Review: Don Q Double Aged Rum Vermouth Cask Finish

Puerto Rico’s Don Q continues to show itself as one of the most innovative producers of rum in the business. Its latest is this almost bizarre bottling, a blend of rums aged 5 to 8 years in bourbon barrels, then finished in Mancino Vermouth Vecchio wine casks. (Mancio Vecchio is a sweet vermouth barrel-aged in Italian white oak.)

Let’s give this thing a try!

Do you like vermouth? I hope so, because DonQ’s latest wears the stuff on its sleeve. The nose is pungent with aromatics — bitter herbs, oxidized white wine, and lots of anise — very little of which you’d ever find in a glass of rum, no matter what the origin. The palate finds a way to meld those characters with more traditional rum trappings, melding the wine notes with coconut and vanilla, berries in syrup, and baking spice.

It’s a strange combination — particularly the wholly unorthodox nose — but it works better than you would expect. A mild gumminess that clings to the finish mars what is otherwise a light and lively rum, but it’s that heavily perfumed character that sticks with you for ages, both in the air and lingering on the tongue.

The question: What to do with this oddball spirit? Sipping straight is a little off-putting, so what about cocktails? If you have any ideas, I’d love to read about them.

80 proof.

B+ / $49 /

Review: 2015 Kay Brothers Basket Pressed Grenache McLaren Vale

Imagine plump currants juiced into a glass and you have this wine, an incredibly sweet and, well, very fruity experience from Australia’s Kay Brothers. Some time in glass isn’t a bad thing to help bring out some complexity. While still quite sweet, it settles down a bit on the finish after a spell, showing some sour plum notes, a touch of herbs, and an edge of toasted oak.

B- / $35 /

Review: Brenne Ten French Single Malt Whiskey

Brenne is perhaps the best known single malt whiskey made in France, unique thanks to its finishing in Cognac barrels. While regular Brenne doesn’t carry an age statement (it’s typically about 7 years old), Brenne Ten, obviously, does, spending a guaranteed 10 years in a combination of virgin French Limousin oak barrels and barrels previously used for aging Cognac.

That said, compared to Brenne’s NAS version, I don’t see a huge difference between the two expressions.

The extremely pale whiskey nose sees big notes of apples — reminiscent of Calvados — alongside notes of toasted almonds and scorched caramel, plus a vegetal undertone, reminscent of camphor. The palate is a bit gamy, with a harder spice edge and notes of cooked apples, cloves, and spiced nuts. The finish is all applesauce and nutmeg, with hints of tannic oak and more of that meaty gaminess.

Did I mention the apples? That’s the main flavor profile here, through and through, and though I like apples just fine, it just doesn’t give you much to hold on to at a whopping $100 a bottle.

96 proof.


Review: 2016 Lusco Albarino Rias Baixas

Very tart for albarino, this Spanish white from Adega Pazos de Lusco exudes lime zest and grapefruit rind, built atop a core of lemon and pear fruit. Racy with acidity, it’s almost sour at times, puckering the lips on the intense finish while clinging to the back of the throat. If you’re looking for a wine that’s palate cleansing, almost to a fault, you’ve got it.

B / $21 /

Review: 2016 Luca Bosio Arneis Langhe DOCG

From the southeast of Piedmont in the Roero region comes this Arneis wine, a tropical affair with a touch of anise and a slight greenness around the edges. A slightly vegetal character eventually gives way to some savory spices, though the notes of both fresh and dried mango are tough to tamp out.

B+ / $15 /

Review: Kentucky Peerless Straight Rye 2 Years Old

Kentucky Peerless — aka just “Peerless” — isn’t just any old craft whiskey startup in Louisville. While the operation makes bourbon, the bigger focus is on rye — not sourced from parts unknown, but made on site, reportedly in line with recipes that have been handed down for more than 100 years. Some details:

When Prohibition dawned, there was only one way to obtain alcohol: a prescription. Physicians were able to prescribe distilled spirits on government forms for certain ailments including but not limited to: pneumonia, influenza, and depression, among other disorders. But if no alcohol was being made, where did it come from?

Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company, originally founded by Henry Kraver in 1889, was one of the few spirits made available by prescription for medicinal use. At the time of Prohibition, Peerless had a significant amount of barrel aging product (63,000) and obtained a governmental license, which permitted them to distribute inventory for prescribed medicinal purposes.

It was not until 98-years later that Kraver’s great-grandson and fourth-generation entrepreneur Corky Taylor revived the family business. Taylor enlisted his son Carson to transform the 130-year-old brick industrial building in downtown Louisville into a state-of-the-art distillery. The family obtained Kraver’s original distilled spirits plant (DSP) number and re-opened the Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company in 2015 under DSP 50.

