Review: Crispin Hard Cider – Original, Pacific Pear, and Bourbon Char

New stuff from the cider mavens at Crispin, including a new limited release called Bourbon Char, and two of the company’s primary offerings, which are now available in standard six packs. We looked at all three. Thoughts follow.

Crispin Original Hard Cider – A fresh, apple-loaded classic, semisweet and fruity, but restrained with notes of crisp green apple, some cloves, and hints of savory herbs, including rosemary. The finish showcases a squeeze of lemon. A simple cider on the whole, but one that acquits itself without complaint. 5% abv. B+ / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Pacific Pear Hard Cider – Less distinctly fruit focused, and considerably drier than the apple-based original, this cider is more grounded with subtle, earthy notes and a moderate banana character that, once you taste it, it’s all you can taste going forward. 4.5% abv. B- / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Bourbon Char Cask-Aged Hard Cider – This is a special edition apple cider aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished with smoked maple syrup. There’s a ton going on here, starting with notes of tart baked apples as expected. From there things quickly spiral into new territory, with notes of heavily charred oak, molasses, and vanilla-infused baked goods. The finish is slightly winey, with some balsamic notes. All told, the flavors here are remarkable and unique, but they don’t quite balance out the way I would have hoped. Apples and bourbon sound like a great combination, but this one doesn’t completely gel. 6.9% abv. B / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

crispincider.com

Review: Four Pillars Rare Dry and Navy Strength Gin

Four Pillars is a new distillery based near Melbourne, Australia. Inspired by American craft distilling, the company is focused exclusively on gin — with at least eight expressions under its belt in just three years — and its products are now coming to the U.S. (The four pillars in question are largely symbolic (the fourth pillar is love).)

Today we’re looking at two of the primary releases from the company (the others don’t appear to be available on our shores yet), Rare Dry (the flagship) and a Navy Strength expression.

Thoughts follow.

Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin – Four Pillars’ first gin, this is a modern style featuring juniper and oranges, plus indigenous Australian botanicals including lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepperberry leaf. The nose is very heavy on juicy citrus — which may be off-putting to some — with evergreen notes and some grassy (lemongrass?) character underneath that. The palate is a different animal, heavily herbal with notes of sage, plus some light mushroom, rose petal, and just a hint of black pepper on the finish. Versatile but different enough to merit exploration. 83.6 proof. B+ / $38

Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin – This isn’t a mere upgrade of Rare Dry, it’s a different formulation, with much of the orange removed and Australian finger limes added, along with fresh ginger and turmeric, a quite unusual botanical for gin. It has surprisingly little in common with Rare Dry, with a nose that’s much heavier on juniper, with a healthy undercoating of lime peel. Heavily perfumed, it takes some time to really delve into the palate, which offers a little sweetness, backed up by a substantial lime character — think limeade. There’s a spiciness on the finish that I credit to the ginger, though it lacks the sinus-clearing character that’s traditional with freshly ground ginger root. Ultimately it’s nice and cleansing, though; try it in a gimlet or a long drink. 117.6 proof. A- / $48

fourpillarsgin.com.au

Review: Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear Vodka

Sorry, Bosc! The latest Skyy vodka flavor is designed to taste like Bartlett pears — Bartletts only!

What does one do with pear vodka? Well, try it in anything where you’d otherwise use apple, for starters. Or check out the cocktails at the end of the post for additional ideas.

Pear-flavored spirits always come across a bit funky to me, and Skyy Pear is no exception. Though lightly sweet with honey and vague pear notes, the nose is a touch medicinal and slightly rubbery. This fades with some time, so consider letting your cocktails air out a bit by pre-mixing without ice before finishing them in the glass.

On the palate, the honey-syrup sweetness endures, the body quite heavy with pear notes, and considerably less tart than an apple vodka would present, with a bit of a caramel character afterimage. There’s still a little hospital funk on the finish — though not as much as the nose might suggest — as here it comes across closer to a character of perfume or white flowers. All told it’s a unique set of flavors — and a set that is distinctly pear-focused.

Overall the finished product is not bad at all, though as you may have already guessed, the versatility of this spirit is likely to be somewhat limited.

70 proof.

B / $15 / skyy.com

A selection of cocktails using Skyy Pear, from Otis Florence…

The Bartlett Bee
2 oz Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear
.75 oz honey & water 1:1
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Build ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a fresh Bartlett pear fan.

Tall Order
2 oz Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear
.75 oz simple syrup
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
fill with hard dry apple cider

Build ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a Collins glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a fresh Bartlett pear slice.

