Review: Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky

Bains bottles white US

We’ve seen a number of products from South Africa lately — lots of wine, and even liqueurs and brandy — but this is our first South African whisky review.

The bottle won’t tell you much, but Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky is single grain whisky made from 100% South African yellow maize (we call it corn!). It is column distilled and matured in first-fill, ex-bourbon casks for three years, then transferred to a second set of casks for 18 to 30 months, making this roughly a 4 to 6 year old spirit.

The nose is fairly harmless, restrained but showing some early notes of butterscotch, salted caramel, and ample but not overwhelming popcorn character. The body tends to mash these all together into a hearty caramel corn element — you would be easily forgiven for assuming this was a young American bourbon. That’s a statement that comes with a lot of baggage, but Bain’s doesn’t come across as overly grainy or vegetal. Give it a little time at least and the palate settles into a groove that offers notes of vanilla custard and caramel sauce, layered atop that heavier popcorn base. Initially a bit disjointed, things get quite integrated and soothing as the whisky opens up with time exposed to air, the way things can often happen with younger, but well-made, bourbon.

If you love bourbon, you’ll at least like Bain’s Cape Mountain — and you might even find a real soft spot for its charms.

86 proof.

B / $30 / bainswhisky.com

Review: Jim Beam Bourbon (White Label) and Black Extra-Aged Bourbon (2016)

JBW_OLD_NEW

It’s hard to believe but we’ve never formally reviewed good old “White Label,” the bottom shelf of Jim Beam but, to be sure, one of the great values in the world of Kentucky whiskeymaking.

Beam recently revamped its bottle and label design — and in some cases the names of its products have been tweaked — which makes 2016 the perfect opportunity to give Beam a fresh review. Also on tap in this review is another look at Jim Beam Black Extra-Aged. Only last year Beam tweaked this bottling, which had previously been an age-stated 8 year old known as “Double Aged,” changing it up to call it XA Extra Aged. With the new bottle refresh, the name has been tweaked again — now it’s just Extra-Aged, losing the “XA” but gaining a hyphen. Let’s call that an even trade. Normally I wouldn’t re-review something we covered so recently, but given the pace of change in the bourbon business, a fresh taste couldn’t hurt. Who knows where it stands now.

Oddly enough, you’ll notice that different bottlings in the line have somewhat different designs. The squared-off shoulders of the Extra-Aged evoke the new Jack Daniel’s bottle (though there’s no risk of confusing the two), while White Label’s bottle sticks much more closely to the original Beam design (the new bottle is on the right in the above photo). Why not consolidate the design across the line? Eh, just drink your bourbon and ponder it quietly.

Thoughts for 2016 follow, as always.

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (White Label) – No sleight of hand here; the fine print still has the same age statement as ever: 4 years old. Made with a low-rye mashbill — the standard Beam mash. It’s distinctly corny on the nose, its youth worn on its sleeve, but that’s not an altogether bad thing. That caramel corn nose heads into a body that isn’t exactly rich, but which shows off modest vanilla and moderate barrel char. The finish finds some minor secondary tones — nuts and even a hint of coffee — nothing outrageously complex, but enough to give the whiskey a bit of nuance until the corn chip notes make their inevitable return. To be sure, this is a bourbon that’s all about the price point, but, hey, what a price point. 80 proof. B / $13

Jim_Beam_CorePlus_Dynamic_Black_int_F39_0Jim Beam Black Extra-Aged Bourbon – Same mashbill as White Label but, you know, “extra aged.” Extra-aged, got it. This is a clear step up from White Label, with a woody nose that’s intense with vanilla, gingerbread, and cocoa powder. The slightly higher-proof body is rounder and more intense, less complex than the nose might suggest due to a surfeit of popcorn notes, but balanced by caramel, charcoal, and some apple notes. The finish is clean and longer than White Label’s, with more of a warming influence. All told my notes are much in line with last year’s review. While spirits are always evolving in production, I don’t believe anything has changed significantly here in the last year. 86 proof. B+ / $21

jimbeam.com

Review: Mulberry Club Fruit Brandies

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Regions like Albania and Azerbaijan are known primarily for their brandies — though few of these bottles ever make it to our shores. Two that did come from Mulberry Club, and Azerbaijani producer of fruit brandies. The company sent us two to sample, one made from local cherries and another, of course, from mulberries.

