Review: Hammer & Son Geranium Gin

geranium front 525x872 Review: Hammer & Son Geranium Gin

Only a few months back we reviewed Hammer & Son’s Old English Gin, a classically structured gin with old timey trappings. Now the company is already back to the well with Geranium, a gin fit for those with somewhat more modern trappings.

There’s no botanical list published, but as the name implies, Geranium looks to floral elements for its inspiration, and you’ll find plenty of those to delve into here. Rose petals, orange peel, and lemon peel are all evident on the nose. I couldn’t tell you what geraniums smell like, but I’m guessing there’s a few of those in there too.

The body is lightly sweet and full of perfume, again pumping up both those juicy citrus notes and layering on floral elements to a degree you don’t often see in even the most modern of gins. The finish keeps the sweetness going, offering just a touch of chalk and angelica root to keep things interesting, but it’s hard to punch down a mountain of rose petals. It’s not at all bad on its own, but this level of flowery business is often at odds with cocktailing, where perfume notes can overwhelm the more delicate elements of a beverage, so tread lightly.

88 proof.

B / $38 / geraniumgin.com

Cool Goodies from HomeWetBar.com

port sippers 300x238 Cool Goodies from HomeWetBar.comJust a brief interruption to your holiday weekend to shout-out HomeWetBar.com, which sent us a sampling of its wares so we could let our readers know about their product line. Specifically, we’re checking out a couple of items from the store’s online catalog.

These Port sippers are incredibly cute (pictured), if not entirely functional. I’m still not sure if I enjoy sipping Port through a glass straw, but they do make for a nice conversation piece. By the by, they’re much smaller than you think, not much bigger than a large shot glass. At $30 for a set of four, they’re a great gift item.

We’re also checking out this three-quart copper ice bucket, which offers some old-world styling but still has plenty of functionality build in. A plastic insert is easy to clean (though it gives it a slightly cheap feeling) and the decorative tongs are a nice touch. $60, and you can get an engraving on the tongs if you’re so inclined. Looks good on my bar!

Lots of fun stuff in their catalog at reasonable prices. Consider me a fan!

Tasting the White Wines of Lodi, California

Lodi is located up and east from Napa/Sonoma. The source of some of California’s less expensive wines, it’s nonetheless and “up and coming” region that has more of a pedigree than, say, California’s industrial Central Valley. Known for its heavy Zinfandel production, Lodi is also home to a prodigious amount of white wine. In a recent live tasting event, which was led by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and Susan Tipton of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, we focused exclusively on those whites, sampling five wines made from different varietals, all from Lodi grapes.

Thoughts on all five wines tasted follow.

2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürztraminer - A very fruity example of Gewurztraminer, with lemon and peaches up front, revealing a light honey sweetness as it starts to evolve in the glass. The finish is crisp and clean, with more fruit than the fragrant perfume notes that are typical of Gewurz. A fave here. B+ / $19

2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca Vista Luna Vineyard – A bit on the weedy side, this white offers tropical notes up front before fading into a strongly grassy character, along with a somewhat meaty edge on the finish. Strange balance, not my favorite. C+ / $18

2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier – Made by Lodi’s only all-white-wine winery. This Viognier is restrained in a way that many Viogniers are not, with more mild apricot and peach notes and an earthiness backing them up. Again, that big, chewy body takes over and fades into some funkier, meatier notes on the finish. Better balance on the whole, though, and something to try even if you don’t consider yourself a Viognier fan. B- / $23

2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc – Very perfumy on the nose, with notes of lemongrass and pepe du chat… and also an edge of tree bark atypical of Sauvignon Blanc. Clean on the body, with lots of fresh lemon character and a grassy, herbal finish. B+ / $18

2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco – Not overwhelmingly sweet as you might have feared, this Moscato is plenty fragrant and perfumed, but dials back that unctuous juicy orange character almost to an afterthought. Dry and clean, this is the rare moscato that you might consider drinking with your main course rather than dessert. B / $14

lodiwine.com

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Tasting Mystery Whisk(e)ys with the Revamped Whiskey Explorers Club

We’ve been fans of For Whiskey Lovers’ Whiskey Explorers Club for years — since the beginning, really — and when founder Douglas Stone announced he’d revamped his Whisk(e)y IQ Game, I was excited. The Whisk(e)y IQ Game is one of the only places you can taste whiskey completely blind, offer your opinions on it, then see whether you were drinking ritzy shizz or rotgut.