No longer needing a prescription to distribute today, Peerless Distilling Company can be found in over 27 states. Led by head distiller Caleb Kilburn and a small, dedicated team, the historic grain-to-bottle distillery produces craft ultra-luxury, small-batch rye whiskey and bourbon.

The Peerless Rye mash isn’t disclosed, but we do know that this release is two years old — 24 months old to be exact, per the label — and is bottled at cask strength, non-chillfiltered, with nothing added. Let’s taste it.

For such a young whiskey, this is a surprisingly well-rounded, fully-formed spirit. The nose is a little rough around the edges, but underneath some rustic granary notes you’ll find loads of spice, caramel, and vanilla, all classic American whiskey notes though not particularly evident as rye. The palate is a bit clearer, sweet and spicy notes hitting the tongue immediately, building to a cinnamon-dusted Mexican chocolate character that comes as a bit of a surprise. The finish falls back on clearer grain-heavy notes, inevitable in a spirit that’s just two years old, but they aren’t at all unpleasant, giving a biscuity chewiness to the conclusion. There’s a little heat here — also to be expected at nearly 54% abv — but considering all of the above, the entire package is both amazingly drinkable and enjoyable.

This is good stuff as it stands — though I’m baffled by the outsized price tag. When and if Peerless ventures into older spirits (and fixes its pricing), I’m all in.

107.8 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #R150829102.

B+ / $100 /

Review: 2016 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Hahn’s latest releases from its SLH line are here, both made with estate fruit from the Santa Lucia Highlands.

2016 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highands – Surprisingly sweet on the attack, with an overload of red berries, sweet cream, tangerine, and some spice notes. While it carries some interesting flavors, the whole thing comes off as a bit overcooked. Better with food than on its own. A huge departure from 2015’s expressionB / $20

2016 Hahn SLH Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands – A typical oak bomb from Hahn’s SLH line, utterly blown out with pungent notes of the barrel. Beyond that, it’s quite green, with overtones of cloves, mushrooms, and burnt butter, a charred note lingering on the tongue. B- / $20

Review: Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum

Over the years we’ve reviewed a whopping 12 varieties of Captain Morgan rum — but never the original spiced variety. That finally changes today as part of our quest to fill in any holes in our database.

Captain Morgan Original plays its cards close to the vest. Described as a “secret blend of Caribbean rums,” it’s not clear where the good Cap’n is made, or much about what’s in it.

The nose is immediately familiar, a somewhat sharp showcase of vanilla and cinnamon, with a touch of citrus in the mix. While the nose is on the heady side, the palate couldn’t be softer, a gentle kiss of a rum that layers in a kiss of spice alongside ample vanilla. Frankly, I’ve had unflavored rums that have a heavier spice kick to them than Captain Morgan Original, though that also works to its favor since Cappy is intended almost exclusively as a mixer. Want to add a splash of vanilla and just a little punch to that glass of Coke? Captain Morgan makes for a fine addition, provided you aren’t looking for any more complexity than that red plastic Solo cup deserves.

70 proof.

B+ / $15 /

Review: Wines of Geyser Peak, 2018 Releases

Geyser Peak’s spring releases of its boldest wines — all based around cabernet sauvignon — have arrived. Today we look at three releases from this essential California winery.

2014 Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – Though now four years old, this still drinks with ample youth, boldly forward with blackberry notes and lots of vanilla, giving it a bit of a sweet side — one that could potentially be confused with zinfandel, particularly given the chocolate notes that bring up the rear. As with most cabs, this one’s better with food, which helps some of the tannin come through more clearly, giving the wine needed depth. B / $46 (available in Geyser Peak’s tasting room only)

2014 Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Walking Tree – 8% syrah in this. A reserve bottling of sorts, from Geyser Peaks “Appellation Series,” this is the same vintage of cab as the above bottling, but the wine takes a different tactic, dampening the sweet blackberries with notes of tannic bramble and more of a dark chocolate character. With a silkier, more seductive body, it’s more of a “statement wine,” with a lightly peppery finish. A- / $30

2013 Geyser Peak Meritage Reserve Alexandre – 79% cabernet sauvignon, 15% petit verdot, 2% malbec, and 1% cabernet franc, all from Alexander Valley. Very floral on the nose, with notes of fresh lilac, black pepper, and currants all in one bold package. Currants and blueberries provide a backbone that nods at bacon, pencil lead, and a dusky charred wood character. The whole is better (and bigger) than the sum of the parts, taking a classic cabernet structure and spinning it into a couple of different directions, both exotic and a bit dusky. A / $50

Review: Endless Summer Rum

If you’ve never seen The Endless Summer, it’s a movie about surfing. (Sorry, spoiler.) There’s probably not a much more appropriate theme to tie a bottle of rum to — and the label even evokes the key art for the movie.

