Review: Woodchuck Gumption Citrus Freak Hard Cider

Gumption Citrus Freak is a spin-off of Woodchuck’s standard, circus-themed Gumption cider, which here blends apples with grapefruit and Cascade hops to create a unique and surprisingly refreshing combination.

The grapefruit is an impressive pairing with the crisp apple notes — this is a semi-sweet cider, a real crowd pleaser when it comes to sweetness — but it’s the addition of hops on the back end that turn this into something different and unique. The bitterness is subtle, earthy, and intriguing, clearly hoppy but not bracing in the way, say, an IPA might be. This cleanses the sweetness from the palate without washing it away entirely — letting the slight sourness of the grapefruit linger. Well done, despite the crazed monkey on the label.

5.5% abv.

A- / $9 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Single Barrel Bourbon 11 Years Old (2017)

For the latest installment in the always engaging Parker’s Heritage Collection (which now spans 11 releases), Heaven Hill is making a return to the basics. For 2017, the special release whiskey is an 11 year old single barrel bourbon, aged in the late Parker Beam’s favorite rickhouse location in Deatsville, Kentucky. The bourbon is non-chill filtered, of course, and bottled at a whopping 61% abv.

As has become tradition with these releases, a portion of proceeds ($10 per bottle) go to ALS research, the disease from which Beam passed away earlier this year.

This is a classic cask strength bourbon expression, blazing hot at full proof with a spice-heavy nose that hints at butterscotch and gingerbread atop its vanilla-caramel core. Even though I commonly deal with overproof spirits, this one is barely manageable at full strength, alcohol overwhelming everything. At full proof you do get hits of dark caramel which subtly takes on a dark chocolate tone, albeit it’s one dosed with plenty of fire.

Water and plenty of it is your friend here, as it coaxes out all manner of flavors and aromas, ranging from apple and Bit-O-Honey on the nose to white pepper, rhubarb, and more of a salted caramel note on the tongue. The finish is long and sultry, with enduring notes of baking spice and a lasting taste of Nutella, everything coming together quite beautifully.

All told, this is a knockout bourbon that’s clearly been selected from the very best barrels that Heaven Hill has to offer. This may not have the exotic provenance of, say, the Golden Anniversary bottling, but it’s a bourbon that absolutely shines. Nothing wrong with that!

122 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #5027255, OED 4/10/2006.

A / $130 / heavenhill.com

Recipe: Brown Butter Old Fashioned

Want to experience one of the best Old Fashioneds you’ve ever had? Check out this recipe from DTB (Down the Bayou) in New Orleans.

Brown Butter Old Fashioned
courtesy DTB cocktail director Lu Brow
2 oz brown butter washed bourbon (see below)
¼ oz brown sugar syrup
4 drops Angostura Bitters
Luxardo cherry
swath of orange peel
Garnish: Roll a second Luxardo cherry inside a second orange peel swath like a rose

In a rocks glass muddle orange peel, Luxardo cherry, Angostura bitters, and brown sugar syrup. Add bourbon and place large ice cube in glass. Garnish with orange peel & cherry rose.

To make brown butter washed bourbon:
1 bottle Benchmark Bourbon
½ cup brown butter

Slowly brown unsalted butter in a sauce pan until well toasted. Aroma should be nutty. Allow brown butter to cool before using. Pour bottle of Benchmark bourbon into plastic container. Gently stir in one half cup of brown butter into bourbon; stir well. Leave uncovered until mixture is completely cool and butter has become firm and risen to the top of the container. Cover with lid, label and date.

Review: Virgil Kaine Robber Baron Rye Whiskey

Virgil Kaine, based in North Charleston, SC, is known for its ginger-infused bourbon — and now it’s stretching its brand to reach into straight spirits. First up is Virgil Kaine Robber Baron, a rye. It’s actually a blend of two whiskeys: 4% is bourbon and 96% is rye. Digging deeper, the bourbon is from a mash of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. The rye is from a mash of 94% rye and 6% malted barley. There’s no age statement and no information on the sourcing of the whiskeys, but some finishing with port and sherry barrel staves is involved before bottling.

On the nose, lots of spice — heavy menthol and cloves — plus notes of green banana and flowery perfume. A wood influence lingers underneath, but it’s so heavily perfumed and spiced, it’s surprisingly hard to access aromatically.

On the palate, the barrel has a significantly more powerful influence, punchy lumberyard notes that mingle with hints of ginger, more banana, orange peel, and plenty more of that clove-heavy baking spice. The finish is a bit rough, dense with pencil shavings and tons of clove, gripping at the back of the throat.

This is a young whiskey but one that’s incredibly expressive — perhaps overly so, its spicy character in need of a bit of tempering. Still, as it stands today it isn’t something I’d turn my nose up at, even in what feels a bit like an unfinished condition.

91 proof.

