty nicely with this reposado’s herbal core. Again, this is hardly a special occasion tequila, but for under 20 bucks — and at the same price as the Silver — it’s hard not to think of this for your frozen margarita machine. B+ / $19

Review: Carpano Dry and Carpano Bianco Vermouth

Carpano Bianco HRes FrontThe company that makes Punt e Mes and Carpano Antica also makes some more pedestrian vermouths, including these two white styles — both made from ancient, secret recipes.

Let’s try both!

Carpano Dry Vermouth – Classically dry, sourly winey nose, with notes of dried, savory herbs (absinthe notes are described in the tasting notes, but your mileage may vary). Light on the palate, with some bitterness lingering on the finish. Simple and versatile, but much better as a companion with gin than with vodka. 18% abv. B / $22 (1 liter)

Carpano Bianco Vermouth – Carpano’s sweet white vermouth (made from wine using trebbiano, cortese, and chardonnay grapes) is restrained on the nose, with similar herbal and “old wine” notes as the dry vermouth. The body pairs up these bitter and winey elements with a layer of sweetness, which works to elevate this vermouth considerably, particularly when drinking it solo. Again, it’s a relatively simple vermouth, but it works well with both vodka or gin — though somewhat better with gin, particularly more floral styles. 14.9% abv. B+ / $22 (1 liter)

Review: The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve (2015)

TGL_Founders Reserve Bottle & PackBack in 2010, Glenlivet released its Founder’s Reserve expression — an extremely rare, wooden-crated, nearly $400 bottle of some of the best malt whisky I’ve ever had.

In 2015, Glenlivet is also releasing Founder’s Reserve. Which is a completely different thing. Completely.

The new Founder’s Reserve is an entry-level whisky, a no-age-statement expression of this single malt that will be far more accessible than the 1800 bottles of the 2010 bottling were. Barreled in first-fill and refill bourbon casks, it is a well-crafted but inoffensive single malt.

The nose here offers fresh-cut grains, some vanilla, a bit of citrus fruit, and a touch of ground white pepper. It’s a nice little mix… a kind of EveryMalt to get things going as your first dram after work. The body is extremely soft. Its got a very light wood influence, some nuttiness, a touch of that pepper, and lots and lots of roasted grains. Just a hint of brown sugar and a dash of banana and apple fruit give it some nuance, but on the whole the barley is what shines through the brightest. Watch for some cocoa powder notes on the very back end.

On a very young spirit, those granary notes can be overwhelming and brutish, but here Glenlivet tempers the entire experience to the point where the cereal notes fold themselves into a rounded and pleasing whole that would be at home alongside any well-made blend. Take that as you like.

80 proof.

B+ / $45 /

Review: HoneyMaker Dry Mead

MMW_DryMeadIs mead going to be a thing again, for the first time since the 1200s?

Maine’s HoneyMaker is the latest company making a go at making honey-based wine, and this Dry Mead is just one of nearly a dozen offerings. “Dry” meaning exactly that: almost no residual sugar makes this a much different experience than you’re likely familiar with if you’ve tried mead in the past.

That said, it’s still not exactly to my tastes. The nose has vague honey notes that play over a damply earthy, mushroomy core. The body has just the lightest touch of honey sweetness, though it pairs nicely with some florals on the nose that emerge as the mead warms up. So far so good, but the finish leans strongly toward notes of spinach and canned green beans, which aren’t the most engaging tastes to have cling to the palate.

12% abv.

C / $15 /

Review: Expresiones de Corazon Barrel-Aged Tequila (Blanco, Buffalo Trace Reposado & Van Winkle Anejo) 2015

Corazón_OldRip_Añejo_Bottle_NoStripBack in 2013, Corazon Tequila had the curious idea to take fresh tequila and age it in high-end bourbon barrels rather than the typical Jack and Jim barrels. With five tequilas aged in a variety of casks — including Sazerac 18, George Stagg, and Old Rip Van Winkle — the project was an exercise in pushing 100% agave tequila even further upmarket.

In 2015, Corazon is back at it, but with a more limited approach. Just three expressions — one of each tequila variety — are being offered this time out. Stagg and Sazerac are out this time around.

