Review: Spirits of Long Road Distillers – Vodka, Gin, Aquavit, Wendy Peppercorn, Cherry, and Wheat Whisky

Long Road Distillers, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has an exhaustive spirits catalog (now spanning 10 products), almost all of which is made from locally-sourced red winter wheat. Want to see how versatile a single grain can be? Here’s a look at five different spirits that Long Road makes from it (plus a cherry brandy made from local fruit).

Long Road Distillers Vodka – Quite pungent on the nose, with notes of mushroom, bean curd, and varnish. On the palate, there’s a vanilla cream and marshmallow sweetness but these can’t overpower the funky, shroominess of the experience — ultimately blurring the line between vodka and white whiskey. 80 proof. C- / $35

Long Road Distillers Gin – Six botanicals are used in the making of this gin, but none save juniper are revealed. And juniper is the primary aromatic and flavor element here, and it actually works well with that earthy, mushroomy base that is revealed in the vodka. Light citrus, both orange and lemon, show up on the palate later in the game, adding a much-needed layer of brightness and adding some acidity. The finish is on the earthy side, but works well enough with what’s come before to merit a cautious recommendation. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Aquavit – Long Road doesn’t disclose its aquavit botanicals, but the nose offers blatant caraway notes, giving it a rye bread character from start to finish. Long Road keeps it simple throughout — there’s no overload of herbs and spices to distract you, just a touch of mint on the finish and some coconut husk character — but if caraway’s not your bag, well, you’ll want to explore other spirits. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Wendy Peppercorn – This is an exotic name for an overproof vodka that’s spiked with pink peppercorns, pepper being a classic Scandinavian garnish. The nose is very fragrant, loaded with fresh pepper aromas along with a gentle fruit character that tempers the spice with sweetness. The palate is initially racy, but the pepper quickly settles down to reveal notes of fresh pine needles, cherry fruit, and a touch of antiseptic astringency. Approachable even though it’s over 50% abv, and fun to drink. Try it ice cold, of course. 101 proof. A- / $35

Long Road Distillers Cherry – This is Long Road’s cherry brandy, a limited release distilled from Michigan cherries. They are sweet and lush on the nose — Maraschino style cherries with a burst of sugar — but the palate takes that cherry and filters it through light notes of savory spices and a touch of roasted grains. The palate is less sweet than the amazingly expressive nose would indicate but it’s gentle enough to sip on and works well as a cocktail ingredient. 80 proof. B / $35 (375ml)

Long Road Distillers Wheat Whisky – Distill that red winter wheat and age it in a #3 charred oak barrel for 6 months and you’ve got Long Road’s wheat whisky. Nothing all that surprising here. This is a typically youthful craft spirit that offers a nose of heavy barrel char, toasty grains, and some butterscotch, all whipped into a slightly scattered experience. The body is loaded with that lumberyard character, then it quickly fades into notes of spent grain, mushroom funk, and more barrel char — though a solid vanilla character, layered with gingerbread, manages to come through clearly on the finish. 93 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B / $40

longroaddistillers.com

Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch A117 (January 2017)

When Rob referred to Elijah Craig’s cult following in 2015, he barely scratched the surface. Elijah Craig’s Barrel Proof releases, all limited-edition expressions of 12 year old, cask strength bourbon, have become collectible phenomena, snapped up on release and resold for well over asking price.

Heaven Hill is doubling down on Elijah Craig and revamping Barrel Proof beginning in 2017. While previous releases have been numbered with a simple and incremental numeric edition code, the company is doubling down on transparency by switching to a more detailed batch number.

Specifically:

To help catalog the various offerings of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, all releases will now have a unique batch number identified on the label — beginning with our most recent. The first letter indicates which of that year’s releases the bottle was a part of starting with “A,” while the second digit is a number that determines the month of the year the bottle was released. The third and fourth digits indicate the year.

So here’s a look at the first release of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, under the new labeling system. Released in January, it’s denoted as Batch A117.

This is rather low proof for Elijah Craig, but there’s ample life here and plenty to love. The deep copper-colored bourbon offers a lively nose of caramel corn, vanilla syrup, and a bit of barrel char. The palate is approachable without water, revealing some clear sweet tea notes, backed up by a bit of cola, orange peel, and faint chocolate notes. The finish is spicy and racy, but not overwhelming, leaving behind a light bitterness alongside lingering notes of cloves and oak. Altogether it’s a straightforward bourbon, but well-aged, balanced, and engaging through and through.