Both are 100 proof. Thoughts follow.

Mulberry Club Mulberry Brandy – Intense and funky on the nose, with notes of raw alcohol, fruit pits, and petrol. Give it some time to let the more astringent elements blow off — think pisco — and gentle fruit notes emerge. It’s slightly citrusy, with heavy herbal overtones, featuring notes of black tea, nutmeg, and cloves. The finish remains a bit rubbery, with hospital overtones. Heavy stuff. C-

Mulberry Club Cornelian Cherry Brandy – Similar aromas as described above — with young brandy there’s not much way around it — but the body offers significantly more fruit and less funk, right from the start. It isn’t particularly identifiable as cherry, but more as a vague berry salad by way of some hot, hot heat. Relatively clean on the finish with just a touch of cereal notes, though quite warming. B

prices $NA / website NA

Recipes: 2016 Summer Cocktail Roundup

Summer is in full swing for most of the nation and with it the usual brush with unbearable heat and humidity for most of the nation. Along with upcoming July 4th cocktails and National Tequila Day celebrations, we’ve also received some pretty interesting recipes that don’t really fit under a theme or holiday. We’re rounding them up and presenting them to you here for your experimentation and enjoyment. Got any recipes you’d like to share? Drop us a line!

BrambleBudapest Bramble
(created by Nicholas Bennett)
1 1/4 oz Unicum Plum
1/3 oz Zacapa Rum 23
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/3 oz demerara syrup
2-3 blackberries
Quartered lime (for garnish)

Muddle blackberries and quartered lime in the bottom of glass. Add Unicum Plum, Zacapa Rum 23, fresh lemon juice, and demerara syrup and fill with pebble ice. Garnish with lime wheel and a blackberry.

Julio & Daisy
(created by Christian Armando Guillén)
1 1/4 oz Tequila Don Julio Blanco
1 oz hibiscus and passion fruit infused agave syrup
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1 dash pepper bitters
Orchid (for garnish)

Combine Tequila Don Julio Blanco, hibiscus and passion fruit infused agave syrup, fresh lime juice and pepper bitters into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with orchid.

raspberryRaspberry Refresher
1 1/2 parts Courvoisier VS
3-4 fresh raspberries
1/2 part passion fruit puree
1/4 part lime juice
Ginger beer

Build in cocktail shaker shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass; top with ginger beer. Garnish with raspberry.

PM Kick
1.5 oz Tanteo Jalepeno tequila
3 oz fresh watermelon puree
.5 oz agave syrup
.5 oz fresh lime juice
3 sprigs cilantro

Build in a pint glass with ice. Shake, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with cilantro.

AmeliaThe Amelia
1.5 oz Grey Goose vodka
.5 oz St. Germain
1 oz fresh lemon juice
4 muddled blackberries
blackberries for garnish

Muddle blackberries with lemon and St. Germain. Add ice and vodka. Shake and strain into martini glass.

Review: 2015 AIX Rose Saint Aix Coteaux d’Aix en Provence

AIX ROSE 2015 1,5L

AIX — aka Saint Aix — is a Provence rose, likely a busy blend of grapes (though no specific grape varietals are stated).

As you’d expect, the wine exudes light strawberry, with notes of peaches that fade quickly to a moderately acidic body and a fresh, breezy finish that evokes light floral notes alongside tropical elements. Exceptionally light on the tongue, it’s one of the most easygoing roses of the season.

B+ / $16 / aixrose.com

Review: Hangar 1 Vodkas (2016)

hangar_one

Hangar One was an icon of the independent spirits world, a trailblazer that was founded by small time St. George Spirits in 2002 and which grew to become one of the most beloved vodka brands around, at least amongst cocktail connoisseurs.

