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.
B / $50 / tomintoulwhisky.com
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
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
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.
B+ / $5 per bottle / unibroue.com
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.
A- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / stonebrewing.com
We’ve been fans of Mendocino’s Lula Cellars since discovering their pinots and zin last year. Now the winery is out with two new single-vineyard pinot noirs from the 2014 vintage. Thoughts follow.
2014 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Costa Vineyard Mendocino – Like the 2013 bottling, this single vineyard pinot is a knockout, pretty and restrained on the nose, but bold with notes of cherry, tea leaf, baking spice, and some currants on the body. Lingering notes of gunpowder and graphite hit as the finish evolves, while sweeter blueberry emerges on the finish, if you give the wine some time. Another standout. A / $45
2014 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Docker Hill Vineyard Mendocino – This is a softer expression of pinot from Lula, more fruit forward, but with fewer secondary notes of interest — sweeter than you might think, with light marshmallow notes and a lacing of strawberry jam. As the finish emerges it offers some cola notes, a clearer cherry character, and some brambly blueberry hints. It’s less complex and less elegant than the Costa, but still a highly worthwhile wine on the whole. B+ / $50
West Cork, still a new distilling operation in Ireland, is already out with two limited releases, both of which we were excited to put to the test. These whiskeys mark the rollout of new labels for West Cork, as well, so don’t get too confused…
West Cork Irish Whiskey Black Reserve – Indeed, quite dark in color. This is a blend of grain and malt whiskey, finished in “double charred first fill bourbon casks” for six months. This is a burly Irish, with a slightly sweet but woodsy, nutty, and floral nose. The body takes things elsewhere, with lots of barrel char and coal dust right at the start, giving the whiskey a coarse and throat-scratching character. This whisks away the bulk of the sweetness, mopping it up with burnt wood and match heads, and leaving on the back of the throat a very dry character reminiscent of licorice and the essence of a burning leaf pile. A curiosity, and a study in what happens when delicate Irish whiskey gets punched around by the barrel. 86 proof. B- / $37
West Cork Irish Whiskey Barrel Proof – Here, two whiskeys — a grain whiskey and a malt whiskey — are aged, blended (2:1 grain to malt), and further married in bourbon barrels. It is bottled at cask strength. This is, again, a bit of a rough and tumble whiskey. The nose is scorching — dark brown/almost blackened sugar notes with a vegetal backbone. On the palate, notes of liquid coal, wood embers, mushroom, and tar all come together in, much like the Black Reserve, a very non-Irish fashion. What lingers on the finish is molasses, some hints of blackberry jam, black tea, pepper, and a quickly vanishing essence of dried flowers. Weird stuff. 124 proof. B / $57