Review: Lost Spirits Distillery Navy Style Rum (2017)

Lost Spirits (which I’ve written about extensively) never seems to rest, and the company’s scientific obsession with the science of accelerating aging is second to none. Case in point: Head honcho Bryan Davis is the only distiller I know that has given a TED Talk. In shorts, no less.

While Lost Spirits is hard at work on whiskey, the operation got its real start producing rum, the idea being to imitate dark, old, navy rums that you don’t much find any more in this age of super-sweet (though admittedly delightful) sipping rums. The catch, of course, is that it only takes Lost Spirits about a week to power through the aging process, courtesy of its unique and cutting-edge technology.

We reviewed one of the first Navy Style rums to come out of Lost Spirits back in 2014, and now Davis is back with a revamp. The labels look almost the same (though proof has dropped from 68% abv to 61% abv). This bottling is distilled from Grade A molasses on Lost Spirits own copper still, then “aged” via the Lost Spirits reactor in new American oak. (The 2014 bottling used sherry cask staves; this is a change from that.)

Davis says this rum is a closer approximation of his original target — a recreation of 1975 Port Mourant Demerara Rum — and says that longtime followers will find it a close kin to the 2014 Colonial American Rum bottling.

I sampled the new Navy Style vs. both the 2014 Navy Style and the 2014 Colonial bottling to see how things have progressed.

The 2017 Navy Style Rum release offers that classic dark rum nose of tobacco, licorice, and burnt (burnt black) sugar — think burnt marshmallows over the campfire — but also vanilla, ripe banana, and bubble gum, all bubbling up under the surface. There’s less wood influence here than I expected, the palate offering notes of burnt matches, dark chocolate, and very ripe (perhaps overripe) fruit notes — a full-on salad of plum, banana, raspberry, with a lingering finish of gentle vegetation and mushroom, plus cloves and another kiss of dark chocolate.

It compares favorably to the original Navy Style rum, but it doesn’t have quite the powerfully fruity punch (with those raisins and figs) of the Colonial bottling. Davis is clearly working to find a balance between the two, and he’s done a remarkable job of threading the needle, giving the 2014 Navy Style some much-needed elegance, while dialing down the fruit overload of Colonial a bit. Is this a doppelganger for Port Mourant? I’ll never know, but if you breathe deeply while you smell the rum, you can hear a sea shanty being crudely sung, off in the distance.

122 proof.

A / $43 / lostspirits.net

Book Review: The Bar Cart Bible

Enduring Mad Men symbology and ’50s/’60s nostalgia are bringing back yet another nifty idea from yesteryear: The rolling bar cart that lets you turn cocktail hour into a moveable feast.

The Bar Cart Bible (no author listed, oddly), is designed with simple cocktails in mind. The 350 drinks included can all be made on the go, so you won’t need to smoke any ice or make any lavender tinctures to mix up these cocktails. If you can stock some simple syrup and sour mix and fill an ice bucket, everything else can generally come out of a bottle or a can. (How fancy you want to get with the occasional call for orange juice is up to you… I will note that at least one of the cocktails calls for Tang!)

These are simple drinks designed for small spaces and the most basic of cocktail hours, and when more complex drinks are included (like the Mai Tai), they’re simplified considerably. Most of the drinks have just 3 or 4 ingredients.

As for what you’ll actually be drinking, unfortunately The Bar Cart doesn’t seem to be the most well-curated list of drinks — particularly considering the rather sophisticated surroundings of a bar cart. Will your guests be jonesing for a Comfortable Fuzzy Screw, a Mind Eraser, or a Psycho Tsunami (made with blue curacao, natch)? If so, they won’t be drinking it anywhere near a bar cart, and they aren’t invited to my house.

C / $15 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: 2014 1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel

Our third bourbon-barrel aged wine comes from Fetzer, which recently launched a new label: 1000 Stories. Unlike previous bottlings from Mondavi and Apothic, this is a straight zinfandel instead of a cabernet sauvignon or a blend (respectively). Need deets? Says Fetzer: The wine (sourced from Mendocino) is “aged in a combination of new bourbon barrels from Independent Stave Company, and old bourbon barrels from famed distilleries such as Heaven Hill and Four Roses.”

A didn’t have high hopes considering how rocky a start this category has gotten off to, but this is  a wine that comes off quite a bit better than expected. It’s extremely sweet from the get-go, but this is tempered by some big berry notes — blackberry and blueberry, plus ample milk chocolate, vanilla, and some tea leaf. Mild hints of coffee arrive on the finish, adding a layer of complexity I didn’t expect to find. That said, allow me to reiterate that this wine is a true sugar bomb, all jam and juicy raisins overwhelming a finish that may very well come across as simply too much. Those looking for nuance will need to apply elsewhere… but those looking for a well-made curiosity may get something out of it.