The barrel’s not the only twist here. There have also been some upgrades to the agave harvest itself. Says Corazon:

Using 100 percent blue agave from the highlands of Jalisco, the brix for Expresiones del Corazon was measured to determine sugar levels before harvest, rather than a traditional clear cut.  Two sets of agave were harvested, one with a lower sugar content and flavored a little drier, and one with a higher sugar content considered a little sweeter for agave, resulting in more floral notes. The result was a harmonization of the two sets of agave in the amazing Blanco, which was then used as the base for the other Expresiones del Corazon.

We were pretty high on the 2013 bottlings. Let’s look at the 2015s, all 80 proof and poured from individually numbered bottles.

Expresiones de Corazon Artisanal Edition Small-Batch Distilled Blanco – Again, this is unaged tequila that sees no barrel time at all, so it’s a bit strange that it’s part of this collection — and with such a lengthy name, too! Nonetheless, let’s look at this base spirit for the rest of the collection. Unlike 2013’s release, this expression comes across on the nose as relatively mild — and quite fruity, with lemon-heavy notes and a dash of pepper. On the palate, the tequila is very soft, almost to the point of simplicity. Dry and lightly sweet, it’s as harmless a blanco as they come. B / $60

Expresiones de Corazon Buffalo Trace Reposado – Aged in ex-Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels, no time stated. Last edition was 10.5 months. This version is just as strangely pale in the color department, but it’s loaded with aroma and flavor — quite intense vanilla notes, some black pepper, toasted marshmallow, and a gentle herbal, slightly earthy backing that’s driven by the agave. Mild, but quite pleasant. B+ / $70

Expresiones de Corazon Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo – Aged in Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon barrels, time unstated (2013’s was 23 months). Again, this is the palest anejo you’ll ever see. Racier on the nose, it’s got baking spices, tree bark, and some apple cider notes. This leads to quite a full body which folds together salted caramel, gingerbread, and gentle agave notes into a cohesive and well integrated whole. The collection of flavors are a lot like those in the 2013 edition, but here they’re more in balance and, in the end, they lead to a much more worthwhile spirit. A- / $80

Book Review: Tiki Drinks

tikidrinks-smWhat do I look for in a cocktail book that I might add to my collection? Drinks that aren’t widely included in other books, a tenable theme, and lots of pictures of what the finished product looks like. (Half the time I find myself picking a beverage by appearance rather than its ingredients, and I wager most people do the same.)

Tiki Drinks has all three of those things. Nicole Weston and Robert Sharp curate about 60 cocktails for this slim but focused treatise on all things tiki. The primer upfront is brief but well conceived and helpful — the pages outlining different countries’ national styles of rum production is remarkably useful — before leading into page after page of classics and newfangled tiki drinks. Every cocktail gets a full page picture, and even the garnishes are innovative. (Who’d have thought to carve a lime peel into a skull to garnish a Zombie cocktail?)

I’ve no complaints with the selection of drinks, the recipes chosen — many tiki drinks have a wide range of potential ingredients and have changed considerably over the years — or the sometimes mildly offbeat direction that Weston and Sharp choose to take with some classics.

Weston and Sharp aren’t cocktail historians, nor do they pretend to be, so if you want another investigation into the early life of Don the Beachcomber, look elsewhere. With this book the duo simply gather up tiki’s greatest hits (and then some) and give the masses the means to make some popular rum-heavy cocktails at home, and that’s good enough for me.


Review: Sukkah Hill Spirits Etrog and Besamim Liqueurs

etrog bottleSukkah Hill Spirits is a new, artisan producer of eastern-inspired liqueurs that is based in southern California. These spirits are both sweet liqueurs, with no corn syrup added, all natural ingredients, no preservatives, and all the other good stuff that you’d expect from a company with a name like Sukkah Hill.

We checked out both of the company’s offerings for review. Thoughts follow.