I haven’t played the game since February 2013, and the latest version (officially March 2014) offers a whole lot of changes to the mix.

To wit: The whole game — which, for the uninitiated, involves describing the color, nose, taste, body, and finish of four or five unlabeled spirits — has been redesigned. The mechanics are the same (you earn points for “correct” guesses and lose them for “wrong” ones), with color coding for every category — this being particularly helpful when determining a whiskey’s color. There’s a brand new section that has you taste the whiskey with water, and some other changes that make it much harder to cheat when it comes time to pick which actual spirit you’re drinking.

The game, on the whole, is now more fun — though it does take longer to work through, as there’s a lot more clicking around — but I still see room for improvement. Some comments on the new game:

My biggest complaint from day one of this game remains intact: So much of this is so subjective that it’s absurd to grade players on how “correct” they are. Things like a description of body — is it soft? creamy? austere? — are vague to the point of meaninglessness. If I say “luscious” and you say “oily,” what the hell does that really mean? I’d love to see some partial credit here. If you say a whiskey’s color is “old gold” and the “correct” answer is one shade lighter, that should give you partial points, not zero.

Similarly, I still have problems with the “right” answers here; these are apparently drawn from the distillery’s tasting notes, and in some cases I disagree completely with their choices. What on earth does “fragrant” mean when describing the taste of a whiskey? Every whiskey is “fragrant,” and everyone’s palate is different, after all. What’s the difference between “dry hay” and “mown hay”? “Mown hay” and “grass cuttings”? “Soothing” and “lingering”? Some of these terms involve way too much guesswork to the point where the thing gets frustrating…

For Whiskey Lovers has finally taken my long-running advice, putting your selections next to the “correct” choices when you complete a round, so you can compare your tasting notes with what the “correct” choices are in the database. This is a huge win. The formatting needs work (it’s still very hard to read the way it’s laid out), but it’s a massive improvement to the game.

Certain elements of the game just don’t seem to work. The price information doesn’t show up in the end, for example. And there are some technical problems with the design, where items jump from one line to the next after they’re selected.

I’d love to see pop-ups for certain descriptive terms, like aldehydes and esters, explaining what the terms mean for those who aren’t in the know.

Finally, once I accidentally hit “back” and hard to start all over. Argh.

That said, I still recommend this program to just about anyone. You get to try new whiskeys blind — in this round there were two whiskeys I’d never had before — and put your senses to the test in a way that you just can’t do when you know exactly what it is you’re drinking. Good times, good times.

Recipe: Lemonade Cocktails From the Thoroughbred Club – Charleston, S.C.

Charleston, S.C. happens to be one of my favorite summer destinations. And although I’ve never stayed at the Belmond Charleston Place, I have had the good fortune of enjoying a rather posh night out at the Charleston Grill followed by drinks at the Thoroughbred Club. So I was quite pleased when we received two recipes straight from their bar, both based around one of the best pleasures of summer: lemonade.

Here’s how to make them yourself.

 Recipe: Lemonade Cocktails From the Thoroughbred Club   Charleston, S.C.Peach Thyme Lemonade
1 1/2 oz thyme-infused simple syrup
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz of whiskey
1 oz of peach puree

Mix ingredients together. Pour over ice and top with Club soda. Garnish with a slice of fresh peach
(Note: While they use Bernheim at their bar, I opted to use a Very Old Barton instead. Worked out just fine. Also, for the thyme simple syrup: “The method we use is to steep the thyme in nearly-boiling water as you would a loose leaf tea for about four or five minutes, straining the herbs out and then using the hot water to make the simple syrup.”)

 Recipe: Lemonade Cocktails From the Thoroughbred Club   Charleston, S.C.Cucumber Basil Lemonade
6 basil leaves
6 cucumber slices, muddled lightly
2 oz lemongrass-infused simple syrup
1 oz Effen Cucumber Vodka
1 1/2 oz of fresh lemon juice

Mix ingredients together. The lemongrass simple syrup is made the same way as the thyme simple syrup above. Strain over ice. Garnish with cucumber slice and basil leaf.