I’m not saying whiskey barrel-finished wines are going to be a great thing, or even a good thing… but if you are going to give one a try, 1000 Stories, for now, is the bottle to grab.

B / $15 / 1000storieswines.com

Review: 6 Whiskeys From Mosswood Distillers

Berkeley, California-based Mosswood isn’t the first company to source whiskey and finish it before releasing, but it might be the most interesting one operating today.

All of the whiskeys reviewed here are finished, some in relatively traditional barrel types, some in extremely unusual ones. Note that with the exception of the Irish whiskey, all the other releases start with well-aged light whiskey, a seldom-seen style which is distilled to higher proof and sort of blurs the line between white whiskey and vodka when it comes off the still.

The first four whiskeys reviewed below are part of Mosswood’s standard lineup; the final two are members of the “rotating barrel” series, limited release whiskeys (both are single barrel bottlings) that will be significantly harder to come by.

All are 92 proof. No batch information is available.

Mosswood Distillers Sherry Barrel Aged Irish Whiskey – This is a four year old Irish whiskey finished for 7 months in Amontillado sherry casks. Intense, nutty sherry notes on the nose — raisiny, almost Port-like at times. On the palate, an ample hogo funk gives way to a distinctly rum-like character, the fruity raisin and wood notes combining to give the impression of molasses, dusted with notes of cloves and brown sugar. Very unusual. Fool your friends! B+ / $50

Mosswood Distillers Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – This is a seven year old light whiskey from Tennessee, finished in California Apple Brandy Barrels from Germain Robin (time unstated). What a delightful combination this is, starting with a rich and heady nose that offers hints of wood, fruit, and spices. On the palate, the apple brandy really punches up the fruit component of the whiskey, lending the caramel and vanilla in the core some hints of apple pie spice, particularly cinnamon. The finish is sweet and clean, but echoes barrel char late in the game. A- / $48

Mosswood Distillers Espresso Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – What is an espresso barrel? This is the same seven year old Tennessee light whiskey, finished in a barrel seasoned with Four Barrel Coffee Espresso Roast. The nose is hard to place, relatively whiskey-traditionalist but with notes of cloves and some dark chocolate. The palate is where the espresso notes start to show themselves much more clearly, melding with the spices to showoff notes of fresh berries, more bittersweet chocolate, and a lingering finish that is reminiscent of chai tea. Another perplexing combination that comes out more nuanced than expected. B+ / $48

Mosswood Distillers Sour Ale Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – Tennessee light whiskey finished in sour ale barrels from Drake’s Brewing. It’s initially moderately “beery” on the nose, with notes of hops mingling with floral notes, brown sugar, and a hard-to-pin-down note of what comes across like grapefruit peel. On the palate, all of these things come together beautifully along with notes of baking spice and gingerbread, Mexican chocolate, and, finally, a lingering, floral-heavy hoppiness on the finish. While it never really connotes the sourness of the original ale, it nonetheless does wonders with the whiskey it has to work with, elevating the spirit with an infusion of flavors I didn’t know it could show off. Highly recommended. A / $50

And now for two limited edition whiskeys…

Mosswood Distillers Umeshu Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – These appear to have the same Tennessee whiskey base, it’s the finishing that’s off the wall. Umeshu is a tart Japanese plum wine, and Mosswood made its own, then put the umeshu in a barrel for one year. After that, the umeshu was removed and the whiskey was finished in that barrel for six months. Results: A nose that is very floral, almost perfumed, and particularly heady with alcohol despite being bottled at the same 46% abv as all the other whiskeys here. Those flowers give way to a body that is lightly tart and full of fruit — plum and otherwise — with added notes of fresh ginger, honey, red wine vinegar, and a finish that leaves notes of vanilla-heavy sugar cookies and milk chocolate on the tongue. While imperfectly balanced, the whiskey makes up for that with an exceptional uniqueness. B+ / $49

Mosswood Distillers Nocino Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – Nocino is a walnut liqueur, and of course Mosswood makes its own; here a nine year old light whiskey goes into the emptied nocino barrel for about six months. The nose is savory, nutty, and chocolatey all at once — with encroaching aromas of overripe fruit building as it goes — but once you sip it the sweetness really takes hold. Cocoa powder, candied walnuts, and peppermint all give it an essential, wintry flavor, while a finish of maraschino cherries plus lightly bitter, slightly salty nuts remind one of that walnut liqueur. Beautiful stuff. A- / $49

drinkmosswood.com / [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

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