Sukkah Hill Spirits Etrog Liqueur – A citrus liqueur, pale yellow in color. The nose offers both lemon-lime and floral elements in a heady mix. The body however is more specific, loaded with key lime notes, a healthy slug of cane sugar syrup, and a flowery note that evokes orange blossoms. The balance takes things a bit closer to sweet than sour — making this more evocative of a triple sec than you might expect. Use in lieu of that liqueur, Cointreau, or even Grand Marnier in your favorite cocktails. Or try straight as an alternative to Limoncello. 76 proof. A- / $24 (375ml)

Sukkah Hill Spirits Besamim Aromatic Spice Liqueur – A glass of chai, without the cream. Cinnamon and cloves dominate the nose, taking it well beyond the level of “Christmas spices.” As the body builds, it takes those spices and folds in a touch of vanilla and some dark brown sugar. Initially a bit overwhelming, it eventually settles into its own. Besamim isn’t as sweet as Etrog, but it can still hold its own solo or as a component in a more exotic cocktail. Consider coffee, cream, and/or whiskey in your mix. 74 proof. B+ / $28 (375ml)

Review: Russell’s Reserve 1998 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

RR 1998 HiRes Email

Right on the heels of Master’s Keep comes Russell’s Reserve 1998, Wild Turkey’s rarest expression yet. Back in 1998, Jimmy and Eddie Russell laid down some “special occasion” casks — and only now are they getting around to actually bottling them, 17 years later.

These whiskies predate the Russell’s Reserve brand altogether, so it’s not really right to think of this as a line extension (though there is a natural familial resemblance between the 1998 and the Russell’s Reserve 10 Years Old bottling). What this is, really, is a very small batch expression of Wild Turkey bourbon from a single vintage distilled in the previous millennium.

From all angles, this is intense and powerful stuff. The nose is spicy and nutty — heavy vanilla-focused bourbon through and through — with some mentholated notes adding warmth. On the palate it’s an outright sugar bomb, loaded with baked apples, a double dose of vanilla-infused sugar cookies, some fresh ginger, and only on the back end, some barrel char influence. Hugely expressive and loaded with flavor from start to finish, I can understand if some actually find it to be too much of a good thing.

102.2 proof. 2,070 bottles produced.

A- / $250 /

Tasting: Schiava Wines of Alto Adige – Abbazia di Novacella, Cantina Andriano, Nals Margreid

Cantina Andriano BocadoSchiava is a grape also known as Trollinger — and it’s one of the more heavily grown red wine grapes in Germany. It also finds a home in the north of Italy, where it is turned into this exotic and odd wine. Let’s take a look at three 100% Schiava wines from Italy’s Alto Adige region.

2014 Abbazia di Novacella Schiava Alto Adige DOC – A classic, slightly sour, young Italian red. Notes of thyme and nutmeg dust a tart cherry core, with a finish of leather, tobacco leaf, and gentian. Mild finish. Pairs well with food. B / $16

2013 Nals Margreid Galea Schiava Alto Adige DOC – Jammy, and reminiscent of rapidly fading Beaujolais Nouveau, with a gamy and balsamic-heavy undertone. Of minor interest only. C+ / $18

2013 Cantina Andriano “Bocado” Schiava Alto Adige DOC – Both sweet and tart, with strawberry and some cherry notes. Approachable, though the heavy acidity makes it somewhat off-putting at times. On the finish, a dusting of baking spices add a bit more complexity. B- / $21

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Head-to-Head

JD NH Single Barrel 2Headlines were made earlier this year when the largest ever single barrel purchase of Jack Daniel’s — 15 barrels’ worth — was completed. Big liquor store? Weathly billionaire? Not exactly. The purchase was made by none other than the state of New Hampshire.

New Hampshire is a “control” state, which means it operates its own liquor stores. As such, it has plenty of money to drop on wacky ideas like this — 15 whole barrels of JD Single Barrel Select.

The Granite State folks sent us samples from two of the 15 barrels so we could see what kind of goodies New Hampshirans (that’s what they’re called) now have in their backyard. Here’s a look at the duo.

Both are 94 proof.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Rick R-6 Barrel 15-1778 – Very fruity, not a term I often associate with JD, featuring minimal wood influence, some cherry, and some cinnamon on the nose. On the palate, the fruit comes through the strongest, but ample vanilla and barrel char still shine through. The finish is all super-ripe bananas — almost tropical at times and not at all like any JD you’re likely accustomed to. A-

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Rick R-8 Barrel 15-1933 – Much more intense with alcohol and stronger wood char notes, a touch of that banana, plus burnt marshmallow, and supple vanilla notes. All in all, it’s classic Jack Daniel’s, with more of an alcoholic kick. Very good, but awfully familiar. B+

each $45 /