Review: Kavalan Whisky Lineup 2014

kavalan 300x300 Review: Kavalan Whisky Lineup 2014Kavalan is the best-known Taiwanese whisky distiller (at least in the U.S.), rapidly increasing its footprint from a single bottling just a few years ago (which we reviewed) to a total of nine on the market now. At least five of these whiskies, all single malts, are available in the U.S., and today we take a fresh look at this five-bottle lineup, which includes two standard-proof bottlings and three from the cask-strength Solist line.

Kavalan doesn’t bottle its spirits with age statements, but it does rely on some exotic barrel treatments to create some truly unique spirits.

Thoughts on the five-whisky lineup follow.

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky – I get strong apple notes up front this time around, followed by healthy citrus character. Otherwise my notes mimic those I had in 2011. The palate drips with honey, balanced with modest toast-and-cereal notes, vanilla, and and touches of nougat. The finish brings a pleasant bit of fruit to the forefront before fading away. Straightforward, a bit rustic, and quite simple, it drinks like a young single malt Scotch, modest yet full of life. 80 proof. B+ / $73  (prior rating: A-)

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Concertmaster Port Cask Finish – Look for the unmistakeable jade-green bottle. Finished in a variety of Port casks, this whisky has a bolder, fruitier nose that hints at raisins and Christmas spice. The body brings it all home, with lush fruit notes — plum and plump raisins, hints of fresh cherries, all lightly touched with cinnamon and morsels of cereal. The finish keeps it going for the long haul — lasting with ample spice notes. It’s drinking well in the summer but would be perfect for Christmastime. 80 proof. A- / $89

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask - A rather muted nose, hard to parse out from the aroma, though eventually it reveals notes of apple and red berries, with a slight iodine kick to it. The body is something else entirely, punchy with raw alcohol that masks a citrus kick alongside notes of vanilla and peaches — maybe even a touch of coconut. The finish is on the short side — mostly fire, a touch of sawdust, and a vanilla-soaked marshmallow that fades away just a bit too fast. Try water. 114 proof. B+ / $170

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Sherry Cask – Matured fully in oloroso sherry casks; a dark tea-brown in color. What an unusual spirit… the nose offers notes of dried figs and prunes, with a well-aged sherry character to it. The body is intense, a bruising collection of Madeira notes, rum-soaked raisins, burnt orange peel, and cocoa bean. Slightly bittersweet on the finish in the way that old sherry can be, it’s a digestif style whisky with plenty of depth and originality. 114 proof. A- / $180

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Vinho Barrique – Matured fully in ex-American red wine barrels that have been re-charred. Deep amber, about the same as the prior whisky, this spirit offers a dense and deep nose, offering exotic notes of ginger, chocolate cake, and salted caramel. The body brings out those chocolate notes, touched with a surprising licorice note and some extra spices — lemon pepper, cloves, and a healthy slug of wood. Wild and, again, exotic stuff. 114 proof. A- / $157

kavalanwhisky.com

Review: 2012 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 Caymus 40th 750ml Bottle 300dpi 103x300 Review: 2012 Caymus Cabernet SauvignonI give Caymus all the credit for making me a real wine lover. When I was in grad school, my friend Sonny would regularly have me over for dinner — Korean style steaks, asparagus, and Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, which we procured for $20 a bottle back then.

It was a bit of indulgence for kids on a budget, but I’m sure we thought the expense was worth it if we ate Taco Bell and TV dinners the rest of the week.

Caymus quickly elevated itself into cult wine status to the point where I haven’t had it in years — particularly the ritzy Special Selection bottling. But for the winery’s 40th anniversary I was lucky enough to snag a sample bottle. Is the wine just as I remembered? Thoughts follow.

This is classic, dense Napa Cabernet. The nose offers intense blueberry and blackberry notes, hints of menthol, and dark chocolate. These are played up further on the body, along with a strong tart cherry character that comes on strong on the finish. This acidity is a welcome counterpart to the otherwise big, gripping body of the wine, giving some much needed balance to the experience. Tons of aging potential here.

A- / $60 / caymus.com

Tasting Beers and Stout Ice Cream at Peter B’s, Monterey, California

A recent trip to Monterey, California took us to Peter B’s Brewpub, back behind the Portola Hotel. A rowdy place full of pool tables and TVs blasting sports, it’s also home to Monterey’s biggest brewpub operation, with about a dozen beers on tap at any one time.

