Review: Craft Distillers Mezcalero Release #11 Bramaderos (Miahuatlan)

MEZ_11Craft Distillers’ Mezcalero is a series of one-time batches of mezcal, similar to the ArteNOM tequila releases. Once they’re all sold, they’re gone for good. But don’t worry — in both cases, they always make more.

We first encountered Mezcalero in its second batch, and while I felt that release was a touch lackluster, it intrigued me enough to keep following the line. Mezcalero is now in its 12th release — and we just received release #11, still on the market, for review.

Mezcalero #11 is made from four types of agave: Semi-wild agave karwinskii  (madrecuishe) that grows on stalks, bicuishe, rhodacantha (Mexicano), and cultivated espadín. (Espadin is by far the most common type used in modern mezcal.) The spirit is crafted by distiller Alberto Ortiz (aka Don Beto) near Miahuatlan, Mexico.

Mezcalero #11 is silky and sweet and smoky on the nose, offering neat citrus aromas, iodine, and a persistent lacing of gentle smoke character. The body starts off gently, again pushing its citrus character along with ample notes of roasted meats (or bacon) and some menthol. The smoke builds slowly, then faster, but the sweetness holds its own throughout. The finish is rounded and seductive, a solid example of a well-crafted mezcal that has all the essentials in place.

1068 bottles produced, making this a bit easier to find than prior releases. 94.6 proof.

A- / $84 / craftdistillers.com

Review: Pickett’s Ginger Beer Concentrated Syrup

PICKETTS

Pickett’s approach to ginger beer was a new one for me: Rather than bottle or can a finished product, Pickett’s makes ginger syrup, which you mix with sparkling water to make on-the-spot ginger beer. It’s a more efficient way to make a mixer if you need a lot of it (or don’t want to stock the pantry with tons of bottles). One 16 oz. bottle of syrup is the equivalent of eight 12 oz. bottles of ginger beer. (That said, you still need to stock sparkling water — though a SodaStream or similar would be just about perfect for this format.)

Pickett’s comes in two formats, both of which we tried. Thoughts follow.

Pickett’s Medium Spicy+ Ginger Beer Syrup (green label) – Mixed with sparkling water, this cuts a profile similar to a slightly racier ginger ale a la Canada Dry or Schweppes. I’d call it Medium Spicy without the plus, as the only “beer”ness to it is found in a slight kick that comes along on the finish. (If you have chapped lips you’ll feel it.) Otherwise, the ginger is solid, backed by a quite sweet body with lots of apple-like fruit overtones to it. Good, everyday-drinking stuff. Reviewed: Batch #9. B+

Pickett’s Hot N’ Spicy #3 Ginger Beer Syrup (red label) – Don’t be afraid. It’s not that hot. It is, however, less sweet, so if you want more of a ginger kick without a lot of sweetness, this should be your go-to version. The overall impact is slightly vegetal but the more warming finish is quite lasting and, ultimately, racier on the palate. A kissing cousin to the green label version, but more attuned to cocktailing. Reviewed: Batch #3. B+

each $25 per 16 oz. bottle / pickettbrothersbeverage.com [BUY IT HERE]

Review: 2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc – Icon and Regional Collection

Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc Bottle Shot Hi ResTwo new releases from New Zealand’s Nobilo, including the budget Regional Collection bottling and the flagship Icon expression. Thoughts on these 2014 vintage releases follow.

2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Regional Collection Marlborough – Moderately tropical, with strong lemon overtones and just a touch of vanilla. Bright acidity lends the wine an easy, festive finish. Uncomplicated, but not hard to enjoy. Great value. B+ / $9

2014 Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Exceptionally tropical: Mango on the nose, pineapple on the palate. A creamier, chewier body — with a touch of caramel on the back end — gives this expression a bit more muscle than the prior wine, but the acid on the finish keeps things fresh and lively. Even harder not to enjoy. A- / $15

nobilowines.com

Review: Tomatin 12 Years Old French Oak

Tomatin French Oak

This Highland whisky is a limited edition available only in North America. It is aged for 9 years in bourbon hogsheads, then spends 3 years in French oak casks. “The casks were specially sourced from various European cooperages, including Lafite, Vicard and Seguin Moreau, and originally contained red wine from the Bacalhoa winery which was formerly owned by Rothschild,” says Tomatin. But don’t expect a lot of red wine influence. The casks were de-charred and re-charred before being used.

