Review: Tequila Corralejo 1821 Extra Anejo

Tequila Corralejo‘s latest release, an extra anejo, has arrived.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Tequila Corralejo has released 1,000 cases of 1821 Extra Añejo (1821) in the U.S. The limited-edition expression, imported by Infinium Spirits, is the latest offering from the award-winning line of premium tequila expressions.

1821 represents Mexico’s rich history and hard-fought sovereignty led by Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a noble priest born at Hacienda Corralejo. He’s renowned for launching the Mexican War of Independence in 1810 in revolt against the injustices of a tyrannical Spanish government against Mexico’s poor. Although Spanish rule was officially abolished on August 24, 1821, Hidalgo is memorialized as the Father of his Country and Mexican independence.

As with all of the brand’s expressions (silver, reposado, añejo),1821 was produced with only the finest 100% Blue Weber Agave tequila at Hacienda Corralejo in Guanajuato, Mexico. Corralejo employs the 400-year-old Charentais method of distillation, the same method perfected by the French in distilling cognac, which is what sets Corralejo apart from other tequilas. The agave is slow cooked in stone clay ovens for 27 hours, then rested for 12 hours before going to the mill to be double distilled in copper pot stills. A fine selection of small American oak barrels provides roasted hints that add to the tequila’s excellent flavor. 1821 was aged for 36 months to yield a tequila with impeccably smooth flavor.

The TL;DR of that is that this is aged for three years, and the results are impressive, if somewhat unexpected. For starters, the nose is much more agave-forward than the typical extra anejo, delicately herbal with secondary notes of white flowers, creme brulee, and lemon peel. On the palate, the tequila is similarly herbal and citrusy — not at all dominated by barrel-driven vanilla and caramel notes the way most extra anejos are. Instead, the experience is quiet and restrained, a study in the interplay between agave and fruit, primarily lemon, culminating in a finish that is at once engaging, summery, and unique.

80 proof.

A- / $130 / tequilacorralejo.mx

Review: J Vineyards Cuvee 20 and 2016 Pinot Gris

Two new releases from Sonoma’s J Vineyards (now part of Gallo) have arrived — a sparkler and its always crowd-pleasing pinot gris. Let’s dive in.

NV J Vineyards Cuvee 20 Brut Russian River Valley – This dry sparkler is nonetheless quite fruit forward, with tons of apple and pear notes leading the way to a palate that dazzles with creme brulee, sharp lime notes, and a chewy, brioche-infused body. Bold and acidic on the finish, with just the right amount of fizzy pop. A / $38

2016 J Vineyards Pinot Gris California – A creamy ‘gris, this wine blends lemon notes with custardy flan, some cinnamon, and hints of white flowers. The semi-sweet attack leads to a relatively dry finish, with some steely acidity lingering on the palate. B+ / $20

jwine.com

Review: Merlet Cognac XO and Soeurs Cerises Cherry Brandy Liqueur

Two new releases from Merlet, which makes both cognac and a selection of liqueurs. Today we look at the new XO cognac release, and a brandy-based liqueur infused with cherries. Let’s dive in!

Merlet Cognac XO – This XO is a multi-cru blend with components at least six years old (and likely much more). A bit thin on the nose, without the massive depth of flavor one expects from an XO cognac. What is there is studded with chocolate, some cola, and a modest hit of dried fruit. The palate is equally delicate, almost floral with backing notes of cocoa powder, vanilla cookies, and spice, layered atop that gentle, lightly raisiny core. It’s altogether one of the quietest XO cognacs I’ve encountered, and while that’s not a put-down, it is missing the bold body that I’d normally like to see from this style. 80 proof. B / $125

Merlet Soeurs Cerises Cherry Brandy Liqueur – This spirit is a liqueur made from multiple types of cherries (primarily Morello) macerated in neutral alcohol, then blended with “a touch” of Merlet’s cognac. Beautiful black cherry — almost blueberry at times — fills the aroma of this heavily fragrant and fruity concoction, which is ultra-sweet to the point of pushiness on the palate. There’s no real sense of the cognac here — perhaps a little vanilla and a touch of raisin if you go searching for it — but that’s no big loss. The cherries are the star of the show, showcased here with a touch of violets on the back end, so keep a bottle on hand for when a Singapore Sling or a Blood and Sand is in order. 48 proof. B+ / $25

distillerie-merlet.com

Review: Drake’s Aroma Coma IPA and Aroma Therapy Triple IPA

Two new IPAs from Drake’s Brewing Co., located just around the corner in San Leandro, California — both monster IPAs worth a look.

