Review: Magnum Highland Cream Liqueur

Turns out Ireland doesn’t have to have a lock on the whiskey cream industry. Introducing Magnum Highland Cream Liqueur, which is made from Speyside Scotch whiskey plus cream sourced from Holland and bottled in what is easily a lock for the best packaging of the year.

We tasted it. But first, how about a little production information:

To create this lively and premium release of Magnum, Scotch malt whisky that has been aged three years in American Oak casks in Scotland is blended with the rich, signature cream from cows that range and graze freely in farmer-owned dairy farms in Holland. The result is an elevation of cream liqueur creating, an entirely new dimension to the category.

Magnum is packaged in a 100% recyclable and reusable stainless steel canister reminiscent of a milk can.

This is a fairly traditional whiskey cream, though the switcheroo of Scotch for the usual Irish whiskey is noticeable. The nose is more butterscotch than the honey notes you typically see in Irish, filtered through a touch of nutmeg and a bit of citrus.

There’s an immediate lick of lemon and orange peel on the tongue, before the expected butterscotch, milk chocolate, vanilla, and toffee notes overtake the palate. The body is silky and creamy but not overwhelming, and unlike many cream liqueurs, it has a lasting finish that echoes not chocolate syrup but rather that citrus character, lingering on the back of the palate the way it might with a simpler Speyside malt.

It really does hang in there for the long haul. I find the only way to get rid of it is to switch to another drink or, of course, take a fresh sip of Magnum. Slightly off the beaten path but still well within the boundaries of a traditional whiskey cream, it’s definitely worth a shot for those who’ve grown tired of Baileys.

34 proof.

B+ / $26 / magnumcreamliqueur.com

A Visit to Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, located in the heart of Nashville, is a young distillery but it has an incredibly old story. When we visited, brothers Charles and Andy Nelson took us back to their great, great, great grandfather, (also named) Charles Nelson, who was making whiskey in this part of Tennessee back in the 1860s. He built his distillery up to become one of the largest in the country, but when Prohibition hit — and it hit in Tennessee some ten years before the rest of the U.S. — the distillery was shuttered for good.

In 1909, Green Brier Distillery faded away, and even the history of the distillery fell into obscurity in the Nelson’s family. Tales of an ancestor making whiskey became apocrypha, and by the early 2000s, Andy and Charles — both philosophy graduates working outside the booze biz — had largely forgotten it.

Things changed in 2006 when the original Green Brier facility was discovered, added to a historical landmark registry by a local who’d uncovered the still-standing but overgrown warehouse. The Nelson brothers actually saw the landmark sign on the side of the road, and inspiration struck on the spot: The stories were true, and maybe they should launch Green Brier once again.

And so they did.

Like many distilleries, Green Brier started with contract whiskey from MGP, but the Nelson brothers go to great pains to finish much of it in wine and other spirit barrels to distinguish it from any number of other MGP-sourced bottlings. Naturally, they’re getting their own distillery off the ground here, too, and white dog distilled using the same recipe the original Green Brier used (turns out it was published in a newspaper at the time), has been coming out of the small pot/column combo still here for 2 1/2 years now. With some 1000 barrels of whiskey they’ve produced now aging on site, the company is aiming for a limited release of a two year old Tennessee whiskey by the end of this year, with a full release of a four year old whiskey in 2019.

After the informative tour (the distillery is open to the public), the Nelsons walked us through the full lineup of products (and hinted at some upcoming ones, like a whiskey that is now aging in 75 year old Spanish brandy casks), some of which are only sold on site. Thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Nelson’s White Whiskey – The white dog, produced on site, is sold only at the distillery. Notes of popcorn, lots of banana, and bubble gum complement chewy grains. Surprisingly pleasant and easygoing. 91 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon – The “classic” bottling. This is straight MGP bourbon, unfinished. Lightly oaky, with classic butterscotch and toffee notes and some caramel corn on the back end, with a touch of red fruit. Hard not to like. 90.4 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon Sherry Cask Finished – Finished in oloroso sherry casks. Some hospital notes emerge here, but also cherry, tea leaf, and cola notes. Fruit is stronger on the body, with chocolate and gentle oak notes emerging on the finish. 90.4 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon Single Barrel – A cask strength version of the classic bottling, this one features bold nougat and toffee notes, and flavors of vanilla cookies. Lingering Mexican chocolate notes hang on the finish. A gem. 122.3 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon Cognac Cask Finished – Lush and sweet, with notes of strawberry, chocolate, caramel, and nougat notes galore. Quite fruity on the finish. 90.4 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon Madeira Cask Finished – Slightly winey as expected, though there’s ample fresh fruit here. A little corny, but the rye notes are heavier as the finish emerges. 90.4 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Schatzi Vodka – Andy Nelson made this on site for his wedding; it’s only sold here at the distillery. It’s a surprisingly good vodka, made from the same mash as the white whiskey, easygoing with sweet and light corn notes and a buttery finish. 80 proof.