And what a delightful little whisky this is. The nose is gentle, slightly salty, with notes of fresh grain, and baking spices. The body is impossibly light, some fruitcake notes giving it the impression of a sherried whisky at first, then notes of caramel, nougat, and apple pie. The finish is deft, simple, and refreshing. This isn’t a whisky that complicates things with a lot of showiness — or a lot of layers — but damn if it isn’t enjoyable from start to finish.

Uncomplicated, but so well-crafted — and a great bargain for the quality in the bottle.

92 proof. 12,000 bottles produced.

A / $46 / tomatin.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Balblair Vintage 2003, 1999, 1990, and 1983 Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskies

BB 1983 Pack Shot

I encounter Balblair regularly at whiskey events, but I was surprised to see that in all these years we’ve only ever done a formal review of Balblair one time — of the Vintage 2000 release.

Today we’re fixing that with reviews of four more expressions from this Highland distillery. On with the show!

Balblair Vintage 2003 – 10 years old, aged in bourbon barrels. Pale in color, and a bit fiery on the nose. Roasted grains, with a touch of honey, are aromatically intense — with some coal fire and a bit of industrial character. The body offers a bit of almond, some citrus, and a touch of cloves. The whisky hasn’t quite settled down yet, though, to bring out this whisky’s true charms. 92 proof. B / $70

Balblair Vintage 1999 – 15 years old, aged in bourbon and sherry barrels. (My sample doesn’t indicate, but I’m presuming this is the Second Edition bottling.) Surprisingly racy, there’s red pepper and turmeric on the nose, with a backing of dried barley notes. The body is malty at its core, with winey-citrus sherry notes to add some complexity. Vanilla milkshake notes on the finish are nice, but they can’t temper this whisky’s ample heat, which lingers on the modestly scorching finish. 92 proof. B / $90

Balblair Vintage 1990 – 21 years old, aged in bourbon and sherry barrels. (Again, I presume this is Second Edition.) Much different nose here, with notes of toffee and caramel, along with walnuts and cloves. The body is dense, slightly smoky and heavy on the wood component, giving this malt a bit of a fireside character — with some lumberyard, more nuts, and slight vegetal notes on the back end. The finish is a bit short, with some late-arriving notes of raisins and spice. 92 proof. B / $140

Balblair Vintage 1983 – 30 years old, aged in bourbon barrels. The best Balblair I’ve ever had is the 1975 edition. ’75 is no longer on the market, and this just happens to be the whisky that is replacing it. It’s also a knockout. The nose is rich with butterscotch, menthol, spiced nuts, and fudge. The palate kicks things off with well-aged malt, chocolate sauce, and nougat before fading into notes of rich honey, chocolate malt balls, and almond candies. The finish is long and lasting, making this a delight from start to finish. 92 proof. A / $330

balblair.com

Review: 21st Amendment Down to Earth Session IPA

21st am down to earth21A’s session IPA clocks in at a mere 4.4% abv, with 42 IBUs noted on the can. Made with Cascade, Mosaic, and Warrior hops, it’s a fine enough example of the sessionable IPA trend, though it doesn’t entirely lift itself above the crowd. On the nose, tons of grapefruit and piney undertones offer promise, and on first blush the body is filled with classic IPA notes.

But as the body develops, a wateriness comes along, dulling and diluting the promising opening act. Ultimately those fruity/piney notes turn a little muddy and a little sour, lending Down to Earth a dull and somewhat less satisfying finish.

B / $9 per 6-pack of cans / 21st-amendment.com

Review: The Jackson Cannon Bar Knife

Bar Knife w. Lime Credit Heath Davis of Bacardi

The best bar tools aren’t just functional. They’re nice to look at, too. Such is the case with the Jackson Cannon Bar Knife, produced in conjunction with R. Murphy Knives.

Cannon is a longtime Boston barman who set out to create the perfect knife for the unique work often required behind the bar. The result is this well-crafted blade, a high-carbon steel knife with a squared tip and featuring a nicely contoured handle made of polished tropical cocobolo wood.

In my hands, the knife — heavier than you’d expect based on its size — felt great, its squared-off tip making short work of fruits and garnishes. Peels and twists are easy to carve out thanks to its short blade and good balance, and, as mentioned, this is a knife that looks just perfect on any bartop. My only issue, and it’s a minor one, is that the knife could use a bit more sharpening to really slice easily through thick citrus rinds. But that’s something that can easily be done at home — and will need to happen periodically to keep the blade sharp and honed.