Drake’s Aroma Coma IPA – Atypical of IPA, with immediate coffee and gentian notes up front in the palate. It builds on that with dark caramel notes and an intense note of salted licorice that really attacks the palate on the finish. The typical citrus of IPA is missing here, replaced with a heavy earthiness and occasionally vegetal note that does not feel entirely IPA-like, but which, at least, changes the conversation around the beer style. 8% abv. B / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

Drake’s Aroma Therapy Triple IPA – An aggressive and equally unusual brew, this IPA includes rye and orange blossom honey and is massively dry-hopped with Citra, Nelson Sauvin, Motueka, and Idaho #7 varieties. Heavy with citrus notes and surprisingly sweet with honey, the intense bitterness is almost a requirement to make Aroma Therapy manageable. Perhaps, though, I have that backwards: Maybe it’s the sweetness that’s needed to balance out all the hops. Either way, the beer is a bruiser that offers notes of pungent gentian, roasted carrots, amaro-like licorice, and plenty of citrus peel to keep things dancing on the palate. Complex and worth exploring, it evolves considerably in the glass as it warms up. 11.3% abv. A- / $NA per 22 oz. bottle

drinkdrakes.com

Review: Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Barrel Size Experiment

 

.36 describes a bullet caliber used Colt “Ranger” pistol — and it’s also the designation used by San Antonio-based Ranger Creek Distillery for its bourbon — “with over two pounds of Texas corn in each bottle.”

With this release, Ranger Creek takes the same new make spirit and ages it two ways. One has been aged in a large barrel (25 to 53 gallons) for at least two years, the other has been aged in a small barrel (usually 5 gallons, but up to 10 gallons) for 11 months. The idea: Put them side by side and see which you prefer.

And so we did:

Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Barrel Experiment “Big Barrel” – (This isn’t really an experiment, this is Ranger Creek’s standard .36 bourbon, but it serves as the control.) This is a rustic, but overall quite enjoyable, little craft whiskey. The nose is woody to be sure, but balanced with notes of black pepper, dark chocolate, charcoal, and tobacco. The palate is more engaging than expected, its hefty wood backbone complemented by notes of cloves, gunpowder, and cigar smoke. The finish is dense, continuing on the frontier theme, but nothing that seems unusual for a Texas-born bourbon. 96 proof. B / $55

Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Small Caliber Series Batch #48 Barrel Experiment “Small Barrel” – This one’s the experiment, aged in a small barrel for less than a year, as noted. Normally small barrels will dominate a whiskey with wood notes, but I was downright shocked to see that wasn’t the case here. Compared the big barrel, this Small Caliber release is elegant and demure. The nose is a bit hot and moderately woody, with some of that pepper and tobacco, though nothing sweeter immediately evident. On the palate, the story’s a bit different. The wood takes a step back and lets a savory but engaging character to emerge, with notes of coconut, mushroom, banana bread, and some dried plums. The finish is silky, just barely touched with ruddy, winey sweetness, and hinting at fruit. Hands down, this is my favorite in the duo. 96 proof. Reviewed: Season – Spring ’16, aged 11 months. A- / $38 (375ml)

drinkrangercreek.com

Review: Wines of Maiden + Liberty, 2017 Releases

Maiden + Liberty can be found on Long Island, New York, where it makes “French-American” blends — inspired by the owners’ heritage (He’s from New York, she’s from France, coming this fall!). “What would a wine that combines American dynamism with French elegance taste like?” ask the winemakers? What does that mean? Well, Maiden + Liberty makes wines blended from French and American grapes, as well as some bottlings of U.S.-only grown varietals and some strictly imported from France. We’ll lay out what’s what in the detailed reviews below, but meanwhile, let’s find out what a wine that combines American dynamism with French elegance tastes like.