greenbrierdistillery.com

Review: Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2016) and Gala Apple Flavored Whiskey

We’re late on catching up with Sons of Liberty’s annual release of its award-winning pumpkin spice flavored whiskey, but we’re making up for that with a look at a new product flavored with Gala apples, which was released for the first time in the fall. With many apologies for our delay, let’s dig in!

Both whiskeys are bottled at 80 proof.

Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2016) – This is our third go-round with this seasonal release (see also 2015 and 2014), and my notes fall somewhere in between the two previous versions. Lots of cinnamon and cloves and a clear pumpkin character give this whiskey ample spiciness, and a gentle brown sugar backbone manages to toe the line between the sugar and the spice. The finish sees the emergence of more chewy pumpkin-ness and some lightly sour notes. The finish recalls overripe apples, dusted with cloves. B / $43

Sons of Liberty Gala Apple Flavored Whiskey – “Sons of Liberty utilized more than 9,000 fresh Gala Apples from two Connecticut orchards, Blue Hills Orchard and Drazen Orchards, for its inaugural release of Gala Apple. The apples were brought to New England Cider Company where the apples were shredded into a sauce-like mash called pumice. This mash of apples was then pressed to extract as much juice as possible from the fresh fruit. The Sons of Liberty crew brought the delicious juice back to the distillery where they blended it with a barrel-aged whiskey they made specifically for this release.” The nose isn’t particularly heavy on fresh apples but rather sees a focus on cloves, barrel char, and something that initially comes across as a sort of dried apple character. The palate is a somewhat different animal, initially sweet with a cinnamon-laden applesauce character, and, oddly enough, lots of overripe banana notes. The finish finds light caramel and vanilla, with a weird dusting of cornmeal, toasted marshmallow, and some kind of strange Asian candy character that I can’t quite express in words. For better or worse. B- / $43

solspirits.com

Review: Bear Republic Hop Shovel and Cafe Racer 15 (2017)

California’s Bear Republic has moved Hop Shovel into the year-round lineup, and is now releasing Cafe Racer 15, formerly only available in 22 oz. bottles, in regular six-packs. Nothing much has really changed with these brews (though this is our first real review of Hop Shovel), but let’s give them fresh looks nonetheless.

Bear Republic Hop Shovel IPA – A wheat and rye hybrid IPA made with Mosaic, Meridian, and Denali hops — and what a combination it is! The beer is beautifully balanced, offering loads of fresh citrus fruit to mellow out the piney evergreen notes that otherwise dominate the beer. A touch of salted caramel elevates the finish and gives it a nuance that IPAs don’t often exhibit. A near-perfect IPA! 7.5% abv. A

Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15 (2017) – The 2017 version of Cafe Racer (see 2014 review here) hasn’t changed much at all, and still offers the bold, chewy, resinous double IPA character that fans of this style adore. A malty attack leads to overtones of orange-laden syrup, hemp rope threads, toasted pine nuts, maple, and green apples. It’s a complex beer that finishes with a mix of cloyingly sweet and intensely bitter — which somehow manages to come off as oddly refreshing. 9.75% abv. A-

each $13 per six pack / bearrepublic.com

Review: Siembra Valles Ancestral Tequila Blanco

Artisan tequila gets a leg up from Siembra Spirits, which takes a painstakingly traditional approach, blending tequila and mezcal production processes, to the creation of this new 100% blue agave tequila. Reportedly bringing together mezcaleros and tequileros for the first time in a century, creator David Suro hopes he is on to something new.