It isn’t cheap, but a quality knife never is!

A- / $79 / rmurphyknives.com

Canned Margarita “Showdown” – Bud Light Lime-A-Rita vs. Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water

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I’m a firm believer that a cocktail should decidedly not come out of a can, but even I can accept that in desperate circumstances — venues where hard alcohol or glass isn’t allowed, namely — drinkers are forced into solutions that are less than ideal.

Such is the case with the margarita, which has seen a massive uptick in ready-to-drink renditions in recent years. Today, these concoctions (which are technically “malt beverages,” not tequila-based drinks) are now waging a quality war. Which of these is best? Or rather, which is least bad? Parrot Bay recently attempted to sway us by putting on its own Pepsi Challenge, sending us a blind-tasting kit consisting of Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water and Bud Light’s Lime-A-Rita. Complete with little plastic margarita glasses, salt, and a lime… which one would we say was best? There is no irony in the name emblazoned on this kit: The Ultimate Margarita Challenge.

Well, I took the challenge and am pleased to report that Parrot Bay’s Margarita with Coconut Water is a considerably better product. How much better? Read on. (These were tasted and reviewed blind but considering one has coconut water in it and one does not, telling them apart wasn’t exactly difficult.)

Bud Light Lime-A-Rita – Put a little tequila flavoring in a Sprite and you’ve nailed this fizzy, lemon-limey concoction. Saccharine finish. Better with salt. 8% abv. D / $11 per 12-pack of 8 oz. cans

Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water – Put a little lime flavor in some coconut water and you’ve nailed this less fizzy, pina colada-like concoction. A bit less sweet, with heavily tropical overtones. 5.8% abv. C- / $11 per 12-pack of 8 oz. cans

As you can see, Parrot Bay is the clear winner!

Review: Wines of CrossHatch, 2015 Releases

10586853Santa Barbara’s Carr Winery recently launched this second label, CrossHatch, named in honor of antique winemaking equipment — and inspired by the “co-fermenting” system Carr uses in “harvesting multiple varietals on the same day then crushing and fermenting them together.” All of the CrossHatch wines are blends — though the wines have no individual names, so check the fine print on the label to see which one you’re getting.

All are very small production wines (under 300 cases). Thoughts follow.

2012 CrossHatch 60% Merlot 40% Cabernet Franc Santa Ynez Valley – The Cabernet Franc is having its way with this one, with some dense licorice, plums, and bittersweet chocolate dominating the blend. Some floral notes, with Merlot’s characteristic violets, bring up the rear, which is moderately sweet with raisins, milk chocolate notes, and some vanilla. A bit clumsy, but plenty drinkable. B- / $28

2012 CrossHatch 60% Grenache 40% Syrah Santa Ynez Valley – Intensely fruity, with chocolate notes on the nose. The body’s a mishmash of styles, offering jammy plums and cherries, more chocolate, red pepper, mint, and some raisiny, Port-like notes on the back end. A bit wide-ranging, but surprisingly drinkable (and food friendly). B / $25

2014 CrossHatch 70% Viognier 30% Marsanne Santa Ynez Valley – Intensely astringent and medicinal, with a skunkiness underneath. Some of the viognier’s peachy elements muscle through the muddiness, but the finish is all dirt and funk. Not entirely tenable. C- / $17

carrwinery.com

Review: 2012 Forward Kidd Red Wine

forwardI’m going to start by noting that “Forward Kidd” is a terrible name for a wine. (Forward and Kidd both refer to types of loamy soil common in the mountains of Napa, neither of which any wine drinker has heard of.) And this wine also has an even worse label. (“Forward” and “Kidd” are in different fonts, and none of this is explained on the back.) But Forward Kidd — a Merryvale-owned wine in its inaugural release — is a fantastic wine. So, as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover.

The blend is an intriguing one: 30% Petit Verdot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 3% Syrah, 2% Petite Sirah.

Somehow this works out really well.

Pretty florals on the nose lead things off, violets and lavender, hinting at some lush fruit underneath. On the palate, the floral notes add nuance to a panoply of richly layered fruits — cherries and plums, strawberry, currants, and a bit of lychee. The wine is soft and fruit-forward, but neither sweet nor jammy, with a gentle but lasting finish. All seduction. No pandering.

A / $50 / merryvale.com