Review: Tomintoul 16 Years Old

My dad recently asked me if I’d had Tomintoul before. I knew I had, but had none in my stash (and nothing fresh in my mind), so I went digging around in my archives. Turns out I’ve reviewed Tomintoul on several occasions — all of them at whisky shows, never on their own.

Tomintoul is a Speyside whisky with the tagline, “The Gentle Dram,” and the name is more than fitting. This approach is clear from the get-go: It’s a 16 year that is aged fully in bourbon casks, with no finishing.

The nose is initially a little hot, with notes of sweet cereal and fresh brioche — with hints of vanilla. On the palate: toasty grain, gentle caramel, a hint of licorice and cloves, and a drying finish. It’s almost vegetal at times, but not in a bad way — the whisky goes into a world of carrots and eggplant(?) — before coming out the other side with the essence of a corn meal fish fry.

It’s nothing fancy — at all — but all I can say is I sure did drink a lot of it trying to figure that out.

80 proof.

B / $50 / tomintoulwhisky.com

Review: 2016 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Rioja Blanco

White Rioja isn’t terribly common in the States, but Lopez de Haro’s Blanco is reasonably available. This blend of Viura and other grapes is decidedly innocuous, a chewy wine with notes of lemon and figs, with a slightly buttery character thanks to the wine’s three months spent in French oak. The finish adds a touch of astringency, with a finish echoing lemon and lime peel, with just the slightest hint of milk chocolate.

B / $10 / bodegaclassica.com

Review: Rebel Yell Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old 2017

Last year, Luxco released a small collection of 10 year old Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey to significant acclaim. At the time this was thought to be a one-off, but now a second expression of Rebel Yell 10 Year Old is arriving for 2017. As with the 2016, the 2017 edition of Rebel Yell 10 is a wheated bourbon bottled at 100 proof. As a single barrel bottling, the whiskey will vary from bottle to bottle.

For 2017, the whiskey offers a racy nose of gingerbread cookies, tobacco, and smoky campfire ashes. The palate is toasty and heavy with notes of anise, dark toast, cloves, and barrel char. Sweeter notes are elusive, driven to the sides by hot red pepper and plenty of wood-heavy barrel influence. The finish is drying but not dusty, showcasing a punchy spirit with quite a bit of character, though it’s one that leans a bit too heavily this time out on the more raw characteristics of the barrel for its power.

100 proof. Reviewed: Barrel $5043515. 2000 cases produced.

B+ / $100 / rebelyellbourbon.com

Review: Unibroue Ephemere Sureau

Canada’s Unibroue has a long-running series of beers called Ephemere, all wheat ales fermented with fruit added. The latest (#8) in the series is Sureau, which is made with elderberry and elderflowers.

The nose is fragrant and fruity — with blueberry notes and indistinct florals. On the palate, the beer is surprisingly dry — far from the sugary fruit bomb you might be expecting — with virtually no bitterness to speak of (it’s got just 6 IBUs). The elderflower is easily evident but doesn’t overwhelm the malt at the core of the beer, instead imbuing it with a bit of life in the form of some tartness, slightly citrus, slightly tropical, and a bit earthy at times, particularly on the finish.

Don’t like fruit-flavored beers? Never mind all that — give Sureau a try.

5.5% abv.

B+ / $5 per bottle / unibroue.com

Review: The Beers of MadTree Brewing Company

MadTree Brewing Company opened in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2013 and has seen rapid growth ever since. They recently expanded their operation and partnered with Cavalier Distributing to bring their beers to the rest of Ohio as well as Kentucky. With their beers set to reach a broader audience and a promising track record, it was time for a review of their core line of beers.

MadTree Lift Kölsch – Lift is a pleasant surprise. Despite having the lowest alcohol of MadTree’s year-round offerings, it is real beer with real beer flavor. It is light and refreshing, presenting the welcoming smells of wheat and lemon. The palate shows the cereal flavor of toasted malt along with a gentle hop crispness at the end. Perfect for a hot summer day. 4.7% abv. B

MadTree Psychopathy India Pale Ale – The can describes this beer well, noting its “floral, grassy, and citrus hop flavors.” The citrus comes forward more on the nose and the floral and grassy notes come to the fore in the palate. There are lots of different IPAs on the market these days, and MadTree has created one that stakes a claim and does not try to please everyone. It is surprisingly and pleasantly bitter considering that it clocks in at only 60 IBU. 6.9% abv. A-

MadTree Happy Amber Ale – Happy Amber was the first beer MadTree brewed, and it is a very enjoyable amber ale, showing a nice malt presence along with 30 IBU, which is high for the style. The result is a well-balanced beer that exhibits bready notes and caramel in both the nose and the taste. It finishes with a bitter, hoppy crispness I really enjoyed. I rather wish the beer was a bit more assertive in its use of malt and hops, but if it was, I might not look forward to a second can so soon after I finished the first. A dangerously drinkable amber. 6.0% abv. B+