Endless Summer Rum is distilled in Barbados, “using a blend of rums from two column stills as well as a copper pot still in order to achieve the crisp, clean and exceptionally smooth qualities of the essential silver rum.” It is bottled without barrel aging.

Also worth noting, ESR donates to environmental charities and, in June, its founder Matti Christian Anttila will be paddleboarding from the Bamahas to Florida as part of the Crossing For A Cure event, a charity benefiting Cystic Fibrosis. While we don’t review charitable endeavors, it certainly never hurts when your booze brand does something good.

Let’s give Endless Summer Rum a try.

For an unaged rum, this is a real surprise. The nose is fresh and lively, with clear coconut notes and hints of citrus. The palate sees some of the raw power and heat one expects to find in a young white rum — but it’s well-tempered by notes of milk chocolate, vanilla, some cinnamon, and more of that coconut flavor. The finish is easy and uncomplicated, making this a rare white rum that can be just as easily sipped on neat as it is mixed into a cocktail.

An insanely good value.

80 proof.

A- / $15 /

Review: NV Apothic Brew Red Wine Infused with Coffee

I’m not going to lie: I’ve been dreading pulling the cork on this since the day it arrived. But finally it had to be done, and I forced myself to experience what the marriage of red wine (reportedly Rhone style grapes, but Apothic doesn’t say) and cold brew coffee is like.

Apothic is no stranger to unique wine concoctions, and was a pioneer in whiskey barrel finishing. Apothic Brew — not a finish, but a literal blend of wine and coffee — is something else entirely. The nose is almost entirely driven by the coffee element, a chocolate mocha note that nearly wipes the wine character away. A slight, raisiny fruit note is there if you go hunting for it, but it’s fleeting, as is to be expected because, you know, coffee.

The palate is much more approachable than I’d expected. Here the red wine’s acidity makes an immediate impact, though any particulars of its character are impossible to pick out, as the coffee immediately overwhelms it. It’s actually pretty good coffee, nutty and heavy with those cocoa notes, not at all bitter as the wine serves to brighten it all up with a bit of fruit — a unique but not unpalatable spin on putting a little sugar or honey into your cup o’ joe. I was ready to absolutely hate Apothic Brew, but it grew on me, and faster than I expected. That said, given the way it acquits itself, it’s better perhaps to think of the product as coffee flavored with wine, rather than the other way around.

Don’t shoot me, but it’s worth a sip for novelty’s sake, if nothing else.

B / $15 /

Review: Sierra Norte Single Barrel Whiskey – White Corn, Yellow Corn, and Black Corn

“Mexican whiskey” isn’t just a euphemism for tequila. Turns out our neighbors to the south really do make honest-to-God whiskey, none of which is more visible than Sierra Norte, which markets three different expressions made from different strains of corn native to Oaxaca — white, yellow, and black. (The mash for each is 85% corn and 15% malted barley.)

The whiskeys are double pot distilled and aged in French oak, but bottles do not carry age statements. Let’s try them all.

Each is 90 proof.

Sierra Norte Single Barrel Whiskey White Corn – Charred corn and tons of barrel influence lead off on the nose, offering the immediate impression of a young microdistilled American whiskey. While those notes continue to dominate on the tongue, the palate finds room for more nuance, including some fruity apricot and peach notes — though these are on the lighter side, appearing more clearly as the finish arrives. That said, there’s a ton of heat here, notes of black pepper complementing that popcorn character with a dusting of spice. Water (be generous) helps on all fronts, tempering the more youthful characteristics in the whiskey considerably. Reviewed: Barrel #4, Batch #2. B- / $47

Sierra Norte Single Barrel Whiskey Yellow Corn – Fresher and more floral on the nose, the barrel notes take a back seat on the nose this time around: The immediate impression is one of a young bourbon, but with a significantly spicy edge. The palate finds a significantly sweeter whiskey than the white corn version, with notes of butterscotch and a light vanilla note, filtered through notes of barrel char and a heavier spice profile than the nose would indicate — think cloves and allspice here, not cinnamon. The finish is shorter than the white corn version but quite clean, with a toasted nut element to it. Definitely the top pick of the bunch. Reviewed: Barrel #3, Batch #2. B+ / $38

Sierra Norte Single Barrel Whiskey Black Corn – Immediately quite odd on the nose, with notes of boiled meat and cooked vegetables masking a modest wood profile… but nothing much that immediately screams whiskey. The palate is a bit more engaging, though again it puts forward a bizarre character of overripe fruit, baking spice, and canned carrots. The finish is hot and full of that spice, charred wood, and pepper (red and black). What to make of all of this? I’m not totally sure, but there are mysterious moments of genius somewhere in the mix. Reviewed: Barrel #6, Batch #3. C / $48