This time we came in search of something special, a not-yet-released ice cream flavored with Peter B’s own stout. Made by local icecreamateur Butch Adams (pictured below), who runs a small operation just off of Cannery Row called Kai Lee Creamery, it’s quite a treat, very mild up front, with a modest chocolate and nutty character to it — not quite stout, but not coffee or chocolate either. Lovely and restrained, I can’t think of a better way to end a session of sampling craft beers — unless you maybe drop a scoop of this into an IPA. A-

While we were there, we naturally sampled the five “always on” brews that Peter B’s offers, plus a couple of barrel-aged seasonal releases. Some quick thoughts follow on each of the beers.

Belly Up Blonde – A classic blonde ale, quite rich and malty. Fresh and chewy, with a slight oatmeal character. 5% abv. B+

Fort Ord Wheat – Unfiltered wheat ale. A bit musty, this is missing the bracing citrus of good witbiers. A little muddy on the back end. 5.8% abv. B-

Inclusion Amber Ale – Nice body on this, a good bridge to Peter B’s stronger brews. Mocha notes are prominent here, with some decent hops, though it’s far from bitter at 35 IBUs. Dried fruit and mushroom notes on the finish add interest. 5.13% abv. B+

Legend of Laguna IPA – The big guy (60 to 80 IBUs, depending on where you look). Ample citrus all around, with a ton of bitterness behind it. Hang in there for the evergreen finish, plusa touch of rum raisin. 6.5% abv. B+

Stout Resistance – The stout used in the ice cream, you get big coffee and cream notes on this black brew. It’s mouth coating and rich, but a lot of mushiness in the body mars this otherwise capable stout. 5.7% abv. B

Scotch Ale (seasonal) – Nutty with roasted grains and a slug of raisins. Nice balance here, and it’s quite different and fun. A-

Port Barrel Aged Stout (seasonal) – A real change of pace. Extremely cherry-fueled from start to finish, with a smattering of plums and raisins. Big body with a bracing, bitter finish that works well with the lightly sour body. B+

The Drinkhacker Shopping List – 07.03.2014

This edition of The Shopping List covers the remainder of last month’s reviews and finds us once incredibly beer and wine heavy, no doubt ideal for the upcoming holiday season. Definitely worth the time to call this up on your cell phone or print it out to take along with you on your next trip to the store. Have a great and safe holiday weekend!

TheList063014 525x1179 The Drinkhacker Shopping List   07.03.2014

Review: Bittermilk Mixers No. 1, 2, and 3

bittermilk no 3 525x525 Review: Bittermilk Mixers No. 1, 2, and 3

OK, yes, there are dozens of pre-packaged cocktail mixers on the market. And yes, most of them claim to be ultra-premium-better-than-you-can-make-yourself products. And — yes — most of them are passable at best, swill at worst.

Well, finally, here’s one that isn’t. Bittermilk is a Charleston, South Carolina operation that is making truly high-end mixers that even I would not hesitate to serve to my guests.

The secret is right there on the label and in the bottle: Very high-quality, mostly organic ingredients that take original spins on some classic recipes — the Old Fashioned, the Tom Collins, and the Whiskey Sour.

Bittermilk mixers have no alcohol, so bring your high-end hooch when you’re mixing something up. They may look small, but remember that each pint-sized bottle is good for about a dozen cocktails, depending on how tall you make ‘em. At a little over a dollar per cocktail, that’s not a bad deal. Hell, you’ll spend more on a couple of limes these days!

Thoughts on each of the three current Bittermilk offerings follow.

Bittermilk No. 1 Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned – Made with burnt cane sugar, orange peel, gentian root, and cinchona bark, then aged in Willett Bourbon barrels. I made versions with Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye and with Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon. This one comes in a significantly smaller vial than the others, since you mix it 1:4 with your spirit, vs. 1:1 with the others. Sweet up front, with ample sugar in the mix (I’d err toward 1:5 or 1:6 proportions on this one), the burnt-ness of the sugar becomes apparent only as the finish starts to build. It’s here that you start to pick up the bitter edge of the mixer, too — grated roots and bark and a quinine character — though the citrus character, essential to an Old Fashioned, never quite arrives in full. Ultimately, it’s the bitterness that sticks with you the longest, lasting long after the sweetness has faded. A completely capable Old Fashioned — though the barrel aging isn’t immediately evident, and it’s more fun to drink an Old Fashioned with actual fruit muddled into it. Much better with rye (as specified on the label). A- / $15 (8.5 oz.)