We reviewed them all formally in March 2010. In April 2010 the company was purchased by one of the industry’s giants: Proximo Spirits — best known as the owner of Jose Cuervo. While the vodka is still made in Alameda (it recently moved across the street from its original home), for many the shine wore off the day Hangar One went corporate.

Today, Hangar One has refreshed its labels and bottle design and even put a spin on its name to turn “One” into a numeral, though the production methods (still pot-distilled from a blend of wheat and viognier grapes) and the core flavored versions remain the same.

Here’s how they acquit themselves in 2016. All are (still) 80 proof.

Hangar 1 Straight Vodka – Notably “winey,” with dry, herbal aromatics and hints of lemon peel. The body is surprisingly thin, but the lack of unctuous oils keeps things clean and the finish lively, with a slight hint of black pepper. I really have no complaints. This remains a top-notch mixer and a solid all-around team player in the vodkaverse, though some drinkers might be forgiven for looking for a little more power on the palate. A-

Hangar 1 Kaffir Lime Vodka – Famously flavored with Thai Kaffir limes, this is Hangar 1’s most iconic version. The nose is intensely heavy with lime, including a smattering of herbal notes that recall rosemary and, especially, bay leaves. The palate is quite sweet and comes off a bit more candylike than I recall, with a duskiness on the finish that evokes lots of black pepper along with some earthy elements. I get hints of anise. Less of a thrill than it was back in the day — perhaps simply because after 14 years it’s no longer a novelty — but still one of the best flavored vodkas on the market. A-

Hangar 1 Buddha’s Hand Citron Vodka – The creepy Buddha’s Hand is the basis for this spin on lemon vodka. Oddly enough, I now grow Buddha’s Hands myself and they are tons of fun to look at. (Less so to try to cook with.) Here we find that intensely sour lemon base taking on all kinds of kooky secondary notes. Today I get chocolate, raspberry, and vague herbal notes, which linger provocatively, outlasting the hardcore lemon notes even. As with the Kaffir, though, it’s drinking a touch sweet for me today. A-

Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka – This is, as with the prior version, a milder expression of orange vodka, which is never unappreciated in a world where hefty flavoring agents tend to beat you over the head. Decidedly floral, to the point of being perfumy, this is a true expression of oranges still on the tree rather than ones  skinned and juiced. It’s pastoral at times with some earth notes — a common theme with this year’s releases — but balanced by intensifying tropical notes that emerge on the nose as the spirit opens up in the glass. The finish: Pure flowers. Blossoms, that is. All told, it’s arguably my favorite this year — surprising even me. A

$35 each / hangarone.com

Review: Studebaker Old Fashioned and Manhattan Bottled Cocktails

STUDEBAKERBottle-Shots

Studebaker is a new brand out of Norwalk, Connecticut, which is using Canadian whisky as the base for two “Prohibition inspired” bottled cocktails — both classics, the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan. Let’s see how these manage to turn out, unadulterated and straight from the bottle.

Both are 60 proof.

Studebaker Old Fashioned – Made with bitters, lemon, cherry, orange, and simple syrup. There are lots of orange notes here, as there should be, and they work well with the gentle caramel and vanilla notes of the whisky proper. Relatively uncomplicated, it offers touches of milk chocolate on the finish, though very little in the way of bitterness. Pleasant enough for a Sunday afternoon, but owing to the lack of power in the underlying whisky, it’s nothing Don Draper would write home about. Compare to the more engaging and powerful Bully Boy rendition. B+

Studebaker Manhattan – Made with sweet vermouth, bitters, and maraschino cherries. This one’s out of balance from the start, initially coming across as overloaded with vermouth notes — oddly dry, with heavily herbal overtones. Things get even less coherent from there, the concoction turning gummy and vaguely vegetal. There’s little semblance of whisky here — there’s a reason soft Canadian whisky is never used in a Manhattan — particularly on the flabby finish. Skip it. C-

each $25 / studebakercocktails.com