B / $36 / virgilkaine.com

Review: Firestone Walker Adversus

Firestone Walker’s latest release in its “Leo v. Ursus Chronology” is Adversus, a big, unfiltered IPA made with lighter European-style pilsner malt.

The malt surprisingly comes through right away despite the fact that Firestone was “hopping the bejesus out of this beer.” On the front of the palate that caramel sweetness hits first, lingering with notes of orange blossoms until, after a few seconds, the hops kick in. The piney bitterness doesn’t dominate though; it fades in short order as notes of flamed orange peel and gingerbread come back into focus.

8.2% abv.

B+ / $13 per four-pack of 16 oz. cans / firestonebeer.com

Review: Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey Sauternes Finish

In case you missed our earlier review, Texas’s Swift Single Malt Whiskey is a gem in a world of lackluster single malts made in the U.S. Now the distillery is out with a new expression: single malt finished in Sauternes casks instead of the Oloroso sherry casks used for the mainline release.

The distillery gives us a little more info to run with:

We start with a 2-row barley that is grown and malted in Scotland, mostly the Speyside region. This is the same barley as our original single malt (Oloroso Finish).

We double distill on our copper pot stills.  We now have two stripping stills, our original one and a new one we had made to our specifications after spending time in Japan.  The Japanese whisky makers alter the shapes of their stills to extract more flavor, so we decided to do the same.  I believe the new shaped still gives more of a floral note than our original still does.

After the double distillation, we begin the aging process in Four Roses Bourbon Barrels. Here the whiskey remains for 1.5 years (or so), then all of the whiskey is transferred to a Sauternes cask, which comes from Chateau d’Arch in Bordeaux, France.  We traveled to Sauternes a few years ago and picked out the barrels to best match our flavor profile.  We wanted a Sauternes wine that would have balanced citrus notes and mild sweetness.

The whiskey ages 1 year in the Sauternes cask before it is bottled. Overall the Sauternes Finish is 2.5 years old.

The standard (Oloroso) bottling of Swift is well-crafted, but quite young, with a distinctly woody edge to the nose and the palate. That’s all but gone in the Sauternes Finish, the wood replaced by a surfeit of fruit — green apple (a big surprise), quince, watermelon, and some floral notes of honeysuckle and orange blossoms, which take the whiskey in yet another direction. The palate is quite sweet, almost so much so that it can initially come across with a rum note. Those Sauternes barrels have had quite an impact here, although finally the grainy underbelly starts to shine through, alongside notes of golden raisins, eastern spices, and, to a lesser degree, barrel-driven notes that seem closer to cedar than oak. On the finish — there’s the barest hint of dark brown sugar and milk chocolate, with a sprinkling of graham cracker crumbs on top. Very dessert-like.

This is a whisky that I like a lot, but here the Sauternes finish does seem to some extent to be covering up something rather than enhancing it. In this case, there’s plenty of young spirit that needs to be carefully massaged. As with the standard bottling, another year or so in the barrel would likely do wonders to help temper the beast inside. For now, though, we’ve got a unique offering that shows that some of the best single malt coming out of America can be found, in all places, in Texas.

88 proof.

B+ / $57 / swiftdistillery.com

Book Review: Cork Dork

Bianca Bosker used to be a technology reporter (hey, like me!) for the Huffington Post. Now she’s gone loopy for vino.

In her book Cork Dork, Bosker waxes poetic about the year she spent evolving from total wine novice to seasoned pro, primarily through learning how to taste en route to taking the Certified Sommelier Exam. As I’m sure Bosker would agree: Drinking wine is easy. Tasting is hard. And by that we’re talking about picking out sensory elements that allow writers like myself to come up with that flowery, descriptive prose that captures the very essence of what makes a wine, or any other beverage, what it is.

It’s a fun book. Bosker weaves seamlessly from raw wine education — relaying what she’s learned in a fun and breezy way — with inside scoop from the restaurant and sommelier world. (In a nutshell: It’s full of gross drunks.) Hers is the first book that gets to the awkwardness one in our business faces at medical appointments, when you are faced with questions about whether you drink alcohol and how much.

There’s a lot of science in the book, all in the service of how Bosker trained her senses, and how those senses actually work — and how you can train yours, as well. She writes about wine manipulation and additives, a subject dear to my heart, and digs at how an expensive price tag on a wine tricks you into thinking it tastes better than it does (and vice versa).

But the most memorable parts of the book have nothing to do with any of that. Rather, they focus on the personal dramas surrounding the somm world, the drunks and the hypocrites and the blowhards who populate the scenery of this unique and bizarre world. I know a lot of great and genuine people in the wine biz, and I know a lot of the creeps, too. Bosker’s book is a fascinating time spent with both of them, but after gobbling up her stories, I can’t help but feel a bit dirty, like I need a palate cleanser.

A- / $10 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

-->