Bittermilk No. 2 Tom Collins with Elderflowers & Hops – Made with lemon juice, sugar, elderflower & elderberry, and Centennial hops. I made versions with Ketel One Vodka and Greenhook Ginsmiths Gin (the bottle specifies either spirit). The weirdest of the bunch. With vodka, the hops add a level of funkiness here, and lots of it. Up front there’s a solid sweet-and-sour character, but that initially light bitter hops element brings a bit of discord to the finish, growing as it develops on the palate. It finishes almost like a shandy. With gin, this is a much better combination, those aromatics firing just about perfectly with the citrus and the elderflower, which comes through more clearly alongside the brightness of the gin. Here the hops play a very muted role, adding just a hint of bitterness on the back end rather than the lingering power you get with vodka. On the whole it’s a success, but it’s my least favorite of the bunch. Use gin, and a bit more than is called for. B+ / $15 (17 oz.)

Bittermilk No. 3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour – Made with lemon juice, Bourbon barrel-smoked honey, sugar, and orange peel. I made this one with Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon. Shockingly delicious. It doesn’t reveal much on the nose, but the body is stuffed full of a melange of sweet and savory notes — bracing lemon, silky honey, and just a touch of smokiness on the back end. If you’re not a smoke fan, be not afraid. The effect here is subtle and well integrated into what reveals itself to be a lovely concoction. The lemon hangs along til the finish, where everything comes together into a fully realized whole. Sure, the whiskey sour is hardly the world’s most elevated cocktail, but in Bittermilk’s hands it’s one you’d have no problem gulping right down… maybe two. A / $15 (17 oz.)

bittermilk.com

4th of July Cocktail Recipes, 2014 Edition

Once again we present a wide assortment of July 4th inspired cocktails for you to experiment with over the long holiday weekend. We received a ton for consideration of inclusion, but after sampling many of these over the previous week we felt the recipes below were at the top of the class. Everyone stay safe and enjoy the holidays!

Liberty Lemonade 4th of July Cocktail Recipes, 2014 EditionLady Liberty Lemonade
(created by Andrea Correale)
2 oz. triple sec
2 oz. limoncello
1 handful of raspberries
2 oz. mint leaves
A dash of grenadine for color
A pinch of raw sugar
Juice of two lemons
Club soda

Add raspberries and mint to the bottom of the glass and sprinkle raw sugar on tome. Muddle ingredients until it has the appearance of jam. Add the Triple Sec, Limoncello and lemon juice to your glass. Add a dash of grenadine for color, and then add the ice and top if off with club soda. Stir and serve with a sprig of fresh mint on top

Firecracker 130x150 4th of July Cocktail Recipes, 2014 EditionThe Firecracker
1 oz. strawberry vodka
1 oz. NOHO Gold energy drink
½ oz. peach schnapps
Splash of cranberry juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and garnish with a lime wedge.

Strawberry Fireworks
3 oz. Hornitos Plata Tequila
Handful of fresh strawberries
Juice from 1 lime
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
Fresh pepper
6 oz. club soda

Put strawberries in a small pitcher and mash to your desired consistency. Add juice, club soda, tequila and combine along with 4 good grinds from the pepper mill. Fill 2 glasses halfway with ice and divide drink among glasses.

Red Berry Sangria
1 oz. Red Berry Ciroc vodka
1 oz. rose wine
.5 oz fresh lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup
2 oz. berry tea

Combine ingredients, stir over ice in wine glass.

Yankee Doodle 4th of July Cocktail Recipes, 2014 EditionYankee Doodle
½ oz. Lucid absinthe
1 oz. Sobieski vodka
¼ oz. simple syrup
Splash of lemon juice
Drizzle of raspberry brandy
Ginger beer
Fresh blueberries and sugar cube for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, add fresh blueberries and simple syrup and muddle. Add absinthe, vodka, lemon juice and shake. Strain into a highball glass and top with raspberry brandy and ginger beer. Garnish with fresh blueberries and a sugar cube and serve.