MadTree PSA Pale Ale – PSA (Proper Session Ale) has a lot of character for a session beer. The nose presents orange and notes of pineapple. The flavors are a mix of pine and citrus coupled with a crisp, hoppy bitterness. The carbonation, as is common with session beers, is a bit high. This is a fine session beer, and one that deserves serious attention, particularly from IPA fans who steer clear of overwhelming DIPAs. 4.5% abv. B+

MadTree Sol Drifter Blonde Ale – Sol Drifter is a summer-season session beer brewed with strawberries. The nose is light and presents strawberry as well as slight notes of malt. The same subdued notes of strawberry and malt appear again in the palate, along with a little lemon, and the beer finishes quickly and cleanly. This is a refreshing beer, but not really an exciting one. 4.3% abv. B-

madtreebrewing.com

Review: Stone Enjoy By 07.04.17 Unfiltered IPA

You’ve got precious few days to source and enjoy this latest release in Stone’s “Enjoy By” series — this beer being an unfiltered double IPA that appears to have just about the same makeup as the last Unfiltered IPA release from Christmas 2016. That means you’re in for a ton of tropical fruit, peaches, and and molasses notes, followed by a significant bitterness. As with the 12.25.16 release, there’s less blatant hoppiness than you’d expect, which lets the finish linger with sweeter fruit, not tannic, piney notes. With all that said, I like it a bit less than the prior release (or at least, that’s how I feel today).

This is also the first time an Enjoy By beer has been released in cans, though you can still get it in oversize 22 oz. bottles, too.

9.4% abv.

A- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / stonebrewing.com

Does Absinthe Make You Hallucinate?

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” – Oscar Wilde

Though absinthe has been legal in the United States for a decade now, in the grand scheme of things it’s still a rather mysterious spirit, one that’s cloaked in superstition. And though the average imbiber might not know what absinthe is made out of or what it tastes like, the one thing everyone knows is the story of the “Green Fairy,” the hallucinations that one is said to get from drinking absinthe, and which has a lot to do why it was banned in the U.S. for about a century (1912-2007). So of course the question must now be asked: Does absinthe really make you hallucinate? If so, why? And if not, what the heck was going on with the ban?

So first off, what is the reason the stories give for absinthe’s hallucinogenic properties? The general consensus has been that wormwood, an herb used as a flavoring agent for the drink, contains thujone, a supposedly psychoactive compound that can cause someone enjoying the drink to see things. However, research shows that that just doesn’t seem to be the case; while wormwood definitely contains thujone, and thujone has been shown to block GABA receptors in the brain and can be toxic when taken in high enough doses, you won’t find any absinthe that contains the levels of thujone necessary for a reaction. (Not to mention that the effect of blocked GABA receptors isn’t trippy visions, but in fact painful convulsions. Not our idea of a good time.) Indeed, due to absinthe’s high alcohol content (typically around 60 to 70% abv), you would likely die of alcohol poisoning long before you ingested enough thujone to have any effect at all, good or ill.

That said, drinking absinthe isn’t a death sentence, either. Like the supposedly headache-inducing sulfites found in wine, thujone is naturally found in all sorts of things we ingest, and you don’t see people keeling over or having wild visions on the streets. The mundane truth is that neither wormwood nor the thujone within cause hallucinations, and the fact that people still fervently believe they do today shows how powerful the absinthe myth is.

But that’s the modern stuff. The absinthe that was available in its golden age was much more potent and psychotropic, right? Not likely. Despite the widespread belief that pre-ban absinthe had a much higher level of thujone in it, according to absinthe expert and Lucid creator Ted Breaux, absinthe never really had any hallucinogenic qualities. Instead, the poets and artists who claimed to see green fairies were likely just overtaken by absinthe’s high alcohol content, plus perhaps the power of suggestion, of course. If you have deep pockets, you can test Breaux’s claims yourself: There are plenty of sealed bottles of pre-ban absinthe on the market, they’re just very expensive.

So what was up with the ban in the first place? Remember that absinthe was banned in most countries in the early 20th century, when temperance movements were strong and had powerful political backing. The United States banned absinthe in 1912, even before Prohibition, while in France luminaries were attacking absinthe as the cause of all of the country’s declining moral values. It’s likely that absinthe, with an alcohol content a third higher than most gin or whiskey, was just a scapegoat for what was generally a bad time for alcohol. It took a lot of lobbying by folks like Breaux (and changing attitudes toward drinking) to finally overturn the ban just 10 years ago.

So that’s the strange, convoluted story of absinthe and its supposed effects. If you’re not going to rush out and break the bank on a pre-ban bottle, try a bottle of Pernod for the traditional experience, Lucid to see what bars are doing with it, or Wild Card for a more contemporary, “craft” absinthe.

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