NV Maiden + Liberty French-American White Blend Batch 001 – A blend of Chardonnay and Viognier from the U.S. plus Macabeu and Vermentino from France. Results: Not at all bad. A slightly creamy wine, it has an herbal, somewhat vegetal body that is complemented by notes of brown butter, canned peaches, and baking spice. Fresh and approachable, but versatile enough to pair with food or sip solo. B+ / $20

2016 Maiden + Liberty Chardonnay North Fork of Long Island Batch 002 – A more French style of Chardonnay than we’re used to seeing on our shores, the oak dialed back, with more citrus and green apple notes coming to the fore. The finish sees a modest vanilla character, but it’s not off-putting or overly oaky; rather it gives the wine a light baking spice character that complements the fruit nicely. B+ / $15

2016 Maiden + Liberty French Rose Languedoc Batch 001 – This is a straight French import from the Languedoc, which is curious, but unfortunately a little flat: The wine is rather doughy, with yeasty overtones. This dulls the fruit, flattens the wine, and doesn’t leave much of an impression on the finish. C / $15

NV Maiden + Liberty French-American Red Blend Batch 001 – A gooey mix of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah and Grenache, this concoction doesn’t really come together, coming off as overly sweet, with a bizarre mix of cinnamon and blueberry notes taking center stage. The finish is heavy with vanilla and milk chocolate and a hint of licorice candy, none of which overwhelmingly appeals. C+ / $22

maidenandliberty.com

Review: Highland Park Magnus

Following on the release of Valkyrie, Highland Park continues to shake up its lineup with the release of Magnus, a NAS whisky that now serves as the unofficial entry-level expression of Highland Park. Unlike Valkyrie, Magnus is not replacing anything in the roster (though plenty of stuff, including Highland Park 15, Highland Park 21, and Dark Origins, has already been discontinued).

So what’s Magnus? Some back story:

Founding the northernmost Scotch whisky distillery in the world takes a very distinct sort of spirit. And we captured that spirit to make our own. Highland Park, The Orkney Single Malt with Viking Soul is proud to announce the newest addition to its core range: MAGNUS.

Exclusive to the US and Canada, this expression celebrates the distillery’s founder Magnus Eunson, a butcher and church officer by day, and bootlegger by night. Brave, irreverent and enterprising, Magnus was a direct descendant of the Vikings who settled on Orkney hundreds of years ago. His legacy of attention to detail and passion for whisky making remains today and little has changed in the way Highland Park is crafted in over 220 years.

Jason Craig, Highland Park Brand Director, said, “We are very proud to be launching MAGNUS exclusively in North America and we look forward to receiving reviews of the whisky from consumers who are already fans of our distillery as well as welcoming new drinkers to our tribe with this bold new bottling.”

“Magnus Eunson set up his illicit still at a small cottage at High Park, overlooking Kirkwall and it remains the site of our home today. We say that our distillery was founded in 1798 – but in truth, that’s just the year that the authorities finally caught up with Magnus – he was certainly making whisky before that!”

The label design in striking gun metal foil on the bottle represents M for MAGNUS. It has been created in the decorative Viking art style called Urnes, which complements the recently redesigned 12 and 18 Year Old packaging, just released in North America. The design harks back to Viking storytelling and features the legend of a lion locked in battle with the forces of evil in the form of serpent-like dragons.

The top of the bottle also features the heads of two serpent-like dragons as well as the brand’s signature ‘The Orkney Single Malt with Viking Soul.’  Established 1798 is also featured which references the date when Highland Park single malt Scotch whisky was established.

Gordon Motion, Master Whisky Maker, commented: “I wanted to create a whisky which had the lightly-peated characteristics familiar to the Highland Park family but with a sweeter and more profound vanilla flavor profile. The result is a whisky crafted using a high proportion of Sherry seasoned American oak casks along with refill casks which give MAGNUS its citrus, vanilla and lightly smoky taste.”

Now let’s give it a try.

This is one of the lightest whiskies I’ve ever encountered from Highland Park, and while that isn’t necessarily a slam, those looking for HP’s characteristic brooding depth of flavor will not find it here. The nose finds some of that trademark maltiness, an earthy note that conceals aromas of nutty sherry, dusky spice, musk, and furniture polish. Sounds intense, but the palate is something else: Light on its feet, almost floral at times, with sweeter notes of breakfast cereal, brown butter, graham crackers, and just a touch of smoke. The peat is extremely mild here, but there’s a green, slightly vegetal note on the finish that isn’t entirely what I was after.

As an introduction to the basic style of Highland Park, Magnus isn’t a bad place to start. The price is certainly right. The only issue: Magnus really doesn’t add anything new to the HP story; it just feels… a bit too familiar.

80 proof.

B / $40 / highlandparkwhisky.com

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