Drinkhacker Reads – 07.02.2014 – Happy Belated Canada Day!

Canada flag 300x153 Drinkhacker Reads   07.02.2014   Happy Belated Canada Day!Happy Belated Canada Day! We here in America got pre-occupied with getting our hearts broken by the Belgian soccer team yesterday, so we kind of missed out in saluting our neighbors to the north. So we’re changing that today! But first, here are some statistics. According to our boys at Stats Canada:

- 85% of Molson Canadian beer is consumed in a backyard inflatable kiddie pool
- The average Canadian 70 year-old spends 17 hours per day sitting silently in Tim Hortons
- The sixth most popular Canadian baby name in 2012 was “Maple Glazed”
- It takes the average Canadian 42 seconds to get a sunburn

One of our absolute favorite things from the last winter olympics was the Molson Canadian Beer Fridge; a walk in cooler which would open only for Canadian athletes with a valid passport. To celebrate Canada Day, it returned to select locations, but ONLY to people who could sing the Canadian national anthem in its entirety. Having grown up spending wintry Saturday nights watching Hockey Night In Canada as a child/awkward teenager/totally inept adult, this will be no problem for us. Oh, Canada! [ABC News]

While Canadians are commonly known for their industrious beer making, they are also responsible for some really incredible whisky. Here’s a short batch of our favorites, with links to reviews of recent releases:

Masterson’s 12 Year Old Straight Wheat Whiskeys
Collingwood 21 Year Old Rye Canadian Whisky
Pike Creek
Pendleton 1910 Aged 12 Years Canadian Rye Whisky

Try one this upcoming 4th of July weekend! We won’t tell anyone it’s not Bourbon.

In other Commonwealth/British Empire related news, Jude Law is set to star in a movie made by Johnnie Walker Blue, according to the Spirits Business. The Gentlemen’s Wager will be directed by noted sci-fi director Ridley Scott…..’s son and will tell the story of two dudes striving for excellence. What fun. [Spirits Business]

And finally today, a major Colbert-styled tip of the hat to Marvin Shanken, whose Wine Spectator and News Daily stories are regular staples of the Reads feature. The publisher recently donated $3 million dollars to the Sonoma State University Wine Learning Center to further the program’s aims, including MBAs and business degrees in the wine business. In this day and age where universities are having to tighten belts and bleed students with tuition increases, it’s good to see folks giving back to important programs. [New York Post]

Review: Cabernets of Louis M. Martini, 2014 Releases

Louis M. Martini 2011 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauv 750ml 87x300 Review: Cabernets of Louis M. Martini, 2014 ReleasesNo need for a lot of throat-clearing here. Check out these three new Cabs from both Napa and Sonoma, all made by Louis M. Martini.

2011 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County – Textbook Sonoma Cab, milder on the palate than Napa’s fruit bombs, but with plenty of earthy mushroom notes, leather, balsamic vinegar, and hints of blueberry on the nose. Breathe deep for hints of the garden — some thyme and peppermint on the back end — and watch for some Christmas spice on the palate’s finish. Imminently drinkable, it’s a fun yet modest wine. A- / $35

2011 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A benchmark Napa cab from Martini, with a mix of floral, currant, pepper, and light leather notes on the nose, followed by a solid slug of blackberries, black cherries, and just hints of earth that are laced into the palate. Light on its feet but full of nuance, this wine shows restraint while offering a plenty ample body and a spot-on finish. One of Martini’s finest cabs in years and dirt cheap. A / $22

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – A simple, almost rustic, “burger” wine (which is exactly how I drank it). A little weedy up front, with some notes of sweet pepper, an interesting counterpart to the relatively sweet and cinnamon-infused body, which offers some tropical and brown sugar notes. Perfectly serviceable, if short of awe-inspiring. B / $14

louismartini.com

The A-List – June 2014

Welcome to this month’s edition of the A-List, where we look back at the best of last month’s reviews and ratings and compile them into a really useful, printer-friendly graphic you may take along during your next trip to the store. We’ve reached the midpoint of 2014 and there have been some really truly exceptional items released on the market. One of the best years in a while? Quite possibly.

