The third gin in the collection from 35 Maple Street’s Uncle Val’s line, Uncle Val’s Peppered Gin starts with a juniper infusion… and diverges from there. Three kinds of peppers round out the rest of the bill — black pepper, red bell pepper, and pimento.
The name doesn’t lie. As gin goes, this is a racy, spicy, and indeed peppery spirit. The nose features some woody notes alongside the pepper — mainly of the black variety. It isn’t particularly hot a la Tabasco, but rather crackling with the punch of fresh pepper. The body has some sweetness and juniper-driven evergreen notes up front. The back end is where just a touch of heat comes to the fore, but it’s mild and fades quickly, leaving behind an echo of juniper and some hints of cinnamon.
Exotic and unusual, it’s a solid bottle to have for when you want to mix with a gin that’s slightly off the beaten path.
B+ / $40 / 35maplestreet.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
See if you can guess where Bronx Brewery is based. Not sure? Check out their website, then consider these two offerings from the company’s collection of (all canned) beers.
Bronx Brewery Belgian Style Pale Ale – A bit musty and earthy from the get go, with muddy hops and overtones of forest floor. The finish is sharp, with heavy notes of bitter herbs. The beer doesn’t much improve as it aerates, and while I could tell some sweeter, malt-driven notes were trying to break free, they could never quite hit escape velocity. Ultimately it lands with a rather lifeless thud. 6.7% abv. C+
Bronx Brewery Rye Ale – A better balanced brew, with notes of toasty, roasted grains, some cinnamon spice, and a fresh baked bread character. The finish has some of the muddy-earthy elements of the Belgian Pale Ale, but they’re kept in check by a more rounded grain bill and better-integrated bitterness. 6.3% abv. B+
each $11 per six-pack of 12 oz. cans / thebronxbrewery.com
Four years ago, the t1 Tequila (aka Tequila Uno) line hit the scene, a Highlands bottling with the standard three expressions on tap. Now t1 is back with a rarer expression: an extra anejo with 3 1/2 years of age on it. As with the other aged t1 tequilas, there’s a twist: Those years are spent not in the usual bourbon barrels but rather in Scotch casks.
Let’s give it a spin, shall we?
The nose kicks off with big agave and bright citrus notes — lemon and grapefruit — with a kind of smoky underpinning, giving it a hint of a mezcal character. On the palate, the tequila bursts with flavor — again, there’s far more agave than most extra anejos offer, with the intense vegetal character you usually only see in a blanco. As this fades, the tequila offers notes of black pepper, grapefruit peel, and barrel char. This lattermost note endures on the finish, giving Sensacional a distinctly whiskeylike character to it, with wood transporting it to another world.
Sensacional is certainly unique, but with that said, I’m not entirely sure that it works as well as it should. The use of Scotch casks really takes this into a different direction than any other XA I’ve encountered to date, with a heavy, almost overpowering barrel influence making itself known. What remains on the tongue when it’s said and done is something like a watery version of an Islay-heavy blend. Nothing exactly wrong with that, but not really what I wanted in my tequila.
B / $140 / t1tequila.com
Frank Family has made a Reserve Petite Sirah since 2008, but it’s never released a standard bottling (with the “Napa Valley” tier appellation) until now. For this inaugural release, Frank has put out a 100% petite sirah that is definitely worth your time and attention. Lush berries and dense chocolate are layered with lightly smoky notes — you would be forgiven for thinking this is a syrah, but there’s also a balsamic character that gives it a little more to work with. The finish is lightly sweet and cocoa-rich and quite satisfying — but keep an eye on the not insignificant amount of sediment in this one.
A- / $35 / frankfamilyvineyards.com
High West’s latest little blend came out of nowhere, but here it is, for your frontier-style enjoyment.
Yippee Ki-Yay, inspired by Buffalo Bill and his ilk, is a blend of two straight rye whiskeys: One is a two year old MGP whiskey that is 95% rye and 5% malted barley. The second is a whiskey (reportedly 16 years old) made at Barton: 53% rye and 37% corn (presumably the remaining 10% is barley). (This is the current composition of High West Double Rye.)
Now for the fun stuff: this whiskey is aged normally, then barrel finished in two different wine casks: an oak barrel that previously held Vya Vermouth and an oak barrel that previously held Qupé Syrah.
As usual, High West offers no information on the proportions of the two whiskeys in the mix, or the length of time the spirit spent in the finishing barrels.
The result is exotic and quite unique. First, check out the color, which is very dark in shade, a chestnut brown with ruby notes driven from the syrah barrel. The nose is where things really start to move. Coffee and cloves give this a wintry, fireside character, almost smoky at times. On the palate, that coffee character really pops right from the start, but then it delves into a cuckoo combination of oxidized wine characteristics and more traditional rye whiskey notes. Look especially for flavors of burnt caramel candies, banana flambe, balsamic vinegar, and particularly some notes of bitter orange peel. The finish hints at bitter amaro, with lingering notes of over-ripe black fruit and an herbal kick of that long-since-oxidized vermouth, which is unexpected but also unmistakeable. (If one flavor stuck with me an hour after I put down my glass, it was vermouth.)
That said, the whiskey is lots of fun, and as I said, unusual and unique stuff — not what I was expecting but interesting enough to sip on for quite a while. Yippee Ki-Yay, indeed!