127 proof.

A- / $90 / heavenhill.com

Review: Wines of Australia’s MWC, 2017 Releases

MWC is a budget label from Aussie winemakers McPherson Wines, with four expressions being produced. Don’t be alarmed: All the bottles used are Burgundy-style bottles, regardless of what goes in them.

Let’s take a look at 2017’s releases, all now in the market.

2015 MWC Pinot Gris Victoria – A lovely pink hue kicks off this fruit-filled wine, which offers notes of pineapple and mango and a touch of coconut, all layered over a lemony backbone, with light grapefruit notes. Incredibly fresh and eminently drinkable, it’s a lovely wine as an aperitif that also pairs well with seafood. A- / $15

2014 MWC Shiraz Mourvedre Victoria – 95% shiraz, 5% mourvedre. Blunt and unremarkable, this lightly pruny wine offers loads of blackberry jam and some tea leaf, with a fair amount of syrupy milk chocolate notes. Nuanced it’s not, using ample sweetness to mask a thin body and a short finish. C / $15

2015 MWC Pinot Noir Victoria – More enticing, with a solid acidity level that works well with notes of cherry and blueberry that dominate the palate. The finish treads into some odd areas of baking spice and more of that milk chocolate, but otherwise the experience is robust enough to carry its own. B / $16

2015 MWC Cabernet Sauvignon Victoria – An entry-level cabernet, approachable but not the most nuanced wine in this lineup. Notes of raspberry and currant are on target, but secondary character behind them is fairly lacking. The finish is more acidic than expected, with only modest tannin structure, and with a straightforward, tart but fruit-heavy conclusion. B / $16

mcphersonwines.com.au

Review: Speyburn Bradan Orach

“Bradan Orach” is Gaelic for Golden Salmon, but I am assured that no fish were harmed in the making of this whisky. This is a NAS release from Speyburn, matured exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels. No other production information for this Highland whisky is available.

Grain-forward but not grain-heavy, Bradan Orach offers a nose of heather and classic “amber waves of grain,” just ever so lightly touched with red berries, smoke, and savory bacon fat. The palate is gentle and continues the granary theme, with a woody undertone that grows in prominence as the experience builds on the palate. The body is a fresh, but a bit chewy — the grain-heavy flavor profile makes me want to gnaw on it like a hunk of bread. As the wood-and-grain finish fades, you’ll find some green apple character hiding beneath all the savory notes, and a fade-out that offers a momentary glimpse of sweet vanilla custard.

This is a simple whisky, but it comes with a simple price tag. I prefer the similarly-priced Speyburn 10 Years Old to this release, but if you’re looking for something with a little more grit and a clearer focus on the barley, Bradan Orach is worth a look. Honestly, for 20 bucks, it can’t hurt.

80 proof.

B / $20 / speyburn.com

Tasting the Wines of Crocker & Starr, 2017 Releases

Crocker & Starr is a small outfit in St. Helena, owned by Charlie Crocker (who handles the grapes) and Pam Starr (the winemaker). Together they work the organic vineyard to pull together the best of both the Old World and New World with a goal of showcasing a bit of Napa’s unique terroir.

With a gentle, hands-off winemaking approach, Starr walked a few wine writers through an online tasting of the winery’s current releases. Thoughts on four exceptional wines follow.

2015 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc – Quite brisk and acidic, but balanced with big peach, pineapple and some vanilla notes, the lattermost of which linger on the finish. Citrus peel notes add nuance. Fun stuff, easy to love. A- / $34

2014 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc – Quite a dense wine and a bit of a bruiser; give this one time to open up to showcase its charms, which include coffee and licorice notes atop dusty blackberry bramble, chocolate syrup, and a hint of roasted meats. Incredible depth and length. One to savor as part of a lengthy, lingering meal. A- / $80

2014 Crocker & Starr Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon – The winery’s centerpiece, this is an old vine cab with notes of blueberry and currants, with ample oak up front but layers of lush, fresh fruit lingering on the back end. While still youthful, this is approachable now and highly worthwhile. A / $120