(Rob’s note: The Rittenhouse is an incredible bang for the buck rye that’s finally getting its due on the site. And while it is a wee bit pricey, the High West is quite a great grab if you can still find it on the shelves!)

AList0714 525x894 The A List   June 2014

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Warehouse Floor Experiments

Buffalo Trace Warehouse Floor Experiment 525x385 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Warehouse Floor Experiments

More tinkering in the form of experimental whiskeys from the mad scientists at Buffalo Trace. This is one of the company’s most interesting and telling ones to date: Three 12-year-old, rye-heavy bourbons each aged on a different floor of Buffalo Trace’s massive Warehouse K (floors 1, 5, and 9). Warehouse K is built of brick, with wooden floors (because that seems to matter, too).

The same Bourbon, in the same building, just aged on a different floor. Why on earth would the aging floor matter? Simple, as any middle school science student can tell you: Heat rises. The lower floors are relatively cool. The top floors are scorching hot. This impacts aging in a direct and profound way — in part, because water and alcohol evaporate at different temperatures. (That said, all three of these whiskeys are bottled at 90 proof to make comparisons considerably easier.)

And so, how do these compare side by side by side? Let’s take a look…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #1 – Aged on the bottom floor. Some funky notes of olives and green pepper hit the nose at first, with plenty of sweet stuff riding on its coattails. The palate is sharp and fiery, with elements of burnt butter, cayenne, and ample sawdust in contrast to its toffee notes. Balance is a mess, flavors hitting you from every which way. C

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #5 - Aged right in the middle, but is it the Goldilocks of the group? It’s not as different as you might expect, those olive notes still hanging on, but to a much less powerful degree. Floor #5 settles down much more fully and quickly, revealing more of a rounded butter toffee note that’s fused with a melange of cloves, candied pineapple, and lumberyard notes. It’s still a bit rough around the edges, but overall more palatable and approachable than Floor #1. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #9 - From the hot top floor, where some of BT’s blue chip Bourbons, like George T. Stagg, are sourced. This is clearly the best of the bunch, featuring toasted marshmallows and more gentle wood notes on the nose, followed by a body that is lush with brown sugar sweetness, cinnamon and cloves, vanilla caramels, and cake frosting. Gorgeous in structure, and radically different than the other two installments in this series. Grab it if you find it! A

each $46 (375ml) / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky 100 Proof Bottled-in-Bond

Rittenhouse 100 Review: Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky 100 Proof Bottled in Bond

One of the classic examples of this spirit, Rittenhouse is a 4-plus-year-old, 100 proof bottled-in-bond rye. The winner of all sorts of accolades and awards, the Heaven Hill-produced Rittenhouse Rye Whisky (the company’s spelling) recently updated its packaging with a “1930s inspired” label. (Fun fact: the brand was known as Rittenhouse Square Rye at the time.)

But inside the bottle, nothing seems to have changed. But here are some fresh thoughts on Rittenhouse based on a fresh tasting.

The nose is racy — iconically “rye” — filled with baking spices but also crushed red pepper notes that hint at heat. The palate is initially a bit hot — a drop of water or a few minutes are all it takes to let the vapors dissipate — but it quickly settles down to reveal layers of fun stuff. Gingerbread, orange peel, creme brulee, dark chocolate, light wood oils… all of these elements combine to create a really lush, pretty whole with just the right amount of wood. With a near-perfect flavor profile and just the right mix of bite and sweetness on the finish, Rittenhouse continues to hit it out of the park, and at these prices, it’s no wonder that many stores limit how many bottles you can buy.

100 proof.

A / $26 / bardstownwhiskeysociety.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Town Branch Bourbon

Town Branch Bourbon  65405 zoom 300x300 Review: Town Branch BourbonFull confession: the first batch of this stuff was so bereft of quality, it was not uncommon to passive-aggressively serve generous pours to irritating house guests in hopes of expediting its stay on the shelf to the recycling bin. A few years since its initial release, reconsideration is warranted; with the hopes of quality control finally living up to its purpose.