A- / $65 / highwest.com
Umbria, Tuscany’s little cousin, is the home of Falesco, which has been operating in the region since 1979. The company produces wine under a handful of sub-labels, the Vitiano brand representing its entry-level bottlings. We checked out two members of the Vitiano line and one wine higher up the chain. Thoughts follow.
2014 Falesco Vitiano Verdicchio Vermentino Umbria IGT – A 50/50 blend of Verdicchio and Vermentino, 100% stainless steel-fermented, this is a pretty, lightly grassy wine with notes of lemon. Light as a feather on the palate and quite a summery sipper. Note: The Vitiano brand doesn’t carry the Falesco name anywhere on the label. A- / $11
2013 Falesco Vitiano Rosso Umbria IGT – A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese. Smells cheap — extracted and overly jammy. The palate is marginally better, at first, starting off fruity but short of blown out. As it develops in glass it takes on some rough, dried herbal notes and the finish has an antiseptic character to it. Big miss. D+ / $9
2012 Falesco Montiano Lazio IGT – Falesco’s flagship wine, a 100% Merlot bottling aged in Allier and Tronçais barriques. Initially heavy and herbal, with a density that recalls Piedmontese wines. Dark blackberry and extracted cassis flavors lead to notes of dark chocolate and coffee bean. Opens up over time to reveal a softer side (with slight floral notes driven by the Merlot) that engages well with food. A- / $25
For the previous three years, Herradura has produced a limited edition tequila, each with a different twist. Those twists have all involved reposados with special barrel finishing — Port, Cognac, and Scotch casks, to be specific.
This year Herradura is doing something different. Not only is the tequila not finished, it’s not aged at all. It’s a silver tequila, “Directo de Alambique,” and it’s designed to showcase distilled agave at its purest. Fermented with natural yeasts instead of being inoculated, it is bottled directly from the still at 110 proof, no resting time provided.
What Herradura has here is a powerful and quite delightful exemplar of blanco tequila. The nose is sharp and peppery, with distinct lemon overtones. Clear agave character pervades, with nothing adulterating it. On the palate, a rush of flavor hits quickly — more citrus, laced with spicy notes including cinnamon, gingerbread, and light sandalwood notes. While quite warming, it is surprisingly balanced and easy-drinking, a very pleasant sipper with a lacy, just-right body. My only issue here is the finish, which eventually turns vegetal as it fades away. Agave… but a bit too much of it and a poor counter to the initial rush of citrus.
A- / $85 / herradura.com
Newcastle, in another collaboration with Caledonian, keeps hacking away at the IPA-brown ale hybrid. This time it’s a Foreign Extra, which means more hops, more alcohol, and more of pretty much everything. As with the prior experiments, this one comes across with that big nutty, malty character up front, lightly smoky at times with an element of mushroom and forest floor. The bitterness on the back end — at 65 IBUs it’s the most bitter Newcastle ever made — isn’t so much a refreshing piney character but rather an indistinct root-driven bitterness that only moderately refreshes. Fair enough on the whole, though. 6.5% abv.
B+ / $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com
With the majority of the country already in or about to enjoy the depths of yet another bone chilling winter, we felt it necessary to provide a classic recipe for a freezing season on National Hot Toddy Day (today, January 11). We start off with the basic recipe and swerve off into two variations worthy of your consideration. Take heart: Spring is only 70 days away!
1 ½ oz bourbon (note: I often use Bulleit here, but to each their own)
1 tablespoon honey
½ oz lemon juice
1 cup hot water
1 lemon wedge
Combine all ingredients in coffee or tea mug. Stir. Drink. Feel better.
Milagro Hot Toddy
1 ½ parts Milagro Añejo tequila
1 part agave nectar
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole anise star
4 parts boiling water
1 lemon wheel
Combine agave nectar, spice and tequila in a heat-resistant snifter or mug. Add the boiling water. Squeeze the lemon, drop it in, and stir until agave nectar has melted.
The Kurobin Hot Toddy
(by Heidi Merino of The Liquid Chef)
1 oz Iichiko Kurobin shochu
½ oz Grand Marnier
1 bar spoon agave nectar
½ oz fresh squeeze lemon juice
4 oz boiling water
1 cinnamon stick
Combine ingredients in a glass coffee mug and stir with a cinnamon stick.
JVR Spirits is a small Portland operation, and Krupnik — a homegrown hooch made by the founder’s father decades ago — is the company’s only product. It takes balls to make a spiced honey liqueur your only product (for now, anyway), but who are we to judge? We don’t have any products!
Krupnik is an old-timey (turn of the century — no the other century) recipe that is made from “organic spices, organic citrus, and wildflower honey.” The name is actually a generic term for a Polish honey liqueur, but recipes will very widely in the old country. There’s not much additional production information available on this bottling, but if you’re familiar with Drambuie, you’re at least up on the basic idea here.
Where Krupnik diverges is through the hefty dosing of spices in the mix. The base honey is intense and earthy, slightly smoky and pungent with a hefty blend of herbs and spices. The body is thick and rich without being syrupy. Cinnamon and cloves, ginger, orange peel, and peppermint start off the show. The finish features notes of charred caramel and dark chocolate — exotic, but surprisingly satisfying.
Krupnik is a spirit that starts off with power but eventually showcases grace and no small amount of Old World opulence. Dense without being overwhelming, it’s a delightful change of pace from more staid honey liqueurs.
A- / $39 / jvrspirits.com