Mind you, this isn’t a simple blend of mezcal and tequila. This is something entirely different, a tequila untouched by machines during its production…

Creating Siembra Valles Ancestral goes beyond mere distilling: Suro and his team rely on hand maceration, fermentation in oak and distillation in pine to impart the flavors that vino mezcal de Tequila would have had 100 years ago, but they also produce the spirit using bat-pollinated(!) agave, harvested by carefully trained family farmers known as jimadores and roasted earthen pit ovens.

The distillation and production of Ancestral is an exercise in extraordinary care:

  • Hand-harvested agave hearts, or piñas, are roasted in a hand-dug pit oven 6 feet deep for no less than 113 hours, where heat and smoke yield deeply flavorful fruits via methods that have not been used in tequila production for more than a century.

  • They are then hand macerated with wooden mallets to release just enough of their now perfectly roasted juices and distinctive agave flavor.

  • Bagasse fermentation takes place in oak and brick, and the distilled juice rests in demijohns capped the traditional way: with corn cobs that allow just enough oxygen to interact with the spirit as it stabilizes.

I hope you caught the part about the bat pollination. How many other spirits can claim that?

This is a fun and fascinating experience from start to finish, straddling the line between mezcal and tequila (though, to be honest, it’s got more in common with the former). The nose is lightly to moderately smoky, a bit sweet with honeyed notes, plus some tart lemon peel character. This all gets kicked up quite a bit when you dig into the body, which expands upon all of the above with notes of black pepper, bacon, cilantro, and a citrus note that is closer to lemongrass than lemon peel. This is all filtered through a haze of barbecue smoke, roasted meats, and charred mesquite — a lighter smoky touch than the typical mezcal but enough to spin the experience in a different and surprising direction.

All together, this turns out to be a difficult spirit to put down, a complex and exciting experience that makes you rethink the very nature of what tequila can be. Get some.

100.4 proof. Reviewed: Lot #2.

A / $120 / siembravalles.com

Review: 2013 XYZin Zinfandel Reserve Dry Creek Valley

This is a simple yet sultry zinfandel (produced by the Dry Creek Valley’s Geyser Peak), a slightly brambly expression of blueberry and blackberry notes, with a cassis finish. Some subtle notes of tea leaf and cola add to the charm of this otherwise food-friendly and wildly drinkable wine — perhaps even more so because it has just a touch of age on it?

A- / $30 / xyzinwines.com

Review: Samuel Adams Rebel IPA (2017), Rebel Juiced IPA, Fresh As Helles, and Hopscape

It’s time for a quartet of brews from our friends in Boston, including two new releases (Fresh As Helles and Hopscape), plus a fully reformulated and rebranded Rebel IPA, along with a new spinoff of that line. According to Sam Adams, the new Rebel IPA marks the first time that the brewery has “completely reformulated a popular flagship beer” — which is weird, because the Rebel line is only three years old.

Here’s how the new Rebel IPA tastes, along with the new “Juiced” spinoff, and the company’s two new offerings.

Samuel Adams Rebel IPA (2017) – The new Rebel is a clean IPA (made with seven hop varieties) that starts off with ample notes of pine and some mushroom, then slowly fades out to gentle leather and a squeeze of orange oil on the very back end. A workable IPA that muddies up a bit as it warms, but is on the whole it’s still without a whole lot of character to call its own. 6.5% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Rebel Juiced IPA – A new version of Rebel, made with a “tropical twist of mango and citrusy hops.” Dry and bitter, it does indeed have a tropical bent that comes across mainly like pineapple, with lemon and orange notes following. (Hey, just like the label says!) The finish is quite dry and a bit earthy/woodsy, coming across largely as expected for a simpler IPA. 6.2% abv. B

Samuel Adams Fresh As Helles – Sam Adams’ new Helles style brew is a lager brewed with orange blossoms. It drinks relatively simply, the malt taking on the character of honey-roasted nuts, cut with lightly aromatic citrus notes. The finish is on the muddy/earthy side, though some crisp lemon peel emerges with enough consideration. 5.4% abv. B

Samuel Adams Hopscape – This is a wheat ale that is, unusually, heavily hopped with four types of west coast hops. The interplay between lemony wheat and brisk, piney hops works pretty well here, allowing the beer to drink with the freshness of a wit but also with the bracing bitterness of a milder pale ale. They fight with one another til the very end, where the prove to be oddly apt bedfellows. Definitely worth sampling. 5.5% abv. A-

each about $9 per six-pack / samueladams.com

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