As usual, a bit of context: Town Branch is made by AllTech, not a small family operation as you might expect by that folksy company name but rather a large conglomerate specializing in animal feed and nutrition. The company also makes a reasonably tasty bourbon-barreled stout and ale. Town Branch takes it namesake from the body of water on which the city of Lexington was founded, and boasts to be the first (legally) produced bourbon within the city limits in quite some time. It also has a rather limited distribution chain, so availability no doubt plays into its cachet. The mashbill is also somewhat peculiar in that it meets the 51% corn standard, but it uses only malted barley as the secondary ingredient, eschewing the traditional wheat or rye.

The color is a wonderful amber hue behind rather pleasant packaging: the bottle is gorgeous, the label not so much (typography and text is a bit tough to translate at points). But as the saying tells us not to judge books by their cover, let’s go deeper. The nose offers up much sweetness: traces of fruit and butterscotch immediately followed by mild oak and sawdust. The sweetness stays throughout and really doesn’t let up through the entire experience, and the finish is like a 4th of July firecracker: short and… sweet. A bit of a bang mixed with caramel, bananas, bread, and a mild burn. Those liking drinking matters smooth and easy may find the experience enjoyable, but for those who want to know they’re drinking bourbon and not a bourbon-inspired liqueur, this may not be the best bottle to bring to the table.

At 40% abv, it’s pretty tame when compared to other bourbons at the $30 price point. There’s also talk of a rye expression arriving on shelves in short order, which shall hopefully add the much-needed punch and unveil greater potential than what’s showcased here. I’ll most likely revisit this again in another two years, when this trial is far from fresh in my memory.

80 proof.

C / $27 / kentuckyale.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Ingenium Dry Gin

IngeniumGin Review: Ingenium Dry Gin

Portland, Maine-based New England Distilling presents this avant garde “new western” gin, made from a triple pot-distilled mash of 2-row barley with a bit of rye added. Botanicals include juniper, lime zest, lemongrass, bay leaf, mace, and rose petals — plus some other oddities.

That description alone gives you plenty to think about. Pour a glass and you get plenty to write about, too.

Let’s start with the mashbill. That barley base creates a very white whiskey-like experience on the nose, malty and full of cereal, with some evergreen notes bringing up the rear. The botanicals barely peek through, unable to push past that granary-fueled base.

The palate offers more interest, though it’s inconsistent. Here some floral notes make for an odd but somewhat successful balance with the malted milk-like body. Curious but somewhat compelling. As the finish arrives, the clear lime and mint notes — about the only things even remotely traditional in this gin — offer some hint that this might work in a cocktail, but on the whole it’s so weird that it’s a struggle to see where it would feel truly at home.

94 proof.

B- / $40 / newenglanddistilling.com

Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2014 Releases

Crossbarn By Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2011 Bottle 900x900 300x300 Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2014 ReleasesOnce called “the Steve Jobs of wine,” Paul Hobbs is a NorCal bigshot that makes wines under his own label as well as importing stuff he really likes. CrossBarn is his new, lower-cost label.

We sampled three wines (two Pinots, one Chardonnay) under the CrossBarn label. Thoughts follow.

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Virtually unoaked (80% fermented in tank, 20% in neutral French oak), this wine presents a citrusy but quite herbal nose, with a body offering spiced apples and Meyer lemon, plus some apricot on the finish. Easy to love. A- / $18

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma County – A slightly thin, somewhat meaty example of the varietal. The body’s light blueberry fruit is indistinct, muddied by the savoriness that makes it feel a bit like old fruit juice. B- / $35

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – A much more refined Pinot. It starts with some Port-like notes on the nose, and plenty of macerated cherries. The body isn’t exactly dense with fruit, but it has lots of life and only a hint of vanilla and some woody bramble character by way of terroir. A solid, easy-to-love wine. B+ / $35

crossbarnwinery.com

Review: 2013 Charles & Charles Rose Columbia Valley

charles and charles rose 89x300 Review: 2013 Charles & Charles Rose Columbia ValleyThis Washington state rose, part of the Trinchero empire, is made from a blend of 86% syrah, 6% cinsault, 4% grenache, 2% counoise, and 2% mourvedre. Restrained, this wine has some herbal notes on the nose — rosemary, perhaps — with the fruit creeping out a bit slowly on the palate. Strawberries, for sure, and fresh cherries are readily available on this simple sipper. A smattering of earthier notes — more tree bark than mushroom — back things up.

B+ / $12 / bielerandsmith.com