2014 Crocker & Starr “Casali 6” – 92% malbec, 4% cabernet sauvignon, 4% petit verdot. Casali is Italian for “farmhouse.” This is a lush and nicely balanced wine, one which rides the line between sweet and savory with aplomb. The nose is densely spicy, with cloves and some more savory notes, but on the palate it’s blueberry, some cherry, and a bit of strawberry that sets the agenda. The slightly sweet back end is an intriguing counterpart to what’s come before. A- / $80

crockerstarr.com

Review: Monteru French Brandy – Sauternes Finish, Sherry Finish, and Triple Toast

Maison Monteru makes French brandy and “has its roots” in Cognac, but it’s not a Cognac nor an Armagnac. Monteru is actually based in the town of Pons, a quick 15 mile trip to the south from Cognac, where it produces small batch brandies outside of the strict rules of the big names. Double distilled in Charentais copper pot stills and finished in unique cask types, “this innovative and modern spirit range combines both authenticity and tradition while creating a new product category of brown spirits somewhere between the most traditional brandies and single malt whiskies.”

Arriving first in the U.S. is a trio of small batch brandies (all under 3000 bottles in total production, each hand-numbered), each with a different aging regimen — though all are four years old in total, distilled in 2012 and bottled in 2016. For all three of these brandies, the vast majority of the aging actually takes place in the “finishing” barrel.

Coming soon after will be a series of brandies based on single varietals of grapes. We look forward to bringing you our report on these in the near future. Until then, thoughts on three of Monteru’s inaugural releases hitting our shores follow.

Maison Monteru French Brandy Rare Cask Sauternes Finish – Aged briefly in refill French oak, then finished in Sauternes wine casks. Results are impressive for what must be a relatively young brandy. The nose offers light aromatics in the floral space, with elements of nuts and honey. On the palate, you’ll find some slightly rustic/alcohol-heavy notes, which lead to notes of candied walnuts, golden raisins, more honey, and sugar cookies. Incredibly drinkable yet relatively simple and light on its feet, it’s an everyday brandy that has enough of a spin to it to merit a solid recommendation. 81.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #002. 1926 bottles released in the U.S. B+

Maison Monteru French Brandy Rare Cask Sherry Oak Finish – This expression, also aged for a few months in refill French oak, is transferred to sherry casks to finish the maturation process. It drinks a lot more like a traditional Cognac, perhaps because sherry has a closer flavor profile to brandy than Sauternes. The nose is again a bit nutty, though here tinged with distinct orange peel notes, so much so that you can see a strong kinship with single malt Scotch. On the palate, the sweeter, dried fruit notes of the brandy mingle with that citrus-driven sherry character to really pump up the fruit, with a finish that offers light baking spice notes and hints of caramel, banana, and sweet cream. As much as love Sauternes anything, everything gels just a bit better in this expression, making it a real, yet modest, treasure. 83.4 proof. Reviewed: Batch #001. 1998 bottles released in the U.S. A-

Maison Monteru French Brandy Triple Toast – Again, a few months in refill French oak lead to a finishing barrel, this one a “triple toast, heavily charred American oak barrel,” which is, I think, a fancy way of saying “old bourbon barrels.” The most whiskeylike of the bunch — understandably — this brandy offers clearer lumberyard and charcoal aromas mingled with sweet wine notes — almost Port-like — alongside some floral elements. The palate settles down on the barrel char notes and lets the burnt sugar and stone fruit character shine through, at least for a time. By the time the finish arrives, the oily viscosity returns and offers a wood-heavy reprise, some menthol notes, and a bit of coconut husk scratchiness. All told it’s a significantly more dense brandy than the two expressions above, charming in its own way but not quite as unique and compelling. 85.4 proof. Reviewed: Batch #003. 1572 bottles released in the U.S. B

each $58 / maisonmonteru.com

A Duet of Spanish Wines Reviewed: 2015 Beronia Rueda and 2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero

No particular theme here, just two wines from along the route of Spain’s Duero River, including a white from Rueda and a red from Ribera del Duero. Thoughts follow.

2015 Beronia Rueda Verdejo – This verdejo is grassy and acidic, drinking a lot like a western sauvignon blanc, with crisp lemon notes up front, followed by honeysuckle and some spice to give it a little spin to one side. A versatile wine, it has a slightly bigger body that hints at marshmallow syrup, but only as an afterthought. B+ / $15

2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero Crianza – Not my favorite wine. A very young nose offers notes of overripe fruit and blunt milk chocolate, while the palate is blown out with bitter herbs, orange peel, and a muddy, almost dirty, finish. Skip. D+ / $14

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